Sunday, April 28, 2013

Lawyers in the WPA's Life Histories Collection

Particularly at the end of the semester, with paper drafts to read and exams to write and grade, one can easily think of teaching and research as a zero-sum game.  This semester I have an antidote in a term-paper-in-progress by one of my students, Elizabeth Hira (Georgetown Law Class of 2013).  Ms. Hira has been working in the “life histories” by the staff of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration from 1936-1940.  Some “2,900 documents representing the work of over 300 writers from twenty-four states” survive in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division as part of a larger collection, The U.S. Work Projects Administration Federal Writers' Project and Historical Records Survey.

A webpage of at the Library of Congress:
Typically 2,000-15,000 words in length, the documents consist of drafts and revisions, varying in form from narrative to dialogue to report to case history. The histories describe the informant's family education, income, occupation, political views, religion and mores, medical needs, diet and miscellaneous observations.
Only what the Library terms “a coherent portion” of the originals have been digitized, but these include contributions from lawyers, including several African Americans:

James W. Bawser
Charles Rufus Brice
Thomas M. Cathcart
O. H. Cross
James Earl Doolittle
Thomas J. Henry
M. J. Pinkett
Robert Lee Wright