H. J. Williams, who was born in 1910 and lived mostly in Alabama, was interviewed in the 1990s about living in the segregated South. In this excerpt of the interview, Williams describes what he did for work and his experiences in school.
H. J. WILLIAMS: In 1933 we were working for fifty cents a day. 1933. That was.
MAUSIKI SCALES (INTERVIEWER): What were you doing?
H. J. WILLIAMS: Chopping cotton. Plowing a mule. And that’s what they paid. That was the wages they was paying. Fifty cents a day at that time in the ’30s. And up in the ’40s, and like I said after President Roosevelt come in power it was a little change made. They were finally moved up to a $1 a day.
MAUSIKI SCALES: Did you go to school while you were growing up on the farm?
H. J. WILLIAMS: Yeah. Yeah. I went to school.
MAUSIKI SCALES: How long was the school session?
H. J. WILLIAMS: I went to school. I went as high as 8th grade. I didn’t complete the 8th grade, but I went to 8th grade when I was going to school. That’s as high as I went. As I might have said because of my daddy, we were living on the farm then and we had a bad year and my daddy wasn’t able to buy me school books and that’s when I dropped out of school. Didn’t go no further. I went high as 8th grade. That’s as far as I could go. When I was in the 8th grade, I was studying in the books with some of the other children at school what was able to have books and that’s where I was studying.
MAUSIKI SCALES: Did you go to school nine months out of the year?
H. J. WILLIAMS: Something like that. Yep. Nine months out of a year.
MAUSIKI SCALES: What type of things did you learn in school?
H. J. WILLIAMS: What type did I learn in school? Well, far as jobs and so on like that I didn’t learn nothing about jobs or nothing like that at school cause we was on the farm. In other words, they wadn’t teaching at that time, they weren’t teaching mechanical work, you know, in the public schools. They wadn’t teaching that at that time out there. So they’d teach us about agriculture and so on like that, what we was doing, so on and like that. They’d teach us that. So that’s as far as we could go at that time what they was teaching. But far as mechanical work and so on like that they wadn’t teaching nothing like that at that time.
MAUSIKI SCALES: Were your parents educated people?
H. J. WILLIAMS: Nope. They wadn’t. Neither one.
MAUSIKI SCALES: How about your grandparents? Were they?
H. J. WILLIAMS: Well, the grandparents could read and write. That’s as far as I know. I can draw on that.
MAUSIKI SCALES: Did they ever talk about their experiences when they were coming along?
H. J. WILLIAMS: Oh yeah. They talked about their experiences because some of the grandparents was under slavery. Yeah. They was under slavery when they was coming along at that time. Some of ’em.1
- 1 : H. J. Williams, interview by Mausiki S. Scales, August 8, 1995, “H. J. Williams interview,” Behind the Veil, Duke University Digitial Libraries, accessed May 6, 2014.