Oral history interview with Big Time, 1981


Big Time (Interviewee)
Joseph, Herman, 1931- (Interviewer)
Oral history interview with Big Time, 1981
Other Titles
Reminiscences of Big Time, 1981; Oral history of Big Time, 1981
Big Time starts the interview with a lengthy discussion of his family history and youth growing up in East Bradenton, Florida. He speaks about his mother, father, step-father, and grandmother, with whom he had a close relationship. He describes work that he did as a youth: picking fruit and metal collection. Big Time describes the realities of living in the south during segregation and the differen ces between the area's African American free school and pay school. He describes a pool hall run by an influential uncle and a local "juke" club. He explains how when his strict grandmother passed away, he joined the Ringling Brothers circus and eventually came to New York where he worked hustling games of chance. He describes the hustling lifestyle in the 1930s in detail. He recalls being drafted for World War II, describes the segregation of the army in detail. Big Time started as a private and climbed the ranks to sergeant, seeing service in North Africa and Italy. He needed surgery and was introduced to morphine for the first time in a military hospital. He describes use of narcotics by soldiers. He describes his life in New York in the 1940s-1960s working as a successful confidence man. He details his heroin use, the quality and availability of heroin at this time, and buying heroin in bulk. He also speaks to the nature of addiction and his experience with methadone maintenance
Collection Name
Addicts Who Survived oral history collection
Heroin abuse--History--20th century.--United States; Drug abuse--History--20th century.--United States; Drug traffic--History--20th century.--United States; Methadone maintenance--History--20th century.--United States; Soldiers--Drug use--United States; African American soldiers--History--20th century; Discrimination in the military--History--20th century.--United States; Swindlers and swindling
oral histories
Physical Description
136 pages
Note (Biographical)
Big Time was born January 9th, 1915 in East Bradenton, Florida. The third child of eleven, he was largely raised by a devoted and strict grandmother. He attended a pay school or free school through the fourth grade. After his grandmother's death, he j oined the Ringling Brothers Circus and came to New York City. He worked as a successful hustler and confidence man in New York in the 1930s. During World War II, he was drafted to the army. Starting as a private, Big Time climbed the ranks to sergeant and eventually would earn four Medals of Honor. He saw service in Algeria, Sicily, and the Po Valley. His introduction to narcotics was in a military hospital following foot surgery. When the war was over, he returned first to Florida and then New York City. In New York City, he returned to making a living through confidence games. He used heroin in the 1940s-1970s, and then switched to methadone. Big Time was interviewed for the project that led to the book Addicts Who Survived. The name is likely a pseudonym for the project
Interviewed by Herman Joseph on April 14, 1981
Note (Provenance)
David Courtwright, Herman Joseph, and Don Des Jarlais, Gift, 1988
Library Location
Columbia Center for Oral History, Columbia University
Browse Location’s Digital Content
Catalog Record
Also In
Oral History Archives at Columbia
Time-Based Media
Time-Based Media
Persistent URL
Related URLs
Available digital content for this interview.