Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105/Section071/Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105i/Section 71/Homer Jordan

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Overview[edit | edit source]

Homer Jordan was a white salesman who lived in Alabama and was interviewed on February 3, 1939 by Kennedy Stetson in Jacksonville, Florida for the Federal Writers Project. He lived at 3456 Edison Avenue at the time of the interview.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Jordan was born on a farm near Dinsmore, a small neighborhood within Jacksonville. He attended school up until fourth grade when he had to drop out to help with the chores. His father died when he was eighteen years old. Farmers were unable to make a living on cotton and other staple crops during the Great Depression, so like many other farmers, Jordan left to find work in the city, and the farm was sold.[1] His mother then moved away to Jacksonville and Homer was left to provide for himself. It was at this time that Jordan started selling furniture, clothing, and insurance to the African American community as a means of income.[2]

Career[edit | edit source]

Up to the time he was interviewed, Jordan had been a salesman for twenty five years. He primarily sold to the black community for $0 down and payments of fifty cents per month. His competitors whom he consistently outsold looked down upon him for crossing racial lines, but Homer simply claimed "a dollar is a dollar, regardless the color of the color of its former owners."[3] Jordan was well liked and trusted among the black community too and was close with many of them even during a time of such high racial tensions in the South. He did though exploit them a little when it came to the price of the items he sold them, and when it came to the necessity of them. Jordan stated in his interview that you could sell a black man anything if you just told them that they needed it. He said his whole life he had been selling them products that were not even worth a tenth of what they paid for them. The secret he believed, came down to treating African Americans like human beings or like you would treat another white man. [4] Beside the fact that Jordan was able to make high profits on the furniture, clothing, and insurance sales, salesmen as a whole still did good business during the Great Depression.

Societal Issues[edit | edit source]

Insurance Salesman During Great Depression[edit | edit source]

Homer was a door-to-door salesman like the one pictured above.

The stock market crash did not devastate insurance salesmen of the 1930s and 40s as it did other institutions.[5] Only 20 out of 250 insurers went into receivership during the Great Depression.[6] Many salesman though ran into problems when it came to getting their clients to make payments on time. Most clients in this time period were extremely poor, and struggled to keep up with their monthly payments. They realized though that insurance was a very important medium for long run savings plans so the knowledge of this was the only thing that kept them buying.[7] Allowing customers to make payments monthly was a great tactic many salesmen utilized during this time. Regardless of race, very few people had a large disposable income in the 1930s and 40s so they could only afford to make big purchases if they did not have to pay them all at once. This worked well for both the buyer and seller, because the salesmen were able to make extra profits by including interest rates, and they buyers were able to afford items they normally would not have been able to.

Racism in the South[edit | edit source]

In Southern cities unemployment rates were systematically higher for blacks than for whites from early on in the Depression.[8] Not only were jobs scarce at this time, but many businesses refused to hire blacks which was yet another barrier they had to deal with. The reasons for greater black suffering during the Great Depression are linked to racial discrimination as it clearly appears.[9] The high unemployment rate among the black community lead to huge segregated neighborhoods of blacks because they could only afford to live in certain parts of the city. Along with unemployment they often did not have access to the same government resources that whites did. This for example can be seen in access to free treatment for syphilis. Only six out of the 67 counties in Alabama offered free syphilis treatment to African Americans during this time.[10] One final inequality blacks to deal with during this time was a poor education system. Going to school had nearly no benefits for black children because even if they were able to graduate, which was highly unlikely, they would not be able to land a white-collar job with their diploma. Nearly 75% of black children in the South dropped out of school before fifth grade, so the odds were already stacked against them.[11] Many of them ended up dropping out early to help bring money into the family.

Works Cited[edit | edit source]

Downs, Matthew. “Great Depression in Alabama,” July 10, 2014. http://encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-3608.

Greene, Mark R. "Life Insurance Buying in Inflation." Journal of the American Association of University Teachers of Insurance 21, no. 1 (1954): 99-113. Accessed October 9, 2020. doi:10.2307/249853.

Hallett, Jeremy. “A Primer on the History of Life Insurance,” July 23, 2015. https://www.quotacy.com/history-of-life-insurance/.

Jordan, Homer. “Mister Homer.” Interview by Stetson, Kennedy., February 3, 1939, Folder 125, Federal Writers Project Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.

Mercer, Deborah. “Unit 11 1930s: The Great Depression.” New Jersey State Library, March 4, 2003.https://www.njstatelib.org/research_library/new_jersey_resources/highlights/african_american_history_curriculum/unit_11_great_depression/.

Sundstrom, William A. "Last Hired, First Fired? Unemployment and Urban Black Workers During the Great Depression." The Journal of Economic History 52, no. 2 (1992): 415-29. Accessed October 9, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2123118.

  1. (Downs 2012 pg1)
  2. (Stetson 1939 pg1268)
  3. (Stetson 1939 pg1268)
  4. (Stetson 1939 pg1279)
  5. (Hallett 2015 pg1)
  6. (Hallett 2015 pg1)
  7. (Greene 1954 pg101)
  8. (Sundstrom 1992 pg416)
  9. (Mercer 2003 pg1)
  10. (Stetson 1939 pg1276)
  11. (Stetson 1939 pg1273)