Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2013/Spring/Arthur Leavitt

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

Arthur Leavitt was considered to be an oddity in his town. He didn’t ever seem to see eye-to-eye with his contemporaries, and they questioned his character due to him being a wealthy man living his life like a “handy man”. Contents

   1 Biography
   2 Social issues caused by the Great Depression
       2.1 Spiritual values after dealing with the Great Depression
       2.2 Effects of the Great Depression on the wealthy
   3 Federal Writers Project
   4 References


Arthur Leavitt was born in 1894 into a family with a comfortable income in Boylston Creek. He lived with his great-uncle Tom Sanders and mother and had one sister named Ellie. He recalled his childhood as being happy. He often played with the children of his family’s African-American workers, and remembered having to do a lot of work on the family’s farm, and getting rewarded for doing a good job by being allowed to take one of the family’s horses for a ride, which he said was always a fond memory.

Leavitt described his mother as going from being very careful about her appearance to just getting by on the bare necessities. Instead of buying new and elegant dresses, which the family could afford to do, she’d mend and fix her old one when it began to all apart. Leavitt said his mother learned a lot about who her true friends were as she remained a kind, helpful woman, albeit seeming untidy compared to the rest of the women around them. It seemed that it was that sudden change in his mother that influenced Leavitt’s future lifestyle.

At the time of his Uncle Tom’s death, Leavitt was to be awarded some of his estate, but the family’s lawyer, J. M. Carson, and Leavitt’s brother-in-law, Ballard, made sure he wasn’t able to get any of it. Leavitt stated that ever since Ballard took an interest in his sister and the rest of the family, he was only interested in the family’s money and that even his uncle was able to see it. For quite some time, Leavitt was given nothing from his inheritance, but after a while of fighting, Leavitt was awarded some land, a good bit of money, and a cottage from his family’s property, which he fixed up to make livable. Leavitt didn’t complain as he liked the simplicity of his life, but he still remained bitter towards Ballard and Ellie and learned that eventually Carson was able to steal the rest of Ellie’s inheritance from her and Ballard as well. By the time he reached adulthood, the only family member Leavitt favored was his youngest niece, Ellie May, whose disposition he saw as the least like Ballard’s compared to his eldest daughter. He said he enjoyed her visits, but after he realized that she would get severely punished for visiting Leavitt, he told her to stop going to his house.

Leavitt was seen as an oddity in the town because of the tasks he chose to do and the way he presented himself. He didn’t care to dress up if he was going into town and he raised his own pigs for meat because he preferred “home-made meat”. He drove an older model vehicle and wore unkempt clothing, although like his mother, he was entirely capable of looking “presentable”. Leavitt said that he has the means to tidy up his appearance, but he didn’t see a real, valuable purpose in it. The people in his town thought he was “nertz” for acting like a handy man although he had a very nice inheritance. The Federal Writers Project approached Fred Tatum who began talking about Leavitt, and they were eventually led to Leavitt himself where they interviewed him about his life and his ideals. Arthur Leavitt simply said that “It don’t matter to me what people say. I just run along and mind my own business and let the other fellow do as he pleases…I know one thing though, I ain’t asking anybody to do anything for me.”[1] Social issues caused by the Great Depression Spiritual values after dealing with the Great Depression

According to an article in Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture, after World War I and the Great Depression, people began feeling disillusionment; and spirituality and church attendance began to dwindle. Once the war was over, “…a wave of spiritual depression and religious skepticism [was] widespread and devastating”. Arthur Leavitt also showed that sense of loose faith. After dealing with the financial and legality issues his family’s lawyer and brother-in-law put him through due to greed, it was understandable that Leavitt no longer wanted to deal with people and their conventions, and the hypocrisy that he felt occurred with frequent church goers. He found himself content when he stayed home and went hunting with his dogs, as opposed to dealing with the townspeople who continuously judged his way of life.[2] Effects of the Great Depression on the wealthy

During the Great Depression, class divisiveness was even more apparent. Although most Americans were affected in a large way by the Depression through loss of money and jobs, the wealthy were virtually unaffected, as seen through Leavitt and Ellie still having an inheritance after the Depression. Some of the wealthy even flaunted their perpetuated financial comfort even more while many Americans were looking for jobs and trying to make ends meet. This behavior by the wealthy during the Depression and even after seems to explain why Arthur Leavitt is seen as strange. He was left a good inheritance from his notoriously wealthy uncle, and he chose to live like someone who is forced to live off the land.[3] Federal Writers Project

The Federal Writers Project was a program that was a part of the New Deal and was implemented during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency. It was officially a part of a plan called Federal One whose intent was to provide jobs for unemployed professionals. The Project included journalists and novelists, and along with pursuing the main goal of the New Deal to “strengthen the nation’s economy…through employment programs”, the FWP section was to have professional writer’s document “American culture and social life”.[4]

The work done as a part of the Project is seen as an example of “American ingenuity and literary skill”. A part of what made the writings more layered was the manner in which the politics of the project was set up. The writers were hired to work within their own state, which led them to write in the form that would prove their state’s important role in the nation, thus adding more literary depth to the original purpose of recording America’s cultural and social views and way of life.[5] References

   ^ Leavitt, Arthur. “I Live My Own Life”. Federal Writers’ Project. North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. January 12, 1939
   ^ Handy, Robert T. "The American Religious Depression 1925-1935." JSTO. Cambridge University Press, n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3161613?seq=1>.
   ^ "Class in the 1930's." Class in the 1930's. American Studies Program at the University of Virginia, n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2012. <http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ug02/newyorker/class.html>.
   ^ Hill, Lynda M. “Ex-Slave Narratives: The WPA Federal Writers’ Project Reappraised”. JSTO. Oral History Society, n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/40179473>
   ^ Fox, Daniel M. “The Achievement of the Federal Writers’ Project”. JSTOR. The Johns Hopkins University Press, n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2710508?seq=2>