Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2021/Summer/105/Section 03/Floyd Abernathy

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Floyd Abernathy[edit | edit source]

Birth Date: Late 1800s

Death Date: Unknown

Profession: Medical Doctor

Overview[edit | edit source]

Floyd Abernathy was a doctor born in Prattville, Alabama in the late 1800’s, and son to a Methodist preacher.[1] From a young age, he aspired to be a doctor, as many of his family members had previously held this occupation.[2] Growing up in Alabama however, which the U.S. Census notes is “…one of the poorest states since the Civil War” [3], Abernathy struggled to pursue this career because of the extreme poverty his family faced.[4] This issue was prominent and created many obstacles for Alabamians in the early 1900s.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Medics During WWI

Not much is known about Abernathy’s early life except that it was punctuated by continuous financial insecurity.[5] His story starts as a young adult when he attend Southern College in Greensboro.[6] After finishing two years of pre-medical school, he struggled to find funds to continue his education.[7] To continue his schooling, Abernathy worked in the Circulation Department of the Montgomery Advertiser.[8]After earning enough money from this job he attended the University of Alabama to finish his medical degree[9]. This allowed him to start on his path to becoming a medical doctor.[10] Shortly after completing school in 1916, Abernathy was drafted as a medic in World War I to complete his internship requirement; a two year internship that all doctors must fulfill.[11] After serving during the war, Abernathy was offered a position as Assistant State Health Officer at the State Board of Health.[12] He served in this position for two years before practicing medicine in Foley, Alabama for the remainder of his career.[13]

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Poverty:[edit | edit source]

In the 1900s, life in Alabama was poverty stricken.[14] The economic disparity that Alabamians experienced resulted from the government pushing for low-income jobs.[15] People would work in factories to continue industrial and agricultural production but would not receive adequate wages.[16] This problem was compounded by laws written in the 1901 Constitution.[17] Flynt states in reference to the Constitution, “ It also enacted property-tax limitations that made it difficult—if not impossible—to raise property taxes, thus placing much of the tax burden on state sales taxes and other regressive levies that fell and continue to fall disproportionately on the poor.”.[18] Wages weren’t the issue, but taxes were. When the Great Depression started, it brought attention to the extreme poverty that many Alabamians faced.[19]  This poverty resulted from many factors, but the most import being “….Alabama faced was an increased state debt, decreased employment resulting from declining industries…”.[20] As industrial and agricultural factories plummeted, unemployment skyrocketed.[21] According to Matthew Downs, this situation forced the nation’s leaders to assist the poor; “In a state and region where poverty was a fact of life for many, even during times of national prosperity, the Great Depression brought national attention to the plight of many Alabamians and forced the state's leaders to play a greater role in providing for the many less fortunate.”.[22] Alabamians were provided copious amounts of relief to combat this depression, but this era sheds light on the social issue of poverty that Alabama has faced.[23]

Inadequate Access to Resources.[edit | edit source]

Alabama endured many economic struggles throughout the 20th century. Despite the struggle with poverty, many Alabamians encountered cultural conflicts during this era. Abernathy, a practicing physician, recognized that African Americans didn't receive equal access to healthcare.[24] Michael Byrd states that, “Though viewed by many as recent occurrences, racial- and ethnic-based health disparities are centuries-old phenomena”.[25] Healthcare was almost inaccessible to African Americans during this era, because these age-old, racist systems still caused an inability to access good medical treatment.[26] As life continued through the 1900s, racial inequity did as well.[27] During World War I African American were deprived of good medical care as well.[28] An article about the Influenza pandemic during the war states “In some camps, African American soldiers had lower morbidity but higher mortality rates than white soldiers, and some medical officers erroneously attributed this to racial weakness and susceptibility”.[29] As the war ended and life continued into the mid-1900s, racism and unequal access to resources continued. Although the struggle that Alabamians, and mainly African Americans endured during this era was horrific, with improving support, these cultural issues are decreasing in states like Alabama.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Evans, Lawrence. A Small Town Doctor (Foley, AL: Federal Writers Project Papers, 1939), 3
  2. Ibid.
  3. Flynt, Wayne. Poverty in Alabama (Auburn, AL: Encyclopedia of Alabama, 2007), 1.
  4. Evans, Lawrence. A Small Town Doctor (Foley, AL: Federal Writers Project Papers, 1939), 4.
  5. Evans, Lawrence. A Small Town Doctor (Foley, AL: Federal Writers Project Papers, 1939), 3
  6. Ibid,
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Flynt, Wayne. Poverty in Alabama (Auburn, AL: Encyclopedia of Alabama, 2007), 1.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Downs, Matthew L. Great Depression in Alabama. (Prichard, Alabama: Encyclopedia of Alabama, 2014), 1.
  20. Barrera, Sergio. Alabama and the Great Depression. (Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona, 2015), 2.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Downs, Matthew L. Great Depression in Alabama. (Prichard, Alabama: Encyclopedia of Alabama, 2014), 1.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Evans, Lawrence. A Small Town Doctor (Foley, AL: Federal Writers Project Papers, 1939), 3
  25. Byrd, Michael W, Clayton, Linda A. Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Healthcare: A Background and History. (Cambridge, MA: Division of Public Health Practice, 2003), 456.
  26. id.b
  27. Ibid.
  28. Byerly, Carol R. The U.S. Military and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919. (Boulder, CO:           National Center for Biotechnological Information, 2010), 1.
  29. Ibid.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

Barrera, Sergio. Alabama and the Great Depression. Tucson, Arizona: The University of

Arizona, 2015.

Brooke, John. The Battle of Passchendaele, July-November 1917. Belgium: Wikipedia, 2017.

Byerly, Carol R. The U.S. Military and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919. Boulder,

CO: National Center for Biotechnological Information, 2010.

Byrd, Michael W, Clayton, Linda A. Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Healthcare: A Background

and History. Cambridge, MA: Division of Public Health Practice, 2003.

Downs, Matthew L. Great Depression in Alabama. Prichard, Alabama: Encyclopedia of

Alabama, 2014.

Evans, Lawrence. A Small Town Doctor. Foley, AL: Federal Writers Project Papers, 1939.

Flynt, Wayne. Poverty in Alabama. Auburn, AL: Encyclopedia of Alabama, 2007.

O’Brien, Kathleen. Before Medicaid, how did doctors treat the poor?. NJ.com, 2015.