Alumni Highlight: Otis Samuel O’Neal, ‘1908
Otis Samuel O’Neal graduated from Fort Valley High and Industrial School in 1908. As the Negro County Agent for Houston and Peach County, Otis S. O’ Neal brought international recognition to Fort Valley State University and the state of Georgia through the creation of the “Ham and Egg Show” in 1916. The Ham and Egg Show drew thousands, initially to participate in displays of agricultural excellence in the production and cultivation of meat, and eventually to participate in agriculture education, youth development activities, oratorical contests, plays, and musical performances. It was the first time many African-Americans could proudly showcase their achievements in farm production.
The addition of the Folk Music Festival, believed by the Library of Congress to possibly be the first African-American folk festival in the country, attracted notables such as W.C. Handy and other nationally renowned folk artists. The Ham and Egg Show was featured in Life magazine and on CBS radio and spanned duplicative efforts in Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Lowndes County, GA, where it is still produced each February.
O’Neal also taught local farmers how to diversify their crops beyond cotton, and helped farmers acquire land. He became a professor at Fort Valley State College and received the Superior Service Award for Distinguished Service in Agriculture from the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in 1949. He is a member of the National 4H Hall of Fame.