James Adams was a hard worker, family man, and husband. His early life is gleaned from an interview with Cora Bennet on August 8, 1939 under the nationwide Federal Writers Project. The original document is now housed at the University of North Carolina's Southern Historical Collection.[1]


Early life

James Adams was born somewhere in the Deep South. At a young age, some unknown event happened to Adams’ parents, which forced him to live with his uncle for the majority of his childhood. Adams’ uncle frequently beat him and made him do hard labor. Finally, when Adams ‘’built up some size’ he decided to join the circus. While at the circus he would frequently “clean up the midway” which is cleaning up the center region of the circus. Later in Adams’ circus career they made him do an African tribal dance. Before the dance the ringmaster would inject Adams with an unknown substance to make him more “lively”. Adams then decided that he didn’t like the stage and decided to quit the circus. After quitting, Adams lived a nomadic lifestyle picking up any job he could find.


He married a woman named Mary, and they rented a small three-room house in Charlotte, North Carolina. While at their new residence the Adams had three children. The two oldest children left home early on to go find work for themselves, and the youngest child lived down south with Mary’s mother. The Adams’ house was small with a rent at about two and a half dollars a week. James and Mary would earn six dollars a week, leaving three and half-dollars for all other necessities. James Adams worked “odd-jobs” and one of these jobs was for the N.Y.A. The N.YA was the National Youth Administration and it provided work for citizens between the ages of 16 and 25. Adams ended up coming down with a bad case of pneumonia, which ended his N.Y.A work. James Adams had also done some Works Progress Administration work at this point, but it was before he had bought his first house with Mary.

Social issues

North Carolina economy

The North Carolina economy was hit especially hard during the Great Depression. During the 1920’s N.C was still had an agriculturally based economy. Tobacco, North Carolina’s main cash crop dropped from 86 cents a pound in 1919, to 9 cents a pound by 1931.[2] This drop basically gutted the North Carolina economy. Jobs and food were scarce. James Adams also felt recoil from the declining economy. The lack of economic stimulation forced him to pick up jobs wherever he could find them. However, Roosevelt’s New Deal plans brought new hope. The most important plans for North Carolina were the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, and Works Progress Administration. These helped bring 440 million dollars into the N.C economy by 1938. Adams’ shows his admiration for Roosevelt by stating that if he could vote, “he’d sho vote for him to be president again”.

African American discrimination in the workforce

At the peak of the Great Depression, minorities were specifically targeted by discrimination, especially African Americans. All of the racial tension bubbling just below the surface finally exploded in mass racial hysteria. African Americans were especially targeted my discrimination. A common viewpoint at the time was that if an African American had a job and a white man didn’t, then that African American would need to surrender his job to the white. For example, Vanessa Bush states in her book regarding African Americans in the Great depression, “that white men took jobs formerly held by black men”.[3] This could be the cause of Adams’ picking up of “odd-jobs” instead of a steady single one. Oddly enough, African American women’s jobs were relatively untouched. Men were willing to cross the racial gap for jobs, but not the gender gap.[4] The widespread taking of jobs basically strong-armed African-American men out of the work force. This forced many African-Americans to take up a variety of odd jobs just to make ends meet. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) took up many of these recently unemployed African Americans. The WPA employed many African Americans, and by the end of recruitment process, it is estimated that the WPA created over 3.4 million jobs for the American people. James Adams was one of these recruited people. Some people at the time even believed that at the time that the WPA was the first institution to get African-Americans in white-collar positions. This however, was very untrue. Despite it’s mask of equal quality, the WPA did show discrimination towards minorities. For example, in New York “only 0.5% of its Black employees were supervisors, while 75% were classified as unskilled laborers.”[5] This discrimination could be the reason that Adams’ ended up quitting the WPA.

Federal Writer’s Project


Roosevelt created the Federal Writer’s project in 1935 as a subset of the WPA. The goal of the Federal Writers Project (FWP) was to employ out of work writers and stimulate the economy. The FWP was then assigned the task of documenting “every-day” Americans during the Great Depression. Its goal was to celebrate ethnic diversity and culture. It is estimated that at its peak, the FWP employed roughly 10,000 writers. It then collectively produced over 1,000 pieces of literature from 1935 until 1943.[6]


The Interview with James Adams was conducted on August 8, 1939 as part of the Federal Writers Project. The person giving the interview was Cora L. Bennet. Dudley Crawford then reviewed the article. Writers were frequently encouraged to incorporate dialect into their work. Cora Bennet made sure to incorporate James Adam’s dialect into the writing, frequently making him sound uneducated. The original document was also edited with a pen, with some words written in to clarify the document.


  2. Bishop, RoAnn. "Difficut Days on the Tar Heel Farm." The Great Depression Effects on the N.C Economy. N.p.. Web. 13 Nov 2012. < Online
  3. Bush, Vanessa. "To Ask for an Equal Chance: African Americans in the Great Depression." Booklist 1 Aug. 2009: 16. Academic OneFile. Web. 12 Nov. 2012. Print
  4. Burwood, Stephen. Women and Minorities During the Great Depression. New York: Garland, 1990. Print. pg.117
  5. "The Works Progress Administration, A Beginning for many!." African American Registry. N.p.. Web. 12 Nov 2012. <>. Online 5
  6. DeMasi, Susan Rubenstein. "The federal writers' project: a legacy of words." CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries Mar. 2012: 1195+. Academic OneFile. Web. 12 Nov. 2012. Online
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