Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Summer II/Section 09/Walter Coachman

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Early Life Walter Coachman resided in Bennettsville, SC during America’s Great Depression encompassed by segregation and racial inequity. He was the twelfth child of thirteen in his family and from a young age, he knew the hardships and strength needed to live as a black man in the south. His father worked on a plantation right outside of Bennettsville owned by Mr. Whitelaw. Despite having a job, his father never received a sufficient amount of money to fully support his family. This was due to the racial inequality and the difficulty in job searching for the black community. Coachman recognized how white people took advantage of their place in society to discriminate against those who have been historically marginalized. He saw this throughout his community, but he also saw the strength that coming together in hard times hold.

Education Despite these unfair implications, his family instilled the importance of education and Christianity into each of their children. Coachman attended a one-room Negro school where he learned to read, write, and “figure”. He cultivated these skills in order to help his dad work and earn more money for his family. Schooling fascinated him even though education was scarcely disproportionate between blacks and white. Because of this, Coachman’s family made it a priority to give their children access to education and opportunities to succeed. For college, Coachman attended Allen University in Columbia, SC to study theology. In order to pay for his education, he got a job doing yard work for a white lady named Ms. Reynolds. He worked hard, as he has always been taught, and turned the empty acre into a place of interest. People visited the garden and he eventually sold every plant he planted there. This endured a great partnership with Ms. Reynolds and her niece, Miss Alice. The partnership allowed Coachman to reevaluate himself and his place in the world. There was a possibility for change and bridges to be built between the two races. He made decent money working for Ms. Reynolds and even stayed with her when dormitory costs got too high. She taught him proper etiquette and the power of kindness when faced with tough obstacles. Ms. Reynolds offered him the respect he deserved to get from everyone around him and he wished all white people could do the same. Even in instances of adversity, he learned that his faith, education, and kindness were at top priority. He figured that economic prosperity was achievable, but social prosperity wasn’t attainable on a large scale. He knew that Ms. Reynold was an anomaly, but he used this to look forward to changing, and as a piece of hope. This was right before his graduation from Allen University when he was 22 years old. His heart broke for her but would take her lessons of thoughtfulness into his career of being a pastor.

Keeping Faith With segregation all around Coachman, he tried to find support and an explanation in the Bible. The time period continually pained him, but his faith in God never trembled. He believed that his faith would lead him and make others feel the strength of possibility through his sermons. Coachman worked for four churches throughout Marlboro County where he would preach at each one once a month. It paid eight to nine dollars a Sunday which was barely enough to last the whole week. The congregation gathered together to help him and his family. A sense of community meant everything and many black people turned to the church for help through hardships.

Adulthood Coachman raised 4 children with his wife despite countless sacrifices. They lived on a farm where his wife worked on the garden and with the chickens while his children did outdoor work; milking cows, cutting wood, and cleaning the house. He instilled the same things in his children as his parents did in him. Education and faith were top priorities in their household. He hoped his children would live to be respected, educated, and well-mannered in an environment pitted towards their downfall. The Great depression drained the black community economically, mentally, and emotionally. Jobs were scarce especially due to New Deal discrimination, racial prejudices, and education disparities. The church was a place of sanctuary for the black community to push through these hard times by the hands of faith and through the power of community.

Black Christianity during the Great Depression The church was a place of sanctuary for the black community to push through hard times by the hands of faith and through the power of community. As a collective, they continually tallied money and time donations to members of the church who needed them. Faith became a way to help understand and keep hope through the racial injustices during the Great Depression. Hope allowed black people to keep moving forward and push to achieve equality. Church proved to be a reliable outlet to talk about current issues and develop pride for black people.

Black Education Education was treated as a privilege during the Great Depression rather than a right. Negro schools lacked supplies, teachers, buildings, and safety. These factors lead to many black children not getting the education they deserved or not getting an education at all. Education directly correlates to economic prosperity, so limiting this was a way to perpetuate inequality between races. Education was important in leading the youth in the “right direction.” It was a way to learn and cultivate teaching to balance the playing fields.

Citations Atwell, Donald. I am a Negro. Other. Federal Writer's Project Papers1936-1940, no. 03709, March 15, 1939. https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/03709/id/1048/rec/1. Greene, Alison Collis. “The Great Depression and Religion in Mississippi.” The Great Depression and Religion in Mississippi | Mississippi History Now, April 2017. http://www.mshistorynow.mdah.ms.gov/articles/413/the-great-depression-and-religion-in-mississippi. Klein, Christopher. “Last Hired, First Fired: How the Great Depression Affected African Americans.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, April 18, 2018. https://www.history.com/news/last-hired-first-fired-how-the-great-depression-affected-african-americans. Lynch, Hollis. “African American Life during the Great Depression and the New Deal.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., February 26, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/topic/African-American/African-American-life-during-the-Great-Depression-and-the-New-Deal. “." Historic Events for Students: The Great Depression. . Encyclopedia.com. 7 Jul. 2020 .” Encyclopedia.com. Encyclopedia.com, July 8, 2020. https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-and-education-magazines/religion-1931-1939.