Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2013/Fall/Camillus Lanier

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This page is connected with English 105 at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill - Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories

Doctor treats a patients eye for a minor burn

Overview[edit | edit source]

Camillus Lanier was a white doctor who lived in Davie Country, North Carolina. His story provides insight on what it meant to be politically and religiously discriminated against during the antebellum period. William Edward Hennessee wrote Lanier’s story for the Federal Writers’ Project on March 1939.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Adulthood[edit | edit source]

Camillus Lanier was born on April 5, 1816 in Halifax, Virginia. He was a medical doctor who had set some of his slaves free, which angered his community, and as a result he had to move to Davie County, NC. He had French ancestry, and just like majority of his ancestors, Lanier was agnostic. His religion did not matter to his second wife Harriet Speed.[1] He was one of the few people who sterilized his instruments.

Professional Life[edit | edit source]

Camillus Lanier was Agnostic, and because of his religion he would sometimes not be paid for his services. When Lanier saved a man’s wife, the husband proclaimed that it was a miracle, but Lanier protested that it was “Knowledge and luck and hardwork on my part and a good constitution on hers."[2] His lack of faith angered most people, which is why they did not pay him. Another factor that influenced this lack of payment was the South as a region. Lanier did not complain about this because he believed it was his duty to help those who needed it.

Later Life[edit | edit source]

He later joined the Confederate Army not because he believed in their values and what they were fighting for, but instead because “the call of pain proved too strong".[2] He joined the Confederate Army because of his doctoral duties to help the injured. Camillus Lanier gave instructions before he died that no minister be present at his funeral because he knew where he was going.He died on April 2, 1872. Camillus Lanier put his duties as a doctor first.

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Religious persecution occurred because Camillus Lanier was agnostic. He did not know whether or not God existed, and did not care enough to find out. Even though religious freedom was thought to be widely accepted in the United States, often time’s people were discriminated against because of their lack of religion. One of the biggest ideas for the country is “the principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently”.[3] This idea of religious freedom also applies to those who choose to be agnostic. However, an article published by the Journal of Contemporary Religion revealed that people were discriminated against more when they identified as “atheist or agnostic”.[4] If someone was not Christian they were expected to be at least religious, but when they were agnostic or atheist they would be ridiculed. It was difficult to be agnostic in the past because the majority of people were religious, and even today people are often looked down upon for being agnostic or not believing in God. Camillus Lanier did not live up to the standard of what it meant to be white during the Antebellum period, so he had to move to North Carolina in order to try and escape this discrimination. What it meant to be white was taken immensely serious in the South. Standards were set and those who did not follow it were discriminated against and could even be prosecuted by the law. This definition of ‘whiteness’ actually had legal status, so if someone did not live up the standard they could be prosecuted.[5] The South was serious enough about keeping their reputation that people could be prosecuted if they differed from the status quo. This kind of discrimination was not often found in the South because most whites lived up to the standard, however there were people that did not and they would be discriminated against. This idea of what it meant to be white was important during this period of time because there was a lot of tension between different races, so if someone did not fit the mold of being white then they would either have to change their behavior or just be excluded.

Federal Writers’ Project[edit | edit source]

The Federal Writers’ Project was a New Deal program that funded written work for writers during the Great Depression. The goal of the project was to obtain different perspectives on American life. Different interviews vary greatly depending on the interviewer because “they [writers] felt an obligation to demonstrate their states and regions were integral parts of the union”.[6] This bias in writing would cause variation in the historical production of the articles. At the beginning of the article, it was the interviewer’s intention to put Lanier in a good light. This bias was evident throughout the article because he would consistently praise Lanier and use value judgements instead of being indifferent. There are a few quotes inserted, but the majority of the interview is an interpretation of Lanier’s life story by the interviewer. There is a good description of the scene because the interviewer describes the situation, and then goes into more depth about what happened in certain events. There is minimal use of Southern vernacular. The interviewer let Camillus Lanier tell his life story, and then he interpreted that and put his own unique signature and style on it.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Camillus Voltaire Lanier." Camillus Voltaire Lanier. Ancestry Publishing, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2013. <http://records.ancestry.com/Camillus_Voltaire_Lanier_records.ashx?pid=1203577>.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Camillus Lanier. "The Doctor." Federal Writers' Project. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Southern Collection. print.
  3. Davis, Kenneth C. "Smithsonian.com." Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian, Oct. 2010. Web. 19 Nov. 2013. <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Americas-True-History-of-Religious-Tolerance.html?c=y>.
  4. Cragun, Ryan T., et al. “On the Receiving End: Discrimination Toward the Non-Religious in the United States.” Journal of Contemporary Religion. Taylor and Francis, 27(1), 105-127. doi:10.1080/13537903.2012.642741
  5. Gross, Ariela J. "Litigating Whiteness: Trials of Racial Determination in the Nineteenth-Century South." JSTOR. The Yale Law Journal Company, Inc, Oct. 1998. Web. 19 Nov. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/797472?seq=16>.
  6. Fox, Daniel M. "The Achievement of the Federal Writers' Project." JSTOR. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1961. Web. 19 Nov. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2710508?seq=3>.