“If you put your hand and heart to anything you want to do, you can do it.” This was Ed Scott’s mantra and the key to his success as the first African American entrepreneur and business owner in the Mississippi Delta catfish farming and processing industry. Born on 27 August 1922 in the Delta town of Drew and raised there, Edward Logan Scott Jr. came from a long line of farmers. His father, Ed Scott Sr., had acquired a sizable piece of land in northern Sunflower County prior to the Great Depression and earned a reputation as hardworking and productive. He gained the respect of local white farmers and in 1948 became the state’s first African American rice farmer. By the time of his death in the 1950s, the family owned nineteen hundred acres of land.
Ed Scott Jr. capitalized on the family’s landholdings, planting and harvesting annual crops of cotton, soybeans, and rice on the rich Delta soil. In the late 1970s Scott noticed a shift in regional farming trends from cotton and soybeans to catfish. Scott remarked, “I’d been row-cropping right along, but I’m one of those versatile kind of farmers. Anything I see anybody else doing, I figure I can do it too. I started digging the ponds with my own equipment.” Scott dug eight ponds in 1981 but encountered significant roadblocks in obtaining the funding to stock them, primarily because the Farmers Home Administration’s district supervisor refused to aid Scott in acquiring loans. As Scott recalled, “I went to him and asked for a loan to stock them. He said no, and then he turned right around let a white farmer I knew have $5.5 million for catfish.”
In response, Scott bypassed the supervisor and directly contacted the agency’s state office in Jackson. He received a $150,000 loan, enough to stock the ponds with six hundred thousand fingerlings and nurture them to processing maturity. When white-owned processing plants refused to clean and package his fish, he established Pond Fresh Catfish and the Leflore-Bolivar Catfish Processing Plant.
By 1990 Scott’s one-line plant had expanded to two lines, producing two million pounds of catfish annually under the Pond Fresh label. At this time, that output and profit were enough to keep thirty-five employees on regular pay schedules and the company expanding. Scott subsequently began winning government contracts to supply catfish for military camps. In the late 1980s the Scott family also joined with Robert Bush, a Delta native and aide to Mississippi’s first black congressman in the twentieth century, Mike Espy, to open Edna’s Gourmet Seafood in Washington, Mississippi.
Scott earned great respect in catfish industry and in southern foodways circles. His story has been highlighted in a Southern Foodways Alliance documentary, On Flavor, and in 2001 the Alliance awarded Scott its Keeper of the Flame Award.
He died on 8 October 2015.
- Julian Rankin, “Pond Fresh: Ed Scott and His Catfish,” Gravy (Summer 2016)
- Julian Rankin, Catfish Dream: Ed Scott’s Fight for His Family Farm and Racial Justice in the Mississippi Delta (2018)
- Richard Schweid, Catfish and the Delta: Confederate Fish Farming in the Mississippi Delta (1992)
- Southern Foodways Alliance website, www.southernfoodways.org