Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2015/Fall/Section 020/Frank Coffee

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This page is connected with English 105i at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill - [1].

Frank Coffee
Born1866
Fackler, Alabama
DiedUnknown
SpouseParalee Coffee
ParentsSlaves

Overview[edit]

Frank Coffee was an African-American man that held numerous low wage jobs in the southern United States during the early 1900’s.[1]

Biography[edit]

Early Life[edit]

Frank Coffee was born in Fackler, Alabama in 1866. He was the son of former slaves that had been owned by Mr. Rice Coffee. Coffee had thirteen siblings. Six of them remained alive in 1939, dispersed throughout Hollywood, Alabama and Knoxville, Tennessee. In his youth he attended three semesters of school. This was enough for him to learn to read and write.[2]

Working Man[edit]

Coffee remained in Fackler, Alabama for much of his life. He worked as a cotton farmer for a man named Mr. Borex. While in Fackler, he met his wife, Paralee, who was from Hollywood, Alabama. They had six children together. Their son, Ike, was the only one that lived to adulthood. While in Fackler, Coffee became a missionary preacher in the Baptist community. He preached several times a month. At age 52, he moved to Richard City, Tennessee. There he found work at a cement factory in the firing boilers. After fourteen years, Coffee lost his job due the cement factory updating their machines, allowing them to cut 220 laborers. This was 1932, three years after the crash of the stock market and the start of the Great Depression. The unemployment increase made it difficult for Coffee to find work.[3]

Later Life[edit]

When he was 66 he moved to Bridgeport, Alabama to find work. In Bridgeport he worked odd jobs that included raising crops, doing landscaping, and preaching. However the Tennessee Valley Authority, a corporation that built dams and reservoirs to supply cheap electricity, ruined his crops and paid insufficient funds to satisfy the damages. The TVA and lack of substantial jobs made money making difficult for Coffee in the South. His life in Bridgeport was revolved around work, sleep, and studying the Bible. He did less preaching as he aged, because he considered it a tiring task. Otherwise, Coffee enjoyed opossum and raccoon hunting. His death date is unknown, however in his last known account he was 73.[4]

Social Issues[edit]

Black Baptist Church Role in the Great Depression[edit]

In the late nineteenth century the first black Baptist congregations were formed in the South. Methodist slave-owners helped influence this divergence of sects because the former slaves did not want to follow harsh ex-owners.[5] The Baptist congregation called themselves the Church of Freedom. Getting freedom through devotion to God inspired Black Baptists.[6] They defined the idea of freedom through readings of Exodus, about liberation and “being set free”.[7] The idea of liberation was a dream for many racially oppressed blacks, and the Baptist churches became the “centers for numerous Black communities in the south”.[8] In the early 1900’s many black Baptists took part in the Great Migration, moving north in search of liberation and racial equality. Soon after, the Great Depression hit and reduced job opportunities for the blacks. During this period, the black Baptist churches increased their community services and provided clothes, food, and housing for the needy.[9] Meanwhile, the black Baptist community grew. This growth enabled them to be more involvement in national government legislation in order to receive racial liberation and job equality.[10] This popularity sprawled at a much needed time, when jobs were minimal and blacks faced discrimination from white employers.

The TVA and Racial Inequality[edit]

In 1933, the Tennessee Valley Authority was established as a part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The TVA is known as “one of the largest and most significant megaprojects in United States history”.[11] This provided cheap electricity, jobs, and agriculture subsidies during the Great Depression. However, the TVA was known for using Jim Crow policies to discriminate against African Americans when hiring and community planning.[12] The TVA publicized policies that made their actions of employment and development fair, when in reality they were lacking. They instituted a black employment quota to publicize fair black treatment. However, “the quota system ensured that blacks would be hired only in the lowest, most temporary positions”, showing high amounts of job discrimination.[13] The TVA also placed a label on what blacks could be employed as, calling it the “Negro Trade”; this excluded many blacks from economic and occupation growth within the TVA. As for development and planning, the TVA continually relocated people, a high amount being black tenant farmers, to develop dams and reservoirs. In addition, upon relocation or land lost from flooding or dammed rivers the TVA rarely compensated the individuals. The compensation lack hurt many economically depressed blacks. In the case of the Beulah community, the TVA also did not allow black development or farming on their land.[14] In turn, instituting the TVA did not help the Southern black population during Great Depression but continued inequality.

References[edit]

  1. Interview, Frank Coffee to Jennie Sue Williams, January 30, 1939, folder 88, Coll. 03709, Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  2. Interview, Frank Coffee to Jennie Sue Williams, January 30, 1939, folder 88, Coll. 03709, Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  3. Interview, Frank Coffee to Jennie Sue Williams, January 30, 1939, folder 88, Coll. 03709, Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  4. Interview, Frank Coffee to Jennie Sue Williams, January 30, 1939, folder 88, Coll. 03709, Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  5. Jackson, Luther P. Religious Development of Negro in Virginia from 1760 to 1860. Journal of Negro History 16, April 1931: 168-239.
  6. Harvey, Paul. Freedom's coming: Religious Culture and the Shaping of the South from the Civil War through the Civil Rights Era. UNC Press Books, 2005.
  7. Mellowes, Marilyn. “God In America”. Last modified November 10, 2010. http://www.pbs.org/godinamerica/black-church/.
  8. Lincoln, C. Eric, and Lawrence H. Mamiya. The Black Church in the African American Experience. Duke University Press, 1990.
  9. Greene, Larry A, and Lenworth Gunther. “Unit 11 The 1930s: The Great Depression.” In New Jersey African American History Curriculum Guide: Grades 9 to 12. Trenton: New Jersey Historical Commission Department of State, 1997.
  10. Lincoln, C. Eric, and Lawrence H. Mamiya. The Black Church in the African American Experience. Duke University Press, 1990.
  11. Alderman, Derek H., and Robert N. Brown. "When a New Deal is Actually an Old Deal: The Role of TVA in Engineering a Jim Crow Racialized Landscape." In Engineering Earth, pp. 1901-1916. Springer Netherlands, 2011.
  12. Alderman, Derek H., and Robert N. Brown. "When a New Deal is Actually an Old Deal: The Role of TVA in Engineering a Jim Crow Racialized Landscape." In Engineering Earth, pp. 1901-1916. Springer Netherlands, 2011.
  13. Grant, Nancy. TVA and Black Americans: Planning for the status quo. Temple University Press, 1990.
  14. Grant, Nancy. TVA and Black Americans: Planning for the status quo. Temple University Press, 1990.