Federal Writers' Project- Life Histories/2020/Fall/105/Section071/Annie Jackson

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Annie Jackson
Born1904 in Tompson, Georgia
ResidenceAtlanta, Georgia
OccupationMaid, Nurse

Overview[edit | edit source]

Annie Jackson was born in 1904 in Tompson, Georgia. She was a domestic worker for multiple white families in the early 1900s and during the Great Depression. Annie was interviewed by Geneva Tonsill for the Federal Writers Project on an unknown date.

Biography[edit | edit source]

This is an African American family living in Georgia in the early nineteenth century. Like Jackson's family, they earn their living by farming and live in impoverished conditions.

Annie Jackson was an African American woman born in 1904 to Annie and Tom Butler. Her mother and father separated the same year she was born, so she was raised by her grandparents in Tompson, Georgia. She was much darker than the rest of her family, resulting in years of mistreatment. Because of her skin color, her grandparents kept her at home, forcing her to do hard farm labor instead of sending her to school like her lighter-skinned relatives. She was commonly beaten by her grandfather for every small transgression, leading her to run away to Atlanta at seventeen. She stayed there for a year and a half, working as a maid for a white woman. Eventually, she left for Birmingham, Alabama after she was reprimanded by her employer for a man she was seeing. When she arrived, she worked as a maid for another white couple for a year, before moving back to Atlanta. She then got very sick and was misdiagnosed with tuberculosis. It is unclear what her actual condition was, but after an unspecified operation, she was able to return to work. She continued to work as a nurse and cook for another white family for many years. Eventually, after getting married, she began working for the family only part-time, as her husband made enough to support her. With her husband making a substantial income, she was able to travel around the US for vacations and live a fairly comfortable life.

Social Context[edit | edit source]

Childhood and the Treatment of Children[edit | edit source]

At the turn of the twentieth century, childhood was far from idyllic. While the stereotype of children had begun to transform from sinful to innocent people needing care, a majority of children were still rarely coddled[1]. Comfortable childhoods were reserved for the wealthy during the early 20th century. Child mortality rates were at an all-time high, with approximately one in four children dead by the age of five[2]. Poverty infiltrated the lives of almost half of America’s children. Because of this, many children were still viewed to be another set of working hands, bringing home income to support their families. In the 1900’s, about 2.5 million children aged ten to sixteen worked ten hour work days, six days a week[1].

African American Education and Employment[edit | edit source]

This is a breakdown of what jobs African American college graduates received after attending university.

During the Great Depression Era, African Americans were systemically discriminated against at every point in their lives. With raging poverty, and a need for working hands, only 37.8% of black children aged six to thirteen went to school, that number decreasing to 26.7% by the time those children were fourteen to seventeen[3]. But even if they did attend school, the likelihood that the education they would receive would be equivalent to white children’s education was extremely unlikely. Most resources for schooling were funneled to white schools; reducing class sizes, and increasing teacher pay. Furthermore, about 40% of teachers in southern black schools hadn’t received an education past high school before teaching[4]. The lack of educational resources then impacted the types of jobs that African American individuals could get when they decided to join the adult workforce. In Georgia, approximately 90% of the African American population at the time worked in either farming or domestic service, and .5% of African Americans were considered to have “professional” jobs[5].

Colorism in the Early Twentieth Century[edit | edit source]

Colorism is the practice of discrimination based on the skin tone of an individual. It was extremely prevalent within the African American community in the early 1900s, as those with darker skin tones faced harsher prejudices than their lighter counterparts[6]. It originated from the enslavement of Africans- if an individual’s skin tone was darker, they would be given hard field labor. The lighter skinned slaves would be put to work in the house, responsible for cooking and cleaning. This idea was passed down through generations to the twentieth century, where it became part of the US legal system. Laws of the early 20th century forced a sense of white supremacy and forced African Americans to develop a new sense of racial identity with this in mind. In fact, until 1920 the US Census split the black population into mulatto and black, sparking discrimination within the African American community[7]. Furthermore, light-skinned African Americans were often a part of the upper-class within the Black community. This was mainly due to the brown paper bag test. During the early nineteenth century, member of certain social circles and different workplaces would hold up a brown paper bag to your skin[6]. If the bag was lighter than the individual, they would be admitted to an interview or given membership to the club.  

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Conan, Neil. “ The History of American Childhood.” Talk of the Nation. National Public Radio. Washington, DC: NPR, November 29, 2004.
  2. Yarrow, Andrew L. “History of U.S. Children’s Policy, 1900-Present,” First Focus. April 2009. https://firstfocus.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Childrens-Policy-History.pdf
  3. Maloney, Thomas N. “African Americans in the Twentieth Century.” EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. January 14, 2002. https://eh.net/encyclopedia/african-americans-in-the-twentieth-century/.  
  4. Fultz, Michael. “Teacher Training and African American Education in the South, 1900-1940.” The Journal of Negro Education 64, no. 2 (1995): 196–210. DOI: 10.2307/2967242
  5. Rothman, Lily. “Black History Month: African-American Professions in 1900.” Time. February 17, 2016. https://time.com/4202859/dubois-paris-exposition-chart/.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Nittle, Nadra Kareem. “The Origins of Colorism and How This Bias Persists in America.” ThoughtCo. January 2020. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-colorism-2834952.
  7. McDonald, Hannah Paige. “Black Colorism and White Racism: Discourse on the Politics of White Supremacy, Black Equality, and Racial Identity, 1925-1930.” Master’s thesis, University of Montana, 2020. https://scholarworks.umt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=12614&context=etd