Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Summer II/Section 09/John Fleming

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Overview[edit | edit source]

John Fleming was a “Southern Gentlemen” who was known as being a ladies man as well as a businessman who experienced both extreme success and failure.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

John Fleming is the son of Mr. Jasper Fleming, born in 1863, onto an old plantation outside of Raleigh, and into an environment where manners were of the utmost importance. He had two younger brothers, Paul and Charles. Fleming went to private school for all of his education where he was able to study lots of different types of literature and even learned some Greek in order to learn about the Classical Greek texts.

Business and Entrepreneurship[edit | edit source]

He worked as a salesman for the Saunders Company until 1884, when he left the Saunders Company for Bennet and Sloan Company in New York. In 1898 he began to work for the American Tobacco Company in Pittsburgh, and then was sent to work in Detroit as a sales manager in 1900. Then in 1909, Fleming was sent back to New York to sell a new brand of expensive cigarette and shortly after was asked to resign after an argument about wages.

Instead of resigning, he sued the American Tobacco Company and James B. Duke and won all of his salary plus extra expenses. While working for the American Tobacco Company he developed a new way to make pipe tobacco from cigar tobacco scraps and created Red Devil Tobacco which swept the US by storm. However he was eventually bought out by Duke who stopped all Red Devil Production soon after its creation.

The final business that Fleming took part of was his real estate business that he created in Florida when he saw the opportunity. He amassed lots of wealth and was quite successful until there was a flood and disaster in Florida that destroyed his capital and he lost almost everything including most of his family's inheritance.

Later Life[edit | edit source]

Fleming was interviewed in 1938 at the age of 75, and the date of his death is not exactly known.

Social Context[edit | edit source]

Political Affiliation[edit | edit source]

Throughout John’s life he was a Democrat and between his birth and the interview, which took place in 1938, Southern Democrats were known for supporting segregation and their opposition to women’s suffrage.

Women[edit | edit source]

John Fleming was known for being a southern gentleman and clearly a ladies man. He inherited his fortune from his father, but he lost most of it. He also was married to three wives all of which left him, even though they have been described by others as some of the prettiest women alive. Throughout his life he had relationships with many women, but the most peculiar things would hold him back from marrying them. For example, he begins to enter a serious relationship with May Strong, but he doesn’t marry her because her sister is fat and he is afraid that she will become fat as well and John, “abhorred fat women.”1 This leads us to question how John views women.

Southern Democrats were a source of major opposition for the Women’s Suffrage Movement. ““Perhaps the president’s speech would win the support of senators known to oppose the measure, a coalition of southern Democrats and northeastern Republicans known as the ‘unholy alliance.’”2 When we acknowledge that John Fleming was also a Southern Democrat we can connect his objectification of women seen in his relationships with women and his political affiliation to draw the conclusion that John was a misogynistic individual.

Education[edit | edit source]

John notably went to a private school and was proud of his accomplishments like reading Greek at the age of ten and the volume of English Literature he had read, and he says that “Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but I still believe that public schools should only be for the lower class of people.”3 Fleming believed that the separation of the classes was helpful to society and claimed that it was too easy for the lower class to rise in their ranks just by being around the upper class. He also explains that the kids of the upper class were having their “standards of behavior” weakened by those in the lower class.

Fleming’s endorsement of classism through the use of private education is something that was clearly influenced by the Great Depression. The Depression caused many private schools to shut down while not as many public schools closed down. A research study from WMU explains that, “techniques one or more of the institutions employed were active fund raising, competent business and endowment practices, strong academic standards, innovative attitudes, positive atmosphere for students, successful alumni and constituent relationships, good working environments with local towns, student recruitment, intercollegiate athletics, and close relationships with the federal government.”4 On the other hand public schools had a less difficult time staying open. As NCPedia explains, “Despite the hard times, North Carolina did not neglect the education of its children and youth. Not a single public school in the state shut its doors because of the Depression.”5 This caused many private school attendees to go to public school and as a result some of these kids were exposed to different ideas and customs that Fleming did not support.

Race[edit | edit source]

Flemings’s thoughts on education sound very similar, if not identical to segregation, when one understands that the majority of African-Americans living in North Carolina in 1938 were usually of a lower socioeconomic class than their white counterparts. Therefore, meaning that the lower class that Fleming was referring to was African-Americans.

This connection between the classes in the Great Depression and race is quite obvious and we could easily claim that John’s views on education are racially motivated. When we connect his statements on education to his party affiliation we see that this connection seems even more racially motivated as Southern Democrats were notorious for trying to “redeem” the South after Reconstruction, and trying to resist the changes that were necessary for unification after the Confederacy’s defeat. Armstead L. Robinson says, “Realizing the delicacy of their position, Southern Democrats, led by former Governor Herschel Johnson of Georgia, fought a masterful holding action, hoping that delays in Washington and in the South would prevent the imposition of truly radical changes on the structure of Southern society.” With this control that the Southern Democrats enjoyed, the rise of hate groups like the KKK and Jim Crow laws began. Southern Democrats even furthered their political control by racializing each party. “The Democratic Party identified itself as the ‘white man's party’ and demonized the Republican Party as being ‘Negro dominated,’ even though whites were in control.”

References[edit | edit source]

Works Cited[edit | edit source]

A Vote for Women. U.S. Senate, December 12, 2019. https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/A_Vote_For_Women.htm.

Cannady, Beth. "John Fleming: A Southern Gentleman," Dec. 9 1938.

Hostetler, J. Michael. “Effects of the Great Depression on Private Higher Education: Impact On Private College and

University Planning.” ScholarWorks at WMU. WMU. Accessed July 9, 2020. https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/dissertations/2113/.

“Public Schools in the Great Depression.” NCpedia. Accessed July 9, 2020. https://www.ncpedia.org/public-schools-great- depression.

Robinson, Armstead L. "The Politics of Reconstruction." The Wilson Quarterly (1976-) 2, no. 2 (1978): 106-23. Accessed July 14, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/40255405.

“Southern Democrats.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, July 5, 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Democrats.

“The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow. Jim Crow Stories . Democratic Party: PBS.” The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow. Jim Crow Stories . Democratic Party. PBS. Accessed July 9, 2020. https://www.thirteen.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories_org_democratic.html.

Footnotes[edit | edit source]

  1. Cannady, Beth, John Fleming: A Southern Gentleman, (1938), 24.
  2. A Vote for Women, (U.S. Senate, December 12, 2019).
  3. Cannady, Beth, John Fleming: A Southern Gentleman, (1938), 21.
  4. Hostetler, J. Michael. Effects of the Great Depression on Private Higher Education: Impact On Private College and University Planning.
  5. Public Schools in the Great Depression, (NCpedia).
  6. Robinson, Armstead L. The Politics of Reconstruction. (The Wilson Quarterly, 1978) 115.
  7. The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow. Jim Crow Stories, (PBS).