Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2013/Spring/Minnie Moody

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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 woman during the Great Depression; Hinds County, Mississippi

Overview:[edit]

Minnie Moody was a hard working African American woman who was affected by the economic crisis of the Great Depression. Moody and her family were poverty stricken after their farm was no longer able to produce good crops and provide them with a substantial income. Moody was interviewed by Bernice Harris as part of the Federal Writers’ Project in 1939. [1]

Biography:[edit]

Minnie Moody was an African American farmer who was born in approximately 1884 and lived in Northampton County, North Carolina in 1939. Moody was around fifty-five years old at the time of the Federal Writer’s Project interview and not much is known about her childhood. She was raised at “Judge Mason’s Place” on a Roanoke River plantation where she attended school for four years. Her ancestors had served as slaves for decades on this plantation. [2] Moody and her husband at the time of the interview, Horrison, married in 1930. Moody had eleven children, from another marriage, who were grown and no longer lived at home, but had none with Horrison. Of these eleven, seven had died by the time of the interview and the others had moved up to northern states seeking employment. Although Moody had her own children in the past, she helped Horrison raise his seven children after they married. Myrt, age 19, was Horrison’s eldest daughter. Horrison started drinking frequently by 1939 for unknown reasons and was unable to manage, or did not want to manage, the family’s farm. Horrison worked at a saw mill, but did not earn much income and could not provide for the large family. Therefore, Moody and her step-daughters ran the farm, near Seaboard, North Carolina, by themselves. The family’s crops and income from the farm decreased significantly over the course of the Great Depression. Moody and her family were very poor: they only owned dilapidated furniture and their house constantly needed repairs. Although Moody’s living standards were not the best, local people stated that she was very dependable and humble. Moody was also quite religious and believed that a good name and reputation meant more than being wealthy. In her later life, she was known to go to church revivals because they were free and gave her a sense of enlightenment. [3]

Social Issues:[edit]

Women as Dependent Housewives[edit]

Women’s roles as a solitary housewives were a substantial social issue in the early 1900s. The traditional roles of women as housewives and caretakers were only strengthened by the financial plight that many U.S. citizens faced during the Great Depression. [4] In her article, Deanna Pagnini states, “Female headship was more common among African-Americans than among whites." [5] Minnie Moody was the leader of her household and was responsible for keeping her family functional. She made sure Horrison’s children were fed and kept the farm up and running while Horrison, the man of the house, drank and made a measly salary. Unfortunately for them, many female citizens could not work in the same positions or make as much income as men could. In fact, Kylie Lemon states, “Women's wages were lower than men's and most women worked in domestic service.” [6] Most women were still very dependent on the income of a working male partner or husband. In her interview Moody states, “What I aim to do is lay round with the rich man. He ain’t goin’ to let you starve.” This quote indicates that Moody, like other women, would indeed not hesitate to rely on a man for financial support during the Great Depression.

Inequality for African American Farmers[edit]

Another important social issue during the Great Depression was racial inequality for farmers. African Americans of lower socio-economic status, like Minnie Moody, were often discriminated against by the state and white farmers. According to Encyclopedia.com, “Blacks also lost traditional means of support in the 1930s. Already poorly paid and badly treated, thousands of southern tenant farmers and sharecroppers were forced off the land as banks foreclosed on the owners of a third of all cotton fields.” [7] Although Moody owned her own farm, many African American farmers relied on tenant farming or sharecropping for a living since their ancestors had been slaves. Kimberly Johnson states, “….the agricultural welfare state gradually atrophied and disappeared along with the small farmer that the services had been designed to help.” [8] Moody refers to other people in her town obtaining federal aid, when she could not because she was a colored small farm owner. This misappropriation of welfare, or federal aid, can be seen as a prime example of discrimination against many African American small farm owners, tenant farmers, and sharecroppers.

Issues of Historical Production:[edit]

Manipulation of Information and Validity of the Federal Writers’ Project[edit]

The Federal Writers’ Project was a literary movement spawned by Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal administration that was designed to record the life histories of “everyday citizens” while employing many writers during the 1930s. [9] An issue of historical production that accompanied this project was the manipulation or fictionalization of information, which has led to questioning of the interviews’ validity. [10] Some of the interviews and reports from the Federal Writer’s Project were framed in a way that was designed to impress or fascinate a certain public audience. Reporters would either enhance a person’s vernacular and add or take away details to a story to either make it less offensive or to detract from social controversies. Some say that the writers that recorded these interviews were not the best suited for the job. [11] Tampering with the dialogue or life histories of a person can be seen as unethical and can be misleading as to what their life really encompassed. A quote that describes a writer for the project says, “From now on, he [Harris] announced, he would review all outgoing communications to stop any that might create antagonism.” [12] This quote supports the notion that writers wrote what they thought people would enjoy. The interview write-up of Minnie Moody’s life history seems to have been manipulated to a degree where Moody’s dialogue is sporadic, contains a heavy accent, and seems to randomly jump to different topics at certain points. Also, the interviewer includes her own words and opinions in the interview write-up, which can misconstrue Moody’s personality at the time.

References[edit]

  1. Moody, Minnie. “Minnie Moody, Negro Farmer.” Federal Writer’s Project. University of North Carolina Southern Collection. Print.
  2. Moody, Minnie. “Minnie Moody, Negro Farmer.” Federal Writer’s Project. University of North Carolina Southern Collection. Print. p 6.
  3. Moody, Minnie. “Minnie Moody, Negro Farmer.” Federal Writer’s Project. University of North Carolina Southern Collection. Print.
  4. Lemon, Kylie. “Women's Roles in the 1930s.” eHow.com. Demand Media, Inc, 2013. Web. 8 April 2013. http://www.ehow.com/facts_7870484_womens-roles-1930s.html
  5. Pagnini, Deanna and S. Phillip Morgan. “Racial Differences in Marriage and Childbearing: Oral History Evidence from the South in the Early Twentieth Century.” American Journal of Sociology. Vol. 101. No. 6 (1996):1694-1718. JSTOR. Web. 8 April 2013. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2782116
  6. Lemon, Kylie. “Women's Roles in the 1930s.” eHow.com. Demand Media, Inc, 2013. Web. 8 April 2013. para 3. http://www.ehow.com/facts_7870484_womens-roles-1930s.html
  7. “The 1930s: Lifestyles and Social Trends: Overview.” American Decades. Encyclopedia.com. January 2011. Web. 8 April 2013. http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3468301229.html
  8. Johnson, Kimberley. ““Bare justice for the colored farmer: Race, Congress, and the Making of the Agricultural Welfare State.” Barnard College, Columbia University (May 2009): 1-33. Web. 9 April 2013. p. 6 http://faculty.virginia.edu/jajenkins/Johnson.pdf
  9. Brinkley, Douglas. “Unmasking Writers Of the W.P.A.” The New York Times. 02 August 2003. Web. 19 April 2013.
  10. Rapport, Leonard. “How Valid Are the Federal Writers' Project Life Stories: An Iconoclast among the True Believers.” The Oral History Review. Vol. 7. (1997):6-17. JSTOR. Web. 22 April 2013. p 7. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3675185
  11. Rapport, Leonard. “How Valid Are the Federal Writers' Project Life Stories: An Iconoclast among the True Believers.” The Oral History Review. Vol. 7. (1997):6-17. JSTOR. Web. 22 April 2013. p 14. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3675185
  12. Mangione, Jerre. The Dream and the Deal: The Federal Writers Project 1935-1943. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1996. Web. p 61. http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=8CGsYrBNjY8C&oi=fnd&pg=PA53&dq=federal+writers+projects+women%27s+roles&ots=xtB_rNygOr&sig=yK_LMJ7Z49qj974yKajgLeuTSbM#v=onepage&q=federal%20writers%20projects%20women's%20roles&f=false