Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2021/Spring/105/Section 56/George Carter

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Overview[edit | edit source]

George Carter was an ex-slave and stevedore who lived in Savannah, Georgia and was interviewed by Morris Adams with connection to the Federal Writers Project. He was interviewed at his home on January 17, 1939.

Biography[edit | edit source]

George Carter was born in the mid-1800s on a plantation near Norfolk, Virginia. At the age of 16 he was sold to a new owner in Savannah, Georgia named Doctor Arnold. While working for Dr. Arnold, he served as a house boy until the Civil War when Dr. Arnold assigned him to be a bodyguard for Captain Porter. After a short period of time serving as Captain Porter’s bodyguard, Carter escaped and made the 500-mile journey back home by running and sneaking onto passing wagons and trains. Once arriving back in Savannah, Georgia, Carter was caught and returned to Dr. Arnold who sent him back to serve as Captain Porter’s bodyguard in Virginia. He escaped once more and returned to Dr. Arnold’s plantation where he returned to doing housework. After the Civil War ended and slaves were set free, Carter continued to work on Dr. Arnold’s plantation until his death. George Carter then began working as a stevedore and served in the Spanish-American War, and World War I. At the age of 30 George Carter married and had two children.1

Stevedore loading cotton on to the freighter

Social Context[edit | edit source]

Lack of Sufficient Healthcare During the Civil War[edit | edit source]

During the Civil War nearly 500,000 slaves approached the Union army to serve but were subject to far worse treatment than white Union troops. Poor conditions in the war resulted in a severe and long-lasting health crisis for African Americans in the form of illness, injuries, and trauma. Tens of thousands of African Americans lost their lives serving in the war in combination with poor conditions. African American soldiers often received healthcare from inadequate hospital facilities and were constantly faced with the threat of survival due to poor conditions. African Americans were subject to “lack of shelter, of medical care, food, firewood (for heating), and clothing; injuries associated with difficult escapes from slavery; overcrowding, and illness and epidemic disease (including diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, typhoid, measles, mumps, smallpox, yellow fever and tuberculosis)”.2 African Americans were treated as inferior to whites leaving them more liable to disease, less likely to recover from injuries suffered during the war, endured prolonged fatigue, and were left with long-term consequences to their health.

Sharecropping[edit | edit source]
Landless family of cotton sharecroppers

After the completion of the Civil War, slaves obtained freedom but did not have any land, farm implements, or secure employment. Left in a position to fail in a struggling Southern economy, freed slaves began renting small plots of land from white farmers to work themselves and in return would give a portion of their crop to the landowner at the end of the season rather than receiving periodic money wages, in a system known as sharecropping. However, this system left many African Americans indebted to the landowners leaving a negative impact on African Americans who were in a vulnerable economic position.3 Many white farmers in the South disagreed with the system stating “Sharecropping was backward and regressive, they said. It undermined their control of labour, threatened their economic security and, worryingly, it promoted a sense of partnership and eroded the ‘proper’ relationship between the races.”.4 By the 1940s increased mechanization caused the prevalence of sharecropping to decline.

Impact of the Great Depression and the New Deal on African Americans[edit | edit source]

At the end of the 1920s the Great Depression struck countries with market economies following the stock market crash of 1929. In the United States, the Great Depression was severe with “25 percent of all workers and 37 percent of all nonfarm workers were completely out of work.”.5 Many African Americans were already struggling due to poor economic circumstances from sharecropping and a war-ravaged Southern economy, and the situation worsened during the Great Depression. In the beginning of the Depression, African Americans struggled to receive assistance while “they were the first to be laid off from their jobs, and they suffered from an unemployment rate two to three times that of whites.”.6 African Americans began to vote Democrat feeling ignored by the Republican party, and strongly supported the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt because his ideals assisted them. Following the election of Roosevelt, he implemented the New Deal which helped restore the economy. Roosevelt’s introduction of the New Deal proved especially beneficial for African Americans as “Low-cost public housing was made available to Black families. The National Youth Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps enabled African American youths to continue their education. The Works Progress Administration gave jobs to many African Americans, and its Federal Writers Project supported the work of many Black authors”.7

References[edit | edit source]

  1. ↑Adams, Turnips Today, Turnips Tomorrow
  2. ↑Schwalm, "Surviving Wartime Emancipation: African Americans And the Cost of Civil War"
  3. ↑Blessett and Box, “Sharecropper Finance: Using the Justice System as a Public Revenue Source”
  4. ↑Ochiltree, "Mastering the Sharecroppers: Land, Labour and the Search for Independence in the US South and South Africa"
  5. ↑Smiley, "Great Depression"
  6. ↑Britannica, "African American Life During the Great Depression and The New Deal"
  7. ↑Ibid

Bibliography[edit | edit source]