Page 29 - Autobiography of a Law School
P. 29

Wanting a Seersucker Suit, 1933-1952

struggled to produce cash crops, and, even more clearly, from the
outlying inbred community. We were once members of the middle-
class, and town people accepted us as fellow victims of an economic
but not societal poverty. Social acceptance meant a lot to my
mother, and it let me know I was not classified with the indigenous
poor. My finger count was right, and our newly-constructed house
had wood floors and linoleum. That was a cut above a schoolmate’s
cleanly swept dirt floor.

         People with money make a cavalier assumption that welfare
takes care of all people without income, but FDR’s New Deal
programs did not fit our particular poverty. Works Progress
Administration (WPA) paid unemployed people to do public work,8
and Texas’ Aid for Dependent Children (AFDC) helped children in
single-parent households.9 My dad could not work, but he lived in
the house, so we dropped through the welfare crack. Our acceptance
as middle-class victims of misfortune brought a modest favor that
might have been denied to equally impoverished sharecroppers.
Simply stated, I was a welfare cheat. Mr. Nelson, the local AFDC
administrator, occasionally slipped my mother a bag of beans and a
block of cheese from the stock in his feed store. He cautioned her
not to let anybody know. The knowledge she had broken the law
was as painful to her as the shame of welfare. She stopped accepting
the handout, even though we were often hungry and illegal beans
and cheese might have been ours for the asking.

8 Later known as the “Works Project Administration.”
9 “Begun in 1935, AFDC provided welfare benefits to single-parent families –
primarily widows – in economic need . . . .” JOCELYN ELISE CROWLEY, THE
POLITICS OF CHILD SUPPORT IN AMERICA 3 (2003).

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