Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2021/Spring/105/Section 87/AB Way

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Biography[edit | edit source]

Historians do not know where or when AB Way was born. We can assume that he was born sometime between 1880 and 1900 based on his status as the owner of a loan company. Way’s company was based out of Birmingham, Alabama. He was known to be a “friendly” loan shark, and would be very respectful to the customers that were looking for a loan. Way grew up in the South, moving from town to town and working as a bank runner. As an adolescent, he would ride his bike to deliver messages and bank statements from banks to their customers. Way learned the ins and outs of banking and distributing loans and sometime in the 1920s, opened his loan sharking company. He once bragged that he would offer 30% interest rates to his customers. Way hired at least 4 employees, but most likely hired dozens more. He regularly would hire an employee with the assumption that they would be fired in a week. Many of his employees were young men who needed a source of income during the Great Depression. As a lender, he would loan money to African Americans at higher interest rates than white customers because people of color “scare easily”.

Great Depression in Alabama[edit | edit source]

The Great Depression hit Alabama worse than most other states. Alabama had been known as an agricultural state that was in decline, and the Great Depression hurt an economy that was already in significant decline. The unemployment rate in Alabama was 25% and the average annual income was $193. These numbers are significantly worse than what most of America was experiencing. Cotton was the primary export in Alabama even into the 1920s. Due to the falling price of the cash crop as well as the spread of the boll weevil, many Alabamians had to get away from cotton. Much of Alabama’s industrial industry suffered as well. Factories in operation dropped by 50% in Birmingham, and therefore, less employment opportunities were available for Alabamians. Only 15% of Birmingham was working full time in the 1930s. One of the most profitable mills in Alabama, the Huntsville's Dallas Mill, went from proffeiting $800,000 annually to $280,000.

Loan Sharks[edit | edit source]

History[edit | edit source]

Loan Sharks were first formed in the 19th century in America. The loan sharks mostly operated out of small offices. They would only loan money to respectable citizens because they would most likely not be a flight risk. Loan Sharks are known to give extremely high interest rates that would be considered illegal in most countries. Loan Sharks started out by merely threatening clients who didn’t pay with a lawsuit. Loan Sharks had no legal standing, but the threat of a lawsuit would scare many defaulters into paying their loans. If the threat did not work, they would publicly shame their clients. Most people found debtors to be terrible people in the 1800s. Virtually all defaulters would pay back their loans after being publicly shamed. During the 1920s and throughout the 20th century, the Mafia used loan sharking as a way to finance their black market. They would often loan money to small businesses and would threated them with violence. The mafia were more likely to lend to high risk lenders, and when most likely they defaulted, they would steal many of their personal belongings. Instead of threatening their clients with legal action, these gangsters more often used the threat of physical violence. The criminals would brutally beat their clients, often in their own homes and businesses.

Alabama[edit | edit source]

Loan Sharking was very prevalent in Alabama. Lenders appeared to be legitimate businesses, often operating out of small offices and office buildings. In the early 20th century, lenders would give higher interest rates to African Americans. Many poor southerners did not have a high enough education to understand that loan sharks had no legal standing, and were therefore threatened by fake lawsuits from the loan sharks. The Harris Act stated that it would be a misdemeanor to charge an interest rate over 8% for small loans, but because lenders struggled to get legal loans from licensed banks, they would not report a loan shark for charging ridiculous interest rates. The Alabama Supreme Court even ruled that the Harris Act could not be used to shut down loan sharking businesses. Loan Sharks really weren”t punished in Alabama until 1938, when legislators passed a law that made charging high interest rates a crime. ==

Resources[edit | edit source]

Calder, L. (1999). Financing the american dream : A cultural history of consumer credit. ProQuest Ebook Central https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu

Euel A. Screws Jr., "Alabama-The Loan Sharks Captive Sea," Alabama Law Review 10, no. 1 (Fall 1957): 75-109 https://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?collection=journals&handle=hein.journals/bamalr10&id=85&men_tab=srchresults

Fleming, A. (2016). City of Debtors: Law, Loan Sharks, and the Shadow Economy of Urban Poverty, 1900-1970, Enterprise and Society. Retrieved March 18, 2021, from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1838775181/fulltext/E734B19A24DD4A8APQ/1?accountid=14244

GEISST, C. (2017). Loan Sharks: The Birth of Predatory Lending. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press. Retrieved March 18, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7864/j.ctt1hfr25r

Heflin, Wilson L., 1939, "People Call me a Loan Shark", in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Hyman, Louis. 2011. Debtor Nation : The History of America in Red Ink. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Accessed March 18, 2021. ProQuest Ebook Central.


Reflection[edit | edit source]

What do you see as the strongest part of your Wikiversity entry? Why? The strongest part of my Wikiversity entry was the loan shark portion. There is extensive research done on loan sharks, and I was able to find a good amount of valuable resources. What do you see as the weakest part of your Wikiversity entry? Why? The weakest part was my biography. Unfortunately, the interview was not very long and did not really discuss AB Way’s personal life a great deal. What have you learned about addressing a general audience reading about a topic in the social sciences? I have learned that it is important to cite sources and talk in a language that is understandable to the reader. What process did you go through to choose a topic? I looked at the Federal Writers Project and picked the interview that I found most interesting. How have you become a more critical/analytical thinker, reader, and writer? What skills do you hope to develop further? I have learned more about the process of researching databases, especially the unc library. I want to work more on finding minute details in a historical paper. What organizational strategy did you use? How successful was it? Why? I separated my project into 3 different sections. It was successful because the sections were continuous across the article. What is the one revision you made that you are most satisfied with? Why? I am most satisfied with the addition of subsections in the Loan Shark portion. I think it allowed for more organization. If you could make an additional revision, what would it be? Why? The only revision I would’ve liked to make was to pick a more extensive interview. It was really hard to write about someone you know so little about. How did your reviewer(s) help you? How could you have more effectively used the comments and suggestions you received? My reviewer helped me with language. I think I could’ve had a better draft so he could have spent more time reviewing the content rather than grammatical errors. How did reviewing a peer’s Wikiversity entry help you? The peer review process helped me to look at what I could’ve improved on. The person I was reviewing had a great draft, and I really modeled my final project after his. What sentence-level problems did you find most frequently in your writing? How will you avoid that problem in future assignments? I struggled with finding synonyms. In the future I need to use a thesaurus more often. What problems, if any, did you have documenting (citing) your sources? No problems here.