Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2013/Spring/The Wood Family

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

A white tenant farmer in rural North Carolina during the Great Depression

Overview[edit]

Carlton and Patricia Wood, and their two-year-old son were a family of tenant farmers that lived in rural North Carolina during the Great Depression. Both Mr. and Mrs. Wood were interviewed for the Federal Writers' Project in 1938.

Biography[edit]

Carlton Wood[edit]

Early Life[edit]

Carlton Wood was born in Fuquay-Springs, North Carolina. His father died when Mr. Wood was very young, and his first stepfather died four years later. After being physically abused by his second stepfather, Mr. Wood proceeded to run away from home at age eleven. He quickly joined the workforce, but often travelled from job to job. He first worked at a dairy farm, and later as an illegal bootlegger for liquor. He attempted to find better work, but the job market was limited for someone who could neither read nor write. He eventually settled on a career in tenant farming


Adulthood[edit]

After Mr. Wood met and married Mrs. Wood, they moved to Lillington, North Carolina to begin their life together as tenant farmers. Mr. Wood was skilled in the crafts of farming, hunting, and fishing. People often gave him ammunition in exchange for game of all kinds.


At age twenty-seven, he had contracted nervous indigestion, a gastrointestinal illness caused by stress and anxiety.[1] (Barrier Miner, para. 1). His expensive medical appointments often placed financial stress on the family. They often struggled to pay the $125 per year medical bills.


Patricia Wood[edit]

Early Life[edit]

Patricia Wood was born and raised on her parents’ farm in Clinton, North Carolina. She was the oldest of three children. Mrs. Wood and her younger siblings spent most of their young lives helping their parents tend to the farm. Mrs. Wood prided herself on being one of the only women to know how to grow and cure tobacco. She quit school after passing the eighth grade because of the lack of educational availability in her hometown.

Adulthood[edit]

Mrs. Wood had always wanted a baby. She gave birth to a son four years after her marriage to Mr. Wood. Their son was two years old at the time of the interview. While Mrs. Wood continued to wish for a second child, she chose to focus her energy on their family’s current financial situation. She worked diligently on the farm so that she could help provide her husband with medical aid and her son with an education. She claimed that they hoped to one day provide their son with the tools to “better meet the trials of life”.[2]


Social Issues[edit]

Lack of Education in Rural North Carolina[edit]

Overcrowded School Room in Fayetteville North Carolina - Great Depression Era

In Great Depression era North Carolina, the educational systems were often overlooked. Although the state and federal government struggled to keep public schools open, many rural schools were forced to consolidate.[3] In 1931, North Carolina state legislature mandated that elementary schools with “average daily attendance less than twenty-two and high schools with less than fifty”[4] could no longer operate. This left many children from rural communities with no way to achieve an education.


In addition to some schools being closed, others were forced to shorten their times of operation. In rural North Carolina during the early and mid-1930s, school terms were limited in many to about six months per year [5]. This presented problems for the Wood family. Not only could they not afford to buy the simplest of school supplies, but school attendance was also “dependent on the cotton fields, the tobacco fields, and the demands of their family”.[6] Because of these family and farming obligations, many rural North Carolinian children were denied the opportunity to attend the shortened school year.


Tenant Farming[edit]

After the Reconstruction period in North Carolina, many former slaves and poor white farmers were forced off their land by the poor economy (Sharecropping and Tenant Farming, para. 1). Many became tenant farmers because they lacked the resources needed to begin a new farm. Tenant farmers were allotted a small plot of land from a landowner. They were usually permitted to farm it as they pleased, and to pocket the profits from their produce.


Problems with this lifestyle often arose during the Great Depression. Tenant farmers usually resided in quarters located in the landowner’s house. They were required to pay expensive rents that often depleted them of their low income. (Sharecropping and Tenant Farming, para. 2). They were also forced to live with the knowledge that they could be evicted at any given time (Price 35). Landowners might lose money from the decreased value of crops such as tobacco and cotton, and tenant farmers would be the first to be deleted from their budget.


The tenant farming career left the Wood family to face the hardships caused by lack of income. Both Mr. and Mrs. Wood performed manual labor each day in hopes that they would one day raise enough money to provide their son with the opportunity to receive a public education. After the high costs of rent, they were often left with very little to spend on such expenses (Wood, 8-10).


Federal Writers’ Project[edit]

Mr. and Mrs. Wood were interviewed by T. Pat Matthews as a part of the Federal Writers’ Project in 1938. The Federal Writers’ Project was created as a part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies. The Federal Writers’ Project worked to employ “newspapermen, librarians, historians, novelists, and poets” (Hill, para. 1). These people travelled across America, collecting oral histories and contributing “to the culture of state and local communities” (Hill, para. 1).


However, the merit of the methods employed to obtain these histories can sometimes be questioned. Scholar John W. Blassingame argued that many of the FWP interviews “are not verbatim records of conversation and that there are frequent discrepancies between the recorded interview and typed version” (Soapes 34). In the Wood family’s interview, many words were misspelled in an attempt to capture the authenticity of their Southern dialect. Authenticity is important, however, it was dramatized in order to create a picture of a stereotypical Southern family. Because the interviewer was more interested in conveying an interesting life history than portraying a picture of the truth, the Wood family’s true story could have been lost in the translation.

References[edit]

  1. "Nervous Indigestion." Barrier Miner [Sydney] 06 July 1921, n. pag. Web. 26 Apr. 2013. <http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/45560316>. para. 1.
  2. Wood, Carlton and Patricia Wood. “The Wood Family” Federal Writers’ Project. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Southern Collection. Print. p. 8.
  3. Bell, John L. Hard Times: Beginnings of the Great Depression in North Carolina 1929-1933. Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1982. 62-70. Print. p. 62-63.
  4. Bell, John L. Hard Times: Beginnings of the Great Depression in North Carolina 1929-1933. Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1982. 62-70. Print. p. 62-63.
  5. Bell, John L. Hard Times: Beginnings of the Great Depression in North Carolina 1929-1933. Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1982. 62-70. Print. p. 62-63.
  6. Davis, Anita Price. North Carolina During the Great Depression: A Documentary Portrait of a Decade. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2003. p. 133. Print.


Bell, John L. Hard Times: Beginnings of the Great Depression in North Carolina 1929-1933. Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1982. 62-70. Print. Davis, Anita Price. North Carolina During the Great Depression: A Documentary Portrait of a Decade. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2003. 34-35, 132-133. Print.

Hill, Michael. "Federal Writers' Project." NCPedia. University of North Carolina Press, 1 Jan 2006. Web. 9 Apr 2013. <http://ncpedia.org/federal-writers-project>.

"Nervous Indigestion." Barrier Miner [Sydney] 06 July 1921, n. pag. Web. 26 Apr. 2013. <http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/45560316>.

"Sharecropping and Tenant Farming." Learn NC. North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources/Offices of Archives and History. Web. 26 Apr 2013. <http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/nchist-newsouth/4698>.

Soapes, Thomas F. "The Federal Writers' Project Slave Interviews: Useful Data or Misleading Source?." Oxford Journal. 33.8 (1977): 33-38. Web. 9 Apr. 2013.

Wood, Carlton and Patricia Wood. “The Wood Family” Federal Writers’ Project. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Southern Collection. Print.