Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2021/Summer/105/Section 08/Rosa Lee Johnson

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Overview[edit | edit source]

Rosa Lee Johnson is an African American cook and maid in Ozark, Alabama. She was interviewed for the Federal Writers’ Project in 1937.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Private Life[edit | edit source]

It is not known what year Rosa Lee Johnson was born precisely, but she was born roughly around 1906, as she is close to 31 years of age at the time of her interview. She was born in Waycross, GA, into a family of 18, including 16 brothers and sisters. Johnson attended school while she and her family resided in Waycross until she reached the fourth grade when they relocated to Camilla, GA. In Camilla, her family farmed "on halves", on land that was owned by another individual. When Johnson reached the age of 12, she married a man and they moved to a farm of their own. After almost a year, her husband passed away, so she moved to Ozark, Alabama, and married another man. In Ozark, she occupied a four-frame house with no electricity or running water. Her new husband, nephew, and two others all shared the small living quarters. Shortly after arriving, Rosa became pregnant with a boy, whose name is not mentioned. For work, she became a cook and maid for the Barnes family, that lived near her residence. For the Barnes family, Johnson would cook breakfast every day at 5:30 am. After they finished eating, she cleaned the dishes they used that morning and some that was leftover from the night before. Following this, she cleans up the rest of the house, including making the beds and sweeping the porch. Before finally heading home, Johnson would prepare dinner for the family and clean up afterward, sometimes getting the chance to have a meal with the Barnes. For her hard work, she would earn around $2.50 a week (40 dollars a week in the present day), and get about 2 days off in an entire month. After many years of work, Johnson and her husband split ways because he was being unfaithful, though they were still married. After all, divorce would cost too much money.

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Racial Inequality During the Great Depression[edit | edit source]

While every race in America was affected by the Great Depression, African Americans received the worst of it. They were the first to have hours cut and be fired from their jobs, and since most had lower-paying occupations, whites that were in need of work were the ones to take their jobs away. Out of any ethnic group, African Americans underwent the highest unemployment rate. When the Great Depression struck, the African American unemployment rate ascended rapidly to 50% of their population, while the unemployment rose for whites as well, it only reached around 25%. In the south African Americans were treated the worst and in cities like Atlanta, the unemployment rate reached close to 70%.

Gender Inequality During the Great Depression[edit | edit source]

Before the Great Depression hit, women had gradually been joining the workforce in larger numbers than in the past. But by the 1930s, married and single women had to discover work as many men lost their jobs and could no longer support their families by themselves. For those women who succeeded in the fight to find work or stay employed, the fight for decent and equal pay with other male jobs became harder. Wages set by the National Recovery Administration recorded that over 25 percent of jobs set lower wages for women than men. Unfortunately, this was normal for women to have lower pay and fewer benefits, and for African American women it was much worse. With the entrance of many more white women into the workforce, this meant jobs became even harder to find for these women. More white women were going into the workforce because they had to, and black women had been in the workforce since 1865 because it was virtually impossible for a black family to be supported by just one parent.

References[edit | edit source]

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

  1. Bernard, George S. "A Negro Cook’s Day". Interview from the Federal Writers' Project Papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  2. Greenberg, Cheryl Lynn. “To Ask for an Equal Chance: African Americans in the Great Depression.” Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2011.
  3. Wolters, Raymond. “Negroes and the Great Depression; the Problem of Economic Recovery”. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Pub. Corp., 1977.
  4. Klein, Christopher. “Last Hired, First Fired: How the Great Depression Affected African Americans”. History.com. A&E Television Networks, April 18, 2018.
  5. “African American Life during the Great Depression and the New Deal.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. Accessed July 15, 2021.