Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105i/Section 52/Granville Brooks

From Wikiversity
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Granville Brooks[edit | edit source]

Granville Brooks was an African American cook in New Orleans, Louisiana. Throughout his life he lived in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, and held numerous jobs. Brooks was interviewed for the Federal Writer’s Project by Hazel Breaux.[1]

Biography[edit | edit source]

Brooks was born to slaves on a plantation in Charleston, South Carolina. He was raised on the plantation and claimed that the owners treated him very well. When he was young, he enjoyed gambling and spent a portion of his money on women. He courted a few girls, including one named Coal Belle (also called Sweetie) when he was 21. He was married to his first wife for about 19 years, until she died in 1905. They had two sons, but Brooks didn’t stay in touch with them after they got married and started families of their own. Brooks met his second wife, Harriette, in a New Orleans hospital, where he was a cook and she a maid. Harriette experienced multiple strokes, which left her partially crippled with a speech impediment. They got married in 1922. They didn’t have any children of their own, but they raised Harriette’s orphaned nephew, Lucien Cotton. Brooks wanted Cotton to complete his education, but Cotton wanted to join the Civilian Conservation Corps Camp. Brooks supported Cotton because the money Cotton earned would help the whole family out. Throughout his life, Brooks was proud that he made an honest living and had good credit. Although Brooks and his wife did attend the Ebenezer Baptist Church, they weren’t heavily involved, as they weren’t on the board of any churches. Cotton did sing in the church choir. At the time of his interview, Brooks was in his sixties. He claimed that he was done traveling and "ready to settle down with [his] pipe."[1]

Jobs and Residencies[edit | edit source]

Brooks was first a cook on the railroad, but he couldn’t fill out applications due to his lack of education, so he became the butler of Dr. Eugene Foster for 11 years. His lack of education left him an unskilled worker, so he often looked for any available jobs. Brooks also believed that one could only learn by traveling, so he left Charleston, bought a house in Pensacola, Florida and became a fireman for $4 a day. After that, he moved to Augusta, Georgia to open a restaurant with $2300, but finally ended up in New Orleans, Louisiana. Brooks, Harriette, and Cotton lived in a two-bedroom house, which was located in one of the impoverished areas of New Orleans. The rent was $6 a month. Brooks made $75 as a cook, but was laid off after 20 years, and replaced by an all-white staff. Brooks later found a job in the mining industry through the Works Progress Administration. Brooks also collected rags and sold 100 pounds for 50 cents.[1]

He believed that his wives shouldn’t work, because it was more of a loss than a gain.[1]

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Black Education for Children in the South During the Early 20th Century[edit | edit source]

During the early 20th century, Black children in the South didn’t have access to education like white children in the South. In some areas, there weren’t any schools established for Black children to learn. Due to sharecropping, most children had to stay home and help their parents on the farm. As children grew older, accounting for the agricultural labor force was a higher priority than education. Even when there were schools for Black children, the children usually lived "one and a half miles from the schools," the "region's rough topography" made it hard for the children to walk, and the government denied them transportation.[2] In other cases, the schools would be in awful conditions, over crowded, or not enough teachers.[3] Overall, the economy of the South heavily relied on Black labor, so education wasn’t viewed as important.[4]

Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps During the Great Depression[edit | edit source]

During the Great Depression, many Americans lost their jobs, and the American economy was at an all-time low. As a result, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed the New Deal, which provided numerous programs for the unemployed. This would benefit them as well as the federal government.[5]

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was offered to the unemployed, and they were meant to work on the government infrastructure, like post offices and highways. The program also offered jobs to women, children, and African Americans. In fact, about 350,000 African Americans held jobs through the WPA. The WPA also intended to "[preserve] African American culture and history" through the Federal Writers' Project. The project gathered information from interviews and oral stories to exhibit how life was in the South for African Americans.[6] The WPA put more than five million Americans back to work. After most of its employees transitioned out of the program, and the economy rose, the WPA shut down.[6]

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was another program that came with the New Deal. This program involved relocating young males to camps and teaching them “military discipline.”[7] Most of the employees sent the money they earned to their families back home.[7]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Breaux, Hazel. (interviewer): “Settled Down”, in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  2. Anderson, James D. The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935. University of North Carolina Press, 1988.
  3. Brooker, Russell. “The Education Of Black Children In The Jim Crow South.” ABHM, 2012. https://www.abhmuseum.org/education-for-blacks-in-the-jim-crow-south/.
  4. Butchart, Ronald E. The American Historical Review 95, no. 3 (1990): 915.
  5. Fearon, Peter. “Kansas History and the New Deal Era.” Kansas History 30, no. 3 (2007): 192–233.
  6. 6.0 6.1 History.com Editors. “Works Progress Administration (WPA).” HISTORY, 2017. https://www.history.com/topics/great-depression/works-progress-administration.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Fearon, Peter. “Kansas History and the New Deal Era.” Kansas History 30, no. 3 (2007): 192–233.