Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2021/Fall/Section010/Everlina Jane Cotton

From Wikiversity
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Overview[edit | edit source]

High Point, North Carolina - Housing. Homes of colored workers in High Point, North Carolina - NARA - 518526.tif

Everlina Jane Cotton was an African American housewife who was born and raised in North Carolina. She was interviewed for the Federal Writer's Project on June 9, 1939 at her home in North Carolina.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Family Life[edit | edit source]

Cotton was born and raised in Cary, North Carolina with her parents, her two sisters, Freda and Beulah, and her two brothers, Jim and Tom. While her and Tom chose to remain in Cary with their parents during their adult years, her siblings did not. Jim moved to Dudley, Pennsylvania, Beulah moved to Asheville, and Freda moved to New York. Cotton felt that Cary was her home, and had no interest in moving. She did not even like to leave to go visit her siblings. Despite never having any children of her own, she watched over and cared for her sister’s daughter, Hilda.

Education, Independence, and Political Views[edit | edit source]

Cotton completed her education through the eighth grade at a private school, until she decided to leave school because she was simply tired of it. When she looks back to her education to comparison to her niece’s, she comments that her own private education was of a lower quality than Hilda’s public one. She also placed an emphasis and found it important for people to know that she did not quit school because she wanted to get married, like many women of this time did. In fact, Cotton greatly valued her independence, and told people that she had never wanted to get married or even considered it as an option until she met her husband. In addition to that, she never wanted to have children. She considered them to be too much trouble, as they would cling to her and hinder her in life. She believed that it was even a shame to have children because of the people some of them will grow up to be. That is a controversial and politically charged view for the time period. In reference to other political views she held, the only one she found noteworthy was that everyone who lived in America should be granted the right to vote.

Marital Life[edit | edit source]

Cotton had been married to her husband Bennie for twenty years. She had never had any intention of getting married until she met her husband. Her husband came from a family of farmers, but he had always wanted to work on the railroad. When he was a child, he would leave his family farm and work in the railroad station for free doing menial tasks. When Cotton first married her husband, she was very lonely at home without him, so she begun helping him during his daily tasks so she could spend time with him. Again, they had been married for twenty years, and she attributes the success of their marriage to Bennie’s lack of harmful indulgences

Social Context[edit | edit source]

Educational Improvements of African Americans in the South[edit | edit source]

During the early to mid-nineteen thirties, there were many improvements that were made to the quality of education of southern African Americans. A primary issue with African American schools in the American South when Cotton was in school was that there simply were not enough teachers. In one study conducted between 1934 and 1935, two thirds of schools here had either one or two teachers, and those teachers were overworked. Also, teachers in these schools often received, the amount of training and education required to become a teacher was increasing, which boosted the quality of education. This continued an upward trend in the quality of African American education in the twentieth century.[1]

Women's Rights in the Twentieth Century[edit | edit source]

There was a great deal of change that occurred in the topic of women’s rights during the early twentieth century, leading up to the nineteen thirties. This time period closely follows the Women’s Suffrage Movement, a time when women in America fought for the right to vote. This was not only an important time for women, but especially for African American women and women of color. This movement was one that was led by alliance between white women and women of color.[2] One method that was used by this blended alliance was that of the petition. The members that chose petitioned were of various races and class standings, and this method of protest allowed racial minorities to request things of white men in power without fear of retribution.[3] There were also major and frequent changes between the working ability and conditions of women during this time period. Before World War I, it was believed that women belonged in the home, and that their primary roles were that of being a homemaker and housewife. This belief changed during the war, and they were allowed into the workforce to do the work of men who were off fighting overseas.[4] Blakemore puts this perfectly in their statement “Women’s work threatened men who had long held economic power – until the nation’s power was threatened by absent men.”[5] However, once the war ended, women were then placed back into their homes where they were expected to remain, as domesticity and motherhood were viewed as the only roles they should seek to fill.[6] This presented an issue during the Great Depression, where jobs and money were scarce, and women presented as a source of cheap labor. To combat the concept of women working during this time and to force them to stay in the home, the American government brought about the concept of marriage bans. These were laws that banned married women from working. This was achieved by allowing only one party of a married couple to work, and because women were typically paid less, many couples chose to have men remain in the workforce.[7]

Conditions of African American Railroad Workers in the South[edit | edit source]

The twentieth century was an extremely difficult time period for African American men working on the railroad in any position in the American South. Before World War I, the railroad industry was run by very racist employers who typically refrained from even hiring African Americans. However, during World War I, most of the able-bodied white men went off to fight, and their positions were primarily filled by African American men. These positions were better than any they had been able to acquire before, and these men fought to keep them once the war was over. Many were able to retain these positions, but only because many saw African American men as a source of cheap labor. However, keeping these jobs were not always the best-case scenario, and they were even dangerous during this time. In one case in the Louisiana and Mississippi Delta, there was a mass shooting and killing spree that resulted in sixteen African American male railway workers either dead or injured. These men were targeted simply for doing their jobs.[8]

  1. Fultz, Michael. “Teacher Training and African American Education in the South, 1900-1940.” The Journal of Negro Education 64, no. 2 (1995): 196–210. https://doi.org/10.2307/2967242.
  2. Carpenter, Daniel, Zachary Popp, Tobias Resch, Benjamin Schneer, and Nicole Topich. “Suffrage Petitioning as Formative Practice: American Women Presage and Prepare for the Vote, 1840–1940.” Studies in American Political Development 32, no. 1 (2018): 24–48. doi:10.1017/S0898588X18000032.
  3. Carpenter, Daniel, Zachary Popp, Tobias Resch, Benjamin Schneer, and Nicole Topich. “Suffrage Petitioning as Formative Practice: American Women Presage and Prepare for the Vote, 1840–1940.” Studies in American Political Development 32, no. 1 (2018): 24–48. doi:10.1017/S0898588X18000032.
  4. Lewis, Jone Johnson. "The 1930s: Women’s Shifting Rights and Roles in United States." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/womens-rights-1930s-4141164.
  5. Blakemore, Erin. “Why Many Married Women Were Banned from Working during the Great Depression.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, March 5, 2019. https://www.history.com/news/great-depression-married-women-employment.
  6. Lewis, Jone Johnson. "The 1930s: Women’s Shifting Rights and Roles in United States." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/womens-rights-1930s-4141164.
  7. Blakemore, Erin. “Why Many Married Women Were Banned from Working during the Great Depression.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, March 5, 2019. https://www.history.com/news/great-depression-married-women-employment
  8. Kelly, Joseph. “Showing Agency on the Margins: African American Railway Workers in the South and Their Unions, 1917–1930.” Labour / Le Travail 71 (2013): 123–48. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24243986.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

Sources[edit | edit source]

Blakemore, Erin. “Why Many Married Women Were Banned from Working during the Great Depression.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, March 5, 2019. https://www.history.com/news/great-depression-married-women-employment

Carpenter, Daniel, Zachary Popp, Tobias Resch, Benjamin Schneer, and Nicole Topich. “Suffrage Petitioning as Formative Practice: American Women Presage and Prepare for the Vote, 1840–1940.” Studies in American Political Development 32, no. 1 (2018): 24–48. doi:10.1017/S0898588X18000032.

Fultz, Michael. “Teacher Training and African American Education in the South, 1900-1940.” The Journal of Negro Education 64, no. 2 (1995): 196–210. https://doi.org/10.2307/2967242.

Kelly, Joseph. “Showing Agency on the Margins: African American Railway Workers in the South and Their Unions, 1917–1930.” Labour / Le Travail 71 (2013): 123–48. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24243986.

Lewis, Jone Johnson. "The 1930s: Women’s Shifting Rights and Roles in United States." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/womens-rights-1930s-4141164.

Images[edit | edit source]

Hine, Lewis. High Point, North Carolina - Housing. Homes of Colored Workers in High Point, North Carolina. Wikiversity, October 20, 2011. https://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/File:High_Point,_North_Carolina_-_Housing._Homes_of_colored_workers_in_High_Point,_North_Carolina_-_NARA_-_518526.jpg.