Federal Writers' Project -- Life Histories/2020/Fall/105/Section 061/Jim Lauderdale

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Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Jim Lauderdale was a white male born in Alabama in 1868. During this period in the mid 1870s, Lauderdale did not pursue his academic career past elementary school, but this was a common thing for young boys during that time, since they were needed to work and support their families. As a young boy, he enjoyed fishing with others.

Family[edit | edit source]

Jim Lauderdale married his wife, Ora, and had two kids, Zelma and Dorsett. The Lauderdale family was suffering financially and it’s said that Ora gave Jim a hard time for their low income. Lauderdale says that Ora went around their town telling everyone that her life was hard because she was married to a poor man. During their life together, Ora would not allow Zelma and Dorsett to grow a strong relationship with their father because of occupations he had taken up and was involved in. When the Great Depression met eyes with their family, Ora took their two kids and left Jim to go find work to support her children. However, they were unable to get a formal divorce, since they could not afford it, so they just had to part ways.

Women working during the Great Depression

Occupation[edit | edit source]

At the start, Lauderdale found a low paying job as a coal miner. Later in his life, Lauderdale found a high paying job in a different coal mine in Alabama that helped him better support his family. Alongside being a miner in Birmingham, Lauderdale was being paid $65 to work as a prison guard. He notes that while he was a guard, him and the other guards would brutally abuse many of the African American convicts in the prison. After many years of experience being a miner, Lauderdale’s pay increased, but he also fell ill due to the working conditions he had been enduring the past 35 years. Because of his illness, Lauderdale was sent home to Talladega Springs with retirement money in hand. After depositing all his savings into a bank near his home, the Great Depression flooded over the United States and many banks crashed. Lauderdale lost all his retirement money and savings that was deposited in the bank during that time. To support his family, he worked alongside a man named Jess Stone and illegally produced and distributed alcohol. Lauderdale was sent to jail after being reported by his wife.

Death[edit | edit source]

Lauderdale’s health progressively deteriorated as he grew old and could not afford any sort of medical attention or basic necessities for his daily life. We can infer he most likely died due to his alcoholism and past untreated respiratory illnesses from mining.

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

The Great Depression[edit | edit source]

The Great Depression is best known as being one of “the worst economic downturns in modern history."[1] As more and more banks crashed across the United States and large companies declared bankruptcy, the effects of the Great Depression became more prevalent. The incomes of many, if not most, households saw a great decrease as “unemployment [became] one of the greatest curses of the depression.”[2] One of many effects of the Great Depression surrounded the life of the average American family. Many women dispelled societal stereotypes of the time period and joined the workforce in factories, mills, and other occupations. It was statistically proven that “the number of married women in the workforce actually increased"[1] due to the Great Depression. With this obvious progression in American history, we unfortunately also saw marriages taking large tolls as basic human rights, such as to ensure adequate healthcare could not be afforded.[3] Many families were separating, with parents going through informal divorces, since many could not afford legally getting divorced. Even though divorce rates could not be properly quantitated because of this, there was an increase in family abandonments, as “men deserted their families out of embarrassment or frustration.”[1] The Great Depression affected many aspects of one’s daily life in the 1930s, but it’s effects on family are especially prevalent.

Prohibition Act[edit | edit source]

Prohibition agents finding and destroying barrels of alcohol

The Prohibition Act was active from 1920-1933. It made the distribution of “any “intoxication beverages” with more than 0.5% alcohol”[4] illegal nationwide. With the Prohibition Act in effect and the Great Depression uprising, many individuals took up an occupation of “bootlegging” as a means of collecting any form of income. “Bootlegging” is a term referred to the underground production and distribution of alcohol during the Prohibition Act. Although the Prohibition Act was instilled to lower the consumption rate of alcohol, it “liquor’s illegal status furnished the soil in which organized crime flourished.”[5] Popular figures of the time, such as Al Capone, “drove the liquor trade underground”[4] where mainly young drinkers automatically ventured to other bootleggers to gather illegal alcoholic products. The Prohibition Act saw many consequences that were not intended and unsuspected when being passed by congress at the time.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Konkel, Lindsey. “Life for the Average Family During the Great Depression.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, April 19, 2018. Accessed October 13, 2020. https://www.history.com/news/life-for-the-average-family-during-the-great-depression
  2. Crafts, Nicholas, and Peter Fearon. “The 1930s: Understanding the Lessons.” The Great Depression of the 1930s 26, no. 3 (October 1, 2010): 285–317. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199663187.003.0002
  3. Palmer , Karen S. 1999. “A Brief History: Universal Health Care Efforts in the US.” Physicians for a National Health Program. https://pnhp.org/%20a-brief-%20history-universal-health%20-care-efforts-in-the-us/
  4. 4.0 4.1 Editors, History.com. “The Roaring Twenties History.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, April 14, 2010. Accessed October 13, 2020. https://www.history.com/topics/roaring-twenties/roaring-twenties-history
  5. Blocker, Jack S. “Did Prohibition Really Work? Alcohol Prohibition as a Public Health Innovation.” American Journal of Public Health 96, no. 2 (2006): 233–43. https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.2005.065409