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VOICES OF HAVANA: Dr. Sam Maxwell tells of growing up in Gadsden County’s shade tobacco fields

The Havana History and Heritage Society continues in their efforts to create a series of documentaries regarding the town of Havana, the important contributions of Home Demonstration clubs, and the impact of World War II.

These three documentaries will be based on the oral history provided from various interviews of citizens with ties to the area and research done by the Voices II project team.

To kick off the project, the team interviewed Dr. Sam Maxwell, who holds a doctorate in theology and is the Pastor of First Baptist Church of Progress Village.

Maxwell was born and raised in Havana, and grew up on a tobacco plantation with his father, older brother, and two sisters; the family lived along with 5-6 other families, in houses that belonged to the plantation owner.

Throughout his life, Maxwell noted a few influential moments that affected his perspective on the community where he grew up.

At the age of four or five Sam received his social security card and began working the fields during the sowing season.

Tobacco was “king in king” in Gadsden County…so much so that Maxwell’s school year began in September, after the harvest, and ended in May, near the sowing season.

During this season, boys and girls would leave school on work trucks instead of school buses.

He found the environment to be similar to the slavery and post-reconstrction culture experianced by African-Americans in the south.

Dr. Sam Maxwell

Growing up watching the interactions between the owner of the plantation fields and Maxwell’s father (who was the older of the two men).

Maxwell noted that his father was not given any additional respect despite the fact that he was older than the plantation owner and a pastor. 

Witnessing this, Maxwell says he was left hating the tobacco industry in Gadsden County, as well as those who benefited from it.

However, the plantation owner and Maxwell would have an encounter late one night that changed Maxwell’s perspective of the owner and altered his life forever.

Years later, as a grown man himself, Maxwell was recently discharged from the United States Army and struggling with an identity crisis as he returned home to Gadsden County.

Maxwell recalls that one late, he had to walk up to the plantation owner’s house to report an auto accident that Maxwell had just been in.

After giving the man his information, Maxwell began walking back to the scene of his accident, and as the details of the crash came back to him, he also realized that he was under the influence of several substances, and that had likely been the real cause of the crash.

Because of this, Maxwell expected to be arrested, convicted, and likely lose his driving privileges.

But that is not what happened.

When he returned to the scene of the accident, the trooper assured him that the accident had been reported, and he would wait with Maxwell until the tow truck arrived.

The incident caused Maxwell to revisit his perception with regards to his assumptions and negative opinions about the plantation owner.

From his experience, Maxwell describes the plantation owner as a businessman who treated his field workers like people, but he wanted the work done and done efficiently.

Regarding his relations with community members, Maxwell and his older brother had a unique relationship with the town members, being that they felt partially raised by them.

Different families would help his single parent father fill in the gaps from time to time.

Throughout his interview with historians, Maxwell maintained a bright smile, adding that he ‘feels a lot of love’ for Havana and appreciation towards the community he was brought up in, and that is what he hopes to share by contributing to the Voices II Project.

So far over 50 interviews have been conducted and there are many more to come.

If you or someone you know has any information on life while working in the shade tobacco farming, participation in local Home Demonstration Clubs or 4-H Clubs, or life or military service during World War II, please contact the historians at so that more of these stories can be shared.

[This project is sponsored in part by the Department of State, Division of Historical Resources and the State of Florida.]

Lilliana Solovay & Kennedy Ray – Special to The Herald