Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2021/Spring/105/Section 88/J.B. Atkins

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J.B. Atkins
near Dade City, Florida
OccupationMechanic, bootlegger, farmer
SpouseBirdie Lee Atkins

Overview[edit | edit source]

J.B. Atkins was a mechanic during the Great Depression. He worked for Ford Motors in Detroit for a short period before he was laid off and relocated back to his home state of Florida. In 1939, Atkins was interviewed for the Federal Writers Project. [1]

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Atkins was born in 1903 near Dade City, Florida. He attended school for a few years, however most of his childhood was spent on his family farm helping to raise cows and crops. Eventually, due to difficulties on the farm, his family got involved in the production and selling of moonshine.

Adult Life[edit | edit source]

Atkins never stayed in one place for long, and moved to whatever life suited him at the time. After his mother’s death due to pellagra, Atkins had a falling out with his father from trouble that ensued after his father married a 14 year old girl. This trouble led him and his sister to leave home, and he ended up rum running from Cuba. After a few related jobs around the state, Atkins ended up on a farm helping a widow with the work. When she wanted to get married but Atkins did not share the same desires, Atkins left. He ended up marrying a girl from his childhood.

Social Context[edit | edit source]

Prohibition and related crime[edit | edit source]

A poster urging voters to vote for prohibition.

In 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution established prohibition, which outlawed the production and sale of alcohol. Elements of prohibition were seen in states as early as 1851, with Maine establishing a strict prohibition law. State enforced prohibition laws, however, were expensive to enforce and did not work, so most were repealed or drastically modified. [2] There were two big factors that contributed to the passing of the 18th amendment. One was a serious drinking problem in America, parts of which stemmed from the harsh life that working class Americans faced at the time [3] , and another was prominent religious movements such as the Temperance movement that pushed for prohibition to pass. Thirteen years later, the amendment was repealed due to increasing unpopularity of prohibition and the shrinking of religious movements. [4]

With the passing of the amendment came illegal bootlegging and organized crime surrounding alcohol. People would smuggle alcohol into the US from other countries or have small scale productions inside the borders. However, while these new jobs existed due to prohibition, there was not a huge related crime wave during the 1920s. [5]

The Great Depression[edit | edit source]

The Great Depression was a period of economic turmoil from 1929 to 1933, originating in the United States, but with effects seen globally. It comes from a series of consequences that stem from the stock market crash of 1929. One of the largest consequences was cut wages and layoffs throughout the country, leaving many without food or money to support themselves. Those who managed to hold jobs still suffered, as oftentimes the cut wages were not enough to support themselves. This economic collapse had major changes in the government's role in daily life and also eventually led to a great power rise of the government as seen in the New Deal. [6]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Bryan, “Florida Adventurer
  2. Cohen, Prohibition: America makes Alcohol Illegal.
  3. Salamone, Encyclopedia of American Studies
  4. Hamm, American Governance
  5. Pate, The Social History of Crime and Punishment in America: An Encyclopedia
  6. Bernstein, The Great Depression: Delayed Recovery and Economic Change in America

References[edit | edit source]