Life after Life Histories?
Federal Writer's Project Problems
Just as with anything in life there were challenges and problems during the Federal Writer's Project. One of the greatest critics of the Federal Writer's Project came from Leonard Rapport. Who argued that with the Federal Writer's project especially within North Carolina had "lots of disorder with the construction...."(Terrill 82), Rapport stresses with disgust that "I [Rapport] learn from the staff of the Southern Historical Collection these visitors seem uninterested in tests of validity."(Rapport 8). Rapport believed that lots of the Life Histories were fake stories constructed by the writers of the project. Terrill stressed however that the assets of the Life Histories still stand firm because historians are aware of discrepancies in the work and the authentic lives of the individuals interviewed especially when considering "that FWP did not use mechanical recordings devices, that only a few took notes in shorthand, that editors sometimes edited too casually.."(Terrill 82) but that there is still a vast amount of resourceful information within the Life Histories.
So What Now?
Even when considering the various problems with the "quality" of the life histories they are still a vastly important resource that should be revisited. Their importance is best articulated by Marcus Garvey "A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots." America has the rich opportunity to read about the lives of a variety of people from a diverse background during the most financially strenuous time in history. Integrating Life Histories into the American education system could provide information about a variety of subjects including lucrative "...information about and feelings of southern textile managers and workers were not whiled away waiting for "the ring of truth" to be told." (Terrill 82) The Life Histories provide more information on theologians like John Lee White considering that "Religion and at least some of the clergy deserve better treatment than they have gotten from scholars, and materials like the FWP life histories can help with that." (Terrill 82) The Life Histories should be included in our conversation of life during and pre-Depression, without it we are allowing extensive and first hand accounts of history to go unheard.
“Chapter 2: The Negro American Family.” Office of Policy Planning and Research. United States Department of Labor, 1965, pp. 5–6.
Darrow and Massengill (interviewers): Trusting in God, Folder 338 in the Federal Writers' Project papers #4556, South Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Frazier, Franklin. The Negro Family in the United States. Chicago, Illinois, The University of Chicago Press , 1939.
Fultz, Michael. “Teacher Training and African American Education in the South, 1900-1940.” The Journal of Negro Education, vol. 64, no. 2, 1995, pp. 196–210., www.jstor.org/stable/2967242.
Terrill, Tom E., and Jerrold Hirsch. “Replies to Leonard Rapport's ‘How Valid Are the Federal Writers' Project Life Stories: An Iconoclast among the True Believers.’” The Oral History Review, vol. 8, 1980, pp. 81–89., www.jstor.org/stable/3675217.
Rapport, Leonard. “How Valid Are the Federal Writers' Project Life Stories: An Iconoclast Among the True Believers.” Oxford Journal, oup.silverchair-cdn.com/oup/backfile/Content_public/Journal/ohr/7/1/10.1093_ohr_7.1.6/3/7-1-6.pdf? Accessed 20 Feb. 2017.
Image 1:Looking northeast from South Roxboro Street, circa 1970.Durham County Library / North Carolina Collection
Image 2: Pine Street Church, circa 1970. Durham County Library/North Carolina Collection
Image 3:Bowden, Keith. 707 South Roxboro Street/Pine Street 2011
Image 4:Bowden,Keith.707.5 South Roxboro Street/Pine Street 2011