Saturday, January 31, 2015

WPA Theatre: The Forgotten History of "Day is Darkness"

Above: Sometimes, it's very hard to find information on a particular WPA play or performance. The history of "Day is Darkness" seems to be almost completely absent from the Web. I could find little or no information on the play, the script, the playwright (George Fess), the director (Adolph Freeman), the sponsor (Boyle Heights Progressive Benevolent Club), or the venue (Ocean Park Municipal Auditorium)--although the latter was apparently demolished, or destroyed by fire, sometime in the 1970s. If anyone has information about this play, please let me know ( Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

America's railroads need a New Deal

Above: A train on the Pennsylvania Railroad. According to an article on the website of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, the New Deal's Public Works Administration electrified the "Pennsylvania Railroad between New York and Washington, D.C." Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Above: A brochure produced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, states that the construction of the Cape Cod Canal (or, "Buzzard's Bay") Railroad Bridge "began in December of 1933" and was "authorized under the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 as part of the federal government's efforts to put Americans back to work during the Great Depression." Photo taken in 2006, by Kevin Burke, public domain, courtesy of Wikipedia.

A friend of mine recently told me that America's passenger rail system, when compared to the passenger rail systems of other developed countries, is...well...less-than-impressive (another friend told me the same thing about America's bus system, as compared to South Korea's...there seems to be a recurring theme here). Michael Grunwald, Time Magazine's national senior correspondent, agrees: "America’s passenger rail is a global joke, but our freight rail is the envy of the world..." ("Back on Tracks," Time, July 9, 2012).

However, even our freight railroad systems could use some upgrading here and there. For example, in Martinez, California, a trestle bridge is worrying local residents. Apparently, when trains cross the bridge (with very dangerous cargo, by the way) the locals hear "loud creaks and rattles" coming from its century-old, rusty bridge supports. Hmmm...yes, that might be a cause for some degree of concern. ("Aging Railway Infrastructure Raises Safety Concerns As Bay Area Readies To Receive Dramatic Increase Of Bakken Crude Oil, Part 1 Of 3," CBS Sf Bay Area, December 29, 2014).

Above: From a distance, this train bridge / car tunnel in Cumberland, Maryland, doesn't look so bad, right? Photo by Brent McKee, December 2014.

Above: But a closer look reveals plenty of crumbles and cracks. Photos by Brent McKee, December 2014.

While doing better than some of our other infrastructure systems, America's railroads still only garnered a C+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in 2013. The ASCE reported that the passenger and freight rail industry were doing a good job of investing in infrastructure but, with respect to the passenger rail system, federal assistance to that investment only averaged "$1.50 per American per year" and that "Long-term funding is uncertain, as Amtrak’s capital funding is planned over a long-term period but must be given a prescribed yearly funding level under its own bill in Congress." Considering that our dysfunctional Congress has recently become even more dysfunctional, I'd say that "funding is uncertain" is an understatement.

Amtrak also receives state-level funding, but many state revenue systems are also dysfunctional. Hence, with both federal and state governments in disarray, at least one historic Amtrak route seems to be in danger of elimination (see "Lawmakers seek funds to save Southwest Chief route," The Santa Fe New Mexican, January 21, 2015). 

U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Barbara Mikulski are trying to bolster America's railroads (as well as the rest of our infrastructure) with their "Rebuild America Act." Commenting on the bill, Sanders said, "Every day, [the American people] drive on roads with unforgiving potholes, over bridges that are in disrepair and wait in traffic jams on congested roads. They see railroads and subways that arrive late and that are overcrowded. They see airports bursting at the seams. They worry that a local levee could fail in a storm" ("Sen. Sanders files $1T infrastructure bill," The Hill, January 27, 2015, emphasis added).

Unfortunately, with Republicans now in complete control of Congress, the "Rebuild America Act" faces less chance of survival than a goldfish dropped into an aquarium full of snakeheads. Republicans have made it clear that they do not like the idea of investing in America's infrastructure (see yesterday's blog post). Our only hope is that the Koch brothers will order their employees (a.k.a., Republican and Tea Party politicians) to support the bill. But I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

New Deal policymakers understood the value of America's infrastructure, and invested heavily in it. With respect to railroads, for example, WPA workers built many railway tunnels and, "Through the cooperation of the Railroad Retirement Board, many WPA workers were hired on railroad track jobs" (The Final Report on the WPA Program, pp. 53 and 93.)

America's railroad infrastructure needs a New Deal...or, in the absence of a New Deal, Congress could at least pass the Sanders and Mikulski "Rebuild America Act." 

Above: The experimental steam locomotive "Pennsylvania Railroad S1," or "The Big Engine," on display at the New York World's Fair in 1939. According to the S1's Wikipedia entry, the Art Deco-style locomotive was a joint effort of "the Pennsylvania Railroad, Baldwin Locomotive Works, the Lima Locomotive Works and the American Locomotive Company." The Great Depression was a tough time for the railroads but, as the "The Big Engine" demonstrates, there was still optimism about the future...and the New Deal helped keep that optimism alive. For example, according to Dr. J. Parker Lamb, a loan from the Public Works Administration helped the Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad purchase "two streamlined diesel-powered passenger trains...that would brilliantly mark [Ike] Tigrett's growing reputation as a forward thinker in the rail industry" (Railroads of Meridian, p. 66, Indiana University Press, 2012). Photo above courtesy of Wikipedia.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A 90-year-old water main breaks in Prince George's County, Maryland, and almost drowns a family. A WPA could have prevented that.

(In the video above, we see a water main break, "nearly costing a family its lives," in Prince George's County, Maryland, on Tuesday, January 27, 2015. Original YouTube link here.)

A water main installed in 1924--when Calvin Coolidge was the president of the United States--broke in Bladensburg, Maryland (Prince George's County) yesterday, severely damaging a road, flooding basements, and almost drowning a family in their car as it slowly sank into a water-filled sinkhole.

The break occurred yesterday at 3:30am, and the Associated Press reports that "Area residents, including one barefoot woman, could be seen carrying garbage bags full of their belongings from their homes in freezing morning temperatures" ("Family's car swallowed by giant sinkhole after Bladensburg water main break," ABC 7, January 27, 2015).

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) reports that the incident "was the 375th broken or leaking water main to need repair in their service area since Jan. 1." The WSSC's service area includes parts of both Montgomery and Prince George's Counties. At this pace, they'll have well over 4,000 broke or leaking water mains to repair this year. And we know that the numbers across the country will go well into the hundreds of thousands (see "Drinking Water," 2013 Infrastructure Report Card, American Society of Civil Engineers).   

If we had a new WPA, to hire and train some of the 22 million Americans who want a full-time job but can't find one, things like this could be prevented. Between 1935 and 1943, the WPA installed 124 miles of new water lines in Maryland, and 16,000 miles of new water lines across the country. The Public Works Administration, another New Deal program, funded many other waterworks improvements in Maryland and the nation. 

Make no mistake about it: New Deal investment in infrastructure was massive. Today, however, the story is quite different. With Republicans spending most of their time trying to secure tax breaks for the super-wealthy, and trying to deregulate our fraud-ridden financial sector, there is little hope for improving America's infrastructure. As Time Magazine's senior national correspondent wrote last year, "no matter how much Republicans say they care about infrastructure, they’re not going to accept any infrastructure proposals that come from President Barack Obama...Republicans say nice things about infrastructure but haven’t shown any interest in paying for it. As a result, the nation has failed to take advantage of historically low interest rates to invest more in our overcrowded airports, outdated railways and flimsy bridges."

(Also see "Senate GOP blocks $60B Obama infrastructure plan," Associated Press, USA Today, November 3, 2011, "The Stunning Collapse of Infrastructure Spending in One Chart," ThinkProgress, November 1, 2013, and "Will America's Roads and Highways Ever Get Fixed," CBS News, January 27, 2015)

Meanwhile, some on the political right tell us that concerns about crumbling infrastructure are just ginned-up and nothing more than "scare tactics." I wonder if the family in Bladensburg, Maryland thought--as their car was dropping into the sinkhole--"No need to worry, this is probably just a scare tactic by those gosh-dern, big government liberals!"  

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The New Deal's PWAP: A proliferation of public art!

(Administrative staff and regional directors for the Public Works of Art Project. Photo from the "Public Works of Art Project, Report of the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury to Federal Emergency Relief Administrator, December 8, 1933 - June 30, 1934" (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1934).

The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) was just one of the many New Deal programs created to beautify America. In the PWAP program, unemployed artists made art for buildings and parks. Here are just some of their accomplishments during the 6-month program (December 8, 1933 to May 20, 1934):

7 Navajo blankets

9 bas reliefs

42 frescoes

43 pieces of Pueblo pottery

54 portraits

99 carvings

314 drawings

405 mural designs

647 sculptures

1,076 etchings

2,938 water color paintings

3,821 oil paintings

(Statistics from the report noted in the photo caption above)

Considering the extraordinarily dull nature of our public designs today (e.g., boring buildings, constrained colors, bland bridges, and prosaic parks), wouldn't it be great to have another Public Works of Art Project? Imagine a statue of a famous American being placed in your city or town park, or bas reliefs being added to a nearby bridge, or murals painted inside your post office and town hall. We could do it! 

....were it not for the lifeless, cynical policymakers that we are plagued with today.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Art from the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project

("Fishermen," an oil painting by Ross E. Moffett.)

("Negro Mother and Child," a bronze statue by Maurice Glickman.)

("Young worker," an oil painting by Julius Bloch.)

The above images are from the Public Works of Art Project, Report of the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury to Federal Emergency Relief Administrator, December 8, 1933 - June 30, 1934 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1934). The report states that "The Public Works of Art Project was set up under the Treasury Department for supervision, as one of the agencies to extend relief to the professional class, its object being to employ artists who were unemployed in the decoration of public buildings and parks." The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) was a short-lived New Deal program, lasting from December 8, 1933 until May 20, 1934 (the end date on the report--June 30, 1934--reflects the end of the government's fiscal year). The spirit of the PWAP would live on in other New Deal programs and agencies, such as the Works Progress Administration.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Why We Need A New Deal Museum (part 10 of 10): Because so many people don't know the history of the New Deal

(This town hall in Williamsport, Maryland was built with the assistance of WPA labor. Across the nation, WPA workers engaged in over 125,000 projects to build, repair, or improve public buildings. Photo by Brent McKee.)

Have you ever noticed that there are tons and tons of television documentaries about things like the Great Wall of China, the Egyptian pyramids, and the Roman civilization...but hardly any on the Works Progress Administration?

Why is that? After all, as one prominent researcher back in the day highlighted: "Considered as a single unit, the total volume of WPA employment, during the first six years of its history, is sufficient to stagger even a wild imagination. By contrast, the estimated number of man-years required to build the pyramids of Egypt--which have long been symbolic of giant undertakings--looks small" (Donald S. Howard, The WPA and Federal Relief Policy, p. 531, New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1943).

More recently, Andrea Stone, writing for the Smithsonian, noted that "the WPA remains the largest public works program in the nation's history. It provided 8 million jobs in communities large and small. And what those workers put up has never been matched" ("When America Invested in Infrastructure, These Beautiful Landmarks Were the Result," December 10, 2014). Further, the Living New Deal project is showing us that a lot of "what those workers put up" is still being utilized today.

Indeed, I would argue that the WPA was the largest public works program in human history if one takes into account not only the infrastructure accomplishments, e.g., 650,000 miles of new or improved roadways, but also the history collected, the artwork created, the education classes conducted, the plays & symphonies performed, the health clinics operated, the school lunches distributed, and so on.

Yet, I would bet that if you stopped 10 random people on the street and asked them, "What was the Works Progress Administration?" you would be lucky to find just one or two who knows.

And it isn't just the WPA that is unknown, it's the entire New Deal. In the years that I have researched the New Deal, and interacted with people during various New Deal "expeditions" (i.e., visiting & searching for New Deal sites), I have noticed that many people have barely even heard of some of the New Deal programs & policies. For example, when I visited the headquarters of Green Ridge State Forest, in western Maryland, I asked if they had any information about the CCC, or if any structures might still exist from the time the CCC worked there. The front desk person, looking perplexed, responded that she didn't have any information on the CCR. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I meant the Civilian Conservation Corps, not Creedence Clearwater Revival. I don't mean this story to sound uppity because, before I took it upon myself to do the research, I really didn't know much about the New Deal either.

(Between 1933 and 1942, CCC workers planted about 3 billion trees and created or improved about 800 parks. The CCC workers above are building a retaining wall in Ohio, in September of 1936. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

We know, from listening to policy debates, as well as reading the comment sections under Internet news stories, that an awful lot of people don't realize how beneficial New Deal programs & policies are to their daily lives, for example, FDIC protection of their bank accounts, WPA-built recreational facilities, and union-negotiated pensions.

Out of curiosity, I asked a young adult relative of mine if she learned about the New Deal in school. She said, "not really." She recalled a mention of the CCC, but certainly not the WPA. Remembering my own education, I really can't remember any mention of the New Deal at all (it was probably covered, just not in any great detail like, say, the Civil War).

What gives? Why do so many Americans lack a good understanding of the New Deal, and why aren't schools & colleges emphasizing it more? One college official recently said, "We don’t mandate every single student take a class in American history…so you may find a senior not knowing the specifics of the New Deal. But you will graduate knowing how to think and how to accumulate that knowledge and make connections between things" ("Study Finds Many Colleges Don’t Require Core Subjects Like History, Government," Wall Street Journal, October 15, 2014).

I think politics is behind some of it. There are many people who hate the United States government and wouldn't mind if the history of its positive accomplishments was blotted out altogether. Some of these people no doubt end up in positions where they influence curriculum development and course offerings (to see an example of how politics can influence curriculum development, see "After Protests Over History Curriculum, School Board Tries To Compromise," NPR, October 3, 2014). And some of it probably stems from our nation's belittling of K-12 history, gym, and art, in favor of a greater emphasis on math and science (which is probably why our nation not only has a history-knowledge problem, but also an obesity problem). Further, many well-educated and well-intentioned adults simply don't know a lot about the New Deal themselves, and so a transference of information can't occur.

(New Deal policymakers understood that things like history, recreation, and art were important for a well-rounded citizenry. Today, it seems that these activities often take a back seat (if they have any seat at all) to rote learning and standardized testing. See, e.g., "Many schools cutting back on physical education," Las Vegas Review-Journal, July 14, 2013. WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.) 

It's pretty outrageous that we don't do more to educate people about the New Deal --and it's also pretty disrespectful to our elders & ancestors. The New Deal consisted of millions of people who created a vast infrastructure of roads, bridges, parks, schools, waterlines, etc., and then went off to serve in the military or defense industries during the largest conflict in human history (an estimated 60 million people died during World War II, including over 400,000 Americans). Our elders & ancestors worked, fought, and sometimes died, to protect the freedom we have today to enjoy the things they created for us then. But we have not returned that favor--to the fullest--by thoroughly educating our youth about the New Deal and/or by creating a large & comprehensive New Deal museum dedicated to their many astounding accomplishments during the 1930s and early 1940s.

Isn't it time that changed?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Why We Need A New Deal Museum (part 9 of 10): A place to put our books, booklets, and bulletins

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

(WPA writers created many interesting books, such as this one about "The Ocean Highway" (1938). The book covers the history of many places along the Atlantic ocean route, from New Brunswick, New Jersey, to Jacksonville, Florida. Image scanned from personal collection.)

 (In the WPA's 1941 "Guide to the United States Naval Academy," the superintendent of the Academy wrote "This book fills a long felt want in providing the public with authentic information and attractive pictures of the Academy. I feel that its publication at this time is most fortunate. Rarely have there been so many and such interested visitors at the Academy. Image scanned from personal collection.)

In the book American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA, author Nick Taylor informs us that WPA writers created "at least 276 full-length books and 701 pamphlets." There are countless other publications, which we might variably call "booklets," "bulletins," "reports," etc. Currently, these publications are scattered all across the country. Wouldn't it be nice to have a New Deal museum, where all these thousands of items could be centrally located in a library / research center. Wouldn't it be nice to pull an old book off the shelf (a book about your hometown or state), go into a reading room, kick back in a recliner (yes, a recliner in a library, imagine that), and immerse yourself in another world for a few hours?

A New Deal museum could do that for you! (while also preserving, and perhaps even evaluating, the huge amounts of information and data collected by New Deal writers during the 1930s and early 1940s).

Friday, January 23, 2015

Why We Need A New Deal Museum (part 8 of 10): The show must go on!

(The description for this photo reads, "Crotona Park in the Bronx where 25,000 nightly attend the WPA Federal Theatre..." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

(A WPA performance of "The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus," Boston, 1937. The play is about a man who sells his soul to the devil for a rich life, and was written by the 16th century playwright Christopher Marlowe. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

A New Deal museum would be an excellent place to reproduce WPA performances and/or facilitate such reproductions at neighboring colleges and playhouses. A New Deal museum could also produce plays about current events--such as mass child poverty in America--in the spirit of the WPA's "Living Newspaper" performances.

Of course, a New Deal museum would have to be careful about the subject matter of its performances. For example, it would have to be careful not to focus too much attention on the struggles of low-income Americans, lest it become the subject of a U.S. Senate Inquiry (alert: history-based humor ahead), that would look something like this:     

Senator Joni Ernst: {In a serious and somber tone} "Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party of the United States?"

New Deal Museum: "No."

Senator Ted Cruz: {Leaning back, with one eyebrow raised} "What about this Christopher Marlowe fellow? Is he a member of the communist party? Where does he live?"

New Deal Museum: "No, he is not a member of the communist party. He lives on--rather, in--the grounds of St. Nicholas's Church in Deptford, England."

Senator Ted Cruz: "Hmmm...well, we may have to try to subpoena him anyway."

New Deal Museum: "If we may be allowed to speak for one min--"

Senator Mitch McConnell: {Growing impatient} "Let's just cut to the chase here, shall we? Are you a member of President Obama's Marxist Army? Are you aware that he wasn't born here? How do you feel about guns?

New Deal Museum: "???"

(To see part of the questioning of Hallie Flanagan (director of the WPA's Theatre Program) by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, in 1938, see "Suspicion of Subversion: Congressional Conservatives Attack the Federal Theater Project.")

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Why We Need A New Deal Museum (part 7 of 10): A monument to hard work, an answer to insults, a bulwark against cruelty

(The gravestone of Francis H. Dryden. Photo by Brent McKee.)

In a cemetery in Salisbury, Maryland, the remains of Francis H. Dryden rest. His gravestone (above), reads, "Francis H. Dryden, Maryland, Colonel, US Army, World War I & II, Jan 5, 1891 - Feb 1, 1968." In addition to his war service, Mr. Dryden served Maryland and the nation in various other capacities, even serving as the acting national director of the WPA from April through July, 1942. An engineer, Dryden received his education at the University of Maryland.

Mr. Dryden, in his roles as the WPA director for Maryland, WPA field representative in charge of Region II (Delaware, Washington, D.C., Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia), WPA assistant commissioner in charge of all construction projects across the country, and acting national director for the WPA, is responsible for much of America's great infrastructure improvements during the 1930s and early 1940s--infrastructure that, in many cases, we are still using today. As far as I can tell, during my years of researching the WPA, there is not one street, bridge, or building named in honor of Dryden.

When I contacted a Maryland state legislator's office, about the possibility of a small memorial or monument for Dryden, they expressed interest in Dryden's story. However, when they reached out to various organizations in Maryland, there was no interest at all. So, Dryden will most likely remain a forgotten, unsung hero of America. (I have never run across anything scandalous about Dryden. Indeed, in his Baltimore Sun newspaper obituary he seems to have been a very upstanding citizen, a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Salisbury Rotary Club, the Salisbury Chamber of Commerce, the Free Masons, and the Wicomico County Presbyterian Church.) 

In the United States, we often say that we value things like hard work, sacrifice, and military service. But, when I see a man completely forgotten, a man who served in both world wars and helped modernize America in such a profound way, I have to question the sincerity of that sentiment.

A New Deal museum would honor Americans like Francis Dryden, and put some muscle behind our declarations of appreciation for hard work, sacrifice, and military service (recall that many New Deal workers, the formerly unemployed, also served in World War II and/or worked in the defense industries).

(Harry Hopkins, addressing a crowd at the Louisiana State University football stadium, in November, 1936. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

After WPA workers expanded and improved the football stadium at Louisiana State University, Harry Hopkins said, "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" (quote from the book American-Made by Nick Taylor).

Today, the Republican Party has made a sport out of insulting and behaving cruelly towards low-income Americans. For example, various Republican officials and candidates for office have recently called them lazy pigs, compared them to wild animals, pleaded with us not to feed them because they'll breed, scoffed at the idea that they have a right to food and medical care, denied them health insurance assistance, and even recommended sterilization for women who are on Medicaid. Glenn Beck, a prominent thought leader for the political right, implied that some Americans who suffer through long-term unemployment shouldn't even be considered Americans. The actions, insults, and innuendos have been so relentless and merciless that even some Republican politicians have expressed concern (see, e.g., "GOP Governor: 'There Seems To Be A War On The Poor' With Republicans In Washington," Business Insider, October 29, 2013). 

A New Deal museum, by highlighting the immense work performed by impoverished and unemployed Americans during the Great Depression, in programs like the CCC, CWA, WPA, and NYA (work that we still derive enormous benefits from today), would stand as a strong defense against the never-ending barrage of insults coming from the political right.

A New Deal museum would be a monument to hard work, an answer to insults, a bulwark against cruelty.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Why We Need A New Deal Museum (part 6 of 10): Nothing beats the physical, three-dimensional, real life experience of a museum

(Two girls enjoying an exhibit at the Brooklyn Children's Museum, New York, circa 1935-1943. The Brooklyn Children's Museum was one of the many museums where WPA workers helped staff make exhibits, catalog artifacts, make physical improvements to the buildings, and more. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.)

When a friend of mine saw that I was doing several blog posts about a New Deal museum he emailed me, writing, "I have read that many people had their eyes opened after visiting the WW2 Jewish Holocaust Museum. They said that even though they knew about the tragedies at the camps, they were really able to internalize what happened after viewing first hand stories and sights at the museum."

My most memorable experience when I visited the Holocaust Museum was when I turned a corner in the building and saw thousands of shoes that were removed from Jewish children before they were killed at an extermination camp (I now see that it is a memorable experience for many other people too; see the exhibit description here). It's one thing to see a picture of the shoes of murdered children. It's quite another, more powerful thing to see them in person. I'm not even sure if the difference can be adequately described with words, but perhaps it has something to do with the fact that, in the museum, you are sharing the same physical space with the shoes, and therefore you are connected to the children in a much more personal way than before.

There is nothing quite like the physical experience of visiting a well-designed museum. With respect to a New Deal museum, visitors could see the poverty people endured during the Great Depression, the work programs that preserved the spirits & skills of the unemployed, sculptures & paintings by New Deal artists, tools of the Civilian Conservation Corps, WPA Theatre reenactments, and much more.

Maybe, if people saw the contributions of the New Deal to the nation--first hand, in a museum--they would internalize the "stories and sights" more, and think, "Y'know, when government helps the less fortunate...maybe it's not such a bad thing after all. Maybe it can benefit everyone."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Why We Need A New Deal Museum (part 5 of 10): A Display of Art!

(An undated aquatint, created by artist Harry Sternberg in the Federal Art Program. Image courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

(The description for this undated photo reads, "Concetta Scarvaglione, a WPA Federal Art Project Sculptress, working on the clay model for her sculpture, "Girl with Faun" exhibited at the New Horizons Exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

(The description for this photo reads, "Lincoln Memorial - 13ft. Statue of Lincoln made of Limestone. Sponsored by the Lincoln Consolidated Training School, Ypsilanti, Michigan. Federal Art Project, 316 Garfield Building, Detroit..." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

("Metal road sign made by a WPA artist, Westport, Connecticut." Yep, they even made road signs with more pizzazz than we do today. Image courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

(One of 2,000+ posters created by WPA artists. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

There was a lot of great art created during the New Deal. Some of it is held today by the federal government, some of it is still inside various buildings across the nation (e.g., K-12 schools, universities, and state houses), some of it is on the grounds of various parks and institutions (e.g., statues, fountains, and ornaments), and so on. However, I know from personal experience--and also from conversations with fellow New Deal enthusiasts--that some historic New Deal art is just "out there," waiting for a home, and in danger of being lost or destroyed. A New Deal museum would help preserve this art, while also putting on spectacular visual displays for the public.

Yet another reason why we need a New Deal museum.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Why We Need A New Deal Museum (part 4 of 10): A beacon of hope after our national ethical collapse

(More than anything, the New Deal was about making policies and programs that benefit everyone, not just the wealthy few. Sadly, our policymakers today have brushed aside New Deal principles, in slavish devotion to their super-wealthy campaign donors. So, as a result, more than half of America's public school children are now living in poverty. WPA poster by artist Vera Bock, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)   

As more and more American children become homeless, and as super-wealthy Americans keeping vacuuming up more and more wealth (leaving little behind for anyone else, in our new zero-sum economy), and as Republicans obsessively work to cut taxes for rich families who have given them enormous amounts of campaign cash (bribery money), and as celebrities & billionaires gather for a "willfully oblivious mix of greed and altruism" at the annual, and poverty-exacerbating, "World Economic Forums," a New Deal museum would be a beacon of hope.

In 1938, after jumping down another rabbit hole, former President Herbert Hoover argued that the New Deal was leading the United States towards fascism. Harry Hopkins, head of the WPA, replied:

"Is it dictatorship to try to operate a government for all the people and not just a few? Is it dictatorship to guarantee the deposits of small depositors, and keep phony stocks and bonds off the market? Is it dictatorship to save millions of homes from foreclosure? Is it dictatorship to give a measure of protection to millions who are economically insecure and jobs to other millions who can't find work? Is it dictatorship to try to put a floor under wages and a ceiling over working hours?" ("Hopkins denies relief waste in reply to Hoover on fascism," Washington Post, May 9, 1938.)

A New Deal museum, while certainly not a lobbying firm or a think tank, would, by its very nature, show Americans that there are policy alternatives to the nightmarish status quo that we have today; alternatives that Hopkins described in his reply to Hoover. They would see white collar crime handled seriously, environmental problems addressed in novel ways, job programs for the unemployed, infrastructure investments that laid the foundation for our post-World War II economic prosperity (infrastructure that we are still using today), and much, much more. 

Today, America has become a land of limited opportunity, where the super-wealthy are routinely pampered and the less fortunate are routinely insulted, even if the former commits fraud and the latter is laid off. Fueled by trickle-down economics and a wide-eyed fascination with Ayn Rand's promotion of selfishness, our morals have been turned upside down. 

A New Deal museum would be a beacon of hope after this national ethical collapse.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Why We Need A New Deal Museum (part 3 of 10): Because the Koch brothers are spending millions trying to discredit the New Deal

(With PWA funds and WPA labor, the New Deal repaired or improved hundreds of national defense facilities across the nation, including (above) the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. We can be pretty confident that the Koch brothers will never mention this, but a New Deal Museum would. Photo by Brent McKee.)

The Koch brothers are spreading a message to America's youth that the New Deal was a harmful expansion of government and that it did not pull us out of the Great Depression. And while the New Deal was certainly not perfect, we can be sure that the Koch brothers are pushing the idea that it was a complete failure, by cherry-picking the negatives and brushing aside the positives--positives that included:

(a) Large gains in GDP and lower unemployment rates: In the New York Times, in 2011, economist Christina Romer pointed out that "From 1933 to 1937, real gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of almost 10 percent, and unemployment fell from 25 percent to 14." To see these large GDP gains (and to compare them to subsequent periods in U.S. history) see the Excel spreadsheet, "Percent change from preceding period," from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, here.

(b) Laying the foundation for victory & prosperity: New Deal infrastructure investment helped strengthen America during the Depression, during World War II, and after the war. For example, WPA workers built, repaired, or improved 650,000 miles of roadway. Dr. Alexander J. Field, of Santa Clara University, points out that there was "a lag between the surge in vehicle production in the 1920s and the catch up in infrastructure," and that, thanks in part to "projects administered by the Public Works Administration...and the Works Progress Administration," America "built its first national road network" (A Great Leap Forward: 1930s Depression and U.S. Economic Growth, p. 72, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011). 

(c) Improvements in national health: "Comparing historical data across states, we estimate that every $100 in New Deal spending per capita was associated with a decline in pneumonia deaths of 18 per 100,000 people; a reduction in infant deaths of 18 per 1,000 live births; and a drop in suicides of 4 per 100,000 people" (David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, "How Austerity Kills," New York Times, May 12, 2013, authors of the book The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills).

(When the "Captains of Industry" turned their backs on American workers during the Great Depression, the WPA hired 8.5 million of them to create things that we still use today, for example, water lines. A woman who grew up during the Great Depression said, "With my family, we would have starved to death, because we had no other way to make any money. The New Deal for us, the WPA in particular, was just a lifesaver for us. Most of our neighbors felt that way" (The Dust Bowl, a documentary by Ken Burns, 2012). Are these types of stories included in the Koch-funded lesson plans being pushed on our youth today? I seriously doubt it. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)  

We can also be pretty sure that the Kochs aren't interested in a fair and balanced treatment of the New Deal because Charles Koch, in the Wall Street Journal, wrote, "Those in power fail to see that more government means less liberty..." This is the typical sales pitch of those who don't like the New Deal and are trying to convince Americans that things like the minimum wage, unemployment insurance, and the ability to negotiate for higher wages are actually bad for them (and this sales pitch, by the way, has worked quite well, as evidenced by the fact that many middle and lower-income groups have continuously voted against their own interests, and thereby allowed their wages to become stagnant for decades as super-wealthy Americans have vacuumed up more and more wealth).   

And make no mistake about it, the Kochs are spreading their anti-New Deal, anti-government message far across the land. They've donated tens of millions of dollars to many institutions of higher learning: Arizona State University, Clemson University, George Mason University, Kansas State University, MIT, NYU, Ohio State University, West Virginia University, to name just a very few.

Also, just in case you might think that these donations are simply benign little gifts from the heart, realize that they sometimes come with strings attached, such as, oh, I don't know, influence over faculty selection (see, e.g., "Koch Foundation to College: We’ll Give You Millions—if You Teach Our Libertarian Ideology," The Center for Public Integrity, The Daily Beast, September 12, 2014).

And, just in case you might think that the Kochs are limiting themselves to college minds, consider the stories "Inside The Koch-Backed History Lessons North Carolina Wants To Teach High School Students" (ThinkProgress, December 14, 2014) and "Koch High: How The Koch Brothers Are Buying Their Way Into The Minds Of Public School Students" (Huffington Post, July 16, 2014). Pretty soon, the Kochs will be visiting a kindergarten near you, warning your 5-year-olds about the grave evils of Social Security, "Don't let grandma take your stuff!"

A large New Deal museum would go a long way towards countering the Koch brothers' paranoid, billionaire-slanted history "lessons." A large New Deal museum would have the nation's ear and the nation would, in turn, have the truth. Such a museum would highlight the successes, and the failures, of the New Deal, and not skew history with an eye towards lowering taxes for the privileged few or deregulating industries that have extensive histories of pollution and fraud. Because, let's face it, all this anti-New Deal nonsense is really about turning us away from a nation of We the People, and brainwashing us towards a nation of We the Billionaires.

We need a New Deal museum to counter the lies and omissions of those trying to manipulate our children, teens, and young adults with simplistic messages that all boil down to "billionaires are good, government is bad, don't complain about your pathetic wages."

Friday, January 16, 2015

Why We Need A New Deal Museum (part 2 of 10): Artifacts need homes

(If you saw a pick that was used by a WPA or CCC worker during the construction of, let's say, the Blue Ridge Parkway, or Reagan (Washington) National Airport, or the presidential retreat Camp David, would you want that pick in a museum, or would you rather it rot away in a barn?)

Every once in a while, someone contacts me and asks, "Hey, I have this item, and I'm wondering if there is a museum I can donate or loan it to." Off the top of my head, I can remember people asking me about a few tools with WPA markings on them and a sculpture created by an artist (a relative) who was in the WPA. I also talked to someone in Mississippi who had an elderly friend who owned a WPA quilt, given to her by an aunt who was in a WPA quilt-making project. I also met a CCC alumni a few years ago, at Lost River State Park (West Virginia) and he had his original CCC cap and a CCC yearbook to show us. Well, wouldn't it be nice if I could have asked, "Hey, would you be interested in donating anything, now or sometime in the future, to the New Deal Museum?"

Unfortunately, because a New Deal museum does not exist, I have to tell the people who contact me, "Um, sorry, but..." I do try to refer them to someone or some organization that might be able to offer some bit of useful information, but it's obvious that we are at risk of losing some really nice artifacts due to the lack of a museum. This is really tragic, because there is not necessarily a lot of artifacts out there. Many New Deal tools, for example, were scrapped or given to the allies for the war effort. Other items have been lost, forgotten, or thrown away. Every year we don't have a New Deal museum, it's inevitable that more of our history is being lost.

As New Deal artifacts become older and more scarce, they need a home not a landfill--they need a museum.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Why We Need A New Deal Museum (part 1 of 10): They preserved our history, let's preserve theirs

(These formerly jobless Americans, seen here in a Civil Works Administration historical survey group, helped preserve the history of the Battle of Antietam. Photo taken circa 1933-34, and provided courtesy of the National Park Service.)

(The Civilian Conservation Corps rebuilt the walls of Fort Frederick in Washington County, Maryland. The fort has history related to the French & Indian War, the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War, and is now a National Historic Landmark. Photo by Brent McKee.)

(WPA workers uncovered lost history, in archives all across the nation. This Associated Press article appeared in the Baltimore Sun Newspaper, January 31, 1937, p. 2. The image is a scan from ProQuest Archiver. Only part of the scan/article is used here, and it is being used for educational purposes only.)

There are many great organizations working very hard to preserve various aspects of New Deal history: The National New Deal Preservation Association, the Living New Deal, the FDR Presidential Library & Museum, the Frances Perkins Center, the New Deal Network, and more. But, amazingly, a large physical museum, dedicated solely to the policies, programs, and artifacts of the New Deal, does not exist. I say "amazing" because the New Deal was arguably the biggest work & construction program in human history (using the word "work" to include not only "bricks & mortar" projects, but also things like the planting of trees, the creation of art, the collection of history, the distribution of food, etc.).

Workers in the New Deal programs, usually Americans who had suffered through devastating unemployment, preserved American history in a multitude of ways. They restored historic structures, surveyed historic buildings, collected oral histories of former slaves, created over 1,200 new historic monuments & markers, performed archaeological digs, and much, much more.

So, here's a question: Since New Deal laborers worked so hard preserving our American history, wouldn't it be respectful to preserve their history in a New Deal museum?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A water main installed in 1925 breaks in Hyattsville, Maryland: Homes flooded, communication lines damaged, and roads closed "for a few days"

(WPA infrastructure work in Maryland, 1937. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Yesterday, a 90-year-old water main broke in Hyattsville, Maryland, causing flooded basements, utility damage, and road closures that will last "for a few days." One resident said, "This entire road was covered in water. We had water coming in the basement door and water coming in the side of the house.” Another resident said, "I’ve got a five-gallon jug of water to tide us over, hopefully until they get that fixed" (see "Lanes closed on Baltimore Ave due to Hyattsville water main break," WUSA 9, January 13, 2015, and "More water main breaks plaguing D.C. area," ABC 7, January 13, 2015).

Hyattsville is in Prince George's County, right outside our nation's capital. The county has had its fair share of infrastructure problems. See, for example:

Indeed, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which serves a large portion of Prince George's County, reports that 2014 was a "record year that saw a total of 2,080 water main breaks, tying the mark set in 2010 for the second most in the history of WSSC."

Of course, this is not necessarily surprising, given that the American Society of Civil Engineers told us in 2013 that there are about a quarter of a million water main breaks across the nation, every single year. And these breaks are occurring, in large part, because our water line infrastructure "is nearing the end of its useful life."

Meanwhile, as these quarter of a million water line breaks are damaging our roads, damaging other utilities, flooding our basements, and causing traffic problems, "free-market" enthusiasts plead with us to ignore the facts and don't pay attention to what we're seeing. For example, writing in Forbes, Dr. Paul Roderick Gregory said in 2013, "To convince a wary public to spend more with trillion dollar deficits, big government advocates must gin up a national infrastructure emergency..." Yep, it's the bogeyman BIG GOVERNMENT that's the real problem, not water lines that sometimes date back to the Civil War. Those damn liberals!

(A power plant in Culpepper, Virginia, built during the New Deal era with funds from the Public Works Administration. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

As we see with climate science, evolution, and economics, the political right & free-market enthusiasts tend to ignore facts and actual life experience. They'll look at wages that have declined right alongside the decline of unions and declare "Unions are bad for workers!" They'll look at historically low tax rates on the super-wealthy and scream, "By golly, taxes are stifling the job creators!" And, as we see with crumbling infrastructure, they'll look at 100-year-old water lines and 240,000 annual water line breaks, and defiantly sneer, "It's nothing but a ginned-up problem" (see, "Senate GOP blocks $60B Obama infrastructure plan," USA Today, November 3, 2011). Sometimes the insanity is so intense that you have to pinch yourself and ask, "Did someone push me down the rabbit hole?"  

During the New Deal era, there were no hallucinations that old or damaged water lines were going to magically replace themselves, and no hallucinations that water lines were going to miraculously appear wherever new communities or business areas needed them. No, unlike our lazy charlatans today, New Deal policymakers understood the need for infrastructure investment. They understood that hard work was needed to actually open the ground and lay down 16,000 miles of new water lines across the country, as WPA workers did between 1935 and 1943. Even Ronald Reagan understood the value of the WPA, writing in his autobiography, "The WPA was one of the most productive elements of FDR's alphabet soup of agencies because it put people to work building roads, bridges, and other gave men and women a chance to make some money along with the satisfaction of knowing they earned it."

Of course, today, the political right has become so extreme & corrupt (along with quite a few Democrats too) that infrastructure improvement is not even on their radar screen. Instead: "The GOP's First Priority for 2015: Paying Off Wall Street."

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

FDR, the New Deal, and Racism

(A 1940s WPA poster that, certainly by today's standards, is quite racist. And, if you were a Japanese American at the time, I'm sure it was very disconcerting to see. Can it be excused because of the war? I don't think so. It seems to me to be a product of fear, stereotyping, and insensitivity towards one's fellow citizens. I love WPA posters, but I don't like this one at all. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

(No, these World War II soldiers are not members of the Japanese Imperial Army. They are members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the United States Army, "the most decorated unit in U.S. military history." The 442nd, as well as other minorities who served during World War II, showed how foolish we were to discriminate against, rather than fully embrace, our fellow citizens. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Critics of the New Deal, eager to use any method they can to discredit the idea of a government that helps the people (ultimately, in an effort to keep tax rates low on their millionaire & billionaire donors), sometimes argue that Roosevelt and the New Deal were racist. See, for example, "Why Did FDR's New Deal Harm Blacks?," by Jim Powell of the right-wing CATO Institute (an organization founded by one of the Koch brothers...of course), December 3, 2003.

More recently, free-lance writer Larry Schwartz wrote, "...Franklin Delano Roosevelt, considered by many to be one of our greatest presidents, was a racist in his own spectacular way...there is little doubt that FDR failed to transcend his time, and his views on race were not enlightened" ("Who was the most racist modern president? 5 surprising candidates who fit the bill," Alternet, December 28, 2014).

 (A WPA poster encouraging New Yorkers to read about "The Negro and National Defense"; "Africa and the War"; and "Negro History and Culture." WPA workers also collected oral histories & interviews of former slaves. Note the airman's cap on the bottom figure in the poster. The first African American fighter pilots were trained circa 1939-41, and this poster was created between 1941 and 1943. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

I don't think it can be disputed that Roosevelt and the New Deal had some racial aspects. But is that really surprising, considering that our entire country has been immersed in racism--from the time the first English colonist set foot in the New World, until today when, for example, a Republican U.S. Senator says, "My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes"? Indeed, if Roosevelt had said, during his 1932 campaign, "If I am elected president, I will ensure that all races are treated equally, and I will, by law if necessary, ensure that segregation between the races is ended; the South will be put in it's place, once and for all," he would never have been elected president. And if he had said something like that during his presidency (and followed up with the necessary actions) he would never have been re-elected.

The fact of the matter is, FDR and the New Deal had to tread softly because much of America was not ready for racial integration and harmony. Indeed, communist and socialist parties in the United States, during the early twentieth century, pushed for racial equality...and you see how far that got them. Our nation has been so steeped in racism for so long that it is unreasonable to expect that FDR and the New Deal could have ended it in just a few years. Heck, even one of our national icons, John Wayne, a man who was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in 1979, said in 1971, "I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility" ("John Wayne vs. John Wayne," The Dallas Morning News, May 23, 2014, citing a Playboy interview).

Still, as New Deal and FDR enthusiasts, we must accept and come to terms with certain racial blunders, the greatest of which was the internment of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II. FDR, giving into military and public pressure (and perhaps his own bias), facilitated the unnecessary confinement of loyal citizens with Executive Order No. 9066. It was a dumb decision, as the bravery of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team would most famously prove (see photo above). Instead of confining them, we should have of reached out to Japanese Americans more and said, "Hey, we need your help." The latter strategy would have made our war effort even more successful.

Even in view of the mistakes, however, I disagree with Schwartz's conclusion that "FDR failed to transcend his time, and his views on race were not enlightened." Let's look at 10 things from the Roosevelt & New Deal era, and ask ourselves if they transcended the racism of the time:

1. Roosevelt's "Black Cabinet": According to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, "The Black Cabinet was the semi-official racial-affairs advisory committee of the Roosevelt administration. Organized in 1936 and led by Mary McLeod Bethune, the Black Cabinet was composed of African American members of Roosevelt’s administration and created to represent and address the rights and needs of black citizens." If FDR's racial views were not enlightened, as Mr. Schwartz claims, why did he allow the formation of a Black Cabinet? He was certainly under no pressure to do so from the broader American public.

(Mary McLeod Bethune was not only a founding member of Roosevelt's Black Cabinet, but also one of the head administrators of the National Youth Administration. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

2. The idea of a master-race is "nonsense": At a White House Correspondent's Dinner in March of 1941, Roosevelt said, "We believe that the rallying cry of the dictators, their boasting about a master-race, will prove to be pure stuff and nonsense. There never has been, there isn't now, and there never will be, any race of people on the earth fit to serve as masters over their fellow men."

3. Prosperity...regardless of race: In 1944, in promoting his Second Bill of Rights, FDR said, "We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed."

4. The WPA's anti-discrimination policy: With Executive Order No. 7046, issued in May of 1935, FDR established the principle that an unemployed worker seeking a job in the WPA, who was "qualified by training and experience to be assigned to work projects shall not be discriminated against on any grounds whatsoever." This policy was hard to implement and enforce in areas of the country with a history of racism, but the effort was made and was often successful.

 (Because much of the WPA was administered at the local level, local politics and prejudices sometimes dictated segregated work sites. But there were plenty of integrated work sites too. The above photo shows a WPA project in Kent County, Maryland, 1936. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

5. A real opportunity in white-collar occupations: Jim Powell, of the CATO institute, argues "If FDR’s New Deal policies weren’t conceived with racist intent, they certainly had racist consequences." Yet, according to a 1939 publication of the National Urban League, "It is to the eternal credit of the administrative officers of the WPA that discrimination on various projects because of race has been kept to a minimum and that in almost every community Negroes have been given a chance to participate in the work program. In the South, as might have been expected, this participation has been limited, and differential wages on the basis of race have been more or less effectively established; but in the northern communities, particularly in the urban centers, the Negro has been afforded his first real opportunity for employment in white-collar occupations." (Opportunity, vol. 17, no. 2, February 1939, p. 34, cited in The WPA and Federal Relief Policy, by Donald S. Howard, New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1943).

Also, according to Dr. Judy Yung, of the University of California, Santa Cruz: "...over 20 percent of racial minorities employed by WPA [in the San Francisco area] were in the white-collar sector. Chinese-American men like Lim P. Lee and women like Ethel Lum were hired as social workers, recreation aides, teachers, and clerks at prevailing professional rates to dispense financial aid to the needy, extend services to individuals and families, and help improve living conditions in the community. Aside from earning this group of white-collar workers a salary, their services assisted individuals through the depression and were instrumental in procuring a public health clinic, nursery schools, improved housing and street lighting, and English and job training classes for the Chinatown community" (Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco, University of California Press, 1995, p. 185).

 (Children learning to paint in a WPA Chinese Nursery School in San Francisco, 1938. If FDR and the New Deal were so racist, why was something like this created? Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.) 

6. National Youth Administration Policy: "From the time of its establishment, NYA pursued the policy that no person was to be deprived because of race, creed, color, or national origin of any employment, position, work, compensation, or other benefits made possible under the program of the NYA" (Federal Security Agency, War Manpower Commission, Final Report of the National Youth Administration, Fiscal Years 1936-1943, p. 111, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1944).

7. The WPA Theatre program: Many policies of the New Deal infuriated racists, which is evidence that FDR and the New Deal were not as racist as some would have us believe. For example, of the WPA Theatre plays, U.S. Senator Robert Reynolds (D-NC) said, "Through such material the cardinal keystone of communism--free love and racial equality--is being spread at the expense of the god-fearing, home-loving American taxpayer" (from the 2008 book Furious Improvisation, by Susan Quinn).

(A scene from the WPA Theatre production of "Battle Hymn," in New York City, 1936. Racist members of Congress--both Republican and Democrat--were not pleased with the racial mixing they saw in the Theatre program. So, in 1939, they got rid of the program altogether. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum, and the New Deal Network.)

(The description for this 1935 photo reads, "WPA Fed Theatre Project in NY. Jewish Theatre Unit production, 'It Can't Happen Here.'" Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

8. The Indian New Deal: The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, frequently called the "Indian New Deal," gave Indians greater control of their land, encouraged self-governance, and more (see Indian Reorganization Act, Encyclopedia Britannica, for a brief summary). If the New Deal was such a hotbed of racism, why did this happen? Why didn't New Deal policymakers try to confiscate the land instead, and then distribute it to white homesteaders?

9. Citizenship and Naturalization Classes: During the New Deal, the WPA offered citizenship and naturalization classes to immigrants. If FDR and the New Deal were so horribly racist, why did they do this?

(The description for this undated photo reads, "Future literates and future citizens. Adults of Spanish, Mexican, and Central American ancestry at Americanization Classes of WPA Education Program of the California Department of Education learning to read." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

10. Adult Education for African-Americans: Due to obvious reasons, many African Americans did not receive a great education during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The New Deal, through the WPA, began to reverse that trend with adult education courses (e.g., reading and writing) and the building of many African-American schools.

(An older African American student learning how to read in a WPA adult education class in Savannah, Georgia, circa 1935-43. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)  

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, there were certainly some race-based blunders during the New Deal, and during Roosevelt's life, but I hope that the 10 examples above show that there were also some significant & positive accomplishments. There will always be naysayers, of course, who will claim that Roosevelt's failure to erase hundreds of years of racism during his 12 years as president must mean that, "By golly, the New Deal was a complete and utter failure and Roosevelt was the most racist president ever!" But, when you hear these types of claims ask yourself if the person making the claim is doing so after a full examination of history, or if the claim is being made for political reasons and/or because the claimant has closely examined the failures.....but only lightly examined the accomplishments.

(Factory workers, 1942. The New Deal was not perfect and New Deal policymakers were not infallible angels. Still, the New Deal was a significant, pre-Civil Rights era stepping stone to better race relations in America. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

Monday, January 12, 2015

A 91-year-old water pipe breaks in Cleveland, and all hell breaks loose. A new WPA could have prevented that but, with an economy rigged against us, a new WPA ain't gonna happen.

(WPA infrastructure work in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, 1941. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

A few days ago, a 91-year-old water main broke in the Little Italy section of Cleveland and all hell broke loose. As one resident said, "I was nervous at first, just trying to get my 80 year old mother out of the house who has dementia; my tenants were crying; my furnace was smoking; I didn't know if the house was going to go up. It's insurmountable damage. Five feet of water in my basement all the way across everything's destroyed" ("Little Italy street to remain closed due to water main break," WKYC3, January 10, 2015).

Amazingly, Cleveland "averages about five water main breaks a day but that almost doubles when the weather gets cold." This means that Cleveland has about 2,000 water main breaks every year. The American Society of Civil Engineers has informed us that there are about a quarter of a million water main breaks, all across the nation, every single year. 

So, why isn't there a new WPA to help modernize Ohio's water lines? After all, WPA workers installed 839 miles of new water lines in Ohio between 1935 and 1943. Many of those lines are obviously still in use, well past their intended lifespan. Also, Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican, is well aware of the value of a WPA. In speaking about the insults that his political party continuously hurls at the less fortunate, Kasich said, "I’m concerned about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor. That if you’re poor, somehow you’re shiftless and lazy. You know what? The very people who complain ought to ask their grandparents if they worked at the W.P.A." ("GOP Governor: 'There Seems To Be A War On The Poor' With Republicans In Washington," Business Insider, October 29, 2013).

Well, there are many reasons why there is not a new WPA, but I mentioned one of the main reasons in yesterday's blog post: Most rich people don't want one. When researchers conducted a survey, and put forth the proposition that "The federal government should provide jobs for everyone able and willing to work who cannot find a job in private employment," only 8% of the wealthy agreed (while 53% of the general public agreed). Read that proposition very carefully. What this indicates is that most wealthy people would rather lower-income Americans remain unemployed than participate in a public works program. That is astounding (and utterly cruel), and goes a long way towards explaining why there is not a new WPA, and why our infrastructure continues to crumble, especially in view of the fact that the wealthy are manipulating our government with ever-increasing campaign contributions.

The rich are not stupid. They realize that a public works program might require them to pay more in taxes, and they realize that a new WPA--i.e., a dramatic reduction in unemployment--would deprive the businesses they invest in of a pool of desperate and financially traumatized Americans who are willing to work for peanuts. They know that their investment income goes up when a certain percentage of American workers suffer. As U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren recently said, "I see evidence everywhere of the pounding working people are taking...Many feel that the game is rigged against them, and they are right. The game is rigged against them."