Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105/Section003/J.R. Glenn

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J.R. Glenn
BornUnknown, North Carolina
EthnicityAfrican American
EducationWinston-Salem State College

Overview[edit | edit source]

J.R. Glenn was an African American minister during the Great Depression, who was interviewed on July 26, 1939 by Cora L. Bennett in Charlotte, NC for the Federal Writers Project.[1]

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

J.R. Glenn was born and raised in rural North Carolina. His early life was spent farming with his aunt and uncle, who barely made enough money to keep any food on the table. Eventually he started farming for another man who sent him to elementary school. Even though his mother and father could not afford to help him further his education, he was determined to finish school. A little while after, Glenn was gifted a calf, which he raised and sold for enough money to go to four years of school at Winston-Salem State College. At age 18, Glenn was ordained and began his career as a minister.[1]

Later Life[edit | edit source]

Within a year of completing school, Glenn got married. Over the next couple decades, he and his wife had 8 children, all of whom he tried to put through school. His wife worked as a nurse and then a maid and they managed to make ends meet by growing a large vegetable garden and selling the produce for meat. Although he did not make much money from preaching, it was what he loved to do. He felt he was building up the Kingdom of God and leaving each place he preached better than he found it. Occasionally, he came into conflict with other Christians and people who encouraged only faith in themselves and the other leaders of churches. Glenn believed that people should put their faith directly in God and he expressed that in his preaching and in the way he lived his daily life. Despite all of his hardships, he believed that God’s world was made for everyone. His determination, faith, and appreciation for God allowed him to enjoy what he felt were the important things in life.[1]

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Religion During the Great Depression[edit | edit source]

The onset of the Great Depression brought about economic instability and financial turmoil for the majority of Americans and for African Americans in particular.[2]

For people from all different socioeconomic statuses, this was a time of uncertainty and fear. Leaders of the churches realized that the economic crisis prevented people everywhere from having the time to foster their own spiritualism or money to support a church. Funding for churches dropped significantly during the Great Depression and along with that, churches abilities to provide for the needy. [3] The substantial need for relief made it very difficult for leaders to keep their churches open.[4] Although during this time period many people turned away from faith and focused primarily on their economic needs, some leaders “remained remarkably persistent in seeing opportunity in the 1930s more often than they saw difficulties, a seemingly counterintuitive pattern for a people anxiously anticipating the end of the world.” [2] They found new opportunity to spread the Gospel in this time of hardship and significant growth and expansion of religious organizations and churches occurred following the Great Depression.[2]

African American Poverty During the Great Depression[edit | edit source]

People of all races, genders, and socioeconomic statuses were affected by the Great Depression. However, African Americans were disproportionately hurt by the negative effects of the economic collapse in comparison with Whites. While the disappearance of jobs, lowering of wages, and climbing debts prevented many people from supporting themselves, African Americans were now being forced out of even the most difficult, low-paying, or dirty jobs that had once been held primarily by black men.[2]

The unemployment rates for black people in the south were at least double that of white people.[5] During the Great Depression, a married, black women was three times as likely as a married, white woman to be working.[2] Black women were also being replaced by white women, who had no work experience and had just found themselves in financial trouble. As black women were already the least desirable workers in the economy, this influx of white women pushed them out of the work force completely.[6] The impact of the Great Depression on African Americans was exacerbated by the fact that the majority of them did not have any generational wealth. African Americans, on average, worked in significantly lower paying jobs than almost all Whites making it difficult for them to accumulate any wealth. This disparity left Blacks with much less of a financial cushion when the Great Depression hit, meaning that if they lost their jobs, they were left with almost nothing to survive.[2] While new government policies, like the New Deal, brought about many changes that provided relief and recovery to people greatly impacted by the Great Depression, their benefits were still very limited for African Americans.[4]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Glenn, J.R. Interview by Cora L. Bennett. Federal Writers' Project. July 26, 1939.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Greenberg, Cheryl. To Ask for an Equal Chance: African Americans in the Great Depression. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010.
  3. Butler, Jon. “American Religion and the Great Depression.” Church History 80, no. 3 (September 2011): 575-578.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Mississippi History Now. “The Great Depression and Religion in Mississippi.” Accessed October 7, 2020.
  5. Klein, Christopher. “Last Hired, First Fired: How the Great Depression Affected African Americans.” History.com Accessed October 7, 2020.
  6. Helmbold, Lois. “Beyond the Family Economy: Black and White Working-Class Women during the Great Depression.” Feminist Studies 13, no. 3 (Autumn, 1987): 629-655.