Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2013/Fall/Tucker Little

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

Small cotton farm, Kern County, California.

Overview[edit | edit source]

Tucker Little was a lower-class, farm-centered man who lived with eighteen children and his wife in a house in Seaboard, North Carolina during the late 1930s. His family was deeply affected by the Great Depression, especially on a financial front. Bernice K. Harris recorded the details of Mr. Tucker Little’s life in an interview for the Federal Writers’ Project at an unspecified date.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Tucker Little, a white sharecropper, started his life on Harris plantation in the town of Concord, North Carolina. He stayed there until he was old enough to move out on his own and began traveling with a few animals and growing crops while renting various properties around the state.

Mr. Little and his wife raised eighteen children, thirteen of their own and five of family members who passed away. The close quarters of the family in their small house caused many diseases and hospital visits over the years that did not help their financial status at all. Many members of extended family, and even some directly related to Mr. Little, developed tuberculosis at some point in their lifetime and some even died from the disease.

Money was a huge problem in the Little’s household. Mr. Little was a tenant farmer, or as he more accurately put it, a renter. He only had a few animals and a handful of acreage in which he could plant crops like cotton. Remarkably, for twelve years in a row, Mr. Little had rented a house and fame land in Seaboard, North Carolina. His rent was three bales of cotton plus a little supplemental money. Usually the rent was easy to pay because good crop years produced eighteen bales of cotton. However, when the weather was bad, only one or two bales were produced and there was very little excess cash.

Mr. Little had always dreamed of taking a long mountain trip with his entire family, providing copious amounts of clothing for his children, and owning a full-fledged farm outright. Unfortunately, most of these hopes and dreams were unattainable due to the poor economic stability of his income.[1]

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Sharecropping[edit | edit source]

Mr. Little’s entire income was controlled by the nature of the weather. He was a sharecropper bringing in, at a maximum, $100 each month to support his family before the Great Depression.[2] Unfortunately, during this time in the history of the United States, crops were doing very poorly due to harsh, dry weather. Many of the families that relied on farming for their income ended up losing houses and cutting back on the goods and services that they had grown accustomed to. The dry weather and poor conditions during the late 1920s and early 1930s stunted the growth of many plants and crops around the United States. Cotton, in particular, took a huge hit and resulted in the decimation of many southern farms, as they relied heavily on cotton. Weather patterns changed so rapidly that many of the farmers and sharecroppers were unable to keep a positive balance because they had not prepared for long-term woes.[3]

Luxury Goods[edit | edit source]

The economic status of the Little household was very poor, as they only sometimes managed to get by on a small portion of their projected income. In fact, the economic woes were felt all over the United States in the 1930s. Many families had lost their jobs and could not find any other work in their desired field because money was also short for the employers. The monetary allowance of many families fell during the Great Depression because of the lack of household incomes. Household net worth fell by eleven percent within three short years and the liability that those households faced rose by over twenty-four percent.[4] The struggle for consumers in this period was caused by “changes in net wealth” and business owners to cringed at the “potent effects” that low incomes had “on consumption demand”.[5] Mr. Little, in particular, noted that many of the clothes and toys his children wanted would not be purchased until crop production and income returned to normal.

Federal Writers' Project[edit | edit source]

The Federal Writers’ Project was a program created in 1935 under the United States Work Progress Administration (WPA) to employ thousands of American writers, educators, historians, and other humanities specialists during the Great Depression. The development was able to not only provide jobs for those in a writing discipline, but it also provided a way for many average citizens to get their life stories written down in permanent history.[6]

Although the Federal Writers’ Project produced many jobs and important life histories, their production has often been criticized. Issues with the Federal Writers’ Project revolve around the way that each life story was written. Some resemble the same structure that a playwright would be skilled at writing (such as dialogue lines and scene description), while others took on the structure of a well-written essay. Editors took the interviews and combed through them to remove any mistakes or pieces they deemed unnecessary. The validity of the documents have often been questioned over the years because they have been thoroughly revised and altered from the original words of the interviewee.[7] The vernacular and lyrics of Christian music being played by Mr. Little is a sign that the interviewer selectively chose what information to record in the interview writing.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Little, Tucker. “Joe Fielding.” Federal Writers’ Project.
  2. "1940 United States Federal Census For Tucker Little." Ancestry.com. National Archives and Records Administration. Web. 20 Nov. 2013.
  3. Berton, Pierre. The Great Depression: 1929-1939. Random House LLC. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.
  4. Mishkin, Frederic S. "The Household Balance Sheet and the Great Depression." JSTOR. Web. 20 Nov. 2013.
  5. Mishkin, Frederic S. "The Household Balance Sheet and the Great Depression." JSTOR. Web. 20 Nov. 2013. p. 924.
  6. Penkower, Monty N. "ERIC - The Federal Writers' Project: A Study in Government Patronage of the Arts., 1977." ERIC - The Federal Writers' Project: A Study in Government Patronage of the Arts., 1977. Institute of Education Sciences. Web. 20 Nov. 2013.
  7. Rapport, Leonard. "How Valid Are the Federal Writers' Project Life Stories: An Iconoclast among the True Believers." The Oral History Review 7, 6-17. JSTOR. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.