There has been much written about the events leading to this song including two articles in EBONY Magazine in the 1950’s and one of Eleanor Roosevelt’s columns in her “My Day” series.
Sylvester Harris was a farmer in Columbus, Mississippi who was losing his farm to foreclosure and, since he was used to secure his loan, his mule Jessie. In desperation Sylvester made several calls to the White House insisting on speaking with the President. On one of the chance calls FDR answered the phone, spoke to Sylvester and said he would get back to him. Shortly thereafter he was contacted by the Homeowners Loan Corporation and his mortgage renegotiated thus saving his farm (and his mule). The Reverend J.M. Gates, a hugely popular preacher from Atlanta, heard the story and popularized it in recorded sermons. It is likely that the great Memphis Minnie (Lizzie Douglas) learned the story from Gates. She wrote and performed this song.
Until FDR died he received a turkey each Thanksgiving from Sylvester Harris.