Thursday, July 21, 2016

Men and their Overalls

Overalls were the uniform of southern farmers, and elsewhere.

Aunt Ada Markham Spencer and her husband Ernest (1881-1971)
Ernest was a farmer in Copiah County, Mississippi.
He was the son of Lewis Spencer and Emaline/Emma Smiley.

Cousin Sam Baker (1927-2009) of Brookhaven, MS
He was the son of Gilbert Baker and Nannie Benson.

Cousin John Henry Jordan (1900-1991) and his wife Frances Davis
He was a farmer in Copiah County, MS.
He was the son of William Burl Jordan and Mariah McGrew.

Cousin James Pearly Scott, Jr (1900-1992)
Farmer in Caseyville, Lincoln County, MS
Son of James Pearly Scott and Catherine Markham

Photographs courtesy of Anita Christopher and Rance Brown
Cory Broadnax
Shawnmarie Jordan Gonzalez
and James Earl Scott

18 comments:

  1. My grandfather always wore overalls to work outside. I still love them today! These are a nice collection of overall pictures!

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    1. Thank you, Beth, A man in overalls was a common sight in my neighborhood when I was a child.

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    2. Yes, I remember summer visits to Mississippi and overalls were standard wear for men (black and white)in the small towns. I had forgotten about having one of my grandfather's brothers come up behind me in the dollar store in Eupora one Saturday and put his arm around my neck. I had no idea who had me and thought I was about to be kidnapped until my grandmother started laughing and told him to let me go. To this day I don't remember his face, but do remember that he was wearing a crisp pair of blue overalls! I think blue jeans must have been a younger generation trend, but they lacked all the wonderful pockets to put necessities!

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    3. What a wonderful memory, thank you for sharing. One uncle would pull peppermint candy from his overalls pockets to share.

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  2. I am currently working on research regarding the Green Book sites in Mississippi, and have to contextualize it. One research article discussed how when so many migrated North, particularly to the Chicago area, their northern counterparts admonished them not to wear overalls outside the house. Growing up in the south, almost all working men (farmers, carpenters, etc.) wore overalls. Dad wore the blue kind (above) when he worked in heavy equipment, and later the blue and white striped overalls similar to conductors when he was a carpenter. A raggedy pair still hang on a hook in the barn where he took them off and put them on the peg.

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    1. Suzassippi, I don't remember specifically any of the instructions my northern relatives gave but do remember the folks in my household repeating, she must think we don't know how to dress and they don't have to write down here telling us how to act. I do remember us dressing in our Sunday best and it didn't matter if we were driving to the next county over or taking the train to Chicago.

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  3. This made me think back to the men I knew in Mississippi who wore overalls. I don't think I have any photos though. Nice.

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    1. Thank you, Kristin. A comfortable pair was a working man's ideal outfit.

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  4. These pictures made me smile. Brought me back to the days when folks were dressed up if they had a starched white shirt and clean pair of overalls and shined up shoes!

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    1. ...and if he had a jacket to go over his starched white shirt and clean overalls, he was dressed for any occasion.

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  5. Linda, you've done it again! What a great topic. Garments really can convey powerful messages. Growing up in a large town, I didn't see very many men in "overhalls", but those who did wear them were considered as "country".
    Thanks for the info.
    Saundra

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  6. Linda, you've done it again! What a great topic. Garments really can convey powerful messages. Growing up in a large town, I didn't see very many men in "overhalls", but those who did wear them were considered as "country".
    Thanks for the info.
    Saundra

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    1. My "sophisticated" relatives worked hard to get us to hide how "country" we were. They temporarily got us to leave the overalls at home, stop using Vaseline, but our "country" always betrayed us.

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    2. So true. People who wore overalls were looked down upon once they got into town, and it didn’t take much of a town. In my mind, they represented not just hard work but low pay, little if any formal education, and not just farming but walking behind a mule farming versus driving a tractor farming. Maybe this wasn’t true in other parts of the country, and it might not have even been so true as I thought it was where you and I are from, but it was my impression nonetheless.

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  7. My Dad was a carpenter, so he wore striped overalls with a lot of pockets in front. I liked his overalls a lot better than farmer’s overalls because what farmer’s overalls represented in my mind was poverty. When I was about six or so, my parents bought me some overalls (I have no idea if they were striped or plain) which I hated because all the other boys wore jeans. I also had to wait for years to own my first pair of tennis shoes because my parents bought me what amounted to black leather work shoes.

    I consider myself lucky to have ridden—with a black family since all the white families had cars and trucks by then—in a farm wagon, to have seen people plow with mules, and to have not had running water and electricity when I was small. Compared to nearly everyone I know, it was as if I had grown up in another century.

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    1. P.S. I just remembered James Forman, the Civil Rights leader who always--to my knowledge--wore overalls. I found it interesting that he intentionally took on the most common representation of hard work and rural poverty for both races for overalls were not just something that black people wore.

      I have a unworn pair of my father’s overalls. Sometimes, I think of wearing them as a way to draw closer to him—he died in this house in 1994—but I’m too ambivalent for words about actually doing so. Suffice to say that they’re a powerful image to me, as are the ones that farmers wore.

      I so appreciate your blog.

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    2. Thank you Snowbrush. I am enjoying and learning from your comments.

      I remembering seeing Martin Luther King, Jr, wearing overalls, likely in an Ebony magazine.

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    3. “Thank you Snowbrush. I am enjoying and learning from your comments.”

      LindaRe, I’m delighted to hear this because I thought my comments about overalls might cause offense. After all, many people view them with happy nostalgia, and I can too, but they also represent so much that I hated. As a white person, I found Brookhaven a stratified town with rich people at the top, and other white people occupying a lower level until you go down to “white trash,” and then black people were at the bottom. My father being a mentally ill carpenter with very poor social skills, my status was low. Maybe you suffered more or less (than I did) because black people had their own society that white people knew nothing—and cared nothing—about. So, it’s possible that your family was respected by other black people, and if so, maybe life wasn’t too bad for you.

      I want so much to know what life was like for you that it’s almost a need. I wish I could back and be a black person for awhile so that I could understand. Do you know of a book entitled “Black Like Me,” in which a white man, with the help of a dermatologist, made himself look passably black, and traveled the Deep South in this condition?

      As I look back through the photos on this post, I'm struck by how happy and dignified most of the people look.

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