Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2013/Fall/David Cooke
This page is connected with English 105 at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill - Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories
David Cooke was a preacher from Asheville, N.C. who is known best through the productions of the Federal Writers’ Project. President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted this operation during the time of The Great Depression in the 1930s.
Cooke was born in Asheville, N.C. in 1897. He married a woman, Annie. Together they created a family with several children in Asheville (Cooke 6).
Adult Life and Employment
When Cooke was a young adult, he began working on the second floor of a cotton mill as a sweeper. Eventually, he was promoted to a weaver. During the war, Cooke left the mill and went to work in the company store of the Brookford Mill in Hickory, N.C. When he returned to the mill, he was considered a “second hand,” but in a few years was promoted to an overseer. Mill workers often had to endure long hours of monotonous work in a unkempt work environment (Thompson 165). With poor working conditions and low pay for cotton mill workers, Cooke’s initial occupation did not place him in a high social class or provide him with a high income. Many people that struggled during the Great Depression were employed with Cotton Mills. Cooke was one of these cotton mill workers who struggled financially during the Great Depression because of the low pay his job offered. When Cooke was around the age of 23 years old, he began to consider a career in preaching. However, it was when he was about 30 years old that Cooke was in an accident and fell down a flight of stairs while working a shift in the cotton mill. He claims that this was the primary factor that influenced his decision to pursue a career in the church. After breaking his hip during the accident, he was immediately brought to his home for recovery. While recuperating, he told his wife Annie that “I ought to been at church.” Later on in his recovery, he also said, “Lord, I surrender, I’ll fight the call no longer,” in efforts to verbalize his official decision to devote his career to the church. He fully recovered from his injuries and was ordained afterwards. Cooke worked for five years as a preacher at what he refers to as “Pamona” and three years at another a church (Cooke 19).
With public schools lacking with an abundance of pupils and willing teachers, education was not made a priority during this time of economic distress. While education was contributing factor in the job market, many who suffered financially did not seek higher education for either themselves or their children. Instead, people were working to find jobs that would pay enough to sustain a normal, but not luxurious lifestyle. David B. Tyack writes in one analysis, “While young Americans went to school in the early 1930s, its routines familiar, their parents sought to make sense of the greatest challenge the society had experienced since the civil war” (Tyack 3). Tyack articulates this concept of job-hunting over education. Cooke was one individual who did not receive any form of proper education. Although Cooke could barely read and write, he did not allow this education barrier to stop him from becoming a preacher. Cooke’s mother-in-law, Molly Connley, said that it was Cooke’s memory and sense of recollection that helped him overcome in these areas where he may have been lacking education to become a preacher (Cooke 7).
Religion and Economic Situation
America experienced its greatest economic struggle when the stock market crashed in 1929. This time period is often referred to as “The Great Depression.” During this time, many Americans struggled to find sufficient jobs that would provide them with enough income. However, with the economy at an all time low, many lost their money and experienced hardship and financial difficulties. Because so many people suffered economically during this time, the church did not receive as much money from members of its congregation. Essentially, the Great Depression exhibited a domino effect on America, first causing the people to suffer, and then many organizations, such as the church, as well as many private companies. Those who did experience such financial difficulties often turned to the church for support. As a preacher in the church during these times, Cooke still encouraged and asked his congregation to give tithing, or 10 percent of one’s wage, to the church (Cooke 24). An article by Timothy C. Morgan states, “The depression had a devastating effect on the Churches as well as on the nation. In the optimistic flush of the 20's many congregations had built new edifices far too large and expensive. When the depression hit, they found themselves unable to pay” (Morgan 4). Although Cooke was one that was urging those in his congregation to give to others and the church, he also offered help and provided financially for families in his congregation who suffered from the effects of The Great Depression (Cooke 24).
The Federal Writers’ Project and Issues of Historical Production
During the Great Depression, the government under President Roosevelt created the New Deal, which included a program called the Federal Writer’s Project, as a source of jobs for unemployed writers of the time period. Many writers facing unemployment were sent to document the time period and the hardship faced during the Great Depression. New York Times journalist, Julius Duscha, wrote in one article, “The purpose of the proposed C.I.C and the existing public-service employment program is the same as Harry L Hopkin’s W.P.A.—to take people off welfare and put them to work doing socially useful things in the community” (Duscha 7). While programs such as the Federal-Writers’ Project were useful in-helping-the-unemployed-find-work, it does offer issues-of-historical-production-in-the-present-day-when-documents-that-were written-in-this-time period-are-reviewed. The dialects used in the interview make clear the region in which the interview was conducted. The lack of specific dates and locations also present issues of accuracy (Fox 4). Based-on-the-transcription-of-the-interview, the-questions-Cooke-was-asked-are often unclear and cannot be inferred. This presents-an-issue-of-bias-because-the-interviewer-may-have-asked-Cooke-very-bias questions, leading-him-to-answer-or-respond-in-accordance-to -he-person-interviewing him. The-southern-dialect-throughout-the-interview-is-also-very-noticeable-as-well-as indicative-of-the-region-in-which-the-interview-took-place.
- Cooke, David. “There’s Always a Judas.” Federal Wrtiers’ Project. University of North Carolina Southern History Collection. 1939. Print.
- Duscha, Julius. “Jobs in the Great Depression: W.P.A still a model for today’s planning.” New York Times. Proquest Historical Newspapers. 1974. Web. 13 Nov 2013.
- Fox, Daniel M. "The Achievement of the Federal Writers' Project." American Quarterly 13.1 (1961): 3-19. JSTOR. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.
- Morgan, Timothy. “Jesus and the Great Depression.” Christianity Today. October 8, 2008. Web. 13 Nov 2013.
- Thompson, Holland. From the cotton field to the cotton mill: a study of the industrial transition in North Carolina. New York: Macmillian, 1906. Print.
- Tyack, David. “Public Schools in Hard Times: The Great Depression and Recent Years.” 1984. The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Print.