Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2021/Fall/Section010/Rachel Thomas
Overview[edit | edit source]
Jim Lauderdale, born in Talladega, Alabama in 1868, remained in his hometown for all 76 years of his life. He was married to a woman named Ora, who gave him two children, but his hardships in the working field amidst the Prohibition and Great Depression led him to run into legal and familial trouble.
Biography[edit | edit source]
Personal Life[edit | edit source]
Growing up in Talladega, Lauderdale had multiple physical deterrents, primarily an unknown heart condition that caused his youth to be more inactive than most children his age. These conditions remained into his adulthood, causing him to struggle when supporting the family he made with wife Ora. The two married when Lauderdale was 35 and they had two children not long after. The family had to fight not only the economic lash out of the Prohibition and the Great Depression, but also had to face discrimination as Lauderdale was a person of color. Despite only wanting to support his family, his physical health made it hard for him to do so, which led him to less legal solutions causing conflict between him and his wife, Ora, who is now thought to be an indirect cause of his eventual demise.
Work Life[edit | edit source]
Lauderdale worked as a coal miner until a mix of his heart problems and the rapidly crashing economy put him out of a job. He had occupied many jobs previously but with circumstances only getting less favorable for him, on top of discrimination and his heart, Lauderdale turned to illegal alcohol sales to provide for his family. Him and another man took to making moonshine and selling it under the table, but Ora highly disapproved of Lauderdale's new profession and ended up turning him over to the authorities, getting him arrested for having alcohol in the house. He was taken to a local prison in Talladega and there he stayed until a friend of his came and bailed him out. He cleaned up his work life and stayed in legal dealing, but Ora never let Lauderdale form a relationship with either of his children, telling them bad stories of him when he wasn't home and claiming and gifts he brought home for them. When Lauderdale was 52, he went out to drink and fish with a friend after work one night and when he returned home, the smell of alcohol caused Ora to fly into a rage and call the cops again, telling them he was too drunk and she was scared of him hurting her. Lauderdale was fined and berated in the courtroom the next day. Lauderdale lived until 1944, dying of unknown causes, but it is rumored that his wife's insistence on getting him in legal trouble led him to starve for lack of funding for food.
Social Context[edit | edit source]
The Prohibition[edit | edit source]
The Prohibition was a national ban on the sales and production of alcohol from 1920-1933, enacted by the Eighteenth Amendment, which only gave rise to an illegal underground market for alcoholic beverages. The act of illegally producing and distributing alcohol during the era of the Prohibition was termed "bootlegging" and speakeasies popped up, where people could secretly attend hidden bars. The act was meant to help people, especially working class men, improve all around. The idea was that alcohol was making men less focused, more violent towards wives and that drinking was in some way unreligious. This attempt to completely halt alcohol consumption originally yielded positive results, with arrest rates dropping, but ultimately failed, only causing massive spikes in illegal activity, torn opinions on the act, and an increase in violence. The Twenty-First Amendment put an end to the ban, once again legalizing alcohol in 1933.
The Great Depression[edit | edit source]
The Great Depression is a very well known wide scale economic crash that occurred from 1929-1933, with the poverty and unemployment rates skyrocketing. Agriculture fought to stay on the market, construction all but stopped, people pulled tons of money out of banks, and prices dropped steeply, far below the maintainable level. Many primary industries took intense hits, including mining and logging, putting many working class men out of jobs and left with no way to support their families. It took a little over a year to see any positivity but in 1930, the stock market took a slight upturn, signaling some hope of the thousands of struggling families and businesses, before taking a stark downturn and spiraling for years after that as deflation hit full effect. People of color had a particularly hard time, as it was difficult enough for them to find work before the crash. Most countries began recovering in 1933, but the process was slow and even the US was not even close to being back to its original strength until almost a decade later.
“Folder 44: Kytle, Jack (Interviewer): Jim Lauderdale: River Wreck.” Federal Writers Project Papers. UNC University Libraries. Accessed September 28, 2021. https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/03709/id/969/rec/1.
Sellers. “The Prohibition Movement in Alabama, 1702 to 1943, V.26 No.1.” HathiTrust. Accessed October 1, 2021. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uva.x000920387&view=1up&seq=7&skin=2021
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.
Kelley, Robin D.G. Hammer and Hoe. The University of North Carolina Press, 2013. https://library.biblioboard.com/content/9aa34dd8-e10c-4217-9271-1c56a86669e5.