Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2013/Spring/Frank Freeman

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

African American Family on Porch

Overview[edit | edit source]

Frank Freeman was an African American teacher and principal who lived with his wife, Martha, in North Carolina throughout the Great Depression. Freeman was interviewed in 1939 as a part of the Federal Writers’ Project.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Freeman was born in 1859 on a farm in Wake County, North Carolina where he lived with his parents and ten brothers and sisters. As the oldest son, Freeman did much of the farm labor with his father. At the age of 21, Freeman left the farm to attend Shaw University. He was the only child in his family to attend school. Freeman was a hard worker who was dedicated to his wife and had a strong faith. After receiving his degree from Shaw University, Freeman went on to teach and serve as a principal for 43 years, during which time he also worked odd jobs to earn extra money. Over the course of his career, Freeman noticed a decline in the desire to learn among his students. This decline was revealed as education became more common among the populous. As higher education became more prevalent and there were more educators with higher degrees, Freeman was asked to resign. Freeman continued to work after stepping down from his job as principal, working at a market until he was forced to stop when his wife fell ill. Mr. and Mrs. Freeman were married for 30 years when she got sick. Mrs. Freeman was ill for a year before she became bedridden in their condemned shack. During this time, the couple’s only income came from their pensions, part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. While very helpful to Mr. and Mrs. Freeman, the pensions hardly covered the cost of Mrs. Freeman’s medication and food for her to survive. As a result, Freeman was forced to live solely on coffee and bread for many years, saving the only meat they could afford for his sickly wife. Freeman was very proud of his moral and political beliefs. Throughout his life, Freeman made sure to attend church at least once every Sunday and to vote in every election. As the Great Depression worsened, Freeman noticed a significant decline in the number of people attending church. This is the last documented information of Freeman’s life.[1]

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Lack of Education[edit | edit source]

When Freeman was a student, higher education was rare; only people with a strong desire and the means were able to pursue it. History professors E. Ewing and David Hicks believe that education “provides an excellent way to evaluate the impact, the experience, and the significance of the Depression.”[2] While no public schools in North Carolina were closed due to the depression, attendance dropped as a result of pressures on school-aged children to get jobs to support their family.[3]

Wages of Teachers[edit | edit source]

While no schools were closed due to the Great Depression, many school years were shortened due to financial issues.[4] Schools also took other measures to try to save money including cutting back on sports, cafeteria, music, and foreign language course funding in order to stay open.[5] African American schools suffered even more severe cutbacks, which greatly affected the salary of the teachers. As a teacher and a principal, Freeman received the same salary from the time he started teaching through the time he stepped down as a principal. The twenty-five dollars Freeman earned per month was barely enough to live on[6] and, according to North Carolina law, was ten dollars less than African American teachers were supposed to make [7]

Decline in Religion[edit | edit source]

According to church historian Robert Handy, the religious depression in the south began in the 1920s.[8] Some believe that this depression was due to the lack of optimism in the postwar decade [9] while others attribute it to the public’s tendency to favor education over religion. [10] During this time, religion was viewed as negative and standoffish.[11] Handy noticed “on the rural church scene there was clear evidence of decline before 1929, both in terms of benevolence contributions and the attendance at services of resident members."[12] In his interview, Freeman expressed his disgust with both the lack of attendance at church services and the absence of monetary contributions to the church.[13]

The Federal Writers’ Project and Issues of Historical Production[edit | edit source]

The Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) was a part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) whose objectives were “to provide jobs for the unemployed, to rehabilitate workers by helping them to maintain and improve their skills, and to produce publications of lasting merit as a contribution to the culture of the state and local communities.”[14] The WPA hired librarians, historians, poets, newspapermen, and novelists to conduct interviews of people living in the United States during the Great Depression.[15] The Federal Writers’ Project has been accused of bias and tampering with vernacular to overemphasize dialect. Hirsch notes that the “national FWP editors sought to emphasize the continuing relevance of the traditional vernacular as embodying a method that took regional realities into account.”[16] The documentation of Freeman’s interview contains bad grammar in conjunction with an impressive vocabulary, even though the majority of the source is made up of ‘direct quotes’ from Freeman. This calls into question the authenticity of the transcript.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Freeman, Frank. “At Least We Have a Roof.” Federal Writers’ Project. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Southern Collection. Print. p.1-10
  2. Ewing, E., David Hicks. “Introduction: Education in the Great Depression.” Education and the Great Depression: Lessons from a Global History. E Ewing, David Hicks. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 2006. 1-18. Web. p.13
  3. Davis, Anita. “Public Schools in the Great Depression.” NCpedia. Government and Heritage Library at the State Library of North Carolina, NC Department of Cultural Resources, 2010. Web. 8 April 2013. para.2
  4. Davis para.4
  5. Davis para.2
  6. Freeman para.6
  7. Davis para.8
  8. Handy, Robert. The American Religious Depression, 1925-1935. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960. Web. p.3
  9. Handy p.6
  10. Handy p.8
  11. Handy p.6
  12. Handy p.5
  13. Handy p.8
  14. Hill, Michael. “Federal Writers’ Project.” NCpedia. Government and Heritage Library at the State Library of North Carolina, NC Department of Cultural Resources, 2006. Web. 7 April 2013. para.1
  15. Hill para.1
  16. Hirsch, Jerrold. Portrait of America: A Cultural History of the Federal Writers’ Project. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003. Web. p.74