In 1916, Lee Parker left his father’s tobacco farm in Ahoskie, North Carolina, for Shanghai, China. He wrote sixty years later in his memoir, “I was fresh from the United States, sent by BAT, the British American Tobacco Company to ‘put a cigarette between the lips of every man and woman in China.’” Parker’s father had sent him to Wake Forest College in hopes he would, upon graduation, join the small white professional class. But even with a college degree, “jobs was hard to come by for a country fellow,” Parker recalled. He had heard that a buyer at the tobacco market in Wilson, North Carolina, hired young men for jobs in China, so he borrowed five dollars from his brother and made the journey to Wilson. After an interview on the tobacco warehouse floor that lasted “between thirty seconds and two minutes,”...
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