Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2021/Spring/105/Section 87/A.L. Coggins

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Overview[edit | edit source]

A.L. Coggins was a Farmer, Religious School Superintendent and self described, devoted family man from China Grove, NC. He grew up during the time of the Great Depression, affecting many aspects of his life including his education, and Faith.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

A.L. Coggins was born on April 7, 1895 in China Grove, NC into a family of farmers. Both of A.L’s parents were tenant farmers who quickly introduced farming to A.L. and his three other siblings. Most things, including school, revolved around farming. A.L. and his siblings would have to walk miles through muddy winter mud in order to get to school after the cotton harvest. The school year started in the winter to allow for students to help their parents with harvesting crops. Balancing school and personal life became all the more difficult when A.L’s mother passed away, forcing him to become a parental figure to his siblings and take more of an active role in completing household tasks. On top of this, A.L. 's sister got married at a young age, leading him to have to become the housekeeper for three years of his early teenage years. This led to A.L. becoming extremely overwhelmed, causing him to drop out in order to focus more on farming and taking care of his family. A.L. has vivid memories of working late tending to crops, shucking corn until the early hours of the morning, and working on carpentry projects with his father who was hard of hearing3.

Career[edit | edit source]

While A.L. had always worked on his family’s farm to help generate income for him and his family, his formal career started in 1912 when he got a job at the Southern Railroad Company at Mockville at the age of 17 where he made $1.08 per day. This job allowed him to advance to a manager position within three years, gaining him invaluable work experience. After getting involved in the local Baptist church with his wife, Jessie Ewing Coggins, A.L. was reelected to become the superintendent of the Sunday School where he embraced the idea of working with his newfound appreciation for his faith. When A.L. saw fit, he went back to school to get the education that he never got. While in school, he became part of an interfaith roundtable where he got to apply many of his self-taught findings about christianity. During this time, A.L.s wife became ill, forcing him to drop out of school for the second time in his life to care for his young daughter and sick wife3.

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Rural Education During the Great Depression[edit | edit source]

The education system in general suffered greatly during the Great Depression as education was not seen as the greatest priority compared to many of the other pressing economic issues surrounding this time period. During the time of the Great depression, public schools faced increasing hardships, which included “financial problems such as a weakened tax bases due to the non-payment of property and school taxes”1. Additionally, some rural schools fired married female teachers and encouraged children to leave school in order to help their families improve their economic predicament 1. As a result of this, “some school districts also resorted to stripping the scope of the curriculum” in order “to manage with scarce resources” 4. These factors caused many children, especially those in rural areas and in lower socioeconomic predicaments to opt out of their education and choose to pursue a trade job instead.

Christianity During the Great Depression[edit | edit source]

During the Great Depression, many citizens of the US turned to Christianity in the face of the economic adversity that they faced. This was marked by an increase in the number of practicing Christians within the US. This wave of Christianity was especially pronounced in the areas most affected by the Great depression including many parts of the south and rural America. This era was also marked by Christianity influencing politics and policy as many of the country’s leaders sought to heal the nation from the damages caused by the Great Depression. “Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1935 request asking rabbis, priests, and ministers around the nation for their views on Social Security and the Works Progress Administration for their general “council and advice,”” during the time of the Great Depression 2 In addition, many anthropological scholars believe that the economic and personal desperation experienced during the Great Depression “might be thought of as a very natural support to religion."2

References[edit | edit source]

1Bellows, M. E., Bauml, M., & Field, S. L. (2013). ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS, TEACHING, AND SOCIAL STUDIES IN TEXAS: Facing the great depression. American Educational History Journal, 40(1), 261-278. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/elementary-schools-teaching-social-studies-texas/docview/1449497117/se-2?accountid=14244

2Butler, J. (2011). FORUM: American Religion and the Great Depression. Church History, 80(3), 575-578. Retrieved March 18, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41240637

3Folder 719: Rogerson, Anna Belle W. and Massengill (interviewers): A Late Education. (n.d.). Retrieved April 05, 2021, from https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/03709/id/1292/rec/719

4390, 10, & 65354. (2016, September 02). Comprehending how the great depression influenced American education. Retrieved March 18, 2021, from https://www.theedadvocate.org/comprehending-great-depression-influenced-american-education/