Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2017/Fall/Section 26/Jim Lauderdale

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Jim Lauderdale
Alabama, U.S.
EducationElementary School, 4th Grade
OccupationMiner, Prison Guard
Years activeUnknown


Jim Lauderdale was a coal miner and prison guard in Talladega Springs. He was interviewed for the Federal Writers' Project in 1938 and 1939.


Early Life[edit]

Lauderdale was born in 1868 in Alabama. He did not complete his education past elementary school. [1] His hobbies were fox-hunting and fishing.

Adult Life[edit]

Young Adult[edit]

Lauderdale resided in several different areas of Alabama. He worked as a coal miner with a mediocre salary of $35. His wife Ora was claimed to "have a good face but raise more hell than a mean mule."[2] He had two children, Zelma and Dorsett. Because Lauderdale had a low salary, he claimed Ora would tell the neighbors "how hard it is to be married to a poor man".[3] Eventually, Lauderdale took on a higher-paying mining job in Red Diamond Birmingham mines. The pay was bumped up to $60 there.

Middle Age[edit]

Lauderdale worked thirty-five years in the Birmingham mines. When he worked in Birmingham mines, he also guarded convicts for $65. Lauderdale claimed the guards, including himself, would whip African-American individuals "just for fun" to assert their dominance over the convicts. [4]

As Lauderdale gained more experience as a coal miner, his salary was raised to $150. He was diagnosed with a respiratory disease that was primarily caused by his working conditions in the coal mines. Because of his illness, Lauderdale returned home to Talladega Springs with $3000 in retirement money. Lauderdale did not know where to store the money so he asked his friend, Mitchum, for advice. Mitchum, a banker, told him to put the retirement money in a bank in Sylacauga, Alabama. That bank crashed right after Lauderdale put his savings in it. Lauderdale lost all his money and resorted to bootlegging to make money for his family. [5]

Lauderdale worked with another man named Jess Stone, making and selling liquor. Ora disliked this and called the police on Lauderdale. According to the interview in the Federal Writer's Project, Ora bought furniture that could not be afforded while Lauderdale was in jail. When Lauderdale confronted Ora, Ora would rip her dresses apart and ruin the newly-bought furniture. When Lauderdale returned from prison, Ora did not allow the kids near Lauderdale. The interview states that Ora became fed up with the lack of income so she left with the kids to go work in a mill in Sylacauga. Ora and Lauderdale could not afford to get a formal divorce.

Later Life[edit]

Lauderdale lived alone for the rest of his life in sickness. His eyesight deteriorated as he lacked the money for treatment. Due to poverty, he could not afford proper clothing and food for himself. He engaged in the consumption of alcohol leftover from his bootlegging career.[6]

Effects of Great Depression[edit]

Marriage & Divorce[edit]

A graph depicting marriage rates and log GDP show the two are directly correlated.

Marriage and divorce were influenced by the Great Depression. Marriage propensities and gross domestic product are determined to be positively correlated. [7] So when the GDP rates dropped, marriage rates fell by 20% from 1929 to 1933. [8] Studies have shown that marriages that occurred during the Great Depression were more likely to last than ones that occurred before the Great Depression. [9]This is because hard times have already hit during the Depression and couples are more cognizant of what they are getting themselves into. Females often delayed marriage during the Great Depression because more males were unemployed. Women in families during the Depression echoed this. Families needed their daughters' incomes and support. This was appropriate during the 1900s as it was common for husbands to be working and wives to be taking care of the home and children.

Divorce rates dropped during the Great Depression because many couples could not afford it. [10] Instead, many couples separated and later divorced when economic conditions were more favorable. There were more than 1.5 million married women living apart from their husbands by 1940. [11] Unemployment of the husband often resulted in the wife acquiring a job outside the home. "Often, a husband's unemployment brought upon changes throughout family relationships." [12]

Bank Instability[edit]

During the Great Depression, one third of all banks in America failed. [13] Bank instability during the Depression was impacted by large withdrawals, freezing deposits, and thus bank closures. The stock market crashed a year before 1930, causing many Americans to reconsider where they should store their money. The bank distress itself magnified the extent of economic decline during the Depression. [14] Due to the reduced amount of money present in banks, not as many loans could be given out increasing the insecurity within Americans. [15] The Federal Reserve confirmed bank suspensions were caused by worthless paper and heavy withdrawals.

Health Effects of Coal Mining[edit]

Coal mining is a process that was prevalent during the 1900s. It required many hours from miners. The longer a miner would work in a coal miner, the more particulate matter miners would be exposed to. Particulate matter was found to be a direct cause of health problems in miners. Coal combustion releases particulate matter such as mercury, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. [16]Exposure to particulate matter, especially heavy metals, would lead to chronic toxicity, resulting in damage to central and nervous systems, blood composition, lungs, kidneys, and liver. [17]


  1. 1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.
  2. Interview of Jim Lauderdale by Jack Kytle 1939, in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 5.
  3. Ibid., 10.
  4. Ibid.,11.
  5. Ibid.,17
  6. Interview of Jim Lauderdale by Jack Kytle 1938, in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2.
  7. Hill, Matthew J. "Love in the Time of the Depression: The Effect of Economic Conditions on Marriage in the Great Depression." The Journal of Economic History 75, no. 1 (03, 2015): 163. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0022050715000066. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1662805153?accountid=14244.
  8. Ibid., 167.
  9. Ibid.,169
  10. "Everyday Life 1929-1941." In Historic Events for Students: The Great Depression, edited by Richard C. Hanes and Sharon M. Hanes, 305. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 2002. U.S. History in Context (accessed December 2, 2017). http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3424800026/UHIC?u=oldt1017&xid=017ff6e0.
  11. Ibid.,307.
  12. Ibid.,310
  13. Richardson, G. (2007). The collapse of the united states banking system during the great depression, 1929 to 1933, new archival evidence. Australasian Accounting Business & Finance Journal, 1(1), 39. Retrieved from http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/220873370?accountid=14244
  14. Calomiris, Charles W., and Joseph R. Mason. "Consequences of Bank Distress during the Great Depression." The American Economic Review 93, no. 3 (2003): 937. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3132126.
  15. Ibid.,940
  16. EarthTalk. “How Coal Kills.” Scientific American, February 17, 2015. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-coal-kills/.
  17. Kurth, Laura M., Michael Mccawley, Michael Hendryx, and Stephanie Lusk. "Atmospheric Particulate Matter Size Distribution and Concentration in West Virginia Coal Mining and Non-Mining Areas." Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology 24, no. 4 (07, 2014): 405. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/jes.2014.2. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1537294519?accountid=14244.