Growing Up Black in the 1930s

Growing Up Black in the 1930s

Growing up black in the 1930s may have been the most difficult time in history for black people besides slavery. The debilitating reality of enslavement had reared its ugly head for generations following the end of slavery after the Civil War in 1865, leading to 65 years of difficult relations with plantation and land owners who once owned or employed them. When the Stock Market Crash of 1929 precipitated into the Great Depression, deprivation and suffering escalated without mercy.


Most black people were poor long before that, particularly in the south. Prior to the Civil War, the southern economy had been built on agriculture – cotton, sugar, tobacco and rice farming – and cheap labor. When the north defeated the south in the Civil War, they destroyed the livelihood and advantages on which southern society was built.

Growing Up Black in the 1930s

Once freed, ex-slaves attempted to work out terms of ownership with departing plantation owners and their charges. This strategy backfired against them. Deliberately faulty accounting practices, drought-diminished crops, and racial hatred caused the new black entrepreneurs to fail before they could enjoy their new station in life.


Under the circumstances, some freed slaves wanted to return to the old plantation way and the guarantees that arrangement offered them. Adult black males ready to move on with starving families experienced the greatest hardships. They had no answers. Some headed north to Chicago with their families while others searched for opportunity in other southern urban environments.

The widespread assumption among the rural population concluded that the city must offer more opportunities because there were none in the country. Their perception was only partially true. Fewer and fewer urban employers who once had money to pay had any left once the banks closed, forcing layoffs everywhere.


Meager living conditions got much worse. Often families moved into two-room shacks without electricity. Children who attended school had to sacrifice an education to find work. Yet few found any employment aside from selling scrap.


John Seagraves was 11 years old when he quit his job delivering vegetables to consider his future. He chose instead to enjoy his freedom selling scrap metal and rags from along the railroad tracks. Despite a bumpy road ahead, he found himself as good a provider as his stepfather and completely committed to feeding his family.


One week before his 17th birthday in 1943, he joined the Navy almost 2 years after Pearl Harbor had been attacked. He knew little about it. In hindsight, the Depression served to raise him; the war would become his biggest test.

Growing Up Black in the 1930s

John boarded the Battleship USS NORTH CAROLINA as a teenaged sailor ready to see the world. His defining moment came when he used his will and determination to help save his ship and comrades during a kamikaze attack. The significance of the event was captured in 2 photographs, one when the plane splashed into the Pacific 30 feet away, the second of he and his gun crew.


Relocating from the south to Boston after the war, he found prosperity. Ultimately, he returned to the β€œnew” south and found even greater success. A courageous and brave young man from rural Georgia creates his own destiny, helps save hundreds of lives on his battleship and uses his war experience to persevere and eventually succeed as an entrepreneur. He went on to succeed in life using the same drive, determination, fearlessness and bravery that made him a war hero.


Now in his 80s, John finally reveals the details of his life in a fascinating biography called Uncommon Hero: The John Seagraves Story. Read about his extraordinary life and the many lessons from which we all could learn something about growing up black in the 1930s.

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