Some Answers in the Letters
[Female voice] __________
Quite possibly, people wrote them themselves. One of the other
interesting things though about these letters, and you could really
play with these letters, you could do a lot of things with these
letters and they raise a lot of questions that's why I was curious
as to what questions you have.
One sociologist for example has said, "Aha, I'm going to
take these letters and I'm going to prove that all of these people
who said that this was a migration of people from the rural south
to the urban north were wrong," and can anyone guess how
she did that?
[Male voice] From the postmark.
Not postmark, well it's not the postmark, that's the thing,
it's the date mark, it's the date mark where it says, Florence,
July 12th, 1917. And sure enough she found that most of these
datelines were from either medium sized towns or cities.
[Female voice] That's, that's a, I mean in the Puritan Migration
it's also the case that people often made their first move from
the rural area to local cities, ________.
No, I was about to ask, what would make you doubt this conclusion.
That's the first one, you said people often made their first
Richard Wright for example, moved from a small town in Mississippi
to Memphis and then from Memphis to Chicago. So many people
their first move, especially to Hattiesburg, in fact we know
that in certain parts of the city make it to Hattiesburg. We
the population of Hattiesburg actually increased over a certain
So what else by the way would make you doubt that conclusion
that's based on the date marks? Anything that you know about the
black South in the early twentieth century?
[Female voice] Could you restate the conclusion again?
Anything that you know about the black South in the early twentieth
century, oh her conclusion was that people came from cities and
large towns based on the places that were the datelines in these
[Female voice] They didn't have names; sometimes they would just
be named after the store, like the general store. Like, my father
was from Kelly Store.
[Female voice] So they would have to use the, the name of the
A lot of people, for two reasons. One is where they're from might
not have a name; second is status. Why are these people writing?
They're writing because they are trying to get a job. So if you're
writing because you are trying to get a job and you are from East
Nowhere, Alabama, one of the ways in which you try to make yourself
sound a little more impressive is that you use the name of the
largest town nearby. Say, "I'm not from East Nowhere, I'm
from Florence; I know about life in the city, I'm not, I am not
a hick." [Laughter] So, part of it is the question of what
people chose to use. And we know that if, if these place names
came from, if they were placed on the printed ones instead of
taken off of a letter; is if they were used from the postmark
on the envelope we also know that people would have gone to the
nearest town, where they would have gone most Saturdays for market
purposes; and that's where they would have mailed the letter.
So again it's a way of thinking about well how can you read these
letters, how do you use these letters, what do they tell you,
what do they not tell you.