Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2016/Spring/Section 021/Sam Lynn
Sam Lynn was a successful African American fisherman who was born in Eufaula, Alabama in 1877. In 1939, his wife Hattie Wright described his life in an interview for the Federal Writers Project .
Lynn lived his entire life by the Chattahoochee River, earning himself the nickname “River Rat.” He was one of the youngest children of Ransom Lynn and Mandy Thomas. Lynn did not attend school, but according to his wife he was able to read and write . At the age of ten, Lynn’s neighbor George Vaughn taught him to swim and fish. Lynn learned quickly and he was revered for his abilities.
Lynn was described by Wright as a “wild man” in his early adult life, living in a tent by the banks of the river and swimming across its dangerous waters for fun . He had five illegitimate children, each of which was mothered by a different woman. They all lived into adulthood, and Lynn remained in contact with them and supported them financially. In his thirties, he married Hattie Wright, a laundress, and he remained with her for over thirty years. Once he was married, he settled down, moved into his childhood home, and spent most of his time fishing.
Along the Chattahoochee River, Lynn was famous for his fishing abilities. Wright claimed that Lynn could easily catch two hundred pounds of fish in his nets in a single day. It was also his responsibility to fish out the bodies of anyone who fell or jumped into the river . Lynn was such an impressive fisherman that when other fishermen returned after a day on the river empty-handed, they would buy his catches and pretend they were their own; this was known as silver fishing . He was described as an honest and religious man, despite his wild past, illegitimate children and possible alcoholism (this was suggested, but not confirmed by Wright). Later in life, he was a devoted Christian. His wife stated that he “would cut off his right hand before he would sell a fish that wasn’t all right” . He made a good living, and was able to support his family off of his fishing; he even owned a car. In the summers, he held fish fries for his community.
End Of Life
Lynn’s date of death is unknown.
Church in the African American Community
From times of slavery to the civil rights movement, the church served as a place of refuge for many African Americans, as well as the center of their social lives. Churches were used as schools and meeting centers, and church communities worked together to provide aid to sick communities and college bound students. Between 1790 and 1810, the number of African American churches in the South grew exponentially . The beliefs of these churches, many of which were Baptist or African Methodist Episcopal (AME), were based off of the suffering African Americans faced during slavery. African Americans had faced prejudice, mistreatment, and hatred, and their resulting theology was centered on suffering.
Segregation in Alabama
Even after the abolishment of slavery, the South retained a large population of African Americans. Tensions remained high between these newly freed people and white citizens. Though they could no longer enslave African Americans, many white Americans refused to see African Americans as their equals. Rather than integrating, whites and African Americans remained separate. This was due to two types of segregation: De Facto and De Jure.
De Facto segregation is the separation or unequal treatment of two groups that is practiced but is not enforced by the law. For example, in Eufala, white men were taught to fish and hired only by white men, while black men were taught and hired by other black fisherman. This was not mandated in law, but had been done in this fashion for generations, so the practice continued in this manner.
De Jure segregation is separation of two groups that is mandated by law. An example that affected African Americans all over the country is the Jim Crow laws, or Black Codes. These laws took effect in 1877, the year Sam Lynn was born. They were extremely degrading toward African Americans; for example, they were not supposed to touch, eat with, or speak impolitely or informally to white citizens. Restaurants, schools, and even cemeteries were for either whites or African Americans, never both. While these laws claimed too create “separate but equal” conditions, Alabama was far from equality; African Americans were restricted to the backs of buses, poor housing, and were not allowed to vote . If they broke even a minor law, such as drinking from a white only water fountain, they risked being killed .
"The African-American Church: Past, Present, and Future." The Exchange. Accessed March 20, 2016. http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/july/african-american-church-in-america-past-present-and-future.html.
Couric, Gertha, “Sam Lynn, Fisherman and River Rat (Famous for Fish)”, Eufala, 11 January 1939.
"The Black Church," a Brief History." "The Black Church," a Brief History. Accessed March 20, 2016. http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/black-church-brief-history.
"What Was Jim Crow." Jim Crow Museum: Origins of Jim Crow. Accessed March 20, 2016. http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/what.htm.