Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2017/Fall/Section 26/Hattie Amason
Hattie Amason (a.k.a Little Bit) was an African American woman who lived in Livingston, Alabama in the 1930s
Hattie “Little Bit” Amason was a middle-aged black woman who lived in Livingston, Alabama at the time of an interview for The Federal Writers Project. At the time of her interview, she stated that she felt around fifty years old. Little Bit was unsure of her age because her mother passed away when she was young and had no written record of her birth. She cited herself as a Christian. Her maiden name was Sledge until she married Warren Amason and took his last name. They had children together and were married for a few years until Warren was caught helping a criminal sell a stolen cow. Although Warren did not know the cow was stolen, he was still convicted and sent to work in the coal mines in Birmingham, Alabama. He died working there. After his death, Little Bit did not remarry. Later, she did take a lover known by the name Rich. At the time of the interview, she said that she her only living family was one young adult daughter. Hattie Amason died at an unknown date.
The Justice System in Post- Depression Alabama
Between the years of 1928 and 1940, the Alabama justice system was focused with the separation of white and black crime. Legislatures and those upholding the law wanted there to be strict guidelines for what constituted punishment and how severe the punishment would be for the races. It was essential to have clear definitions for who was considered “white” and who was considered “black”. Convict leasing was one of the most popular sentence in Alabama for African Americans. Sentencing criminals to work in coal mines was more convenient, and freed up space in the heavily populated jails. Convicts started to be taken out of mines in 1928.
Coal mining between the 1920s and 1940s was a job more commonly held by low skilled workers. Often times this meant it was done by men who were desperate for work, and men who were sentenced to work for their crime. This was often seen as apt punishment for black men at the time. Mining and steel work were among the least attractive jobs of the time as conditions and practices of the mine were poor, and worker unions did not help. Hattie recalls that they “double-teamed” her husband, most likely meaning that they worked him until he was dead. This treatment of mine workers was not uncommon for black criminals to experience, especially in a time of growing racial violence. It wouldn’t be until the introduction and popularization of unionizing that mining conditions and treatment would be addressed. This would not happen until the late 1930s.
The Role of Church In African American Life in Alabama
As times were hard for middle class African- American citizens, many people found themselves turning to religion for salvation. Probably most important about the rise in church attendance was the sense of community that it gave during a time of economic turmoil. Unemployment rates were at around 75 percent for African Americans at this time. The church is what sustained and gave hope to the community, especially in rural areas. The role of women in these churches was substantial. Between the 1920s and 1930s women began to hold leadership positions in the church. Many believed that, “without women there would have been no African American churches in Birmingham.” The black church would go on to play a huge role in the southern civil rights struggle as it would be a base for peaceful activism.