Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2018/Fall/Section 2/Loyd Wesley Lewis

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Loyd Wesley Lewis
BornLoyd Wesley Lewis
1909/1910
Probably Elmore County, Alabama
EducationGrade school and 2 years of High School
OccupationBlacksmith Division of the Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company
SpouseEdna Burke (married in July 1935)
ParentsRobert Lewis Lela Lewis

Overview[edit]

Loyd Wesley Lewis was a mechanic in the Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company in Pratt City, Birmingham, Alabama. He was interviewed for the Federal Writers' Project by Edward F. Harper.[1]

Early Years[edit]

Loyd Wesley Lewis was most likely born in Elmore County, Alabama, in 1909 or 1910, where he grew up on a small farm with his parents, Robert and Lela Lewis, and his little sister, Julia. Both of Lewis's parents drank a lot, starting early in the evening, a habit Lewis also picked up. At age six, Lewis and his family moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where he remained throughout his childhood and working life. His father took a job at the Tennessee Company as a helper, providing for Lewis and his sister's education. Lewis attended grade school and two years of high school.[2]

Adult Life[edit]

Home Life[edit]

Lewis married Edna Burke in July, 1935. Without money for a house of his own, Lewis had to bring his wife to live in his parents' house. They used credit to furnish the spare room for the two years they lived there. After saving enough money, Lewis and his wife moved to a small rented home in Ensley. Lewis always dressed in the latest fashions and would only change to his work clothes when he got out of town; this habit got him the nickname Mandy from his neighbors.[3] Lewis was drank and smoked. He enjoyed for adventure stories, but would read other magazines between issues. Lewis also enjoyed needle work, such as embroidery, which he particularly excelled at. Before their fall into debt, the couple enjoyed attending dances. That habit was lost when the couple was ended up in debt. While struggling to pay for their house, furniture, and groceries, they could no longer afford to attend dances. Lewis and his wife had no children of their own, but the neighborhood children could often be found in their house during the day, playing games, eating ice cream, and reading the funny papers. The Lewis couple also had three Persian kittens.[4]

Occupation[edit]

Lewis worked for the Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company in Pratt City in Birmingham, Alabama. He got up at five in the morning to leave for Pratt City by six for work. He worked from 7 in the morning until 3:30 in the afternoon 3 to 4 days a week when business was slower. Lewis was paid 75 cents per hour and worked 8-hour shifts. He started out as a hammer boy helper, then worked himself up to mechanic, though a lesser mechanic than those starting as apprentices. He worked with the drill press and the lathe, repairing the company's trains in a group of up to 25 men. It is unknown when he died.[5]

Social Issues[edit]

High School Graduation Rates in the South[edit]

Although high school graduation rates increased in the United States between 1910 and 1940, this educational increase was prevalent mostly outside the southern states. In the early 1900s, high school enrollment and graduation rates were very low for both white and black children in the South, and significant graduation improvement was not seen in the South until the 1950s, when graduation rates in North were no longer rapidly improving.[6] Due to lack of funding, many schools were forced to budget cuts or close during the Great Depression. In the rural South, school attendance was down to an average 60 percent, leaving only about 5 percent of high school age black Americans enrolled. Over 1,300 schools shut down in Georgia; another thousand closed in West Virginia. Alabama closed about 5 out of every 6 schools, and the Arkansas school year dropped down to less than 60 days long. Between 1930 and 1934 over 25,000 teachers nationwide lost their jobs. The South was one of areas most affected by the decline in school funding.[7]

Working Conditions in Steel Plants[edit]

U.S. Steel industries maintained a stable wage for their employees at the beginning of the Great Depression until October, 1931, which helped them keep their choice of workers. Steel firms were supposed to have a system to ensure the stability of their wage rates.[8] In U.S. Steel jobs were given classifications for 160,000 employees throughout 50 different plants, with 25,000 different job positions. Over time the nations steel plants all unified these classifications, covering over 500,000 individual employees. This unification of job classifications and wage rates throughout the steel industry was especially important because of the difficulty of merging companies with different rates and the constant changing of technology in the steel industry. The difference between the pay of hourly and incentive pay was also an issue. The steel industry had to change their rates and job classifications to keep the overall industry more stable.[9]

Despite the wage stability in the steel industry for the first few years of the Great Depression, the employment rate fell by 28 percent between 1929 and 1931 in Birmingham. A quarter of wage and salary workers were jobless and over half were working part time. Only 15,000 out of the 100,000 workers were working full time in June of 1932.[10] The Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company was one of the most significant steel companies in Birmingham. After the Tennessee Company added about 7,000 employees to their company between 1938 and 1941, they had about 30,000 total workers. After the war, demand kept production up, therefore keeping the employment rate high. The Tennessee Company became part of the United States Steel Corporation in the 1950s.[11] In Alabama, the effects of the Great Depression lasted through the 1930s and for some even into the 1940s, even later than the nation as a whole recovered.[12]

  1. Loyd Wesley Lewis. Federal Writers' Project Papers, 1936-1940. 03709. Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Goldin, Claudia. "America's Graduation from High School: The Evolution and Spread of Secondary Schooling in the Twentieth Century." The Journal of Economic History 58, no. 2 (1998): 345-74. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2566738.
  7. "Education 1929-1941." Historic Events for Students: The Great Depression. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-and-education-magazines/education-1929-1941
  8. O'Brien, Anthony Patrick. "A Behavioral Explanation for Nominal Wage Rigidity During the Great Depression." The Quarterly Journal of Economics 104, no. 4 (1989): 719-35. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2937864.
  9. Stieber, Jack. The steel industry wage rate inequity program; a case study. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, 1954.
  10. Downs, Matthew L. “Great Depression in Alabama.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. April 21, 2015. http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-3608.
  11. Rikard, Marlene Hunt. “Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad (TCI).” Encyclopedia of Alabama. September 16, 2015. http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-2328.
  12. Downs, Matthew L. “Great Depression in Alabama.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. April 21, 2015. http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-3608.