Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105i/Section 52/Eliza Hall

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Eliza Hall[edit | edit source]

Eliza Hall was an African American washerwoman who was interviewed by Louise L. Abbitt in February 1939.

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Hall was born to a family of former slaves in a rural North Carolina town called Middleton. Hall was one of nine children and spent most of her childhood on a farm. When Hall was five, she started attending school with her older siblings. Hall was in school for five months and told Abbitt, during an interview, that while she was in school, the only things she learned were how to write her name and sing church songs. Hall also said in her interview that she could have gone to school longer, but as soon as she was old enough to work, she began washing clothes.

Married life[edit | edit source]

When Hall was eighteen, she married her husband, Ed. Together, Hall and Ed had eight children and lived in a small three-bedroom house in Middleton. After Hall married Ed, she gave up washing clothes and started working in a factory stringing up tobacco sacks with Ed. In Hall’s interview, she talked about how this job barely paid enough for her to feed her family. Hall and Ed had to take up other jobs to make extra money. Hall started washing clothes again, and Ed took up another job farming. Along with these jobs, Hall and Ed also made extra money by voting. During her interview, Hall talked about how during elections, white men would come into town and pay her and Ed to vote. The men would pay both her and Ed a dollar or more to vote for a certain candidate. In Hall’s interview she said that she didn’t see the importance in voting but did it because of the money. Hall also said that she and Ed did this every election up until Ed died.

It is unknown for how long the two were married, but it is known how Ed died. According to Hall, Ed caught pneumonia after working on a cold and wet day at the farm. Hall said that it took her over a week to raise enough money to pay for a doctor. By the time Hall had enough money for the doctor, Ed was too sick to help. The doctor visited Ed the following week after he got sick, but Ed died right after the visit.

Later Life[edit | edit source]

After Ed’s death, Hall also had to deal with the death of two of her daughters. Hall had quit her job at the factory after Ed died and was struggling to pay for medical and funeral expenses. To pay off the debt she was now in, Hall doubled the amount of washing she did. Eventually, Hall saved up enough money to pay off her debt, and even save up some money for her own funeral. In her interview, Hall said that her one wish was that her children wouldn’t have to worry about paying for a funeral the way she did. When asked about all of the work she had to do to save up enough money Hall said that she didn’t mind washing clothes. In fact, she took pride in it and was teaching her granddaughter how to wash clothes so that she could carry on her legacy. At the time of her interview, Hall said she had been washing clothes for over forty years, and even told Abbitt, “I’ll be wahsin’ an’ ironin’ till I drop daid.”

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Voter Suppression after the Reconstruction Era[edit | edit source]

During the turn of the 20th century, southern states did everything in their power to prevent African American citizens from voting. Despite the passing of the 15th Amendment, things such as poll taxes and literacy tests made it very hard for African Americans to be able to vote. For much of the early 20th century, Southern congressmen held the majority in the Senate. With this majority, the Senate made sure that the poll taxes and literacy tests were not lifted. The Southern congressmen did not want the African American community to vote because that would mean they lose their position in office.[1] Due to these things, the African American community was unable to voice their opinions or change the ways in which they were being discriminated against. [2]

Lack of Health Care for African Americans in the Early 20th Century[edit | edit source]

African American citizens did not have equal access to health care in the Early 20th century. Many black citizens faced discrimination from white doctors who could refuse the treatment of a non-white patient. In addition to discrimination, African American citizens also faced the problem of not being able to pay for a doctor. Since most African American citizens lived in poverty during this time, it was very difficult for them to pay for a doctor. Not being able to pay for a doctor meant that diseases that should have been preventable proved fatal for many African Americans. For example, deaths from pneumonia and influenza were 1.5 times higher in the African American community than in the white community. Childhood deaths were also much higher in the black community. For African American children ages 1-4, they had around a 40% higher chance in dying than a white child of the same age. Additionally, in the early 20th century, the life expectancy for a black male was 30-32 years, while for a white male it was 49.6. [3]

African American Education in the Early 20th Century South[edit | edit source]

In the early 20th century, the phrase "separate, but equal" proved in education to be anything but the case. In states such as North Carolina and Texas, African American children received an education, but it was nowhere near equal to that of a white child. In North Carolina for example, during the 1930’s, there were 6,729 schools; of these schools, 1/4 were one-room schools. According to Dr. Anita Price Davis, of the roughly 1,600 one-room schools in North Carolina in 1931, 935 were for African American students, and 665 were for white students. In one-room schools, there was only one teacher, and all the grade levels were in the same room learning at the same time. In these school, African American students had to use old, outdated textbooks. Schools received minimal funds and were therefore unable to buy new textbooks to educate the children.[4] In Texas, funding for African American students was about 1/3 of what a white student would get. [5] Due to these inequalities, African American children were not nearly as educated as white children, proving that separate is not equal.

  1. “Disenfranchisement after the Reconstruction Era.” American History USA, 2020. https://www.americanhistoryusa.com/topic/disenfranchisement-after-the-reconstruction-era/.
  2. “Voting Rights for African Americans  :  The Right to Vote  :  Elections  :  Classroom Materials at the Library of Congress  :  Library of Congress.” The Library of Congress. Accessed October 2, 2020. https://www.loc.gov/classroom-materials/elections/right-to-vote/voting-rights-for-african-americans/.
  3. Byrd, W. Michael, and Linda A. Clayton. “An American Health Dilemma: a History of Blacks in the Health System.” Journal of the National
  4. Davis, Dr. Anita Price. “Public Schools in the Great Depression,” 2010. https://ncpedia.org/public-schools-great-depression.
  5. Wilson, Anna Victoria. “Education For African Americans.” Accessed October 1, 2020. https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/education-for-african-americans.