Monday, September 30, 2013

The Reverse New Deal: Demonize the poor and cut off their food supply

“My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed. You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you've got to do is you've got to curtail that type of behavior. They don't know any better.” --Republican Andre Bauer, Lt. Governor of South Carolina, “S.C. Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer Compares Helping Poor To Feeding Stray Animals,” CBS News, January 25, 2010

(Instead of scolding people for their poverty, and trying to cut off their food supply, the New Deal set out to help them. Here, WPA workers in Maryland prepare surplus food for distribution to the less fortunate. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.) 

In their perpetual mission to keep the less fortunate from receiving governmental assistance, Republicans and Tea Partiers in Congress recently voted to severely reduce funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps). Republicans and Tea Partiers, of course, are fond of selling their brand of Social Darwinism as nothing more than trying to get people to look for work. “We just want to weed out the lazy people,” they’ll say.

But, as economist Jared Bernstein points out, their plan is much more ruthless. For example, in areas of high unemployment, “It requires that such individuals be tossed off SNAP after 90 days if they can't find a job, regardless of how hard they're looking and how tough the job market is” (see “A profile that paints a far too benign picture of the Republicans’ proposed SNAP changes”).

This is part of a broader, intellectually dishonest environment where, for example, Republicans and Tea Partiers blame Democrats and Progressives for ruining the economy and not creating enough jobs but, on the other hand, scream “there are plenty of jobs out there if people would just get off the couch and stop being lazy!!” To Republicans and Tea Partiers, the amount of available jobs depends not on data, but who they’re scolding at the moment.

(Instead of creating policies that would reduce, or cut off, food assistance for children, the Roosevelt Administration created policies to help children receive more nutritious food. For example, the WPA served over 1.2 billion school lunches to children. Indeed, WPA school lunch programs were used as models for later school lunch programs. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)    

(WPA artists made posters promoting good nutrition. Sadly, even with the current problems of childhood obesity and diabetes, such government-created posters, today, would be scolded as "Socialism!" by a certain segment of our population. Better to pump our children full of sugar, I suppose, because that makes people rich. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)             

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Some quotes and phrases to consider:

“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land." Deuteronomy 15:11

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” U.S. Constitution, Preamble, emphasis added

“The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.” U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, emphasis added

“Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the constant omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.” President Franklin Roosevelt, 1936, from the book American-Made by Nick Taylor

“You can't govern without loving the people and without humility! And every man, every woman who has to take up the service of government, must ask themselves two questions: ‘Do I love my people in order to serve them better? Am I humble and do I listen to everybody, to diverse opinions in order to choose the best path.’ If you don't ask those questions, your governance will not be good.” Pope Francis, September 2013 (see here)

By contrast…

Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney, 2012: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what … who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims. … These are people who pay no income tax. … and so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” (See here)

Republican Presidential Hopeful Herman Cain, 2011: "Don't blame Wall Street, don't blame the big banks, if you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself!" (see here). Since the start of the current recession, big financial institutions have been investigated and/or fined--in the billions--for insider trading, mortgage & securities fraud, accounting fraud, interest rate rigging, racial discrimination in lending, foreclosure fraud, improperly foreclosing on the homes of soldiers who are in the field of combat, and more. But, according to Cain, and many others of his ilk, we shouldn't blame them, we should blame ourselves.  

Republican commentator Ben Stein, 2010: “…as I survey the ranks of those who are unemployed, I see people who have overbearing and unpleasant personalities and/or who do not know how to do a day’s work.” (See here)

(WPA poster promoting food safety, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

125,000 Public Building Projects, Courtesy of the WPA

(A WPA-built community building in Manteo, North Carolina. Photo by Brent McKee.)

Across the country, the WPA completed over 125,000 public building projects. This number includes nearly 40,000 new, or added-to, buildings. Other building projects included painting, new roofs, and various repairs. 

Buildings constructed (or improved) included town halls, hospitals, schools, firehouses, libraries, armories, recreation centers, gymnasiums, and more.

(Another view of the Manteo community building. Photo by Brent McKee.)

   (A WPA-built town hall in Williamsport, Maryland. Photo by Brent McKee.)

"Never before in the history of the human race has a public works program, whose principal object was the mitigation of need due to unemployment, reached the magnitude of the Work Projects Administration. This is true, however you measure it--by persons employed, money expended, or volume of results."

--Joanna C. Colcord, Director of the Charity Organization Department of the Russell Sage Foundation, 1943, in the book "The WPA and Federal Relief Policy" by Donald S. Howard.

(WPA-built Gillham High School in Arkansas. Image courtesy of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program.) 

(The WPA-built McKissick Museum (originally a library), in South Carolina. Image courtesy of the University of South Carolina.)

"The things they have actually accomplished all over America should be an inspiration to every reasonable person and an everlasting answer to all the grievous insults that have been heaped on the heads of the unemployed."

--Harry Hopkins, head of the WPA, 1936, in the book "American-Made" by Nick Taylor.   

(WPA poster "announcing training opportunities in the building trades." Image and description from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

(The WPA even got children involved in constructing buildings!.....through various art programs, and the exhibition of their art in museums. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.) 

***Building statistics from the Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, by the Federal Works Agency. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946***

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Thinking is a threat to the powers-that-be

On the demise of the WPA's theatre program, author Susan Quinn wrote:

"...for a brief period of time in our history, Americans had a vibrant national theatre almost by accident. What began as a relief project, without big names or one grand theatre, found a vast new audience, ready to laugh and cry and cheer and hiss and even, dangerously, to think."

--from Furious Improvisation: How the WPA and a Cast of Thousands Made High Art out of Desperate Times, 2008.

(WPA poster, promoting the Federal Theatre production "One Third of a Nation," a play that highlighted poor housing conditions. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.) 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The New Deal Worked, Set to Music

The following is an 8-minute presentation I made, to highlight the incredible accomplishments of the New Deal (to adjust the resolution, use the tool that looks like a gear, in the lower right-hand corner of the video box):

The YouTube link for this presentation is:

Sunday, September 22, 2013

On Roanoke Island, the Federal Theatre Lives On!

(Waterside Theatre, at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. Photo by Brent McKee.)

The Lost Colony, by Pulitzer Prize-winner Paul Green (a native of North Carolina), has been playing since 1937, at Waterside Theatre in Fort Raleigh National Historic Site on Roanoke Island. The theatre was originally constructed by the WPA and CCC, and some of the original performers of The Lost Colony were WPA actors. Author Susan Quinn wrote:

“One piece of live theatre survives from the days of the Federal Theatre Project. The Lost Colony…continues to draw large crowds to Roanoke Island in North Carolina every summer. Otherwise, the Federal Theatre Project lives on only in the archives and in the stories of those who took part” (from Furious Improvisation: How the WPA and a Cast of Thousands Made High Art out of Desperate Times, New York: Walker & Company, 2008).

(An engraving at Waterside Theatre, commemorating FDR's attendance at a 1937 showing of The Lost Colony. Photo by Brent McKee.)

Along with many other actors, Andy Griffith fine-tuned his acting skills at Waterside Theatre, playing parts in The Lost Colony (several years after the WPA era). Griffith was actually living in nearby Manteo, North Carolina when he passed away in 2012.

The Waterside Theatre is further proof of the enduring value of New Deal investments; further proof of the good work of unemployed Americans hired into the WPA and CCC.

If you want to know more about Waterside Theatre and The Lost Colony, visit

(Entrance sign to Forth Raleigh National Historic Site, highlighting The Lost Colony play. Photo by Brent McKee.)

 (At least one other Paul Green play was performed in the Federal Theatre--House of Connelly, a story about the dimming fortunes of a wealthy southern family. The poster above advertises a showing at the Mayan Theatre in Los Angeles, 1937. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

New Deal School Buses for North Carolina

During the New Deal era, the Public Works Administration (PWA) granted North Carolina $197,000 to assist in the purchase of 750 school buses. That's about 3.4 million in today's dollars.

The PWA, generally speaking, fought unemployment during the Great Depression indirectly, by providing funding for various projects. The idea was to provide funding for, let's say, a large hospital. This would provide fairly long-term work for private contractors who, in turn, would hire more workers to help them complete the projects. PWA funds were typically added to locally-raised funds.

The WPA, by contrast, was geared towards the direct hiring of the unemployed. Indeed, a certain percentage of WPA funds was usually required to be directed towards the hiring & payment of unemployed men & women on each project. Like PWA funds, WPA funds were usually added to locally-raised money.

(School bus image courtesy of PWA-funding information from "America Builds: A Record of PWA," Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1939. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

"Hansel & Gretel" by the WPA

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.) 

Hansel and Gretel, the story of a brother and sister lured into a house made of sweets, by a wicked witch, was performed by WPA actors in the Federal Theater. In the poster above, we see that it was performed in the Greek Open Air Theatre, in Los Angeles, California.   

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Reverse New Deal: Threatening people who help the homeless

(Click on images & photos to enlarge) 

(Public domain image, courtesy of openclipart.)

On September 5th, 2013, it was reported that people attempting to feed the homeless in certain parts of Raleigh, North Carolina (and other cities) were being threatened with arrest (see "More Cities Sweeping Homeless Into Less Prominent Areas," National Public Radio). As if widening income inequality, high unemployment, and stagnant--or dropping--middle-class wages were not bad enough, now we're going to ask law enforcement to threaten people who try to help those who have fallen on hard times? Wow. 

Isn't there a better way to deal with the problem of homelessness? 

Actually, yes, there is, and the proof lies in a cemetery on the south end of Roanoke Island, North Carolina. Homeless men were given jobs in the WPA, during the New Deal era, working for the National Park Service. They performed a variety of work, including erosion control, reducing fire hazards, improving buildings, creating trails, & planting grasses, shrubs, and trees. According to information from a long-time resident of Manteo, North Carolina, it seems that the homeless men lived in a work camp by Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, closer to the north end of Roanoke Island. 

(Mr. William Bastian passed away while employed in the WPA. Mr. Bastian was homeless, but he worked for his country and he mattered.

Today, we make little or no effort to give the homeless work, food, and shelter. Instead, we demonize them, call them "worthless," look for ways to dispose of them (e.g., having law enforcement drive them out of populated areas and dropping them off miles away, so they are out-of-sight, out-of-mind), and now we're even arresting people who try to help them.

Welcome to the Reverse New Deal: Threatening people who help the homeless.

(Mr. John R.  Beeton passed away while employed in the WPA. Mr. Beeton was homeless, but he worked for his country and he mattered.)

(The headstone of Mr. Robert Shultze has fallen over. Interestingly, the WPA worked on many cemeteries across the country. Among other chores, they reset headstones. It's too bad we don't have WPA today, to reset Mr. Shultze's headstone.

(There are at least 16 other WPA workers buried in this cemetery on Roanoke Island. The memorial stone--above--reads, "These are the graves of homeless men who died in work camps while employed by the Department of the Interior, National Park Service, on beach erosion control work in the counties of Dare, Hyde and Currituck, 1936-1941.")

(WPA project card--from the National Archives--showing the type of work performed in and around the shoreline of North Carolina. Between the CCC and the WPA, North Carolina received New Deal shoreline work from 1934 to 1942.)

(Continuation of project card.)

All photos in this blog post by Brent McKee.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sand Dunes & the Civilian Conservation Corps

(Click on images to enlarge)

(Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Photo by Brent McKee.)

The CCC began working along Cape Hatteras National Seashore in 1934 (this was actually three years before it was officially named "Cape Hatteras National Seashore"). The first CCC boys on this project were based out of Manteo, North Carolina, Camp P 63. The work they performed included the creation of sand dunes and the planting of grasses, shrubs, and trees. The plantings included Bermuda grass, wax myrtle, water bush, loblolly pine, bald cypress, and more (the shrubs and trees were obviously planted a little inland from the beaches and sand dunes).

To facilitate the planting, two nurseries were established, one in Buxton and one in Manteo. And, of course, the tree planting in this area was but a small part of the overall tree planting in North Carolina. Across the state, 30 million trees were planted by the CCC. Across the country? Three billion trees.  

(Information from Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, by Perry H. Merrill, 1981.)

(Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Photo by Brent McKee.)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Extraordinary Beyond All Expectation

"Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins believed that people given a job to do would do it well, and the fact that their paychecks were issued by the government would make not a whit of difference. They were right. The workers of the WPA shone. They excelled. They created works that even without restoration have lasted more than seventy years and still stand strong, art that is admired, research that is relied upon, infrastructure that endures...These ordinary men and women proved to be extraordinary beyond all expectation. They were golden threads woven into the national fabric. In this they shamed the political philosophy that discounted their value and rewarded the one that placed its faith in them."

--Nick Taylor, American-Made, New York: Bantam Books, 2008

Saturday, September 14, 2013

North Carolina WPA Stats


(North Carolina flag image, courtesy of Wikipedia and David Johnston. WPA image courtesy of the National Archives.)

In North Carolina, this is a "taste" of the what the WPA did:

WPA sewing room projects: 9.3 million items of clothing produced, for adults, children, and infants

School lunches served: Over 68 million

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.) 

Health clinics assisted or wholly operated: 65

Roadwork (new or improved roads): 14,119 miles

Bridges & viaducts (new or improved): 725

Culverts (new or improved): 21,251

Schools: 268 new or added-to schools, and 1,134 schools reconstructed or improved

Other public buildings: 789 new or added-to, and 467 reconstructed or improved

Parks (new or improved): 97

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Playgrounds & athletic fields: (new or improved): 536

Swimming & wading pools (new or improved): 33

Utility plants (new or improved): 142

New water lines: 450 miles

New storm and sanitary sewers: 725 miles

Sanitary privies: 153,748 (People have sometimes, cruelly, made fun of the WPA for building "outhouses"; but in those days there were many public health problems associated with unsanitary facilities & conditions. The WPA, and local communities who sought the WPA's help, remedied this problem.)

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Landing fields: 18 new, and 11 reconstructed or improved

Runways: 24.7 miles of new runways, and 14.5 miles of reconstructed or improved runways

Airport buildings (new or improved): 15  

"The WPA did not enlist for this battle today. They have been fighting the Battle for America for six years. Much more than one-half of America's airport construction has been the work of the WPA. Runways have been laid; buildings have been erected; utilities have been reconditioned; drainage systems have been installed. Nests for America's warbirds have taken shape out of raw fields and meadows."

--Brigadier General Michael F. Davis (radio transcription, 1941, National Archives, Record Group 69, Records of the Work Projects Administration)

(The large building in this photograph was built by the WPA as a school gymnasium. However, over the decades, it has served the town of Manteo, North Carolina in various ways. Here, in 1940, the building was used to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the United States Coast Guard. Image courtesy of the Outer Banks History Center.)

All Statistics from the Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, by the Federal Works Agency. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

WPA Gymnasium Under Threat

(Click on images to enlarge)

(Photo by a Manteo resident.)

On October 13, 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt approved the construction of a gymnasium on Roanoke Island, in the town of Manteo, North Carolina. The Works Progress Administration constructed the building, and the structure has faithfully served the town of Manteo for three-quarters of a century.

Across America, the WPA built 1,255 new gymnasiums, and repaired or improved 1,035 others. These structures are symbols of what the unemployed can accomplish when given opportunities instead of insults. They are great educational tools for our youth, showing them alternatives to the mean-spirited policies and rhetoric aimed at today's unemployed Americans. 

(WPA project card for the Manteo gymnasium, on record at the National Archives. Photo by Brent McKee.) 

Currently, the building in Manteo is under imminent threat of demolition to make room for a school expansion. Although the Manteo Preservation Trust has offered a clear and generous alternative to the demolition, which would save money, offer even more room for school expansion, and preserve the historic building, their alternative is not being clearly communicated by local decision-makers. Thus, proponents of demolition are not fully evaluating (or even aware of) this attractive alternative. Like so many problems in life, communication barriers and road bumps are hindering optimal outcomes.

Gymnasium statistics from: Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946.   

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Soap Box Derby

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.) 

The WPA frequently made posters that promoted local activities & events; here, a soap box derby in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. 

Soap box cars are small racing vehicles that use gravity instead of engines. Hence, soap box derbies begin at the top of an incline.       

Saturday, September 7, 2013


(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Power was a WPA theater production that explored the issue of private vs. public control of utility services (e.g., electric power plants). The issue is still relevant today. Some people feel that private control of utilities is more efficient, others feel that private control produces bad outcomes, like price gouging.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

No Shrinking Violet

(Harry Hokins, 1938. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

The WPA was created, and was so successful, because of the strength of Harry Hopkins--its first and most well-remembered director. Hopkins was no shrinking violet. To one criticism of the WPA, Hopkins said: "...dumb people criticize something they do not understand...I have no apologies to make. As a matter of fact, we have not done enough" (from Harry Hopkins: Sudden Hero, Brash Reformer, by June Hopkins, 1999).

We have very few leaders like Hopkins today, and that is why we don't have another WPA, even though we have endured the worst period of long-term unemployment since World War II. Today, our "leaders" are more concerned with the wealth of the wealthy than with Americans who need help. And maybe that's why more Americans are killing themselves (see "Suicide Rate Rises Sharply in U.S.," New York Times, May 2, 2013). 

We need more leaders like Harry Hopkins, and fewer Wall Street marionettes.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The WPA: 17,000 miles of new fences

(WPA workers construct a fence around Lake Ashburton in Baltimore City, 1936. Image courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Did you know that the WPA put up 17,000 miles of new fences and repaired 23,000 miles of existing fences? That's enough "fence work" to go around the Earth over 1 and 1/2 times!

 (The WPA fence today. Photo by Brent McKee.)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Today is Labor Day, a great day to remember the WPA

(WPA laborers working on a road in Frederick County, Maryland, circa 1936. Image courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.) 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, "Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country" (see "The History of Labor Day").

Considering the infrastructure work of the WPA--bridges, airports, schools, roads, waterlines, etc.--perhaps a small part of Labor Day (even just a few minutes) should be spent recognizing the contribution that WPA workers made to America. The projects they completed helped our nation prosper after World War II and, in many cases, are still being utilized today. 

Did you know that WPA workers created, repaired, or improved 650,000 miles of highways, roads, and streets? That's enough roadwork to go around the Earth 26 times. If that's not worthy of recognition, what is?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Harry Hopkins and Aubrey Williams

(Harry Hopkins, left, and Aubrey Williams. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

Harry Hopkins was the first director of the WPA, and Aubrey Williams was his number one assistant director. Hopkins went on to be U.S. Secretary of Commerce, and then a personal adviser to President Roosevelt during World War II. Williams was eventually put in charge of the National Youth Administration.

Harry Hopkins (1890-1946) and Aubrey Williams (1890-1965) were key figures during the New Deal era.