Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2015/Fall/Section 020/JD Abbin

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JD Abbin
Born1903
Dade City, Florida
Died?
OccupationFarmer, Moonshiner, Hide Salesman, Car Mechanic


Overview[edit]

JD Abbin was born and raised in Florida and was a self-described "Floridy Cracker" Because of the Great Depression, he spent a large amount of life searching for work. His life story was documented as part of the Federal Writers Projectin February of 1939. [1]

Biography[edit]

Early Life[edit]

JD (Jaydy) Abbin (born 1903) was born outside of Dade City, Florida and went to school in De Soter County, Florida. At age 16, Abbin moved to Manatee County, Florida where his family continued farming by raising cattle. His mother died from pellagra when Abbin was 18 and his father quickly remarried. His family was failed as farmers and any crops they planted suffered from numerous plagues. He developed a relationship with a local girl, Birdie Lee Rodgers at a young age. Her father disapproved of their relationship and they had to keep it a secret. The relationship ended over time and it was followed by a string of romantic involvements throughout Abbin's life.

Young Adult Life[edit]

He ventured out on his own and got his first job loading boats with liquor. At age 20, he took this further and went into business with his father producing moonshine. He was forced to spend a large amount of the profits paying off the authorities and ran into trouble with the law on numerous occasions. He was shot once, but it was not a serious wound. He was never caught for these crimes, but one of his accomplices was wanted and so he left town. He also continued to court Birdie Lee during this time.

Adult Life[edit]

He later sold hides of animals ranging from raccoons and otters to deer and even a panther. Following this, he helped an older widow on her farm for a few months. Abbin left the farm after the widow asked for his hand in marriage. He moved on to farm beans and tomatoes, which became his most successful endeavor. He had a string of romantic involvements with women, but eventually married Rodgers.

Later in life, he moved to Detroit to work as a car mechanic at a Ford factory. While here, Abbin struggled with the differences in the way African-American men acted saying that they lacked "manners". He was arrested twice for assault on black men and later laid off after only a few months for unrelated reasons.
After this, he moved into a trailer park in Florida. His life beyond this is unknown.

Moonshine[edit]

Moonshine has a rich history in the United States. Moonshine refers to the often illegal practice of distilling high proof spirits.[2] The industry first found a place when there was a tax imposed on alcohol production in 18th century United States.[3] In one of the young nation’s first incidents, George Washington struck back against those protesting an unfair tax in the Whiskey Rebellion. The trade remained a fairly common form of alcohol until Prohibition was enacted. At this time, the practice gained a lot of popularity.

The state of Florida has a history of prohibition that has roots from well before national prohibition. There had been laws restricting alcohol usage of African-Americans as well as Native Americans. [4] The state had many dry areas as well as others that were fighting to outlaw alcohol. The fight for prohibition slowed down as a result of the Civil War, but legislation was pushed through state legislation until national prohibition occurred.

After the fight for prohibition ended, the conflicts between moonshiners and the prohibition agents, known as revenuers increased. Abbin, like many other moonshiners, avoided arrest and conflict by paying off local agents.

There were dangers with moonshine outside of just the law. Due to the increase in demand, producers began to lower the quality of their drinks. Moonshine soon became poisonous on the first run of each batch. In desperate attempts to cash in on the trend, producers began to mix "paint thinner, antifreeze, manure, and embalming fluid" liquids. [5] People who drank the liquor risked becoming blind or paralyzed and some even died. The public still demanded alcohol, and a steady market continued until the end of prohibition. Today, moonshine exists on a smaller scale as a way for individuals to escape taxes as well as distill their own liquor.It has even found a place in the legal alcohol market as a safe way to experience Prohibition nostalgia.

African-American Movement into Detroit[edit]

Detroit was home to the early development of the American automobile industry. It birthed the first assembly lines, which enabled greater production capacities. The creation of the assembly line led to higher wages for workers, as seen with the Highland Park production plant’s success. [6] This success was later replicated in the form of other assembly line based plants.

The rapid growth of this industry led to demand for workers in Detroit. This need led to the migration of many groups across the country from farmers to immigrants. As the nation became more xenophobic near World War One, legislation was passed which prevented immigration. The lack of immigration meant a loss of working men, and so the industry turned elsewhere. This opportunity gave many African-Americans a chance for a new life. The city's African-American population grew from 5,700 in 1910 to 120,000 in 1930.[7] Nearly 80% of these men were employed in automobile factories and 14% of the workers in these factories were African-American. This movement lead to a separation of the middle and lower class African-Americans that pulled many out of poverty. [8] Henry Ford said,"The middle class black is as far removed from what's happening in the ghettos as we are".[9] Even though there were shifts happening between the groups, African-Americans were still given the hardest work. They were given the most dangerous jobs with the hardest work and least pay. [10] Systematic racism was still very rampant.

Bibliography[edit]

  1. Interview of JD Abbin by Lindsay M. Bryan. Tampa, Florida. February 15, 1939. SHC Collection Number: 03709: Federal Writers' Project Papers, 1936-1940.
  2. "The Saloon and Anarchy: Prohibition in Tennessee, Moonshine." http://www.tn.gov/tsla/exhibits/prohibition/moonshine.htm
  3. Grabianowki, Ed "How Moonshine Works" http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/edible-innovations/moonshine4.htm
  4. Bever, Megan L. "Southern Prohibition: Race, Reform, and Public Life in Middle Florida, 1821-1920 by Lee L. Willis." Alabama Review:120-23.
  5. "The Saloon and Anarchy: Prohibition in Tennessee, Moonshine." http://www.tn.gov/tsla/exhibits/prohibition/moonshine.htm
  6. http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/detroit/d32.htm
  7. Peterson, Joyce Shaw. "Black Automobile Workers in Detroit, 1910-1930." In The Journal of Negro History, 177-90.Vol. 64. Assosiaction for the Study of African American Life and History, 1979.
  8. Darden, Joe T., and Richard Walter Thomas. Detroit Race Riots, Racial Conflicts, and Efforts to Bridge the Racial Divide. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2013
  9. Darden, Joe T., and Richard Walter Thomas. Detroit Race Riots, Racial Conflicts, and Efforts to Bridge the Racial Divide. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2013
  10. Peterson, Joyce Shaw. "Black Automobile Workers in Detroit, 1910-1930." In The Journal of Negro History, 177-90.Vol. 64. Association for the Study of African American Life and History, 1979.