Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105i/Section 50/Marguerite Clark

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Marguerite Clark
BornMarguerite Clark
1889
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Died1943
ResidenceNew Orleans, Louisiana
EthnicityAfrican American
OccupationCook and Laundress

Overview[edit | edit source]

Marguerite Clark (1889 – 1943) was an African American cook from New Orleans, Louisiana. She was interviewed by Robert Mckinney for the Federal Writer's Project in 1939.[1]

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Marguerite Clark was born to a single mother on Sixth Street, in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1889.[2] Clark was an only child, and grew up with many father figures in her life, none of whom lasted.[1] She was raised in a traditional, single-parent household by her mother.

At the age of 10, she was employed as a laundress alongside her mother, cleaning and maintaining clothing for local white families. Clark looked upon her job fondly, opting to forego a formal education in favor of spending more time in the homes where she worked.[2] As a child, Clark went to Sunday School, and described herself as a 'spiritual' person at a young age. When asked about schooling, Clark said she regrets not giving it a chance.[3]

Later Life[edit | edit source]

Clark was raised by her single mother to be a cook, a profession the women in her family had held for a considerable amount of time. She also had a husband, Buster Clark, who she describes as “slue-foot, light-brown and lazy.”[4] Clarke worked on Saint Charles Avenue as a cook for a “Mrs. Jacobs.” Clark seemed appreciative of her role as a cook. When describing her sentiment about the possibility of returning to Africa, she says that “Africa a’int done nun for me.” Although she had little formal education, Clark was literate, and considered herself strong in arithmetic.[4]

Clark made an average wage at the time, $9 an hour. She spent most of this money on Buster, who had serious gambling and drinking problems. Marguerite never had children, although much like completing her education, later in life, she expressed regret over not having children.[4]

She was also of the belief that people should marry young and belong to the church. She passed away in 1943, although the specific date is unknown.[1]

Social Context[edit | edit source]

Access to Education for African Americans[edit | edit source]

The 20th century was a turbulent time for people of color in the United States. Discrimination was at its height, with Jim Crow Laws being put in place in the last 19th century and carrying onwards until 1965.[5] A key disparity came in the form of access to education: until Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, African Americans were denied access to integrated schools, often resulting in extremely poor literacy rates for the demographic.

Access to education for African Americans was narrow, so much so that, "African American adults in Mississippi had completed an average of 5.1 years in school, while those in Georgia and South Carolina had even lower figures of 4.9 and 4.8 years."[5] For the nation as a whole, just one of every eight black adults had completed high school, while four of 10 whites had earned their diploma. While only nine percent of white adults had attended school for less than five years, 31 percent of blacks fell into this category.[5]

Access to Education for Females[edit | edit source]

The issue above was compounded by the fact that the general American public was still coming to terms with the increased involvement of women in academia and the workplace post WW2. The issue of education for females was a longstanding one. Barriers to girls’ education – like poverty, child marriage and gender-based violence – vary among countries and communities. Poor families often favor boys when investing in education, and coupled with the segregation at the time, African American females were afforded nearly no opportunities to educate themselves.[6]

An education free of negative gender norms has direct benefits men. In many countries, norms around masculinity can fuel disengagement from school, child labour, gang violence and recruitment into armed groups.[7]

Employment for African Americans in The Great Depression[edit | edit source]

The Jim Crow era was a dark time for African Americans. They were discriminated against both in society and the workplace. African Americans were not afforded the rights to the same level of employment as their Caucasian counterparts, oftentimes picking up what would have been considered menial jobs (i.e. cooking, cleaning, laundry).[8]

Little improvement was made in the matter as the Great Depression arrived. African Americans are not portrayed among the Great Depression era poor. The problem was centered around the "average" American, who the general public assumed was white and middle-aged. African American employees during the Great Depression were viewed as more expendable than most, a sentiment accurately represented by the phrase "Last Hired, First Fired."[9]

This was due to a myriad of reasons that combined with racism to disenfranchise African Americans. For example, African Americans during the Great Depression often worked blue-collar, unskilled jobs.[9] After the market crashed in 1929, those same entry-level blue collar jobs were hastily filled by employers with a strong preference towards working class white males. To put that discrimination into perspective, According to the Library of Congress, black unemployment rates in the South were double or even triple that of the white population.[9] In Atlanta, nearly 70 percent of black workers were jobless in 1934. In cities across the North, approximately 25 percent of white workers were unemployed in 1932, while the jobless rates among African Americans topped 50 percent in Chicago and Pittsburgh and 60 percent in Philadelphia and Detroit.[9]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Folder 271: McKinney, Robert (interviewer): My W.P.A. Man :: Federal Writers Project Papers". dc.lib.unc.edu. Retrieved 2020-10-04.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Folder 271: McKinney, Robert (interviewer): My W.P.A. Man :: Federal Writers Project Papers". dc.lib.unc.edu. Retrieved 2020-10-04.
  3. "Folder 271: McKinney, Robert (interviewer): My W.P.A. Man :: Federal Writers Project Papers". dc.lib.unc.edu. Retrieved 2020-10-04.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Folder 271: McKinney, Robert (interviewer): My W.P.A. Man :: Federal Writers Project Papers". dc.lib.unc.edu. Retrieved 2020-10-04.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Canaday, Neil; Tamura, Robert (2009-07). "White discrimination in provision of black education: Plantations and towns". Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control 33 (7): 1490–1530. doi:10.1016/j.jedc.2009.02.012. https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0165188909000499. 
  6. "Girls' education". www.unicef.org. Retrieved 2020-10-04.
  7. Nesdale, Drew; Lawson, Michael J. (2011-08-29). "Social Groups and Children’s Intergroup Attitudes: Can School Norms Moderate the Effects of Social Group Norms?". Child Development 82 (5): 1594–1606. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01637.x. ISSN 0009-3920. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01637.x. 
  8. Clawson, Rosalee A. (2002-01). "Poor People, Black Faces: The Portrayal of Poverty in Economics Textbooks". Journal of Black Studies 32 (3): 352–361. doi:10.1177/002193470203200305. ISSN 0021-9347. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/002193470203200305. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Klein, Christopher. "Last Hired, First Fired: How the Great Depression Affected African Americans". HISTORY. Retrieved 2020-11-05.