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

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Jim Lauderdale
Born 1868
Alabama, U.S.
Died Unknown
Cause of death Heart failure
Nationality Caucasian
Education Elementary School, 4th Grade
Occupation Miner, Prison Guard
Years active Unknown


Jim Lauderdale was a coal miner and prison guard in Talladega Springs, Alabama who was interviewed for the Federal Writer's Project in 1938 and 1939.


Early Life[edit]

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

Working Life[edit]

Lauderdale resided in several different areas of Alabama. Lauderdale started out working as a coal miner with a mediocre pay of $35. Before Lauderdale married his wife, Ora, Ora's father warned Lauderdale of Ora. Ora was claimed to "have a good face but raise more hell than a mean mule."[2] Lauderdale did not believe Ora's father and married her anyway. The couple had two children, Zelma and Dorsett. Because Lauderdale made little money, Lauderdale claimed Ora would tell everyone in town "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. In these mines, Lauderdale worked thirty-five years.

During the period when Lauderdale worked in Birmingham mines, Lauderdale also guarded convicts for a pay of $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. Lauderdale was diagnosed with a respiratory disease that was primarily caused by his work 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 a friend, Mitchum, for advice. Mitchum, a banker, told him to put it in a bank in Sylacaugry despite Mitchum's prior knowledge that the bank was going to crash soon. 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 would buy furniture that could not be afforded while Lauderdale was in jail. When Lauderdale accused Ora of her spending habits, Ora would rip her dresses apart and ruin the newly-bought furniture. When Lauderdale came back from prison, Ora did not allow the kids near Lauderdale. The interview states Ora became fed up with the lack of income so she took off with the kids to go work in a mill in Sylacaugry. Ora and Lauderdale could not afford to get a formal divorce.

Lauderdale lived alone for the remaining part of his life in sickness. Lauderdale's eyesight deteriorated as he did not have the money for treatment. Due to poverty, Lauderdale could not afford proper clothing and food for himself so he engaged in the consumption of alcohol.[6]

Racism in the 1900s[edit]


Bootlegging is the act of smuggling and making alcohol illegally. When the 18th amendment was added to the constitution and the Volstead Act was passed, bootlegging born.[7] "Section 23 of the National Prohibition Act provides that any person keeping or carrying liquor with intent to sell, or soliciting orders for the sale of liquor, is guilty of a nuisance and may be restrained by injunction."[8] Depending on which place people were convicted during the [Prohibition Era], local juries refused to convict in bootlegging cases. [9] In Birmingham, Alabama, law enforcement took vigorous action in eliminating bootlegging to enforce the dry laws. [10] During the Prohibition Era, bootlegging was common as alcohol was prevented from distribution. If a bootlegger was caught, he would pay the penalty. The latter is a large profit to him or herself. [11] Although liquor traffic was outlawed, the lawless and criminal classes continued bootlegging. [12] Although Alabama's dry laws were repealed in 1937, bootlegging continued to occur. [13] Alabama Law Enforcement took serious action to end bootlegging once the dry laws were lifted. Once alcohol was legally avaliable, bootlegging became virtually extinct.[14]

Alcoholism During the Great Depression[edit]

Alcoholism was a prevalent issue during the Great Depression as the 18th amendment was passed which only increased crime rates pertaining to the selling & distribution of alcohol. Lacking education as well as lacking money contains a positive relationship with the consumption of alcoholism. "Alcoholism is somewhat more prevalent among those of lower socioeconomic status groups and those with lower levels of educational attainment...with regard to race, research consistently finds higher levels of alcoholism in whites than in blacks."[15] The way an individual's life is structured in terms of family and finance can greatly influence whether an individual wants to consume alcohol or not. Given the poor economic conditions of the Great Depression, this only provoked individuals to drink more. "Factors such as family structure, peer networks and the reinforcement of alcohol use, and alcohol availability are key contributors."[16]. Possible effects of alcoholism include heart disease as well as hallucinations. [17] The prohibition era did have an effect on alcoholism through the Great Depression as "results suggest that Prohibition had a substantial short-term effect but roughly a zero long-term effect on drunkenness arrests. It is stated in the study that drunkenness arrests are implied by alcohol consumption."[18]


  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.
  3. Ibid
  4. Ibid
  5. Ibid
  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.
  7. Willing, Joseph K. "The Profession of Bootlegging." The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 125 (1926): 40-48. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1015881.
  8. "Injunctions. Acts Restrained: Nuisances and Public Wrongs. Unlocalized Acts of Bootlegging." Harvard Law Review 43, no. 7 (1930): 1159-160. doi:10.2307/1330945.
  9. Burnham, J. C. "New Perspectives on the Prohibition "Experiment" of the 1920's." Journal of Social History 2, no. 1 (1968): 51-68. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3786620.
  10. "ALABAMA TO PUSH WAR ON 'LEGGERS." The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), Mar 03, 1935. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/502147221?accountid=14244.
  11. Davis, Charles Hall. "The Race Menace in Bootlegging." The Virginia Law Register 7, no. 5 (1921): 337-44. doi:10.2307/1107371.
  12. Ibid
  13. "Alabama Leaves Dry State Ranks with Legal Liquor After 22 Years." The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), May 06, 1937. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/502804381?accountid=14244.
  14. Demleitner, Nora V. "Organized Crime and Prohibition: What Difference Does Legalization Make." 15.3 Whittier L. Rev. 613, 646 (1994)
  15. Kavanaugh, Philip R. "Alcoholism." In Encyclopedia of Social Problems, edited by Vincent N. Parrillo, 39-40. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2008. doi: 10.4135/9781412963930.n22.
  16. Ibid
  17. Ibid
  18. A.K. Dills, M. Jacobson, J.A. Miron. "The effect of alcohol prohibition on alcohol consumption: evidence from drunkenness arrests" Economics Letters, 86 (2005), pp. 279-284