Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2017/Fall/Section 26/Tam Levine

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Overview[edit]

Tam Levine (1892 - May 10th, 1950) was a Russian tailor who lived in Gastonia, North Carolina. Levine was interviewed for the Federal Writers’ Project. Names and cities were changed in the Federal Writers’ Project. Levine's birth name was Sam Slatkin.[1]

Biography[edit]

Early Life[edit]

Levine was born in Russia in 1892. His mother taught him Yiddish and Russian before he began school. He passed an exam qualifying him as a Kindergarten tutor at 12 years old. Levine taught young Jewish students in the agricultural Russian countryside. The class was then disbanded at the start of the Russo-Japanese war in 1905.[2]

In 1906, Levine's father died. Levine was legally adopted by his uncle, a butcher shop owner in the United States. Despite his uncle's disapproval, the twelve-year-old Levine began working at a clothing factory in New York. During this time, he lived with a nearby Jewish family while saving money to eventually send for his sister's move to the United States. After the clothing factory closed, Levine secured a job with another tailoring shop, but the owner kept most of Levine's pay, so Levine sought another job. He opened his own tailoring shop in the town of Brooks but soon became discouraged. The true location of Levine at this time is unknown, but the name of "Brooks" was used in the Federal Writers’ Project Interview. Just as he prepared to shut the shop down, a friend convinced him to stay in business. His shop soon became more successful as Levine specialized in making custom suits.[3]

Adulthood[edit]

In August 1919, Levine met his future wife in the city of Bowman, another pseudonym city name. They were engaged after two meetings and were married that December. In 1920, the couple had their first child, Doris. Their second child, Barney, was born in 1922. During this time, Levine sold their home and furniture in an agreement to move near his wife's family in Bowman. The real estate deal fell through, and the family remained in Brooks.[4]

In 1924, their third child, David, was born, followed by the couple's fourth child, Eugene, in 1927. During these years, Levine's business began to slow, and his wife refused to accept a more frugal lifestyle. His wife soon grew sick, and – convinced that she was going to die very soon – insisted on spending more than the family was able to during Levine's slower business months. While his busier months brought in more money and renewed acceptance from his wife, this pattern of financial insecurity and familial conflict persisted throughout the early 1930's. The couple eventually split in 1936.[5]

Later Life[edit]

Slatkin died in January of 1965.[6]

Social Issues[edit]

Southern Textile Industry in the Early 20th Century[edit]

Following the Industrial Revolution in the United States, southern industries developed a broad range of skills for each step in the production process. The textile industry was comprised of agricultural production of cotton and other raw goods, intermediate textile good production, and tailoring to create final products for consumption. Commission agents, brokers, transportation services, and other industries all worked within the south to bridge these processes. This system established a lucrative agricultural and textile industry leading up to the 1920's.[7]

Beginning in the 1920's, the American demand for cotton decreased. The agricultural industry in the south continued to produce excess amounts of cotton, leading to falling prices and rising farm costs.[8] Those involved in the cotton and textile industry “relied on banks and merchants for more and more credit. They sank deeper and deeper into debt.”[9]

In the years between 1929 and 1933, goods and services production fell by one-third, unemployment rose to 25 percent, the stock market lost 80 percent of its value, and approximately 7,000 banks failed. During this time, agriculture was North Carolina's largest industry, and half of its total population lived on farms.[10] The workers at all steps in the textile production process suffered the effects of the economic decline. This would leave the Southern industries at a disadvantage for decades.

Jewish Immigrants in the South in the Early 20th Century[edit]

In the early decades of the 1900's, the Unites States experienced one of its biggest waves of immigration in history. From 1881 to 1914 alone, over 1.5 million Jewish immigrants moved to North America. By 1914, approximately 140,000 Jewish immigrants were settling in the United States annually. About 90% of these Jewish immigrants were from Eastern Europe.[11]

As the number of Jewish immigrants became equal to the proportion of Jews already in the areas the immigrants inhabited, immigrants faced increasingly hostile attitudes from Americans. Speaking foreign languages and differing in political and religious backgrounds made it harder for immigrants to assimilate. "Americans did not always accept them as fellow countrymen, and their cultural distinctiveness would put the idea of a melting pot to a fundamental test."[12]

There was a growing American disdain for the poor, working immigrant. Even among families of similar social class, socio-psychological factors often separated the old immigrant from the newcomer. Often, immigrants could rise in social status in 'old immigrant' communities only by growth in wealth.[13] Some working immigrants offered vital economic value to industries in the South, but their successes also began to symbolize economic threat.

However, the discrimination faced by immigrants was still less severe than that faced by African-Americans. “Negro laziness and unreliability became the theme of the planters, who looked to the North, to Europe, and even to China for dependable replacement," according to the Journal of Southern History.[14] Even then, "the long history of uneasy relations between whites and Negroes made "racial" distinctions [among immigrants] axiomatic." Leading up to the 20th century, Southerners were more ethnically homogenous than Northerners, contributing to the South's "narrow social outlook."[15]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. Abner, John H. 1939. "Tam Levine, Tailor." Federal Writers’ Project.
  2. Abner, John H. 1939. "Tam Levine, Tailor." Federal Writers’ Project.
  3. Abner, John H. 1939. "Tam Levine, Tailor." Federal Writers’ Project.
  4. Abner, John H. 1939. "Tam Levine, Tailor." Federal Writers’ Project.
  5. Abner, John H. 1939. "Tam Levine, Tailor." Federal Writers’ Project.
  6. Abner, John H. 1939. "Tam Levine, Tailor." Federal Writers’ Project.
  7. Carlton, David L. "The Revolution from Above: The National Market and the Beginnings of Industrialization in North Carolina." The Journal of American History 77, no. 2 (1990): 445-75. doi:10.2307/2079179.
  8. Wright, Gavin. "Cheap Labor and Southern Textiles, 1880-1930." The Quarterly Journal of Economics 96, no. 4 (1981): 605-29. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1880743.
  9. Bishop, RoAnn. "Agriculture in North Carolina during the Great Depression." Agriculture in North Carolina during the Great Depression | NCpedia. January 1, 2010. Accessed September 27, 2017. http://www.ncpedia.org/agriculture/great-depression.
  10. Wheelock, David C. "Session 1: The Great Depression and North Carolina." Session 1: The Great Depression and North Carolina | NC Museum of History. Accessed September 27, 2017. https://www.ncmuseumofhistory.org/session-1-great-depression-and-north-carolina.
  11. Weinryb, Bernard D. "East European Immigration to the United States." The Jewish Quarterly Review 45, no. 4 (1955): 497-528. doi:10.2307/1452943.
  12. West, Darrell M. "The Costs and Benefits of Immigration." Political Science Quarterly 126, no. 3 (2011): 427-43. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23056953.
  13. Weinryb, Bernard D. "East European Immigration to the United States." The Jewish Quarterly Review 45, no. 4 (1955): 497-528. doi:10.2307/1452943.
  14. Berthoff, Rowland T. "Southern Attitudes Toward Immigration, 1865-1914." The Journal of Southern History 17, no. 3 (1951): 328-60. doi:10.2307/2198190.
  15. Berthoff, Rowland T. "Southern Attitudes Toward Immigration, 1865-1914." The Journal of Southern History 17, no. 3 (1951): 328-60. doi:10.2307/2198190.