Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105i/Section 026/A. L. Coggins

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A. L. Coggins
BornApril 7, 1895
Rowan County, North Carolina
ReligionSouthern Baptist
SpouseJessie Ewing (m. 1915)

A. L. Coggins was a Southern Baptist minister interviewed for the Federal Writer's Project on January 18, 1939.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

On April 7, 1895, Coggins was the third of four children born to lifelong tenant farmers near China Grove in Rowan County, North Carolina.[1] His mother passed away when he was seven, and his older sister “became a mother” to him and their other two brothers.[1] Like many other families in the South during that time, the Coggins family was quite poor and had to work exceedingly hard. As a result, Coggins never had a chance to advance far in academics. He attended a small rural school for some time, but he had to drop out eventually because “it was a little too much for a boy fifteen years old to cook, milk cows, chop wood, go four miles to school, all in the same day."[2]

Adult Life[edit | edit source]

In 1912, at the age of 17, Coggins found a job with the Southern Railroad at Mockville.[3] Due to this job, he was able save up a “fabulous sum” of $55. Unfortunately, however, that was not enough to pay off his doctor’s bill after a ten-week bought of typhoid in 1913. Five years later, something similar happened. Coggins had to stay at home for three months and eight days because he had gotten both pneumonia and the flu, which cost him around $800.[4] However, he used his spell of illness to read through the Bible for the first time. After he recovered, he and his wife moved to East Mockville and joined a Baptist church. A few months later, in May 1921, he attended the Southern Baptist Convention in Chattanooga, Tennessee.[4] It was there that he felt a call to preach. However, that meant he would have to go back to school even though he was already married and had a young daughter. Nevertheless, since he felt strongly convicted to become a minister, Coggins knew that he had to get education.[5] Despite their poor financial situation, the Coggins family all enrolled in school, but they had to work hard to scratch out a living. Mrs. Coggins and their daughter would pick cotton “in the afternoons and on Saturdays,” while Coggins worked in a barber shop.[6] After nine years, Coggins finished both high school and college, having overcome many financial difficulties along the way.[7] In 1932, he came across a church in need of reconstruction. Despite the Great Depression, Coggins led the effort to rebuild that church, which was continuing to develop positively at the time of the interview in 1939.

Social Context[edit | edit source]

Rural Education in the South[edit | edit source]

[8]A typical rural schoolhouse from 1907.

During the early 1900s, education in the rural South was not as accessible or important as it is today. In fact, as the Minnesota state superintendent J. W. Olsen stated in 1902, America faced a “rural school problem.”[9] One aspect of the rural school problem was low school attendance. In the whole country, “only 51 percent of children aged five to nineteen even went to school."[10] Although this statistic increased to 59 percent by 1910, most of those enrolled students could only stay for a few years to get a basic education.[10] The low school attendance, however, was concentrated in the rural South, where working was often more important than learning because many families struggled to “make ends meet” if their children did not work.[10] Another aspect of the rural school problem was that it was difficult for rural children to access education—much less quality education. Rural schools were meant for children living within four to five miles. As a result, the children would have to spend a long time commuting to the schoolhouse every day. In addition, the rural schools often had low-quality teachers and lacked age-grades, which could have enhanced the students' education.[9] When the Progressives assessed the situation of the rural southern schools, they found that they "were for the most part miserably supported, poorly attended, wretchedly taught, and wholly inadequate for the education of the people.”[11]

Southern Baptist Church[edit | edit source]

The Southern Baptist Convention had split from the main Baptist denomination in 1845 due to disagreements about certain issues, such as church activity and owning slaves. After the Civil War, there was some discussion about a reunification of the Southern and Northern Baptists, but in 1900, “the chasm” between the two groups seemed wider than ever. However, despite the separation, each group still increased its respective charity work.[12] The Southern Baptist Convention began addressing social issues at the beginning of the 20th century. They were concerned about “issues from immigration and labor to temperance and gambling,” but instead of relying on the government, they addressed these issues through church activity.[13] Between 1890 and 1920, the Southern Baptists used missionary activity to create a social ethic that became the foundation of their effort to serve the community. Their social ethic caused them to help the dispossessed, especially since the Civil War had hurt the South’s economy. They also built orphanages and other facilities to help the needy. In the meantime, education became a top priority. Receiving influence from Progressivism, the Baptists leaders announced that “God believes in education.”[14] At the same time, however, Southern Baptists were withdrawing their support from mountain schools. That was in part because state governments were creating more state-sponsored schools, which eventually replaced the religious schools.[15]

The Cooperative Program[edit | edit source]

Another major milestone during this time was the introduction of the Cooperative Program in 1925. This program required the Southern Baptist Convention to share its finances with each of the state conventions affiliated with it.[16] Similarly, each state convention had to share its finances with the main convention.[16] The Cooperative Program was introduced during a time when the Southern Baptist Convention was in great debt, but, contrary to popular belief, the sharing of finances did not bring an end to the convention.[16] Instead, it kept the convention afloat.

Footnotes[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Coggins, “A Late Education,” 9496.
  2. Ibid., 9497.
  3. Ibid., 9498.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ibid., 9500.
  5. Ibid., 9501.
  6. Ibid., 9504.
  7. Ibid., 9507.
  8. Original photographer unknown, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Steffes, School, Society, & State.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Gold, “This Is What School Was Like 100 Years Ago.”
  11. Link, "Making the Inarticulate Speak," 64.
  12. Harper, The Quality of Mercy, 15.
  13. Ibid., 16.
  14. Ibid., 28.
  15. Ibid., 112.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Starnes, "A Godly Heritage."

References[edit | edit source]

Coggins, A. L. “A Late Education.” Interview by Rogerson, Anna Belle W., and Massengill, Edwin, January 18, 1939, Folder 719, Federal Writers' Project Papers, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, UNC Chapel Hill.

Gold, Sunny Sea. 2020. “This Is What School Was Like 100 Years Ago.” Reader’s Digest, April 5. https://www.rd.com/list/what-school-was-like-100-years-ago/.

Harper, Keith. 1996. The Quality of Mercy: Southern Baptists and Social Christianity, 1890-1920. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press.

Link, William A. 1983. "Making the Inarticulate Speak: A Reassessment of Public Education in the Rural South. 1870-1920." Journal of Thought 18 (3): 63-75. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/1292662362?accountid=14244.

Starnes, Todd. 2000. “A Godly Heritage: The History of the Cooperative Program.” SBC Life, June. http://www.baptist2baptist.net/b2barticle.asp?ID=240.

Steffes, Tracy L. 2013. School, Society, & State: A New Education to Govern Modern America, 1890–1940. Chicago, Illinois: University Press Scholarship Online. https://doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226772127.001.0001.

Unknown Photographer. 1907. One-room Redland Schoolhouse. Wikimedia Commons. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e0/Redland_Schoolhouse_1907.jpg.