Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2021/Spring/105/Section 60/W. Moses Holleman

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Overview[edit | edit source]

W. Moses Holleman, referred to as Gabby Bassett in the text for unknown reasons, was interviews by Stanley Combs and Edwin Massengill in association with the Federal Writers' Project. The interview took place on July 15, 1939, in Five Points, Wilson, N.C.

Biography[edit | edit source]

W. Moses Holleman (referred to as Gabby Bassett in the Federal Writers' Project Interview and for further reference) was born in 1897 on a family farm in Wilson, North Carolina, with his six siblings1 (totaling four boys and 3 girls). During early childhood Gabby Bassett worked on the family farm and attended public school. However, somewhere between the years 1910-1914, when Bassett reached his teen years, he began to notice his eyes becoming weaker. By the age of roughly fifteen or sixteen, young Gabby Bassett was completely blind. Over the next couple of years, he would soon be joined in sharing this condition with his brothers, however, oddly enough none of the girls were ever affected by any visual impairments or blindness. With his complete loss of vision, Bassett eventually left his public school and transferred to a school for the blind. Here he would spend the next few years studying until he graduated and decided to enter into a public university. There he would begin his studies with the goal of becoming a teacher. Unfortunately, after Bassett's first two years at the university, he found himself short of funds and could therefore no longer attend the university and continue his studies. As a result, he would go on to find different jobs in order to sustain himself but eventually decided to open a business. In 1922, he would do just that as he was able to open his own mattress business2. Starting out he did everything by hand himself, spending money only to obtain the resources needed to make the mattresses. However, over time his business developed, and he expanded his business. Over Bassett's lifetime, he eventually owned 3 stores, had employees working under him, sold 8 different kinds of mattresses, and equipped his business to handle mattress repairs. All this despite his blindness, as he was able to overcome his condition and build his business by his use of his other senses. For instance, he determined mattress quality by weight and used his sense of touch to help him differentiate between different designs and the quality or damage of the mattresses coming in. As well it is to be noted that Bassett was able to do this despite the 10-year economic downturn, also known as the Great Depression, which began only 7 years after the start of his business, resulting in constant fluctuation of business income and customers.

Social, Political, Cultural, and Racial Issues[edit | edit source]

Wage Discrimination and Inequality of Job Opportunities[edit | edit source]

Same occupation wage gap between African Americans and Whites found to be attributed to the racial discrimination and the racial segregation in schools before the 20th century which resulted in the inequality of education between the two races. In other words, African American workers got paid significantly less than a white American worker who preformed the same task because of the lack of equal education African American obtained during the time before the 20th century3 (essentially anytime period before the end of segregation and start of civil rights). For example, a white male who repairs mattresses will get paid from anywhere between 40-70%4 more than a African American worker repairing an identical mattress, using the same materials and having the same skill set to preform the task. This was a significant problem during the 19th century especially during the Great Depression as keeping a job and having enough income was becoming increasingly scarce. Overall, African Americans in comparison to Whites were the first to suffer during the already bleak economic situation, suffering from an "unemployment rate two to three times that of whites"5 and often times even receiving 'substantially less aid' than whites.

Racial and Economic Tax Preference[edit | edit source]

Throughout the 19th century, there was a capital gain tax preference for privileged wealthy white households. Resulting in a racial wealth gap between white Americans and African American people. This tax preference allowed for the top 1 to 10%, which consisted almost completely of white American families, to keep a higher percentage of their business(es) income to make up for the loss of money being taken out from their wages and salaries through capital compensation. More specifically the tax preference "added several percentage points to the share of the after-tax income taken by the top 1% and the top 10%..."6. This results in a racial wage gap as unlike the top 10% of white families, many African Americans lacked the educational background (because of inequality of schools and segregation) and financial ability to own their own business(es) and therefore could not benefit from this tax preference for business owners and overall capital gains(also known an investment). This systematic tax preference for wealthy white business owners had a lengthy run as it took effect before, during, and even after the Great Depression for many years.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Interview, Combs and Massengill, "Blind Mattress Maker" Federal Writers' Project
  2. Interview, Combs and Massengill, "Blind Mattress Maker" Federal Writers' Project
  3. Carruthers, Celeste K, Marianne H Wanamaker, "separate and unequal in the labor market:..."
  4. Carruthers, Celeste K, Marianne H Wanamaker, "separate and unequal in the labor market:..."
  5. Encyclopedia Britannica, "African American life during the Great Depression and the New Deal"
  6. Ott, Julia, "tax preference as white privilege in the United States'

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

Ott, Julia. 2019. Tax preference as white privilege in the united states, 1921–1965. Capitalism1, (1) (Fall): 92-165,


Carruthers, Celeste K, and Marianne H Wanamaker. “Separate and Unequal in the Labor Market: Human Capital and the Jim Crow Wage Gap.” The university of Chicago Press Journals 35, no. 3. Accessed March 25, 2021.


“African American Life during the Great Depression and the New Deal.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Accessed March 25, 2021.


Interview, Stanley Combs and Edwin Massengill on W. Moses Holleman, July 15,1939, "Blind Mattress Maker", in the Federal Writers' project papers, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill