Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105i/Section 50/Henry Slaughter

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Overview[edit | edit source]

Henry Slaughter was an African American stonemason born in the late 19th century in Tennessee. Despite living a monotonous and struggle-filled working life during the Great Depression, Slaughter found accord through tightly knit relationships and his love for the Baptist Church. He was interviewed by the Federal Writers' Project in 1938.[1]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Born in western Tennessee in the town of Brentwood, Henry Slaughter was birthed into the deep south, a region with a history of extreme racism towards African Americans.[2]

Henry Slaughter was born in 1873 in Brentwood, Tennessee. Two weeks after his birth, his mother passed away and he was adopted. He became extremely close with his two new sisters and grew up a relatively good life. However, he was a bad behaved kid and often ran into trouble at school. When he was old enough, his adopted father began to teach him a plethora of trade skills. After a lot of practicing and dedication, Henry was able to acquire many different skills such as masonry work and shoe making.[3]

Working Life[edit | edit source]

At the age of twenty-seven, Henry Slaughter married the love of his life. During the rough economic time period of the Great Depression, Slaughter made it his goal to provide for his wife the best he could, to ensure that she did not have to work herself. Despite his abundance of trade skills, he felt most confident in his abilities as a stone mason, constructing foundations and chimneys for houses. Living a decent but not glamorous life, Slaughter spent $1.50 on food and 50 cents on his washing each week. Part of a local Baptist Church, he turned to god for a lot of guidance in his life. As a hardworking and religious man, he learned that mistakes only make you perfect. His strong morals and confident attitude made Slaughter a pleasure to know. Ten years after their marriage, Slaughter’s wife passed away from disease.[4]

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

African American workers faced oppression within the work environment in the form of bad conditions, low wages, and blatant racism.[5]

African American Adoption[edit | edit source]

During the Great Depression, the African American community was hit especially hard by the flaws of the adoption system. With the continuation of systematic racism from Jim Crow Laws and subjugation, the biggest adversity in the adoption service was seen in the deep south, where black families were abused.[6] Based on immoral values and stringent racism from white social workers, African American parents were often outright denied any sort of Social Service work, and would not be allowed to put their children up for adoption.[7] Even if a child was allowed to be fostered, they would often wind up getting treated horrifically.[8] There was a strict line of segregation when it came to adoption, as white parents were almost never allowed to adopt black children and vice versa.[9] It was estimated that close to ~50,000 African American children were orphans by the 1950s.[10] As the system was proven to be faulty and racist, many African American families adopted children secretly, without the government every knowing.[11]

It wasn’t until halfway through the 20th century that African American children and their parents received more rights within the realm of adoption. By the early 50s, agencies such as The National Urban League Foster Care and Adoptions Project, and Adopt-A-Child, worked to put poor, unfortunate African American children in welcoming homes throughout the nation.[12]

The Role of the Black Baptist Church in Providing Mental Health Services[edit | edit source]

During the Great Depression a large number of African American people found it impossible to become incorporated within society, as they faced ridicule and oppression from the legacy of racism that continued to run rampant in the nation. Jim Crow Laws segregated the nation and the divide between races stayed true for the whole Great Depression period. The issue of social separation between whites and blacks was a strong divide for the nation. However, many African American people found refuge in the Black Baptist churches of the south.[13]

Historically, the black churches of the American South have continually offered reliable formal and informal social services in the African American community.[14] Whether direct help with trained professionals or indirect help purely from community involvement, the churches throughout American History have provided vast amounts of mental support for African Americans.[15] Especially during the second half of the 20th century, rural-living African Americans had limited access to accredited mental health service providers.[16] From this lack of service, the community sought support from other, so called “natural healers” of the Baptist Church.[17]

Male unemployment, especially African American men, changed the stigma that males could be the only provider in a family.[18]

The churches not only provided support for the African American community, but they mended society closer together. Shared racial identity paired with common beliefs about mental health made the congregations a tight knit community, able to improve the lives of all of its members.[19]

Change in Male Masculinity During The Great Depression[edit | edit source]

The idea of “masculinity” and what it means to be masculine rapidly changed during the Great Depression. Since a large number of working-class males lost their jobs in the 30s, a new idea of “New Deal masculinity” arose as a result of an increase acceptance of communal and group work, rather than individualism.[20] Many men during the time period realized that to support their families, they simply could not be the sole provider, as the economy was so deteriorated that they would not be able to make sufficient money.[21] The men of the time rapidly realized that because they could not do it on their own, they would have to give up the stigmas that “men are the only providers” and allow both women and other family members to contribute to the entire family’s well-being. The shift in masculinity was very prevalent in the African American community as economic discrimination in the form of dangerous jobs and bad working conditions affected black labor workers at high rates, leading to terrible wages for men.[22] Even in the North, where job opportunity was better than anywhere else in the nation, the unemployment rates for African American men was much higher than for whites in the same area.[23] Up until the Great Depression, there was a belief that men should be the tough, strong, masculine providers, but this notion quickly changed with the loss of many jobs and the importance of women in the workforce.[24]

Footnotes[edit | edit source]

  1. Lillian, "So Shall it Come".
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Greenberg, "To Ask for an".
  6. Herman, "Adoption History: African American".
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Blank et al., "Alternative Mental Health Services".
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Gershon, "What Kind of Work".
  19. Ibid.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Greenberg, "To Ask for an".
  23. Bryson, "Family and Home, Impact".
  24. Ibid.

Sources[edit | edit source]

  • Blank, M. B., Mahmood, M., Fox, J. C., & Guterbock, T. (2002). "Alternative Mental Health Services: The Role of the Black Church in the South." American journal of public health, 92(10): 1668–1672. https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.92.10.1668
  • Bryson, Dennis. "Family and Home, Impact of the Great Depression on." In Encyclopedia of the Great Depression, edited by Robert S. McElvaine, 310-315. Vol. 1. New York, NY: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004. Gale eBooks. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CX3404500173/GVRL?u=unc_main&sid=GVRL&xid=5f784225.
  • Gershon, Livia. “What Kind of Work Is ‘Masculine’? | JSTOR Daily.” JSTOR Daily, July 19, 2017. https://daily.jstor.org/what-kind-of-work-is-masculine/.
  • Greenberg, Cheryl Lynn. "To Ask for an Equal Chance: African Americans in the Great Depression." Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/lib/unc/detail.action?docID
  • Herman, Ellen. “Adoption History: African American History.” The Adoption History Project, February 24, 2012. https://pages.uoregon.edu/adoption/topics/AfricanAmerican.htm.
  • Love, Lillian. “So Shall it Come to Pass.” The Federal Writers' Project papers #949, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/03709/id/1150/rec/1