Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2015/Fall/Section 020/Mary Hines

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Mary Hines
BornMary McCants
Around 1884
Monroe County, Alabama
DiedDeath Date Unknown
Alabama
NationalityAmerican
EthnicityAfrican-American
OccupationSchoolteacher and homemaker
Known forFederal Writers Project


Overview[edit]

Mary Hines grew up as a tenant farmer, and worked as a schoolteacher until she married. She and her family suffered during the Great Depression.

Biography[edit]

Early Life[edit]

Mary Hines (nee McCants) was born in Monroe County, Alabama around 1884, as one of seven children. Her father, David McCants, had been born into slavery before the Civil War but was freed as a child because of Emancipation. The surname McCants comes from his former owner. Hines's family were tenant farmers. [1] When she was four years old they moved 100 miles South from Monroe County to Wilcox County. [2]. She lived there until she was an adult and went away to school, and in 1911 her family moved to Escambia County.[3]

Education, Career, and Adult Life[edit]

Hines decided she wanted to teach, and so she went to the Colored Industrial Seminary at Snow Hill. She worked in the laundry for board and referred to her time there as her happiest years. She finished the 11th grade and took the state exams.[4]

After passing her exams, Hines taught for three years. During this time, she had a romantic relationship with a man who ultimately married another woman. This left her without marriage prospects. Soon, however, Dock Hines became interested in marrying her. She did not love him, but she did not want to be an "old maid" at twenty-five years old, so she married him. .[5]

When the Hines married she moved to Camden to be with him but, soon they moved to Escambia to be closer to her family. Her husband had taught for twenty-five years but did not make enough money to support a family. He decided to work at a sawmill to earn money. He worked there for fourteen years. During this time, she had nine children, four of whom died before adulthood. Her surviving children were Blona, Myrtice, Pauline, Dorothy, and John Wesley.[6]

The Great Depression[edit]

After the mill closed in 1926, Dock Hines began to lose his sight due to cataracts and stopped working regularly. To keep her family from starvation, Mary Hines took her children into the fields and they hoed and picked cotton and strawberries from dawn to dusk. It is unclear whether they owned this land or were working as tenant farmers. During the Depression they lost their home, but her daughters still managed to go to school so they could teach. At some point in time they moved to Atmore, Alabama, where Hines and her family were when interviewed for the Federal Writers' Project.[7]

Social Issues[edit]

Sharecropping[edit]

After the Civil War, many freed slaves had limited opportunities. Their few skills were related to agriculture, they had no property or possessions, they were illiterate, and they were "trained in...deference to the master class and habituated to extreme dependence."[8] Because former plantation owners wanted to continue to subjugate African-Americans,[9] they took advantage of the limited opportunities for African-Americans and developed the sharecropping system. In this system, families rented small plots of land to work, and then would give part of the harvest to the landowners.[10] Because the entire family was needed for farming, educational opportunities for African-American children were limited, though "girls were more likely to get a formal education than were boys because of the greater demand for male field labor."[11]

Sharecropping was the most common way for African-Americans to earn a living in the rural South. It was better than slavery, because they were free. However, sharecropping was a way for the plantation owners to continue to control African-Americans. Legislatures full of former confederates passed laws "denying blacks legal equality and political rights and requiring them to sign yearly contracts"[12] as sharecroppers. The wealthy whites were therefore able to limit the mobility of African-Americans, forcing them to always be tenant farmers somewhere. Most sharecroppers were in debt to their landlords, and most lived in poverty. Many went without enough to eat, even though they were farmers, since much of their harvest had to go to their landlords to pay back their debts. Law enforcement sided with the whites, so sharecroppers were in a situation where they could not usually leave, because they were required to pay back their debts, which only grew overtime.[13].

African-American Schools[edit]

Schools in the South were segregated by race, due to Jim Crow laws, and were underfunded. Most African-American students were taught in run-down, overcrowded schools, with few books or other resources. Schools for African-American students were so underfunded that over 5,300 schools for African-Americans were not created by states or local governments but by the New York philanthropist Julius Rosenwald. His schools were attended by nearly 1 in 3 African-American students. [14]

Many students did not stay in school long because they were needed to help their families farm.[15] What little schooling African-American students did get was focused on agricultural and technical skills.[16] To further the issue, “school superintendents also expected black principals to keep them apprised of what was going on inside the Negro community" [17] This meant that what was taught in African-American schools had to be approved by the white superintendents. Because of this, African-American students who continued in school, past learning how to read and do basic math, only learned pragmatic skills: such as teaching, farming, or mechanical work.[18]

Bibliography[edit]

Fairclough, Adam. “‘Being in the Field of Education and also Being a Negro…Seems…Tragic’: Black Teachers in the Jim Crow South.” The Journal of American History 87 (2000): 65-91. (accessed September 30, 2015).

Google. Georgia [map]. 2015. Scale undetermined. Generated by Google; using Google.com. https://www.google.com/maps/@32.4693113,-84.5016572,9z (17 October 2015).

Gold, Daniel M. “Review: ‘Rosenwald,’ on a Philanthropist Who Created Schools for Blacks in the Jim Crown South.” New York Times, August 13, 2015. Accessed September 30, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/14/movies/review-rosenwald-on-a-philanthropist-who-created-schools-for-blacks-in-the-jim-crow-south.html.

History.com. “Sharecropping.” Last modified 2010. Accessed September 30, 2015. http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/sharecropping.

Mann, Susan A. “Slavery, Sharecropping, and Sexual Inequality.” Common Grounds and Crossroads: Race, Ethnicity, and Class in Women’s Lives 14 (1989): 774-789.

Riddle, Wesley Allen. "The origins of black sharecropping." Mississippi Quarterly 49, no. 1 (96 1995): 53. America: History & Life, EBSCOhost (accessed September 30, 2015).

SHC Collection Number: 03709: Federal Writers' Project Papers, 1936-1940. Federal Writers' Project. Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina.

References[edit]

  1. Interview, Annie L. Bowman of the Hines Family, January 2, 1939, Alabama 2-A, SHC Collection Number: 03709: Federal Writers' Project Papers, 1936-1940, Federal Writers' Project, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina.
  2. "Georgia" Google.com.
  3. Interview, Annie L. Bowman of the Hines Family, January 2, 1939, Alabama 2-A, SHC Collection Number: 03709: Federal Writers' Project Papers, 1936-1940, Federal Writers' Project, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina.
  4. Interview, Annie L. Bowman of the Hines Family, January 2, 1939, Federal Writers' Project.
  5. Interview, Annie L. Bowman of the Hines Family, January 2, 1939, Federal Writers' Project.
  6. Interview, Annie L. Bowman of the Hines Family, January 2, 1939, Federal Writers' Project.
  7. Interview, Annie L. Bowman of the Hines Family, January 2, 1939, Federal Writers' Project.
  8. Wesley Allen Riddle, “The origins of black sharecropping,” Mississippi Quarterly 49 (96 1995): 53.
  9. “Sharecropping,” last modified 2010, accessed September 30, 2015, http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/sharecropping.
  10. . “Sharecropping,” last modified 2010, accessed September 30, 2015, http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/sharecropping.
  11. Susan A. Mann, “Slavery, Sharecropping, and Sexual Inequality,” Common Grounds and Crossroads: Race, Ethnicity, and Class in Women’s Lives 14 (1989): 792.
  12. “Sharecropping,” last modified 2010, accessed September 30, 2015, http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/sharecropping.
  13. “Sharecropping,” last modified 2010, accessed September 30, 2015, http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/sharecropping.
  14. Daniel M. Gold, “Review: ‘Rosenwald,’ on a Philanthropist Who Created Schools for Blacks in the Jim Crow South,” New York Times, August 13, 2015, accessed September 30, 2015.
  15. Susan A. Mann, “Slavery, Sharecropping, and Sexual Inequality,” Common Grounds and Crossroads: Race, Ethnicity, and Class in Women’s Lives 14 (1989): 792.
  16. “‘Being in the Field of Education and also Being a Negro…Seems…Tragic’: Black Teachers in the Jim Crow South,” The Journal of American History 87 (2000): 76.
  17. “‘Being in the Field of Education and also Being a Negro…Seems…Tragic’: Black Teachers in the Jim Crow South,” The Journal of American History 87 (2000): 77.
  18. “‘Being in the Field of Education and also Being a Negro…Seems…Tragic’: Black Teachers in the Jim Crow South,” The Journal of American History 87 (2000): 76.