Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2015/Fall/Section 018/Jim Lauderdale

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Overview[edit | edit source]

Jim Lauderdale, (1868-1944) an ex-convict, was born in Talladega Springs, Alabama and remained there his entire life. He had many different jobs throughout his life including working in a coalmine, guarding the convicts at a prison, and selling liquor during the Prohibition Era.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Lauderdale was born in 1868 in Talladega Springs, Alabama where he was raised as an only child. Growing up, he suffered many heart problems that caused him to miss out on typical childhood activities such as playing outside. Lauderdale married his wife, Ora, when he was 35 years old. On his wedding day, Ora’s father confronted him and told him that Ora had a good face, but could “raise more hell than a mean mule.” Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many

Adult Years[edit | edit source]

Lauderdale worked many jobs throughout his life, however his heart problems forced him to quit his job in the mines. Desperate for money, he went to a man named Jess Stone for help and they decided to make popskull, or moonshine, down by the Peckerwood Creek together. Ora did not approve of this new occupation, and she had him arrested at their home for unlawful possession. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many Lauderdale was taken to the local prison in Talladega County and his case came up at the next term of court. He remained there until his friend, Oscar Johnson, paid his bond. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many

Career and Later Life[edit | edit source]

After he was released from prison, Lauderdale and Ora moved to New Hope, Alabama where he took a new job as a prison guard at the Birmingham prison. He made $65 a month and in 1909, Ora had a baby girl whose name is unknown. Three years later, they had a baby boy whose name is also unknown. Ora never let Lauderdale get close to the children and when he brought presents home for them, Ora told them they were from her. When they grew older, Ora told the children that Lauderdale beat her when they were little. Lauderdale never had a relationship with either of his children. In 1920, after work one night, Lauderdale and his friend, Jess Eatris, went down to the river to fish and drink liquor. Later that night when he got home, Ora smelled the liquor on his breath and she started screaming so all their neighbors could hear her. When a police officer came over to ask Ora what was wrong, she told him she was scared to stay in the same house as Lauderdale because he was too drunk. The next morning, Lauderdale was fined five dollars and was reprimanded in front of the whole town in the Mayor's courtroom. According to the Federal Writer's Project interview, it is believed that Lauderdale starved to death at age 76 because he did not receive his pension. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many

Prohibition agents destroying barrels of alcohol
Alabamians protesting the Prohibition

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

The Prohibition in Alabama during the Great Depression[edit | edit source]

During the early twentieth century, there was a movement to ban liquor in the United States. The topic of prohibition was a driving force in state and local politics and lasted up until the 1930s. The movement happened quickly in the South due to religious disputes and continued to spread throughout the rest of the country. Many religious groups identified saloons as politically corrupt and drinking as a personal sin. On July 1, 1915, a statewide prohibition went into effect in Alabama and all but two Southern states enacted prohibition laws. Prohibition laws did not seem to slow whiskey production and 386 illegal stills were seized in Alabama in 1915.[1] National prohibition came into effect with the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1918. As a result of Prohibition, the advancements made within the alcoholic beverage industry declined. As more Americans opposed the Eighteenth Amendment, a political movement grew for its repeal. On December 15, 1933 Congress proposed the Twenty-First Amendment, officially ending the Prohibition.Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many

The Impact of the Great Depression on Agriculture[edit | edit source]

The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic recession that transformed the lives of all Alabamians. In the years after the Civil War, Alabamians, and most southerners, lived on the edge of poverty. The devastation of cotton crops as a result of the spread of boll weevil, and a drastic decline in cotton prices, both further depressed the state's economy. [2] Although the U.S. stock market crash of October 1929 is believed to be the beginning of the Great Depression, in Alabama, the crash amplified an already existing decline in agriculture that had begun much earlier in the decade. The Depression's impact on Alabama lasted throughout the 1930s and into the early 1940s. [3] Alabama's farm families experienced the first effects of the Depression when cotton prices plummeted. Because families were unable to make a living on cotton, many left to find work in cities. Other families fell deeper into debt and tenancy. Farmers ate less meat and more inexpensive starches, like beans and corn, and wore clothes made out of fertilizer sacks. Having less food, fewer clothes, and little money, rural Alabamians stopped going to school, church, and other social functions. President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal provided some relief for those suffering from extreme poverty, but the Depression did not truly end until the economic boom following World War II. [4]

Footnotes[edit | edit source]

  1. Sellers, James Benson. The Prohibition Movement in Alabama, 1702 to 1943. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1943.
  2. "“The Great Depression.” United States History. Accessed October 17, 2015."
  3. "Great Depression in Alabama." The Encyclopedia of Alabama. St. Clair Shores, MI: Somerset Publishers, 1998.
  4. Wilbanks, Robert. Gadsden, Alabama: Stories of the Great Depression. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2000.