If the New Farmers of America (NFA) still existed, this would have been a very busy week for the advisor and officers of local chapters and the state association. They would be busy preparing for next week, National NFA Week. What originally started as a one-day celebration on April 5, National NFA Day (which was celebrated on the birthday of Booker T. Washington) evolved into a weeklong celebration.
The New Farmers of America existed in the segregated schools of the southern United States between 1935 and 1965. They were the black equivalent of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) who were in the white schools of the south. In 1965 the NFA “merged” with the FFA.
In this Footnote we will look at one of the popular events that often happened during NFA Week – the crowning of Miss NFA. In a past Footnote, we discussed how the FFA chapters, which was a male only organization up until 1969, often had chapter sweethearts. The NFA chapters also had chapter sweethearts but they were often identified as “Miss NFA” or “NFA Sweetheart” or “Miss NFA Sweetheart.” All three terms were used.
Figure 1. This Alabama school crowned Miss NFA as part of
their National NFA Day celebration.
A quick perusal of newspapers.com found the terms “Miss NFA” and “NFA Sweetheart” used about the same. However, it should be noted this comparison is not very scientific. Not all newspapers are found in newspapers.com and in numerous southern states, news from the African American community often did not make the newspapers.
Table 1. Articles using the words “Miss NFA” and “NFA Sweetheart”
|NFA Sweetheart||Miss NFA|
It was common to crown the new Miss NFA during National NFA Week. In this Footnote we pay homage to the Miss NFAs and NFA Sweethearts of the past.
The LAST Miss NFA/NFA Sweetheart
The last national NFA convention was held the first week of October 1965 in Atlanta Georgia. During the final session of the NFA convention Joyce Lyons of Britton High School in Rayville, Louisiana was selected as the National NFA Sweetheart through unanimous action of the convention membership. Clark (1967, p. 114) reports that:
At the New Farmers of America Convention, she participated in the role of music accompanist with the Louisiana NFA Talent Contestant. She was presented at the Sears and Ford NFA luncheons. Later she made a speech of acceptance to delegates in appreciation for her NFA honor. This was in the closing hour of the cessation of New Farmers of America business.
When the convention was over many NFA members boarded a train to travel to Kansas City to participate in merger ceremonies with the FFA.
The photo below is of Joyce Lyons, the LAST NFA Sweetheart. Clark (1967) reports that she was an “A“ student and served as co-chair of the Membership Committee of the National Future Homemakers of America (NHA). She was the song leader of the district NHA and played the piano at the state meeting.
Figure 2. Joyce Lyons, 1965 National NFA Sweetheart
Selecting Miss NFA
In some states, there was competition at the local, district, federation, and state levels for Miss NFA/NFA Sweetheart. I have found references to state-level competition in Texas, Arkansas, and South Carolina. There could have been more. This competition typically happened at the State NFA Convention.
An article in the Bonham (TX) Daily Favorite (March 5, 1963, p. 2) states that “Cheryle McIntyre, senior student at Washington high school, was chosen District NFA Sweetheart from a group of 11 girls competing for the honor at New Boston recently.” The article went on to state “Miss McIntyre was judged on poise, personality, talent and scholarship. She will compete in the area NFA contest in Tyler in May and the winner will participate in the state contest at Prairie View A&M College in June.”
The Courier News of Blythville, Arkansas (April 19, 1956, p. 22) reported that Iris Deloris White of Harrison High School would compete for the state title at Helena on May 4.
The Index-Journal of Greenwood, SC (March 26, 1963) related that “Mary Mears, a tenth grader at Emma Mattox High School at Ware Shoals, was crowned ‘Miss NFA Sweetheart” of District One of the Lower Federation of the New Farmers of America at a program held March 22 at Brewer High School. Pheobia Holmes, state ‘Miss NFA Sweetheart” for 1962-63 crowned Miss Mears who will compete in a state ‘Miss NFA Sweetheart’ contest at South Carolina State College at Orangeburg.
Figure 3. In addition to being NFA royalty Mary and Pheobia were active in
4-H activities at the district and state level.
There were typically two approaches used in selecting Miss NFA. At the chapter level, a common approach was to have each grade level (Freshman, Sophomore, etc.) to nominate a candidate, then there would be a contest where the various classes collected money or sold tickets to support their contestant. The money raised was to support chapter activities.
The Ada (OK) Times-Democrat (January 6, 1949, p. 4) reported that “Eula Lee Watson, a member of the senior class, will spend a day in Dallas, Texas at the expense of the New Farmers of America. This trip is being given to Eula Lee because of her triumph in the N.F.A. Sweetheart contest. The total amount of money raised by all classes in the N.F.A. Sweetheart contest was $111.87. Some of the money will be loaned by the N.F.A. chapter to boys enrolled in Vocational Agriculture to assist them with their livestock and crop projects.”
A similar approach was used in North Carolina and Virginia. The Robesonian (Lumberton, NC, November 25, 1952) reported the Robeson County Training School was sponsoring a Miss NFA contest. “A young lady from each of the four high school classes was selected to compete for the honor. The class selling the largest number of tickets was to be adjudged the winner.”
The News and Observer (Raleigh, NC, October 29, 1956) in an article titled “Pamlico Negro Fair is Planned” stated that on Saturday night “Miss NFA of Pamlico County Training School will be crowned. Funds raised will go toward the NFA camp at Hammock’s Beach in Onslow County.”
The Daily Press (Newport News, VA, May 26, 1956, p. 15) reported “On June 4 the chapter will conclude its fund raising drive by crowning Miss NFA of 1956 at the school [James Weldon Johnson School].
In South Carolina, the term “beauty contest” was used to describe the selection of the state “Miss NFA” (The Times and Democrat, Orangeburg, June 6, 1963). It appears the competition above the chapter level was more like a beauty pageant in most states. An earlier reference in this Footnote about district competition stated the contestants were judged on “poise, personality, talent and scholarship.”
During my search for information about Miss NFA, I did make an unusual discovery. In 1962 the Carter-Parramore NFA Chapter in Quincy, Florida had three Miss NFAs. They were Betty Muse (Chapter A), Evelyn Simmons (Chapter B) and Connie Quarterman (Chapter C). Perhaps someone familiar with Carter-Parramore can explain.
Figure 4. Linda Kinnard, Bell Street High School, Clinton, SC. 1963
Figure 5. Alberta Lincoln, Dunbar High School, Lubbock, TX. 1965
Was there a Miss NFA Jacket?
People who collect FFA memorabilia know that FFA Sweetheart Jackets are rare. What is even rarer is a Miss NFA or NFA Sweetheart Jacket. Did they exist? The ladies featured above are not wearing Miss NFA jackets. According to the following article from the Elba (AL) Clipper (December 27, 1962) it is stated the newly crowned NFA Sweetheart will be given an official NFA Sweetheart jacket. The FFA Supply Service sold NFA merchandise but the 1952-53 FFA Supply Service NFA brochure does not show a Miss NFA Jacket.
I have never seen a Miss NFA jacket. Have you? The closest I have discovered is a modified NFA jacket (see photos below). An agriculture teacher in North Carolina has this jacket. I have tried to track down the owner but have not been successful.
Figures 6 & 7. An NFA jacket worn by a Miss NFA.
Even though many teachers celebrated National FFA week back in February, it would be appropriate to spend a day or two next week focusing on the New Farmers of America during what was once National NFA Week. We need to recognize and celebrate this aspect of our history.
One of the most extensive collections of NFA documents and materials can be found at https://ncffa.org/about-us-north-carolina-ffa/new-farmers-of-america-nfa/. I would encourage you to check out this site.
If you teach in an area that once had an NFA chapter, you might investigate or have your students search for NFA memorabilia. The material found could be displayed in the agriculture classroom.
Clark, Matthew (1967). New Farmers of America Record – Louisiana Association 1935-1965.Southern University, Baton Rouge.