Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2021/Summer/105/Section 03/Frank Freeman

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Overview[edit | edit source]

Frank Freeman was an African American male born in 1858 in Transylvania County, NC. He was interviewed by Nancy Robinson on June 22nd, 1939, at the age of 80.

Frank Freeman
Spouse(s)Mary Freeman

Biography[edit | edit source]

Childhood[edit | edit source]

Frank Freeman was born in 1858 in Transylvania County which is located in western North Carolina. Freeman was one of the oldest of 11 children in the family. He stayed at his family’s farm and helped with all of the labor until 1880 when his father allowed him to move away. From there, he decided to better himself and get an education at the Tupper Memorial School. Freeman was the only child out of eleven to get an education. He graduated in 1883 and became a teacher.[1]

Career[edit | edit source]


Freeman's early years as a teacher saw a lot of movement from school to school. His first teaching job was at a school called Light Ville. He taught there for four years before moving to another school called Hortonville. After eight years there, he again moved to another school called Sleepy Hollow. After 10 years there, Freeman finally caught his big break. He was offered a job opportunity to become the next principal at Greasy Fork School. He took this opportunity and was the principal there for 21 years until they forced him to resign. Freeman was not happy about how his career in teaching ended. He said they were pushing out all of the older teachers and replacing them with “better-trained workers.”[2] The one thing that stayed consistent with Freeman throughout his teaching career was his pay. He was always paid $25 a month, no more, no less for 43 years. He says he never taught for the money, he taught because he loved it. After teaching, Freeman got a job shelling beans and peas at the city market just to make ends meet.[3]

Personal Life[edit | edit source]

In 1880, Freeman moved off his father’s farm and moved to Chesterfield where he spent the rest of his life. There, he met the love of his life, Mary Freeman, and they got married in 1908. For many years they tried to have children but were always unsuccessful.[4] Being religious people, they felt that this was all part of the plan and that God knew what was right. At the time of the interview, both Frank and Mary were both alive. Mary was very sick and did not move around a lot. They lived in an old, weather-beaten hut with only three rooms. The only reason they lived there is because they did not have to pay rent. The only income they get is from old people's pensions,[5] which isn’t enough for much, especially during the Great Depression.

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Education[edit | edit source]


In the 19th century, education was not common in a lot of households. In 1870 around half of all children in the United States were getting an education. During this time, a lot of states were starting to provide free public schooling. The problem was many families needed their children to provide economic support.[6] Transitioning to the 20th century, education was becoming more and more common in households across America. In 1910, 79% of children in America were enrolled in schools.[7] The new problem was the large disparity in the allocation of resources to different schools. According to Thomas Maloney who is a professor who studies education in the 20th century, “resources were funneled to white schools, raising teacher salaries and per-pupil funding while reducing class size. Black schools experienced no real improvements of this type. The result was a sharp decline in the relative quality of schooling available to African-American children.”[8] The result was a sharp decline in the relative quality of schooling available to African-American children which caused many of the students to fall behind in their schooling and eventually drop out. This disparity was only worsened by the Great Depression “as tax revenues fell and local and state governments shifted funding to relief projects. Budgets were slashed, and teachers went unpaid.”[9]With these financial cuts, public schools had a hard time staying afloat during the Depression, and African American schools that were already struggling were left behind.

Racial Inequality[edit | edit source]

Racial inequality after the abolishment of slavery in 1865 was still prevalent in American society, especially in the south. Jim Crow laws established in southern states in the 1870s made sure to continue the trend of inequality. These laws made it harder for African Americans to find jobs, restricted what they could own, and severely limited their rights as human beings. These new laws made it harder for African Americans to succeed in society and increased the income gap.[10] By 1880, African Americans were making about 34 percent of what white people earned. This gap was fueled by the disadvantages African Americans already faced which made it harder to do as well as everyone else.[11] These trends carried on into the 20th century, especially during the Great Depression. During this time, all Americans were being affected, but not all equally. Approximately half of all African Americans were left unemployed in 1932.[12] Even with the New Deal policies which were meant to benefit everyone, inequality was still prevalent. With the National Recovery Administration, which was created to bring in more jobs, whites were often given the first choice, leaving fewer opportunities for African Americans.[13] By the end of the 1930s, African Americans were making about 43.5 percent of what their white counterparts earned. While an improvement from the study 50 years prior, unequal pay was still a challenge African Americans had to face on a daily basis.[14]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1 Robinson, Nancy. "At Least We Have a Roof."pp 4.
  2. 2 Ibid., 5.
  3. 3 Ibid., 5-6.
  4. 4 Ibid., 7.
  5. 5 Ibid., 3.
  6. 6 "American History: Education."
  7. 7 "The 1900s Education: Overview."
  8. 8 Maloney, Thomas. "African Americans in the Twentieth Century."
  9. 9 "History of Education in the United States."
  10. 10 Borgia, Gina, Sullivan, Jenna. "The Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws."
  11. 11 Ng, Kenneth, Virts, Nancy. "The Black-White Income Gap in 1880."
  12. 12 "Race Relations in the 1930s and 1940s."
  13. 13 "African Americans and the New Deal."
  14. 14 Maloney, Thomas. "African Americans in the Twentieth Century."

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

“African Americans and the New Deal.” Digital History. 2021. https://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=2&psid=3447

“American History, Education.” US History.org. accessed July 13, 2021. https://www.ushistory.org/us/39a.asp.

Borgia, Gina, Sullivan, Jenna. “The Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws.” National Geographic Society. 2020. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/black-codes-and-jim-crow-laws/.

“History of Education in the United States.” Wikipedia. July 13, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_education_in_the_United_States#External_links

Maloney, Thomas. “African Americans in the Twentieth Century.” EH.Net Encyclopedia. January 14, 2002, https://eh.net/encyclopedia/african-americans-in-the-twentieth-century/.

Ng, Kenneth, Virts, Nancy. “The Black-White Income Gap in 1880.” Agricultural History Society. No. 67 (1993): 1-15. http://www.csun.edu/~hfeco002/black%20white%20income%20gap.pdf.

“Race Relations in the 1930s and 1940s.” Library of Congress. 2015. https://www.loc.gov/classroom-materials/united-states-history-primary-source-timeline/great-depression-and-world-war-ii-1929-1945/race-relations-in-1930s-and-1940s/

Robinson, Nancy. (Interviewer) “At Least we have a roof.” Federal Writing Papers. Folder 710 (June 22, 1939):1-10. https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/03709/id/1272/rec/1

“The 1900s Education Overview.” Encyclopedia.com. June 16, 2021. https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/culture-magazines/1900s-education-overview