Life During the Times of World War I for Blacks in Plano
Updated: Feb 16, 2021
When World War I started, many young black men answered the "call of duty" and many men also moved to the North hoping to find a better way of life. When the war was over, some blacks moved back to Plano, but soon the Depression hit, and jobs were scarce for black and white Americans. Since cotton gins and mills were closed, competition for farming and other labor work was high for both races. People were fighting for their lives, fighting for survival, and the flu epidemic caused many deaths. Hunting and fishing were once considered a recreational activity, but they soon became vital to the welfare of many blacks.
By this time, Jim Thomas became a one-man janitorial service. In 1913, he was employed by A.L. Merritt's Barber Shop as a shoe shiner and porter. Later, he became a janitor for Farmer's State Bank of Plano, The First National Bank of Plano, Moore's Five and Ten, Weatherford's Jewelry, Harrington's Drug Store, Webb's Drug Store, Bradshaw's Insurance brokerage, and many more. He provided the first laundry delivery service in Plano and was known to be the first and only black fireman. Although Jim had nine children of his own, he still helped other families with children. His wife Millie Mae cooked large beans and whatever else she was able to share. Jim gave clothes that were given to him by his white friends and gave them to the neighbors that needed them and therefore he was known for his good deeds as the "poor philanthropist".
During the Depression, picking cotton was the main source of income for a lot of families. Picking cotton wasn't seen as just a job, it was also had a social aspect to it. Many families would meet in the cotton patch and sometimes at dinner time they would sing religious and popular blues songs. People always sang as they picked cotton. When Alf Higgins starting singing his hymns, people stopped to listen to him.
Plano, Texas The Early Years