Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2016/Spring/Section 023/Walter Coachman

From Wikiversity
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Walter Coachman
Bennettsville, South Carolina
Known forInterview with the Federal Writers Project


Walter Coachman was an African-American pastor in Manning Grove Holiness Church during the Great Depression. F. Donald Atwell from the Federal Writers Project interviewed him on March 15, 1939.[1]


Early Life[edit]

Coachman was born in Bennettsville, South Carolina, but his date of birth is unknown. He was the twelfth out of thirteen children in his family. His father, whom Coachman referred to as Pappy, planted crops such as corn and cotton on what Coachman described as a “twelve-horse plantation.” A white farmer named Mr. Whitelaw owned the plantation. Pappy earned twelve dollars per acre that he planted.[1]

As a child, Coachman attended a one-room school for African Americans. There, he learned how to read, write, and count. At twelve years old, he finished the fifth grade, and decided to work for Whitelaw. Everyday, Coachman counted and drove exactly two wagonloads of corn to Whitelaw’s barn, and one wagonload to his own family’s barn.[1]

Student Life[edit]

At eighteen, Coachman left Bennettsville and traveled to Columbia, South Carolina to attend Allen University and study theology. To pay for his tuition, he worked for Alice Reynolds, a widow who needed yard help. Coachman noticed the unused acre lot beside Reynolds’s house, and suggested she turn it into a plant nursery. Reynolds’s agreed to idea of the business, and built a partnership with Coachman. She sold the plants, while he tended the garden. Reynolds and Coachman split the profits.[1]

At twenty-two years old, Coachman graduated from Allen University. Around the same time, Reynolds’s died from old age. [1]

Adult and Professional Life[edit]

After Coachman graduated, he became a pastor. He had four children and a wife who was eleven years younger than him. His eldest son went to school in Bennettsville to become an electrician. His three younger children attended grammar school. They lived on a farm. His wife worked the garden and looked after the chickens. His children did outdoor work such as cutting wood and milking the cows.[1]

As a pastor, Coachman worked in four churches across Marlboro County, South Carolina. He preached in each one once a month. His salary averaged less than nine dollars every Sunday. He owned a car, and his main church, Manning Grove Holiness Church, paid for his oil and gas expenses. [1]

According to Coachman, he advocated for the advancement of the African-American community. He stated that his sermons taught diplomacy, kindness, courtesy, and consideration in hopes of alleviating race relations between whites and blacks.[1]

It is unclear when he died.

Social Issues[edit]

Christianity in African Americans Lives[edit]

During slavery times, slave masters forbade African-American slaves to attend church. Slave masters didn't want African-Americans to interpret the lessons of the bible as being in favor of equality among all men.[2] Nonetheless, African-American slaves went to church, despite the potential consequence of punishment from their masters.[3] PBS's The Slave Experience states that slave preachers “emphasized themes of suffering and redemption,” and “offered African Americans refuge from oppression and focused on the spiritual, secular, and political concerns of the black community.”[3] Christianity became a key factor in providing hope to African-Americans slaves, and encouraged them to progress in spite of the inequality they endured. 

Post-slavery, racial tensions in the South worsened during the Great Depression. Lynchings occurred more often. The number of reported lynchings increased from twenty-one in 1930, to twenty-eight in 1933.[4] At this time, churches have already established themselves as a pillar of the black community. In turn, Christian African Americans relied on their faith to cope with racial discrimination. In Gomez's journal of African American Religious Experience, he expressed that “religion has been both an ideological articulation and a veritable force, holding communities of the African-descended together during the most adverse of conditions, while supplying a focus around which the collective will could cohere, mobilize, and press forward.”[2] The sense of community created in black churches held the same role that it had during times of slavery. It empowered African-Americans’ belief that their faith will give them the strength against the injustices they faced.[5]

African-American Education during the Great Depression[edit]

During the Great Depression, educational facilities for African-Americans received less funding than schools for whites. According to Davis's Public School in the Great Depression, “even though the state constitution required that the segregated schools be “separate but equal,” neither the buildings, supplies, and books, nor the treatment of students and teachers, was always equal.”[6] A 1930’s survey showed that school buildings for African-American children amounted to only one-ninth of the value invested in white schools.[6]

African-American school facilities improved regardless of the unfair distribution of educational budget. Ewing and Hicks, editors of Education and the Great Depression, explained that “by 1940, the number of African-American high schools with three or more teachers increased from 210 to 531.”[7] Additionally, while average teacher salaries dropped, the average African-American teacher’s salary increased. African-American salaries rose from $316 in 1929 every year, to $525 in 1940.[7]

Colleges and universities for blacks were also a significant source of growth for African-American communities, Allen University, the institution that Coachman attended, is considered a historically black college university. Even though black colleges offered technical courses more than they did sciences and math, they were still perceived by African-Americans as centers of "[black] intellectual identity in the South.”[8] They provide a source of pride for African-American communities.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Life Histories, March 15, 1939, folder 829, 03709, Federal Writers Project Papers, Wilson Library Collections, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Gomez, Michael. "African American Religious Experience." The Black Experience in the Western Hemisphere. Ann Arbor: ProQuest Information and Learning and Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 2006.   
  3. 3.0 3.1 Sambol-Tosco, Kimberly. "The Slave Experience: Religion." PBS. 2004. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/slavery/experience/religion/history2.html.
  4. Pfeifer, Michael J. "Lynchings." Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. Vol. 2. New York: Macmilan Reference USA, 2004.
  5. Kelley, Robin D.G. "We Are Not What We Seem’: Rethinking Black Working-Class Opposition in the Jim Crow South."The Journal of American History 80, no. 1 (June 1993): 75-112. Black Studies Center.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Davis, Anita P. "Public School in the Great Depression." NCpedia, 2010. http://ncpedia.org/public-schools-great-depression.    
  7. 7.0 7.1 Ewing, E Thomas, and David Hicks, eds. Education and the Great Depression: Lessons from a Global History. Vol. 46. History of Schools and Schooling. New York: Peter Lang International Academic Publishers, 2006.    
  8. Stentiford, Barry. "Historically Black Colleges and Universities." Race and Racism in the United States: An Encyclopedia of the American Mosaic. Santa Barbara: Greenwood, 2014.