Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2013/Fall/Lula Sizemore

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Tenant farming mother and son in North Carolina, 1938.

This page is connected with English 105 at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill - Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories

Overview[edit]

Lula Sizemore was interviewed by Claude Dunnagan as part of the Federal Writers’ Project on November 8th, 1938. At the time, Lula and her husband Allison were tenant famers on land in Yadkin County near Longtown, North Carolina.


Biography[edit]

Sizemore was the second youngest of ten children. When she was 19, her family moved to Yadkin County after her father got into a dispute with a neighbor about property lines. They took the dispute to court and did not have enough money to pay for the lawyer, so their property was seized. A year after they moved, their new landlord was forced to auction off their tools and furniture because their crop yield for the year was not enough to pay their share. At the auction, Sizemore met Allison, and married him a few days later. They moved to a farm near Longtown about 10 miles away from where her family was. Two years later they had their first child, Hildreth, and shortly after had a baby girl, Elsie. After another two years they had a third child, Tommy, who at four years old was diagnosed with meningitis. Because they were unable to pay for proper medical care, Tommy went into infantile paralysis and passed away.

The Sizemores continued working hard growing and curing tobacco, but barely raised enough money that year to pay the landlord and buy necessary food and supplies. However, they were still able to can some of their crops for the winter. The following spring, they had a strong, healthy baby boy, Joe. A day before Joe’s first birthday, he came down with a high fever. Allison went to get a doctor, but Joe passed away before he could return. About a year later, Allison ran off with Irene Cook, a 16-year-old neighbor, leaving Sizemore alone to tend to the farm and the children. She received a little government relief for food and clothes until Allison returned two months later. Allison was accused of being the father of Irene’s next baby, and was forced to go to jail for 21 days. The quality of life improved over time for the Sizemores, whose landlord gave them five-sixths of the earnings from the crops they raised at the time of the interview. They were even able to buy an old schoolhouse from the county for $270, and hoped someday to own the land as well. [1]


Economic Situation and Health[edit]

The Sizemore’s, like many post-Great Depression tenant farming families, struggled to make ends meet while still being able to pay their landlord. The Report on Economic Conditions of the South, written in 1938, stated “The paradox of the South is that while it is blessed by Nature with immense wealth, its people as a whole are the poorest in the country”.[2] Many tenant farmers received less for the crops they sold than what it cost to produce them. [3] Because of farmers’ low income, they were unable to pay for proper medical care and thus were more prone to sickness. In 1938, the low-income citizens of the South were more subject to disease than the low-income citizens in other parts of the US. [4] To save money, families had to neglect medical care when possible, can food to save for the winter, and use cardboard and cotton for shoe soles. [5] It was not until the mid 1930s that New Deal programs began to go into effect, which would provide relief for tenant farmers. [3]


Gender Roles and Sexual Activity[edit]

Men in this time period who were making insufficient income felt a threat to their masculinity because they could no longer provide for their family. [6] In order to fill this void, many of these “psychologically devastated” men turned to sex for a boost in self-esteem. [7] However, just because many couples could not afford to have more children did not mean that they would refrain from sexual activity. [7] Unfortunately for Sizemore, this meant being abandoned by her husband for a two-month period while he sought out sexual satisfaction. Many women like Sizemore had to receive public or government aid because without a husband, their wages were not enough to care for themselves and their children. [8]


Federal Writers’ Project[edit]

The Federal Writers’ Project emerged during the New Deal as an attempt to record Great Depression history. In order to provide jobs for people in literary professions, writers were hired to interview citizens all over the United States. The writers listened to the stories of the citizens and wrote their interpretations of them, and these documents became the American Guides. However, the quality of these documents is often questioned.

Many of the writers were under a time limit during the interviews and produced dull readings simply for quick results. [9] In “The Life Story of Lula and Allison Sizemore,” no dates were mentioned and at times it was unclear what the interview questions were, if any at all. Claude Dunnagan, the interviewer, might have left these details out due to a time constraint.

In addition, many of the federal writers were from different regions of the country than those who they interviewed. As a result, the writers often misrepresented their subject because they had limited knowledge of the nation as a whole. [9] According to Daniel Fox, this may have been a result of the Federal Writers’ “disturbing lack of historical perspective,” [10] or their indifference to regional culture. In this case, the way Dunnagan wrote the southern vernacular of Sizemore tends to make her sound uneducated.


References:[edit]

  1. Dunnagan, Claude. “Life Story of Lula and Allison Sizemore.” Federal Writers’ Project. University of North Carolina. Southern History Collection. November 8, 1938. Print.
  2. Carlton, D., & Coclanis, P. Confronting Southern Poverty in the Great Depression. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1996. Print. p. 47
  3. 3.0 3.1 Bishop, RoAnn. “Agriculture in North Carolina During the Great Depression.” NCPedia. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. p.1
  4. Carlton, D., & Coclanis, P. Confronting Southern Poverty in the Great Depression. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1996. Print. p. 59
  5. Mintz, S., & McNeil, S. (2013). Children and the Great Depression. Digital History. Retrieved November 12, 2013 from http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/learning_history/children_depression/depression_children_menu.cfm. p. 1
  6. McElvaine, Robert. “Gender Roles and Sexual Relations, Impact of the Great Depression on.” Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. Macmillan Reference USA, 2004. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. p. 391
  7. 7.0 7.1 McElvaine, Robert. “Gender Roles and Sexual Relations, Impact of the Great Depression on.” Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. Macmillan Reference USA, 2004. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. p. 392
  8. Carlton, D., & Coclanis, P. Confronting Southern Poverty in the Great Depression. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1996. Print. p. 67
  9. 9.0 9.1 Fox, Daniel. “The Achievement of the Federal Writers’ Project.” American Quarterly 13.1 (1961): 3-19. JSTOR. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. p. 4
  10. Fox, Daniel. “The Achievement of the Federal Writers’ Project.” American Quarterly 13.1 (1961): 3-19. JSTOR. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. p. 7