Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105i/Section 50/Dr. Rufus Samuel Vass

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Overview[edit | edit source]

Dr. Rufus Samuel Vass was an African-American doctor during the Great Depression. He was born in North Carolina, later on he joined the US Military to participate in World War 1 before returning to his medical practice in North Carolina. He was interviewed for the Federal Writer's Project in 1939.

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Vass was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, on May 23rd, 1887. His father, Samuel Nathaniel Vass was a professor at Shaw University while being one of its first graduates, and after receiving his public education, Vass followed suit and attended Shaw University for his undergraduate education. Vass attended the Leonard Medical School at Shaw to receive his M.D. in 1912, and later began his private practice.

Career[edit | edit source]

Vass joined the United States Military in 1917 during World War 1, where he was a Captain of his Medical Corps unit, before returning to his practice in the spring of 1919. In his files, the only thing Vass mentions that he was sent to Fort Des Moines in Iowa for training. He was then sent to France during the war, but said that he didn't care "to even discuss the horrors of war."

Vass states that he had cordial and respectful relationships with white people and his white friends. He believed that issues between white people and African-Ameicans were the results of misunderstandings. Vass acknowledges injustices against both black people and poor whites regardless of race in his files. These include blacks and poor whites' tendency to be served the full penalty of the law regardless of if they were innocent or only partially guilty. Vass also noted his disdain for wage inequalities between black and white people performing the same job. In his documents, Vass remained hopeful that the course of time would mend relationships between black and white people. Vass says "There is one thing certain and that is: We've got to live side by side, so why can't we be friends, respecting the rights of each other at all times."

Death[edit | edit source]

Date of death is unknown. Details surrounding death are unknown.

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Wage Inequality Between African-Americans and Whites in the Great Depression[edit | edit source]

In the 1930s, the racial wage gap between African-Americans was steep. At some points, the ration of African-American weekly wage to a white person's wage was as low as 39.8%.[1] As time went on, the ratio would gradually improve however, from 1940 to 1980, black men consistently earned significantly lower than their white counterparts.[2] The wage gap was especially pronounced in the Southern regions of the United States. Declines in the wage gap in the South were responsible for most of the national improvement of male African-Americans' wages. [3]

Disadvantages of African-Americans in Courts during the Great Depression[edit | edit source]

During the Great Depression and early 1900s, African-Americans faced significant discrimination in the criminal justice system. African-Americans were tried in legal courts with completely white juries and courtrooms[4]. An example of this is the Scottsboro trial in 1931, where nine young African-Americans (ages ranging from 13 to 21 years old) were convicted and sentenced to death in Alabama on rape charges.[5] In 1910, African Americans made up approximately one-tenth of the U.S population, but approximately one-third of the prison population.[6] African-Americans would be dealt the harshest penalties of the law whether they were innocent or partially guilty. As an example, "African-Americans accounted for 405 of the 455 executions for rape between 1930 and 1972".[7] These racial prejudices have deep roots in U.S history. American slavery, the Jim Crow era, and Black Codes had all contributed to discrimination in the justice system in the 1930s.[8] African-American voices called out claiming that the criminal justice system was the countries "concrete expression of economic, racial, and national oppression."[9]

References[edit | edit source]

[1]Smith, James P., and Finis R. Welch. "Black Economic Progress After Myrdal." Journal of Economic Literature 27, no. 2 (1989): 519-64. Accessed October 6, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2726688.

[2]Smith, James P., and Finis R. Welch. "Black Economic Progress After Myrdal," 521.

[3]Mason, Patrick L. “Moments of Disparate Peaks: Race-Gender Wage Gaps among Mature Persons, 1965–2007.” The Review of Black Political Economy 38, no. 1 (January 2011): 1–25. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12114-010-9059-x.

[4]Rosich, Katherine J. “Race, Ethnicity, and the Criminal Justice System.” American Sociological Association, 2007. http://asanet.org.

[5]Bernstein, Lee. “Essay: African Americans and the Criminal-Justice System.” UNC Chapel Hill Libraries, 2009. http://gateway.proquest.com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/openurl?url_ver=Z39.88-2004&res_dat=xri:bsc:&rft_dat=xri:bsc:ft:essay:29WALT.

[6] Rosich, Katherine J. “Race, Ethnicity, and the Criminal Justice System," 2

[7] Ibid

[8]Ibid., 4

[9]Bernstein, Lee. “Essay: African Americans and the Criminal-Justice System.”

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

Bernstein, Lee. “Essay: African Americans and the Criminal-Justice System.” UNC Chapel Hill Libraries, 2009. http://gateway.proquest.com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/openurl?url_ver=Z39.88-2004&res_dat=xri:bsc:&rft_dat=xri:bsc:ft:essay:29WALT.

Folder 811: Dr. Rufus Samuel Vass, in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

 Mason, Patrick L. “Moments of Disparate Peaks: Race-Gender Wage Gaps among Mature Persons, 1965–2007.” The Review of Black Political Economy 38, no. 1 (January 2011): 1–25. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12114-010-9059-x.

Rosich, Katherine J. “Race, Ethnicity, and the Criminal Justice System.” American Sociological Association, 2007. http://asanet.org.

Smith, James P., and Finis R. Welch. "Black Economic Progress After Myrdal." Journal of Economic Literature 27, no. 2 (1989): 519-64. Accessed October 6, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2726688.

  1. 1.0 1.1 economic pg 522
  2. 2.0 2.1 economic 521
  3. 3.0 3.1 moments of disparate peaks pg 20
  4. 4.0 4.1 pg 2 asa
  5. 5.0 5.1 Essay pg 12
  6. 6.0 6.1 pg 2 Asa
  7. 7.0 7.1 pg 2 Asa
  8. 8.0 8.1 pg 4 asa
  9. 9.0 9.1 Essay pg 15