Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2021/Spring/105/Section 88/Ed Currin

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Overview[edit | edit source]

On January 14th, 1939, Ed Currin was interviewed by the Federal Writers’ Project, a government program that provided employment after the Great Depression (refer link).

He was 82-years old at the time and had been living in Oxford, North Carolina for 29 years.[1]

Biography[edit | edit source]

Childhood[edit | edit source]

Ed Currin was born on his great-grandfather’s plantation in 1857 in Granville County, North Carolina. He was the oldest out of seven siblings. When his great-grandfather died, Currin’s father sold the land, and they moved to different a plantation located in Frank County, North Carolina where Ed Currin would grow up.[1] It was an era where tensions were high between the North and the South due to the moral issues of slavery.

Oxford, Granville, North Carolina

After the Civil War ended, Currin began working at the early age of 12. He would wake up 4 A.M and plow till sundown, only taking breaks for supper and lessons.[1]

Education[edit | edit source]

Ed Currin lived in a rural town, so he never attended public school. Instead, he was homeschooled by a teacher his mother hired for him and his sublings.[1] But since Currin began working at an early age, he did not receive any long-term, adequate schooling.

Ed Currin
Born1857 (age 82)
Granville County, North Carolina
DiedUnknown date
  • Jack-Of-All Trades
  • Farmer
  • Mill-worker
SpouseAllice Currin

Teen[edit | edit source]

When Ed Currin was 17-years old, he was given the opportunity to establish his first official business. Currin and his father, along with the help of several men, rebuilt a dam that was previously owned by his grandfather. It only took them 3 months to complete the project and after doing so, Currin’s father gave him the title to the land and a notebook.[1]

This was a turning point in Currin’s life. The notebook would hold the records of the dam’s profit from toll fees.

Family[edit | edit source]

By his late 20s, Ed Currin making enough money to settle down and start his own family. He married Mavis, his second cousin, and he described her as “the prettiest girl [he] ever saw.”[1] She was a religious woman who Currin courted for over a year. Currin was 29-years old when he proposed to Mavis and in the following year, they got married and had their first child together.

Mavis died several years before this interview took place. The stories Currin told of Mavis reflected a happy, fulfilling marriage, such as the time he built two fishponds half-a-mile from their home for her. He stocked it with catfish, carp and perch because Mavis loved to fish.[1]

Ed Currin's first child, Dave, died when he was about 2-years old. Dave was standing on a cart when it lunged him, head first, toward a wall. Currin was present in the room but his back was turned away. Dave fell unconscious and for 8 days, he fell in and out of coma until “God took him”.[1]

After the incident, Currin revealed that he and Mavis "forgot about everything else."[1] They were able to move on when they realized they still had the second son, Martin. They focused all of their attention on him and had a new baby about every other year- Sally, Josie, Kate and Becky.

Careers[edit | edit source]

Farmer[edit | edit source]

African-American man standing on a tobacco farm with a mule

Ed Currin lived on a farm in a hill above his newly built dam. He owned several acres of land, all of which were handed down to him by his father or purchased using the profits from the dam’s toll fees.[1] He used this land to grow his own food, farm tobacco crops, and raise livestock.

On top of that, the land contained an abundance of woods that allowed him to produce lumber. Currin mastered the art of carpentry and was able to construct multiple houses and buildings for his farm, using his own wood. He owned five tenant families, two of them were white and three of them were black. Currin also built them a house for their own.[1]

Saw-Miller[edit | edit source]

According to Ed Currin, he claimed to have sold the most lumber in his entire county.[1] He owned a big sawmill and had a land that was abundant in wood, so his lumber was used to build many of the buildings in Oxford.

Jack-of-all-trade[edit | edit source]

When the opportunity allowed it, Ed Currin bought land, machinery, furniture, tobacco, mules and horses to re-sell for profit, which ranged from 50 to 500 percent.[1]

Currin travelled around his county to make purchases like this from small farmers and landowners.[1] His biggest transaction was the purchase of an entire block of land. He made most of his money in this field, trading.

Legacy[edit | edit source]

Many people knew Ed Currin to be an honest, family-oriented businessman. He paid and fed his tenant workers well and provided adequate housing for them.[1] He had extra rooms in his home which were always filled up with anyone who needed a place to stay.[1] He paid for his children's education, and even after they had their own families, Currin still financially supported them.

The home Currin was interviewed in was one he previously built and owned. He gave the title to his daughter, Becky, after her husband died in a car accident several years prior.[1]

Currin made many sacrifices like this for his family throughout his life. In order to financially support them, he had to sell all of his mills, properties and livestock.[1]

So even before the Great Depression in 1929, money was already scarce for Ed Currin.

Social Context[edit | edit source]

The Tobacco Industry in North Carolina[edit | edit source]

The tobacco industry has always been a big part of many southern state's economy. Buck Duke created the first tobacco factory in North Carolina.[2] In 1881, James Bonsack patented the Bonsack Cigarette Rolling Machine which caused a significant rise in the popularity of cigarette smoking.[2] By the late 1800s, "Duke was manufacturing more cigarettes than any other company in the world." [2]Many big and small tobacco farmers benefitted from the competition amongst big tobacco companies like Duke.

Despite the fact that growing tobacco was an area dominated by large farms, small farmers still played a part in the industry as tenant farmers or sharecroppers.[3] However, after the Great Depression, the demand for tobacco decreased as Americans struggle to stay afloat. This marked the end of the popularity of the tobacco industry until World War II.[3]

Tenant Farmers[edit | edit source]

Following the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery, many farm owners found themselves in need of a new line employee. Since they could not afford to pay for high wages, many farm owners divided their land to be temporarily owned by laborers, who could raise crops on their new land, in exchange for work.[4] However, "thousands of farmers, in spite of years of scrimping, have not been able to accumulate enough to make a first payment on a farm of their own."[4] This was due to the mistreatment of farm owners who often took advantage of tenant farmers. Nevertheless, there were good farm owners who paid their tenants well.

The Roaring Twenties[edit | edit source]

The Roaring Twenties was a period of substantial change in the political and social climate of America. This period of time is particularly marked by a migration from rural to urban living. Due to the nation’s economic growth between the years 1920 and 1929, the lives of many people had taken a strange new turn.[5] Americans had all of a sudden obtained disposable income, leading to the purchasing of luxury goods and general economic stimulation. Along with this, new music like Jazz was sweeping across the nation, women felt freer and more accepting of their sexuality, and shared culture became more widespread and diverse.[5]

However, the Roaring Twenties did not benefit everyone. For some Americans, the series of previous wars in their lifetime caused permanent damage in their economic stance.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 Ed Currin, interview.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Milov, "The Cigarette"
  3. 3.0 3.1 Blog, "Bright Leaves"
  4. 4.0 4.1 Perrott and Sewlyn. "Sickness and the Depression: A Preliminary Report upon a Survey of Wage-Earning Families in Ten Cities."
  5. 5.0 5.1 History.com Editors. “The Roaring Twenties.”

References[edit | edit source]

  • "Bright Leaves." POV (blog). American Documentary, Inc.
  • Ed Currin, interviewed by Cannady, Beth and E. Massengill, January 14th, 1939. Folder 310, in the Federal Writers Project Papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • History.com Editors. “The Roaring Twenties.” A&E Television Networks, 2010.
  • Milov, Sarah. The Cigarette. Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press, 2019. https://doi.org/10.4159/9780674242883
  • Perrott, J, and Collins Sewlyn. "Sickness and the Depression: A Preliminary Report upon a Survey of Wage-Earning Families in Ten Cities." The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly 12, no. 3 (1934): 218-24.