Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2015/Fall/Section 020/John Simms Jr.

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John Simms Jr.
Born1894
Westwego, Jefferson Paris, Louisiana
Diedunknown
unknown
SpouseEmma Brooks

Overview[edit | edit source]

John Simms Jr. was an alcoholic in Louisiana who was interviewed for the Federal Writers Project by Robert McKinney.

Biography[edit | edit source]

John Simms Jr. was born in Westwego, Jefferson Paris, Louisiana in 1894.[1] His father, John Simms, had worked as a chimney sweeper and “laborer” in the Round House. No description of the Round House was given. His mother, Stella, had worked as a washwoman. Simms Jr. was their only child. After finishing the third grade, Simms Jr.’s father put him to work on a milk truck where he made two dollars a week. At ten years old, Junior quit, getting a job “riding a bike” for $3.50 a week. How Simms Jr. made money ridding a bike is unknown. As an adult, he became a laborer in the Roundhouse where he made $21.50 a week. In 1914, twenty-year-old Junior moved to another “part of town.” He returned to the part of town he was from after spending much of his money, and having sexual relations with many of the women there. When Junior returned, he saw that his friend, Jeff Scott was making a “good” amount of money chimney sweeping, and needed help. The two decided to become partners, each making about ten dollars a day. At some point during this time, Junior married his wife Emma Brooks. The date of their marriage is unknown. Junior frequently disrespected Brooks. He spent the majority of his time working and making women do “shake down dances” Shake-down dances were a form of dance where a woman leaned back, and pulled up her skirt or dress to show her “linens.” Emma knew about these “dances”, but rarely mentioned them because of his abuse. [2]

Chimney-Sweeping in the 1900s[edit | edit source]

To clean chimneys, Junior wrapped a rope around his waist, using it like a ladder to go up and down the chimney. During the interview, he told Robert McKinney he got so dirty cleaning chimneys that he had to “bathe in kerosene.” He wore beaver hats and old clothes to make it seem as though the chimneys did not make his clothes dirty. [3]

Death[edit | edit source]

Simms' date, location, and cause of death is unknown.

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Attitudes towards Christianity in the 1900s[edit | edit source]

In the 1900s, Christianity was the center of the African-American community. A person's reputation was built upon whether they went to church and what church they went attended. Despite it being the basis of African-American life, not every African-American person was a Christian. A study on the "every-man" of the American city found that the majority of church-going Christians in the African-American community were middle-aged women even after the Great Depression. Middle-aged men were the least likely group to attend. Many non-churchgoing African-Americans felt their “activities” (drinking, partying, etc.) would not allow them to be in a church according to a study on Bronzeville, the African-American side of Chicago.[4] Some African-Americans held the mentality: “When they serve wine, I’ll go to church.” [5] The Civil Rights Movement brought further reason to go against Christianity. Since masters had used slavery to pacify the rebellion of their slaves, Christianity was seen as an extension of pacification post-slavery.

The 1900s' campaign for Black power and Black pride created a conflict between how the message should be manifested physically. Civil Rights leaders such as Malcolm X advised the separation of blacks from whites while leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. advised peaceful resistance and eventual cohabitation.Black separatist groups thrived in the 1960s as “…black theology led many to question the worship of a white-faced Jesus.”[6] Some Southern churches affirmed the concerns against Christianity. Churches such as the Colored Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Church forced people to pass a "lightness test" before being able to worship inside the church. There were two prominent lightness tests. One included comparing a person's arm to the color of a brown paper bag. Theo other included comparing a person's skin color to a light shade of brown painted on the door. In both cases, if the skin was deemed darker than the object, the person was asked to worship somewhere else. [7]

1900s African-American Gender Roles in New Orleans[edit | edit source]

There were conflicting ideas of African-American gender roles across the United States after the Great Depression. While on one side, African-American women, gained the opportunity to advance further into professional fields, on the other, the adoption of European American ideals led more women to accept more domestic roles.

African-American women felt compelled to protect African-American men from the law since they knew African-American men faced discrimination for being African-American. African-American women shared a “collectivist” mentality, placing the “well-being of their families and communities” over their personal “well-being.” [8] This mentality kept abused African-American women from reporting their African-American abusers to the law.

In 1902, Betty Cox Francis, a mulatto woman of Louisiana, founded the Colored Social Settlement in 1902. The organization's goals were to "design educational activities, provide domestic and industrial training, promote volunteer service, and encourage unity among colored people."[9]. Like many clubs aiming to serve less privileged African-Americans, the training was based on gender roles. Men were taught industrial skills while women were taught domestic duties such as sewing and cooking. The training was gender-based to match the European American upper class. Since African-Americans wanted to be in the upper-class, they adopted the same values. African-Americans used their adoption of "high culture" to distinguish themselves from the "less advanced" African-Americans. [10]

African-American women who also served as Civil Rights Activists were ostracized from the African-American community. Female Civil Rights leader also receive far less notoriety than their male counterparts. Male Civil Rights leaders such as Booker T. Washington regarded them as undeserving of being "famous" for their efforts. [11] Female Civil Rights Leaders were deemed too assertive even when they were advocating for all African-Americans. Ida B. Wells was a prime example. After she began her campaign to end lynching, African-American men began criticizing her for being so "aggressive." [12]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Quick facts: Jefferson Paris." U.S. Census.
  2. Robert McKinney, (interviewer): Chimney Sweeper’s Holiday, in the Federal Writers' Project papers, series 1, folder 272, 03709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  3. Robert McKinney, (interviewer): Chimney Sweeper’s Holiday, in the Federal Writers' Project papers, series 1, folder 272, 03709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  4. Greason, Walter. "Jim Crow Nostalgia Reconstructing Race in Bronzeville."
  5. Robert McKinney, (interviewer): Chimney Sweeper’s Holiday, in the Federal Writers' Project papers, series 1, folder 272, 03709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  6. Finley, Stephen, Margarita Guillory, Hugh Page "Esotericism in African-American Religious Experience." Brill. 07 Jan. 2014.
  7. "Mulattoes and Color Consciousness in the United States." Blue Veins and Kinky Hair : Naming and Color Consciousness in African America. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003. The African American Experience. Greenwood Publishing Group. 20 Oct 2015.
  8. Yoshioka, Marianne. "Social Support and Disclosure of Abuse: Comparing South Asian, Hispanic, and African American Battered Women." Journal of Family Violence. June 2003.
  9. “National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs History.” NACWC. 2011.
  10. Williamson, Joel. "New People: Miscenegation and Mulattoes in the United States." New York: Free Press.
  11. "Mulattoes and Color Consciousness in the United States." Blue Veins and Kinky Hair : Naming and Color Consciousness in African America. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003. The African American Experience. Greenwood Publishing Group. 20 Oct 2015.
  12. "Ida B. Wells, "Lynch Law in America." BlackPast.org. 2008.