Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2021/Spring/105/Section 87/James Morton

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Overview[edit | edit source]

James Morton was interviewed by Abner, Massengill, and W. J. Sadler for the Federal Writers Projects in North Carolina in 1938. Morton was a harness maker, interior designer, and a faithful husband and father.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Childhood[edit | edit source]

James Morton was born on July 1, 1875 in Alamance County, North Carolina. His father was a tobacco farmer and a harness maker, and Morton grew up helping around the farm and the shop. Much of Morton’s education was conducted in the home. He attended the small Union Ridge School two months out of each year. In his teens, his father paid for him to attend Rosewood Academy where he got the equivalent of a high school degree. He lived at home with his parents until he was a young man.

Career[edit | edit source]

From the age of eighteen to twenty-two, Morton worked with the Rosewood Casket Company, building and glazing wood caskets to sell. He was offered a job at the Beaumont Casket Company in 1895, and moved to Beaumont. Here he got paid $2.50 a day and his board was only $2.50 a week. At first, he felt lonely because of a lack of friends and community in Beaumont, but once he began getting to know people he felt like he had a community. In 1901, the Beaumont Casket Company was bought out by the Charlotte Casket Company, so he moved to Charlotte where he was paid $3.50 a day. After a year at the Charlotte Casket company, he saved enough money to start a contracting painting and interior decorating business back in Beaumont. His decorating business, people hired him to design, paint, lay wallpaper, and finish houses or buildings. He has as many as twelve people working for him at once with this interior design business.

Personal Life[edit | edit source]

In 1896, while working for the Beaumont Casket company, he married Amy Forbes and boarded with her family. In 1897, they moved to Atlanta for six months, but then they moved back because they missed Beaumont. In 1898, he saw a man shot to death, an event that affected him tremendously for the rest of his life. It made him realize that death was inevitable and could happen at any time. His daughter, Geroline, was born in 1903, and his second daughter Alva was born a few years later. He sent both of his daughters to college for business degrees. His wife had a stroke in 1937 and he stayed in a hotel near the hospital to be close to her. He was in the process of building a five bedroom, five bathroom house when he was interviewed.

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Religion[edit | edit source]

The Social Gospel was a religious movement from 1870 to 1920 in America that caused people to want to improve industrialized society by works of charity and justice. One of the biggest implications of this was that the tie between salvation and good works grew, which meant that people began doing good deeds in order to be saved. People began associating Christianity with social, environmental, and political issues, and Christians began taking more actions to help the lives of the needy, such as creating settlement houses, or giving food to hungry neighbors. According to Christopher Evans, a professor at Boston College, “Social gospel leaders supported legislation for an eight-hour work day, the abolition of child labor and government regulation of business monopolies.” The leaders of the social gospel politically advocated for the eight-hour work day, the abolition of child labor, and other social reforms. Although this movement was sweeping across most of America, some parts of the south were not as affected; many thought that the influence of Christianity was actually declining during the time of the great depression onwards.

Education[edit | edit source]

Education in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was at a crucial changing point. Up until then, the majority of people (who were able to get an education) only went to school up until the eighth grade. Society had been primarily an agrarian one so people worked on a farm or took over their parent’s business. As technology rapidly progressed, however, so did the change from an agrarian society to an urban one. According to Joseph Murphy, “The central dynamic here was the shift from a rural to an urban society, with the new patterns of life that accompanied the transformation from farming to industry.” With this shift towards urbanization, more emphasis was put on education. People started attending universities more often, although they were still very expensive. More and more jobs required people to have an education, so universities themselves began shifting from being centers of learning to being places of research.

Sources[edit | edit source]

[A Quiz Kit? A Casket?], in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Social Gospel. Encyclopædia Britannica. www.britannica.com/event/Social-Gospel. Evans , C. (2020, July 1). How the social gospel movement explains the roots of today's religious left. The Conversation. theconversation.com/how-the-social-gospel-movement-explains-the-roots-of-todays-religious-left-78895

Golden, C. & Katz, L. (1999). The shaping of higher education: The formative years in the united states, 1890-1940. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 13(1), 37-62. 10.1257/jep.13.1.37

Mccarthy, E. (2016). 11 ways school was different in the 1800s. Retrieved from www.mentalfloss.com/article/58705/11-ways-school-was-different-1800s

Murphy, J. (2016). The evolution of the high school in america. Teachers College Record, 118(13), 1-18. www-tcrecord-org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/library

Orwin, C. (2004). The unraveling of christianity in america. Public Interest, Washington(155), 20-36. search-proquest-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/222093709?pq-origsite=summon

Social Gospel Movement. Social Gospel Movement - Ohio History Central. ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Social_Gospel_Movement.

The fall and rise of the 8th grade school. school.bankstreet.edu/about/why-bank-street-school-for-children/progressive-education-rooted-in-tradition/the-fall-and-rise-of-the-8th-grade-school/.