Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105/Section003/Izzelly Harding

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Izzelly Harding (Maiden Name)
BornUnknown date
EthnicityMixed Race (white and African American
EducationTaught by Aunt
SpouseUnknown man

Overview[edit | edit source]

Izzelly Harding (formerly Haines) was a midwife who was originally from the Bahamas but who latter lived in Florida during the Great Depression. Izzelly was an interviewee for the Federal Writer's Project in 1939.[1]

Biography[edit | edit source]

Izzelly Harding was born in the 1890s in the Bahamas. Izzelly’s mother was African American and her father was English and white. She looked white with tan skin and dark hair. Izzelly was raised by her white aunt in the Bahamas and she gives her all the credit in raising her. Her husband and her children were all born in the Bahamas as well before they moved to a very small house in Florida in order to escape the poverty of the Bahamas. Izzelly’s aunt was a midwife and taught her everything she knew so that when Izzelly was 17, she became a midwife as well. In the Bahamas, people were very poor so she took what little pay she could get. Where she lived in the Bahamas was constantly threatened by hurricanes and the towns were not built to withstand them so houses were often destroyed and they would not have access to clean water or food. When Izzelly moved to Florida, she lived in Jacksonville with her daughter, son-in-law, and their children where she continued to work as a midwife.[1]

Social Context[edit | edit source]

Economies of Florida and the Bahamas in the 1930's[edit | edit source]

The economies of Florida and the Bahamas were very different at this time. The economy of Florida was just beginning to take off after recovering from a fruit fly destroying many different citrus plants[2] before the depression hit while the people of the Bahamas were very poor and the economy was struggling. Florida was seen as a tropical paradise to the people of the United States so it started to become a tourist destination. This tourism brought a stable income for the state.[2] The Bahamas at this time was still very poor as it had not taken off as a tourist destination yet.[3] The main source of income for the people here was fishing and agriculture.[3] The Bahamas were also subjected to terrible hurricanes that would often destroy houses and leave people without and clean water or food.[1] In the 1930's, African American's in both the Bahamas and Florida were still being discriminated against because of their race. This lead to many African American's being forced to work as sharecroppers where they worked land for the economic benefit of white people in return for a place to live.[4] It was jobs like sharecropping that made up part of the economy in the Bahamas and Florida as both parts of their economy were based on agriculture, more so the Bahamas then Florida. The economies of both Florida and the Bahamas were still recovering from the events of the Great Depression at this time. Americans were wanting to return to normalcy after the Great Depression so those that could afford it would go to Florida for vacations. This then helped to build the tourism in Florida back up and bring in more money.[2] The Bahamas however were much poorer and it was more difficult for them to recover from the Great Depression as people were not moving there to help build the economy.

Racial Disparities From the Civil War to the 1930's[edit | edit source]

Sharecropper House in Mississippi Delta

In Florida in the mid 1800s, slavery was a major component of life. Slavery was responsible for the success of many different economies in the United States. Because of this, southern states wanted to keep the institution of slavery around. Often times though, slaves tried to fight for their freedom and would often have rebellions against their owners due to the horrible situations that they were kept in.[5] An example of how horrible slavery was and why there was such a strong push towards abolition was women were sometimes forced to get pregnant in order to have children that would then be enslaved and could be sold for the economic gain of the slave holders. Women would also sometimes be forced with a decision to have a child who she might potentially be separated from or to just not have a child at all.[6] It was actions like these that lead to slave rebellions. The rebellions along with the abolitionist spirit in the north led to the Civil War and the end of slavery. By the 1930s, slavery had been outlawed but there were still many disparities between races. At this time in the south, there were Jim Crow laws that had been established. Jim Crow laws legalized segregation in the south, meaning that African Americans and white people were forced to live in separate places and go to different schools, hospitals, and churches.[4] Although African Americans were considered citizens by this time, they still had trouble being able to vote. This was because of literacy tests and poll taxes. Literacy tests and poll taxes were used as a way to prevent former slaves and African Americans from voting as some could not read or write and many were too poor to afford to pay a poll tax.[4] During this time, there were also radical groups such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKk), an organization of white supremists who would often attack and sometimes hang members of the African American community.[4] One group that was trying to put an end to racial disparities at this time was the NAACP. The NAACP stood for the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. The NAACP worked to abolish segregation, establish voting rights for African Americans, and improve education for African Americans.[4] Through their work, they were able to improve the lives of millions in the US.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. GCSE, The Situation for Black Americans in the 1930s - Racial Inequality between 1929 and 1945" BBC News. BBC, 2020. https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/z3yh2p3/revision/1.
  2. Harris, David Russell, and Gail Saunders. “Government and Society.” Encyclopædia Britannica, March 18, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/place/The-Bahamas/Government-and-society
  3. Huss, Veronica E. Izzelly Harding, UNC Libraries Federal Writer’s Project, 1938. https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/03709/id/943/rec/1
  4. Knight, Henry. Tropic of Hopes : California, Florida, and the Selling of American Paradise, 1869-1929. Florida: University Press of Florida, 2013.
  5. McMillen, Sally G.. Southern Women : Black and White in the Old South. Newark: John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2017.
  6. Rivers, Larry Eugene. Rebels and Runaways : Slave Resistance in Nineteenth-Century Florida. Baltimore: University of Illinois Press, 2012.
  7. Wikipedia, Sharecropper House in Mississippi Delta, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharecropping

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Federal Writer's Project, Izzelly Harding
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Tropic of Hope
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Bahamas, Britanica
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 The Situation for Black Americans
  5. Rebels and Runaways
  6. Southern Women