Despite his service as a general in the Confederate Army and his election as a North Carolina representative to the Confederate Congress in Montgomery, Ala., Ransom was by all accounts a man who treated people fairly, regardless of the color of their skin.

 

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“From stories passed down from my grandparents, it didn’t matter whether you were black or white, if you did your job and you lived in harmony in the community you were treated fairly.

“But, if you caused problems, it also didn’t matter whether you were black or white, you were likely to find a horse and buggy loaded with all your belongings in front of your house, and you, along with your problems, were removed from the property,” Bell says.

In 1935, in the recovery years of the Great Depression, Bell’s grandfather died. His father, who was attending college in New York at the time, was called home to run the cotton gin. From 1935 until 1963, Bell’s father ran the gin, though the last few years were a struggle because of medical problems that limited his ability to work.

In 1958, Thomas Bell was drafted into the U.S. Army. He was attending North Carolina A&T University at the time, but says his time in the military helped him build the dedication and confidence he needed to come back to North Carolina to run the family cotton gin.

The gin is still small by industry standards today, but when he took over in 1963, Bell says it was really small and the equipment was outdated. “That first year we ginned 800 bales of cotton and we felt like we had a big year. Now, we routinely run about 800 bales a week through the gin,” Bell says.

“When I came back home to run the gin we were only able to process about three bales of cotton an hour, and I knew that wasn’t going to be enough in the coming years,” Bell adds.

Through all the changes in the gin over his 50 years, one thing remained basically the same — his customers. Most of his current customers grew up in the cotton business and grew up coming to the gin in the fall with their fathers and grandfathers.