Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2016/Spring/Section 021/Otis Griffin

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Charles O. Griffin
BornMarch 22 1876
Kinston, NC
DiedApril 28 1945 (aged 69)
OccupationCabinet Maker


Charles O. Griffin was an American cabinet maker who also served as an interviewee for the Federal Writers Project.


Early Life[edit]

Charles Otis Griffin was born in Kinston, NC on March 22, 1876. His father, Charles M. Griffin, was a successful merchant and provided for the family from the profits of his dry goods business. His mother, Mary Jane Watson, stayed at home and took care of the children. Griffin was the middle child of the family. He had an older brother, Frank, and a younger sister, Alice. There are no records of any education.

Professional Life[edit]

Griffin began working during his mid-teen years and started off on the railroads. By the time he was seventeen, he moved to New Bern, NC where he lived with his brother. He spent five years here, making a living by working in a grocery store. Dissatisfied, he returned home and worked alongside his father for 2 years. Displeased yet again, Griffin ventured south in search for work. Unable to find anything satisfying, he returned to New Bern. Finally, he decided to startup his own business. Noticing that there was a big planning mill fairly close to him, he built a cabinet making shop because this would make it easy for him to obtain materials. Griffin manufactured various wood items, ranging from cabinets to kitchen safes, and in his spare time, would make novelty items and toys. This was a solid source of income for some years. As years went by, the demand for Griffin’s products dropped significantly. His income depended on how well crop yields faired and during those years, they had slowly decreased. Griffin was forced to move in with his sister-in-law when the economy crashed. He spent the rest of his life living with her and her children.


Griffin died on April 28, 1945 at the State Hospital located in Raleigh, NC. He was buried in his hometown.

Social Issues[edit]

Economic Issues[edit]

The Great Depression shook the world and caused one of the worst economic disasters in history. However, this was nothing new for the residents of North Carolina. Before the Great Depression, North Carolinians were already struggling economically due to falling crop prices and the overproduction of cash crops. Since the majority of people who lived in North Carolina were farmers, the economy depended on them.

One of North Carolina’s main cash crops was tobacco. It was one of the main reasons the economy was doing so well until the point where there was just too much being produced. During the years leading up to the great depression, tobacco prices were already dropping; “prices for tobacco—which had surpassed cotton as the state’s new “king” crop—had dropped to just 9 cents a pound, compared to 86 cents in 1919.”[1] In an effort to deal with dropping prices during the Great Depression, “farmers tried to compensate for lowered prices by producing more tobacco, leading to even lower prices.”[2] At this point, the tobacco industry had suffered such a serious impact that the government began to provide subsidies to farmers.[3] But as time progressed, the industry began to slowly recover and stabilize itself.

Christianity during the Depression[edit]

Faith in religion was tested to the most extreme points during the Great Depression. All religions went through a period of crisis during this time. One denomination in particular, experienced significant tests and changes within its community: the Pentecostals.

During the Great Depression, Pentecostal groups experienced rapid growth.[4] At the beginning of the Great Depression, the Assemblies of God (AG), had reported 1,612 churches and 91,981 members and by 1944, they had almost tripled both of those numbers, reporting 5,055 churches with 227,349 members.[5] People like Aimee Semple McPherson were one of the reasons the Pentecostals were able to grow so much during the Great Depression. McPherson was a Pentecostal evangelist who traveled the nation, preaching and giving sermons with one of her most notable sermons being “America Awake!”[6] In her sermons, she would encourage everyone to speak up and take charge and “turn the nation “back to the Faith of Our Fathers”.”[7]Her ideas and beliefs were so popular, that over two million people, one in every fifty Americans at the time, attended her sermons with countless more listening on the radio[8] As a result, she along with many other evangelists, were able to grasp the publics attention and draw them towards their faith.


  1. Agriculture in North Carolina During the Great Depression
  2. Bright Leaves
  3. Bright Leaves
  4. The Great Depression: Religion 1931-1939
  5. Seize the Moment
  6. Clutching to Christian America: Aimee Semple McPherson, the Great Depression, and the Origins of Pentecostal Political Activism
  7. Clutching to Christian America: Aimee Semple McPherson, the Great Depression, and the Origins of Pentecostal Political Activism
  8. Clutching to Christian America: Aimee Semple McPherson, the Great Depression, and the Origins of Pentecostal Political Activism