Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2017/Fall/Section 26/Dave Melvin

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Maryland Delano (M.D.) Rice
BornMarch 3, 1875
Cherokee County, Georgia
DiedMay 16, 1954
Baldwin County, Georgia
NationalityCaucasian
Other namesDavid (Dave) Melvin
OccupationSharecropper/Tenant Farmer
SpouseMary Annette Anderson
(1896–1904) «start: (1896)Template:End-date»"Marriage: Mary Annette Anderson
to Dave Melvin
"
Location:
(linkback://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Federal_Writers%27_Project_-_Life_Histories/2017/Fall/Section_26/Dave_Melvin)

Elizabeth Green Odom
(1906–1915) «start: (1906)Template:End-date»"Marriage: Elizabeth Green Odom
to Dave Melvin
"
Location:
(linkback://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Federal_Writers%27_Project_-_Life_Histories/2017/Fall/Section_26/Dave_Melvin)

Elizabeth Jackson "Betty" Boynton
(1916–1948) «start: (1916)Template:End-date»"Marriage: Elizabeth Jackson "Betty" Boynton
to Dave Melvin
"
Location:
(linkback://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Federal_Writers%27_Project_-_Life_Histories/2017/Fall/Section_26/Dave_Melvin)

Overview[edit]

Maryland Delano Rice (March 3, 1875-May 16, 1954), also known by pseudonym David (Dave) Melvin, was an American sharecropper and tenant farmer who lived in various parts of Georgia. He was interviewed by A.G. Barie on December 12th, 1938, as part of the Federal Writers' Project. Barie used the pseudonym for Rice in order to protect his identity.

Biography[edit]

Early Life (1875-1904)[edit]

Maryland Delano Rice was born in 1875, the oldest child in a family of eight children.[1] His parents moved from North Carolina to Pickens County, Georgia, and moved many more times during Rice's childhood. When he was twelve, he began to work on his family's farm. In 1896, he married his first wife, Mary Annette Anderson, the daughter of tenant farmers. They moved further South to seek work in a gold mine.[2]

In 1898, after two years of working in the gold mine, it shut down and Rice moved again to work in an ochre mine. He moved back to Pickens County in 1900, and worked on the large farm of a Mr. Shields.[3] While working for Mr. Shields, Rice became acquainted with Joe Brown, the owner of a large farm and the namesake of his first son, though it is unclear as to why his son is named after him. In 1904, Mary died in childbirth.[4] Together, they had three children: Pearl, Admiral Dewey, and Mary. After her death he moved again to work on a small tenant farm for two years.

A map of the state of Georgia, where Rice lived his entire life.

Adulthood (1904-1938)[edit]

In 1904, Rice moved to Spalding County, Georgia, where he met his second wife, Elizabeth Green Odom, from Milton County (now Fulton County). They married and had four children (Mildred, Joe Brown, Lydia Belle, and Grover Augustus, who died in infancy). He grew tired of working in the mills and started working on farms around northeastern Georgia. He did this from 1908 until 1915, when Elizabeth died.[5] He moved to Sulphur Springs, Georgia, rented livestock, and became a tenant farmer in 1916. There, he met and married his third wife, Elizabeth Jackson Boynton.

From 1916 until 1929, he worked different farms and tended to large amounts of land, which he rented from local farmers. After pests decimated his crops in 1929, Rice left farming and moved in with one of his daughters (unclear as to which one) at her house in Oaktown, Georgia. Him and his wife stayed with her until 1931, when they moved down to Dalton County, Georgia (now Whitfield County), to pursue more farm work.

Starting in 1932, Maryland and Elizabeth worked small, short-term jobs. In 1937, he got a job as an overseer on a large farm, but quit it after harsh criticism from the farm's owner. In March, 1938, they moved to Powder Springs, Georgia, where they worked farm of a Mrs. McDonough. Rice made hammer handles in his spare time, and took an interest in work outside of the required jobs that his employer gave him, which impressed her very much.

He took great pride in the fact that he had yet to call upon the government for relief from the Great Depression as of 1938. Him and his wife learned to read from the magazines and newspapers their neighbors gave them, even though neither of them had a formal education or more than a year of schooling.

Later Years and Death (1938-1954)[edit]

There are no records to indicate what happened to Maryland and Elizabeth Rice after they were interviewed for the Federal Writers' Project, aside from their deaths. They lived together until 1948, until her death.[6] Rice never remarried, and he died on May 16, 1954 of unknown causes. He was survived by six of his children.

Social Issues[edit]

Literacy and education in the South[edit]

Education was not compulsory in the state of Georgia until 1916, which left entire generations of Georgians uneducated and without the means to educate themselves.[7] In rural areas of the United States, and especially the Deep South, schools were sparse or un-accessible to the poor or apathetic whites who lived there. Illiteracy was viewed by many intellectuals as a factor should disqualify people from voting, as their inability to read would render them unable to choose the correct candidate.[8] During the twentieth century, more children were educated and were able to receive secondary and post-secondary education that helped them to exercise their democratic rights.

A tenant farmer in North Carolina, 1936.

Tenant Farming and Sharecropping[edit]

Sharecropping and tenant farming were major facets of the Southern economy after the end of the Civil War in 1865.[9] A tenant would rent an area of land from the owner, who would collect a percentage of the money that the farmers earned from harvesting and selling their crops. The monopolization of farming by rich landowners created an economic dependence upon them that caused large masses of people to be left in abject poverty, regardless of the work they did to help themselves.[10] The end-goal of sharecropping and tenant farming was the eventual accumulation of enough money to buy one's own land and farm one's own crops, while in economic competition with the same farmers who had leased land to the farmer originally.[11]

References[edit]

  1. “Maryland Delano Rice (1875-1954),” Find a Grave, last modified February 10, 2015, https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=142450755.
  2. A.G. Barie, "Guess We Had Moving Fever," Federal Writers’ Project Papers (1936-1940), accessed October 9, 2017, http://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/03709/id/1010/rec/1.  
  3. Ibid.
  4. “Mary Annette ‘Nettie’ Anderson (1877-1904),” Find a Grave, last modified March 31, 2015, https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=144420762.
  5. “Elizabeth Green Odom (1873-1915).”  Find a Grave, last modified February 10, 2015, https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=142452967.
  6. “Elizabeth Jackson ‘Bettie’ Boynton (1872-1948),” Find a Grave, last modified February 25, 2015, https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=143056663.
  7. “This Day in Georgia History, August 19, 1916,” GeorgiaInfo, accessed October 25, 2017,  http://georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu/thisday/gahistory/08/19/first-compulsory-school-attendance-law.
  8. Arthur W. Bromage, "Literacy and the Electorate," The American Political Science Review 24, no. 4 (1930): 946-62. doi:10.2307/1946751.
  9. Nancy Virts, "The Efficiency of Southern Tenant Plantations, 1900-1945," The Journal of Economic History 51, no. 2 (1991): 385-95. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2122582.
  10. Ibid.
  11. “Sharecropping and Tenant Farming,” last modified 2009, http://ic.galegroup.com/ic/uhic/ReferenceDetailsPage/ReferenceDetailsWindow?zid=de00f766cfb0b9313f5771bdcb26fa2d&action=2&catId=&documentId=GALE%7CCX3048900548&userGroupName=mlin_m_fadayms&jsid=65f6acb4944bf70d42db0e37bc6f0087.