Former sharecropping family buys dream home after years of struggles

Kelton, S.C. — Long ago, but not nearly as long ago as you might expect, sharecroppers worked in South Carolina. As late as 1964, Bo and Lake Giles were still toiling like indentured servants. In fact, their children said they were by far the poorest family around.

The family's children said they had to pick cotton during the school year, and only went to class when it was raining.

"I was praying every day, 'God, get us out of this situation,'" said Mary Giles.

But even as those prayers went unanswered, the Giles children knew there was a better life out there because it was so tantalizingly close. From the shack they lived in, you can see another house. It's really just a modest home, but to those sharecropper's kids picking cotton in these fields, that place seemed like the Taj Mahal.

"Looking across the street at it, it looked like a mansion," said Sandra Giles. 

"Felt like they were rich compared to our broken down home," Ruthie Giles said.

"You had flowers. All of that was a sense of freedom," said Dorothy Giles.

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The home the Giles family admired for years is now theirs. CBS News

And all of that is why it felt like liberation when a half century later, the Giles family moved across the street into the Taj Mahal. Some of the siblings pooled their money to buy the property, which they're now renovating to use for family reunions and holiday gatherings.   

The plan is to eventually put the house in a trust so future generations of Giles will know the story and learn the lesson that poverty doesn't have to beget poverty, and that through education and determination, poverty can breed success.

Dorothy Giles became a teacher. Ruthie Giles a nurse. And Roosevelt Giles is a board chairman.  

But he said he's still a sharecropper in his soul.

"It ensures your appreciation of where you come from," Roosevelt Giles said.

"Across the way, and now we're sitting here instead of sitting over there," Sandra Giles said.

"We have a better life," Dorothy Giles said.

This holiday season many Americans will be unwrapping presents. But for families like the Giles, the greatest gift is the only gift that truly keeps on giving – the sacrifice of those who made a merry Christmas possible.

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  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.