Friday, February 19, 2010

Nostalgic For The New Deal

   What with all the economic uncertainty nowadays, you hear a lot about comparisons between now and the Great Depression. Most commentators assert that the situation is different today so there is not much to learn from President Roosevelt's actions but I'm not so sure. FDR made the case to the public that, since the "Free Enterprise" system had failed completely to provide jobs and economic security to most Americans, it was necessary for the government to step in and do so.
   Regardless of how you feel about whether such action is necessary today, you must admit that FDR's intervention in the economy brought our nation back from the brink by funding numerous employment opportunities for unemployed Americans. His job programs put people back to work doing socially useful things like building infrastructure and doing conservation work but it also funded artists, playwrights and musicians, as well.
   Here is just a recap of some of those programs.

Just like today, large numbers of Americans were desperate for a job and most communities were strained to provide any relief at all.

It was clear that unemployment was a failure of the system and not that of individuals. Even highly-trained workers were unable to find positions.

As job layoffs spread across the country, people took to the streets to demand that government do something to deal with the crisis.

One of the first government employment programs was the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC was primarily designed to provide jobs while implementing a general natural resource conservation program on federal, state, county and municipal lands in every U.S. state.

CCC workers operated in almost every state, replanting forests, preventing soil erosion and building park facilities.

The work of the CCC can be seen all over the country. Pretty much all of the stone and timber construction in today's parks were the work of CCC craftsmen.

One CCC project you can still enjoy in the St. Louis area is the Lodge at Pere Marquette State Park in Grafton, Il. This beautiful structure is constructed with a quality that few contemporary buildings have.

The Federal government undertook several large-scale construction projects to upgrade the nation's infrastructure. Huge dam projects like the Tennessee Valley Authority provided flood control and inexpensive electricity to the Midwest. Here we see FDR inspecting another such project, the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River in Washington.

The most ambitious of FDRs programs was the Works Progress Administration. The goal of the WPA was to employ most of the unemployed people on relief until the economy recovered.

By far the biggest part of the WPA funding went to highway and road building but large amounts were spent on other infrastructure projects, as well.

This diagram was created to illustrate the variety of projects funded by the WPA. Although critics charged that money was wasted on many projects that were not needed, it seems clear that these were not just "make-work" jobs.

WPA School Construction 1936

WPA wokers construct a storm sewer in Georgia.

WPA road project 1936

Constructing a sewer system in Kentucky.

More sewer work.

Signs let the public know that their tax dollars were at work.

Besides construction projects the WPA funded many other types of relief. Here six unskilled colored women report for work at the Training Work Center.

Supervised play given to children of pre-school age in WPA Nursery schools.

WPA teacher trains chorus

The Federal Writers' Project was another attempt to provide employment by funding written work and supporting writers during the Great Depression.

FWP writers were put to work compiling local histories, oral histories, ethnographies, children's books and other works. The most well-known of these publications were the 48 state guides to America (known as the American Guide Series.

The Federal Art Project's primary goals were to employ out-of-work artists and to provide art for non-federal government buildings like schools, hospitals and libraries. The work was divided into art production, art instruction and art research. The primary output of the art-research group was the Index of American Design, a mammoth and comprehensive study of American material culture

Altogether, some 200,000 works of public art were created including posters, murals and paintings.

Yet another support for artists came in the Federal Theater Project. This was a New Deal project to fund theatre and other live artistic performances in the United States during the Great Depression. Many popular directors first got their start in the program, including Arthur Miller, Orson Welles, John Houseman, Martin Ritt and Elia Kazan.

The prime objective of the Federal Music Project (1935-39) and the subsequent WPA Music Program (1939-43) was to employ professional musicians registered on the relief rolls. The project employed these musicians as instrumentalists, singers, concert performers, and music teachers.

The Federal Music project provided employment for all sorts of musicians, many of which had been greatly affected by the Depression. New works were created and 34 new orchestras were formed.

Wisconsin originated the idea of unemployment insurance in the U.S. in 1932. This unique Federal/State program was administered by the states but provided compensation to laid off workers nation-wide.

This chart maps the economic success of these New Deal programs. As you can see, GDP bottomed out in 1933 when FDR took office but began rising rapidly as Federal spending increased. The only dip came in 1937, when the President was put under pressure to balance the budget. That reduction slowed down the recovery but GDP was at a record rate by the time World War II started.

It's not surprising why FDR is held in such high esteem by so many Americans. Getting that first paycheck gave workers the hope that the economy was turning around and that the future would eventually get better.

Monday, February 8, 2010

They Had A Dream

   As we celebrate another Black History Month, I would like to share some images which picture some of the highlights of the struggle for equal rights.

   One of the first civil rights organizations was the Niagara Movement, founded in 1905 by a group led by W. E. B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter. The Niagara Movement called for opposition to racial segregation and disenfranchisement as well as policies of accommodation and conciliation promoted by African American leaders such as Booker T. Washington.
   Mary Jane McLeod Bethune was an American educator and civil rights leader best known for starting a school for black students in Daytona Beach, Florida that eventually became Bethune-Cookman University and for being an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

   Early in the 20th Century, a wave of racist reaction swept the nation and blacks were attacked, killed and evicted from Kansas City, Tulsa, East St. Louis and many other communities.

   Through most of the century, African-Americans were segregated from white society and were not allowed to share schools, restaurants, theaters, restrooms and water fountains.

   In 1955, a 14-year-old black boy from Chicago named Emmett Till was visiting relatives in Mississippi. While visiting a nearby store, a white woman accused the boy of whistling at her. That night, her husband seized Emmett, tortured and killed the boy and dumped the body in a nearby river. The brutal murder shocked the nation and Emmett's mother, wanting people to witness the violence done to her son, insisted that the casket be left open during the funeral.

    Lawyers George E.C. Hayes, Thurgood Marshall, and James M. Nabrit on the steps of the Supreme Court just before the landmark "Brown vs the Board of education" ruling of 1954. This decision marked the end to integrated schools and refuted the "separate-but-equal" doctrine most school systems used to justify it.

   In 1948, President Harry S Truman's Executive Order 9981 ordered the integration of the armed forces shortly after World War II, a major advance in civil rights.

   Throughout the rest of the 1950s and into the 1960s, protests over integration caused turmoil in many cities, particularly in the south. Popular illustrator Norman Rockwell pictured a young black girl walking to school ecorted by federal marshalls.

   In 1957, violence broke out in Little Rock, Arkansas, where 9 black students had enrolled in the previously all-white high school there. Segregationists and Arkansas National Guard troops called out by the Governor surrounded the school and physically blocked the students from entering. Appeals were made and the federal government sent in the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army to force the school to accept the students.

   After hearing a speech by John F. Kennedy, a young Mississippian named James Meredith decided to enroll in the University of Mississippi. Denied entrance, Meredith sued the state and took the case to the Supreme Court which ruled in his favor. He graduated with a degree in Political Science in 1963.

   After graduation Meredith became a civil rights organizer and led a civil rights march, the March Against Fear from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi on June 6, 1966. During the march, Meredith was shot by a white racist as captured in this Pulitzer-prize-winning photo.

   One of the most influential individuals in Civil Rights history was a mild-mannered African-American woman named Rosa Parks. In 1955, she challenged a law in Montgomery, Alabama forcing blacks to sit in the rear of public buses and to move for white passengers, if necessary. By refusing to give up her seat, Rosa was taken into custody and booked by local police. Her arrest touched off a boycott of the Montgomery bus system and ultimately led to the removal of such restrictions in public transport.

   In 1967, sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee walked off the job to protest unequal work conditions between white and black workers. The following spring, the famed civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. arrived in Memphis to support the strike. On April 14, 1968, King was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

   As blacks took a more assertive role in claiming their civil rights, the forces against them reacted by joining racist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, a secret society formed in the waning days of the Civil War. Their practice of burning of crosses was meant to terrorize blacks and the burning cross has come to be a symbol of racial hatred.

   To end segregation in public restaurants, civil rights protestors held "sit-ins" at lunch counters. Here, white teens torment protestors who are following the non-violent teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr.

   A young Jesse Jackson speaks to people during the Poor people's March of 1963.

   The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was a large political rally that took place in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963. One of the largest crowds ever for a civil rights event listened to rousing speakers like labor leader Walter Reuther, John Lewis and Floyd McKissick. The highlight of the event was Martin Luther King Jr.'s inspirational "I Have A Dream" speech.

   The civil rights movement inspired many black leaders to come forward, not all of whom followed the non-violent teachings of Martin Luther King. Huey Newton and Bobby Seale were the founders of the Black Panther Party, who reacted to the assassination of Malcolm X by adopting Malcolm's slogan "By Any Means Necessary."

   One of the most dramatic civil rights confrontations came in 1961 during the Freedom Rides. These events were to protest continuing segregation in interstate bus travel. These rides took protestors through some of the most racist parts of the south where they were met with beatings and violence by white segregationists. In Anniston, Alabama, a mob attacked one of the buses and set it on fire while protestors were inside. Fortunately, the bus riders were able to evacuate the bus without loss of life.

   The thousands of activists in the civil rights movement finally saw their actions rewarded in 1964 when President Lyndon Johnson signed the historic Civil Rights Act.

The upraised fist became the symbol of "Black Power"

A college teacher lectures to an integrated class of students who benefitted from the long struggles for racial equality.