Category: American History
Autor: regina 12 December 2009
Words: 3060 | Pages: 13
North vs. South in the Great Depression
The Great Depression is one of the most misunderstood events in not only American history but also Great Britain, France, Germany, and many other industrialized nations. It also has had important consequences and was an extremely devastating event in America. It was the longest and most severe depression ever experienced by the industrialized Western world. When the New York Stock Exchange crashed in October 1929, the United States dropped sharply into a major depression. The world was in wide demand for agricultural goods during World War I, but they had rapidly decreased after the war and rural America experienced a severe depression throughout most of the 1920's and even on into the 1930's. One of the major losses for agriculture was due to banks foreclosing farm mortgages because the farmers could no longer pay their mortgages. By the early 1930's, thousands of American farmers were out of businesses. Major businesses, however, had to increase profits through most of the decade although wages remained low and workers were unable to buy the goods they had helped produce. The financial and banking systems were very unregulated and a number of banks had failed during the 1920's. Not only did the Great Depression affect the United States as a whole, there were many different effects on both the North and South.
At first the impact was small. As Ayers states, â€œFor most Americans, there was no single decisive moment when they knew that the economy was in trouble,â€ (733). For instance, a husband might find that there are fewer hours to go around at the factory, or his wages are being cut a little short. Soon familyâ€™s started to realize that they had a minor crisis on their hands and started either saving or started sending their children out to find jobs to help bring in extra income. Although there were many new people trying to find jobs, they soon realized that there were no jobs to be found, and savings started to run out. This loss in job stability soon caused farms and homes to go back on the market or were soon foreclosed. Families then slipped into the ranks of poorness and unemployed (Ayers 733). Not only was the middle class and higher familyâ€™s affected, the familyâ€™s already at the bottom now had to over come even greater struggles.
When the Great Depression began, there was no federal relief for the unemployed or assistance for families facing starvation and homelessness. Some states operated relief programs but had to then cut them back due to declining tax revenues. Charitable and religious organizations provided relief in many urban areas; however, in many of these organizations operating in the North as well as the South, there were a lot of discrimination and racism, which excluded African Americas from their charitable acts. In communities where relief work was offered through state agencies, African Americans were given less monthly aid than white applicants. Even before the Great Depression African American urban laborers always had little job security throughout the South and the North, and when the Depression hit, they were the first to be fired, and one of the last to be hired. As one African American stated, â€œThe Negro was born in depression, it only became official when it hit the white man,â€ (Ayers 733). It even went as far as to have white men protesting that African Americanâ€™s loose their jobs, just so they could take them over to support their families. Many people were so desperate during these times that they did not stop and think that the same people they were trying to put out of jobs not only had families themselves, but under any other circumstances would be the only ones who would allow themselves to do the job. Not only were African Americansâ€™ affected by the loss of jobs to the white man, so were Native Americansâ€™. Many Native American reservations faced the same struggles that the rest of the nation did, nonetheless, the Hoover administration accomplished little to improve Native American life.
Not only were African and Native Americansâ€™ told to relinquish their jobs to the white men, so were women. Some companies even went as far as to fire all of their women in the company who were married, and the school district in the South dismissed women teachers who were married. The number of women, however, did not decline as fast as the number of men due to the fact that men did not want the jobs that the women were doing. The women usually had domestic or clerical tasks that seemed tedious and almost pointless and beneath the men to do.
Industrial workers, who had ventured north during the Great Migration, like the agricultural workers, joined the ranks of the unemployed early in the Depression. A large percentage of the American middle class, mainly located in the Northern states, was able to survive the depression. The professionals who had great skills were considered â€˜depression proof.â€™ Some of those people who were able to keep their jobs because of their skills were government positions, teachers in well-funded districts, doctors, and lawyers. Daily life was made even more secure if these professional workers had little debt before the stock market crashed, had monetary assets in something other than a savings account, and generally lived without explicit luxuries. The American middle class households managed to get through the economic depression by adapting to conditions, spending wisely, and avoiding unnecessary purchases such as cars and land
. The African American population suffered more during the Great Depression than did others, both in the North and South. To help gain national support for the government assistance programs, a relief worker named Lorena Hicock was sent on an information gathering tour around the country. Ms. Hicock reported her finding in Georgia, â€œhalf-starved whites and blacks struggle in competition for less to eat than my dog gets at home, for the privilege of living in huts that are infinitely less comfortable than his kennel, â€œ(84). Ms. Hicock also wrote that, â€œschool systems didnâ€™t appear to function, most teachers had been let go due to lack of educational funding to provide the students with a proper education,â€ (84). Many children in the South just could not go to school. They were needed on the farms to help bring in as much money as possible. Many also did not have clothes. The illiterate parents did not even send their children to school at all. In this matter, the depression helped increase the population of illiterate people. (Rothbard).
In the South, rural workers and share croppers also migrated North by trains with plans to work in auto plants around Detroit, Michigan. Farmers had been experiencing harsh market conditions for their crops and goods since the end of World War I due to the lack of necessity and demand but because of this, their crops were rotting away in the fields, and there was nothing they could do about it. Family farms that had been mortgaged during the 1920's to provide money to get through until better times were now being foreclosed. Although America as a whole was industrializing, one quarter of the entire population of the South was sharecroppers and tenant farmers, (Rothbard 87). The farmer suffered financially during the late 1910's early 1920's, and they had not been able to fully recover by the time the depression hit. As the situation with banks worsened, plantation owners even had to evict their tenants, usually African Americans, rather than pay them the money owed to them for their labor, which the plantation owners usually did not have. The tenants had no skills to find another job and now nowhere to live.
Many people have been interviewed about their experiences growing up during the Great Depression. One interview that stood out was with a Dr. Fred M. Bell on March 15, 2002. Dr. Bell was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1927, and during his interview he talks about his personal experiences being a child having to grow up through the Great Depression. Nolan Bell, interviewer, asked Dr. Bell who he believed had been hit the hardest by the Depression, in which he answered, the veterans of World War I. Dr. Bell states, â€œI remember the men standing on the street corners in their old military uniforms, selling apples, poppies, and pencils.â€ Although many around him were poverty stricken, Dr. Bellâ€™s family did fairly well at the time; they even had enough money to employ a full time maid and a part time gardener. Dr. Bell even recalls his days of school, â€œI attended Highland Avenue, some of the children were from well-off families living in the Druid Hills section of Atlanta, but then there were others who came from the orphanage that used to sit where the Jimmy Carter Library is now, and others came from houses made of cardboard boxes.â€ Dr. Bell recalls how different his life might have been if he was his uncleâ€™s son, â€œMy father worked for a company based in New York that made it through the rough economy, however, my uncle on my dadâ€™s side worked for Tennessee Iron & Coal, which closed its mill at the time, leaving all of their employees jobless.â€ Dr. Bell also told stories of how the people of Atlanta would help each other through this extremely harsh and difficult time. He recalled that the owners of Crawford-Long Hospital, Doctors Davis and Fisher, did a great deal to help out the Atlanta community, â€œDr. Fisher brought vegetables from his own garden to provide food for the hospital, and Dr. Davis opened a wing of the hospital so that out-of-work nurses would have a place to live for free.â€ Although most of his life was filled with hard times and harsh memories, he said that he was glad to have been able to live through such an important part of our countryâ€™s history. He also saw that even through hard times, the good in people come out. Dr. Bellâ€™s interview gave this generation, and many generations to come, a great idea of how hard life was during the 1930's. He also credits Franklin D. Roosevelt and World War II with pulling the country out of those hard times.
Not only did people in the South have a hard time during the Great Depression; the North had its share of hard times as well as Mr. Walter Borchich, interviewed by Ginger Erwin, remembered. Mr. Walter Borchich was born in Ohio in 1929. His father was a Bosnian-Serb immigrant that worked as a coal miner until his death in the 1930's. Mr. Borchich grew up in Ohio during the Great Depression before moving to Michigan, to live with his mother during World War II. In this interview his recalls the trials of growing up during difficult times in a poor family. He said that the hardest thing he remembered growing up was, â€œI hated not being able to have food always on the table, or new clothes when I out grew mine, or got big holes in them.â€ He also went on to describe the feelings he had and the situations he faced as a teenager moving to Detroit from the country. â€œI loved the country,â€ he said, â€œthe city was so congested, and I just felt so out of place, I felt like an outside observer in most cases. I especially felt like that during the race riots of 1943 and segregation since I am neither black nor white, I was a Serb. Even though everything else was segregated, it was different to go to school since it was the only thing in my life at the time that was non-segregated.â€ Although he said he had a lot of hard times during the Depression, he had very fond memories about the war as an American teenager, such as hearing about Pearl Harbor on the radio. â€œAfter hearing about Pearl Harbor, I enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in Germany after the war during their recovery, my experiences in Europe gave me a great respect for European culture and an insight into European attitudes toward the war and toward Americans,â€ he said after recalling the horror he felt for the soliderâ€™s who lost their lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Mr. Borchichâ€™s interview gave insight to what his life was like in a time of many changes in the world, not only on the American home front, but also over seas during the Great Depression.
Not only did I acquire the chance to get into these menâ€™s life as I listened about them in their interviews, I was fortunate enough to have a family friend whose grandmother lived right here in Georgia during the Great Depression, Evelyn Gray. She was born May 19, 1919. She grew up in Carrollton, Georgia during which she attended school through the sixth grade. While living at home she does not remember much about the â€˜roarinâ€™ 20'sâ€™, but she does have some vivid memories of the Depression in which she endured. Her mother died of scarlet fever when she was only a young girl, but her father remarried before she was out of the house at a tender age of 14. Her stepmother would hire her out as help for people to assist with financial responsibilities. One of these jobs was for a man by the name of Floy Artz. He was a farmer and needed help, so Evelyn was hired. She remembers growing very fond of him and the two were soon married. â€œIt was a simple wedding, ourselves, little family, the preacher, and God. Thatâ€™s all we needed, and could afford. I even remembered wearing my grandmotherâ€™s wedding dress, although I thought it was horrid then, now I wouldnâ€™t have wanted to wear anything else,â€ she said as she remembered her wedding day. He was quite a bit older than she, but they were truly in love. Evelyn then stayed home to tend to their thirteen children. The biggest reason she says for having so many children were, â€œwell, we just really needed workers on the farm because we couldnâ€™t afford to hire help.â€ She also remembers how they would buy flour in large burlap sacks since the family was so large. They could not afford cloth for making clothes much less to go to the store and buy already made clothing. â€œI remember I had to get really creative and used the empty burlap sacks from the flour to make clothes, they didnâ€™t look the best, but they were durable, and most importantly free,â€ she recalled with a chuckle. Living on a farm was an advantage because they could produce their own food and milk, â€œeven though things were really tough, we at least knew that as long as grass grew to feed the cows and rain fed the crops we would never go hungry.â€ She said they had a hard time selling their extra crops though before they went bad because no one else could afford it, or they were farmers who could also produce their own food. She recalled having to wait in lines for hours to get shoes, undergarments, and any other clothing that she could not make. Although they did not have it easy, she recalls all of the wonderful times they had as a family around the farm.
Although none of the people interviewed for this paper had many material things, all seemed to have lead a very productive and good life. It should make us think that if we had a depression today, even on a lesser scale, that we would horribly fail the test of will and survival. We rely way too much on luxuries and todayâ€™s technology that most people have become dependent upon. If a major depression were to happen, people would not know how to act or survive. I think the results would be much more devastating than even the Great Depression. Hard work and the ability to be self-reliant is almost extinct in todayâ€™s society which should scare everyone. To realize that we depend on machines that we could not afford to keep running if a depression were to start tomorrow. Todayâ€™s society needs to realize that although they had almost literally nothing, the people who had to live through the Great Depression almost never complained and were grateful for what they did have.
So not only did the Great Depression affect the nation as a whole, it affected different groups differently. African and Native Americansâ€™ had it harder than anyone, but they have always had it harder. They had to learn to live with literally nothing, no jobs, no money, no food, no clothing. With the absence of these material things, they still managed to do what they had to do to survive. The Depression also affected the whites, they were learning to do jobs they never thought they would have to do. In the South, farmers had it a little easier in the fact that they could grow their own food, but soon found out that there was no market for what they were trying to sell and came into hard times when their farms were being foreclosed. People in the North also were affected as many more people were moving into the larger cities to try and find jobs although there was a much larger supply than demand so companies could hire labor at next to nothing. The people of the United States had to learn to band together, and had to learn how to survive with next to nothing, and did. Still to this day the Great Depression is one of the most devastating tragedies, besides the Civil War, that this country has yet to face on the home front. Let us just hope that the Great Depression was the last.
Ayers, Edward. Lewis Gould. David Oshinsky. Jean Soderlund. American Passages a History of
The United States. 2nd ed. Belmont: Thomas Wadsworth. 2005. 720-735.
Interview (recorded transcript). Nolan Bell (interviewer). Dr. Fred M.Bell (Great Depression
Survivor). 15 March 2002.
Interview (in person). Candice Combs (interviewer). Evelyn Gray (Great Depression Survivor).
22 February 2006.
Interview (recorded transcript). Ginger Erwin (interviewer). Walter Borchich (Great Depression
Survivor). 25 April 2003.
Rothbard, Murray. Americaâ€™s Great Depression. Auburn: Ludwig von Mises Institute. 2000.