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How Apples Became a Weapon Against the Great Depression

How Apples Became a Weapon Against the Great Depression

Bread lines. Hoovervilles. Dust storms. Bank runs. The Great Depression left an indelible impression on the people who lived through it, and imagery of the poverty and social instability it left in its wake still evokes the crisis today.

One of the Depression’s most indelible symbols was the apple seller. Photographs of men hawking apples on street corners have come to represent the lows to which once stable people fell during the economic crisis, which slashed the United States’ gross national product by nearly half and plunged up to 50 percent of the residents of some communities into unemployment.

But apple sales weren’t a spontaneous response to the misery of the Great Depression—they were an organized attempt to get unemployed men back to work. Here’s how a surplus and a bright idea led to one of the Depression’s most memorable symbols:

Combination of Hits Cause Great Depression

The stock market crash of October 1929 shocked the United States, but at first it seemed like the country might recover. That was anything but true: A combination of deflation, Midwestern drought and public doubt about the economy sent the country into a financial freefall.

Business felt the effects of the spiral, but its most devastating effects were felt in family homes. Unemployment spiked and families suddenly had to get by on little or no income.

Inside the home, many men struggled with their inability to support their families. Sociologists who studied the impacts of economic instability and unemployment documented men who were no longer able to claim the role of breadwinner. Many “felt humiliated and ashamed by unemployment,” writes historian Olaf Stieglitz. “The dominant middle-class ethos of breadwinning and self reliance weighed heavily on these men…Feeling emasculated, many men blamed themselves for their difficulties.”

But during the Depression, finding a new job wasn’t as easy as sending out a resume. With so many men unemployed—and unwilling to perform tasks traditionally coded as feminine—competition for the few jobs that existed was fierce. People tried to come up with creative ways to make ends meet, but the situation was dire for people who could no longer afford shelter or food due to unemployment.

A $10,000 surplus led to a creative opportunity for unemployed men

The Depression also presented some perplexing challenges to businesses, who had to grapple with consumers who had little or nothing to spend. In 1929, the apple industry faced such a quandary when the apple industry produced a massive bumper crop. How could they move their product and keep apples relevant to Americans who had little money for food?

Joseph Sicker, chairman of the International Apple Shippers’ Association, had an idea: Why not use the apples to help unemployed men? He worked with members of the produce industry to fund the purchase of $10,000 worth of surplus apples to sell to unemployed men.

The business model was simple: Men would buy the apples from the apple industry for a reduced price, then sell them at a profit. Sicker gave boxes of apples to unemployed men in New York and other cities. They’d sell them for as much as they could, then pay back $1.75 per box at the end of the day.

The apple selling scheme had several benefits: It helped the apple industry move surplus produce that might never get purchased otherwise, and it helped men earn some money. But more than that, it gave men a small sense of pride. By selling apples instead of begging, the unemployed men still seemed to be in charge of their own destinies.

Apple vendors became iconic symbol in New York

Soon, the vendors were on what seemed like every street corner in New York. Though the men needed to sell the apples for five cents apiece to earn a profit and be able to pay back Sicker’s association, they often sold their wares for much more thanks to buyers who were moved by the plight of the sellers. Soon, up to 6,000 people sold apples in New York every day. Though some vendors were women, the majority were men. They purchased up to $10,000 of apples every day.

Apple vending soon became a critical part of many people’s livelihoods. But it also required a sacrifice: the willingness to stand on often freezing and rainy street corners, publicly exposing one’s unemployed status to the world. This moved bystanders, who bought apples when they could. “Wherever the little boxes of apples stand a listener has no trouble in getting from the vendor the story of a long period of unemployment, misery at home and of near-starvation,” wrote the New York Times in 1930.

When New York Times reporter Frances D. McMullen toured the city to talk to apple vendors in 1931, she found what she called “soft spots in a city’s hardened heart.” Bystanders would sometimes donate clothing or a hot meal to the vendors, she wrote, and had kind words for the vendors.

Program’s popularity lead to its demise

By all accounts, the program was a success. But then, it became so successful that it imploded. By late 1930, corner peddling had moved so many apples that the price of apples as a commodity began to rise. Soon, the apple association was paying $2.50 for boxes of apples it had once sold for $1.75. It attempted to keep the costs low for vendors, but didn’t succeed.

Over time, the program faded away as the surplus dried up and it became unprofitable to give the unemployed men the apples. There were so many apple sellers that they clogged traffic, and apple cores became a new mainstay of city trash. Cities like Washington, D.C. even banned apple vendors, declaring them public nuisances.

Soon apple sellers were a thing of the past. But the idea of apple sellers lasted much longer. In 1934, cartoonist Martha Orr began a popular comic strip, Apple Mary, that appeared in newspapers nationwide. And photographs of men selling the apples remain one of the most well-known symbols of the Depression today.

Re-stabilizing the Middle Class and the Poor: Lessons from the 1930s

David Stebenne is a specialist in modern American political and legal history, and the author of Promised Land: How the Rise of the Middle Class Transformed America, 1929-1968, which will be published by Scribner on July 14.

Margaret Bourke-White, "At the Time of the Louisville Flood," 1937

Sometimes older patterns return so quickly as to resemble time travel. One leading example in the last few months is high unemployment and its consequences. The official rate of unemployment by the end of 2019 was 3.5%, but it zoomed upward in the winter of 2020 and by April it was 14.7%. The last time it was that high was 1940. May was a little better, at 13.3%, but the last time the unemployment rate was that high was 1941.

1940-41 were the last two years of the Great Depression, whose single most disturbing feature, economically speaking, was persistent high unemployment. Perhaps the best definition of the Depression in economic terms was a time of double-digit unemployment, something that began in 1931 and lasted until the end of 1941. Economists now estimate that such will be the case for the remainder of 2020, and perhaps longer.

Persistent high unemployment during the 1931-41 period had profound consequences. Suddenly, many people who thought of themselves as middle class became economically insecure and stayed that way for a long time. And for the poor, especially those living in cities and towns, mass unemployment created a genuine crisis. Unlike poor people living in the countryside, the poor in metropolitan areas could not grow their own food or forage for food or build their own shelter. The sudden end of cash income typically brought immediate hunger and often dispossession (for failure to pay rent).

One major consequence of that situation was a big increase in crime, as theft became common. By 1933, crime rates reached record highs. Along with that came more protests, as desperate people began to demand more help from the government. Protests at local relief offices became common in the early 1930s, often instigated by people associated with the American Communist Party. So did direct action to block evictions and farm foreclosures. More crime and social protests meant, of course, more clashes between the people and the police, sometimes with explosive consequences, which has also become all too familiar again.

There were racial implications to all of this during the Depression, like today, because many of the poorest people, in cities especially, were African American. As a Darwinian struggle for what few jobs there still were began in the early 1930s, urban black people typically fared the worst. There were issues of gender at work here, too, as a kind of job rationing mentality took hold that decreed that there should be no more than one well-paid job per household, something that tended to push married women out of the paid labor force if their husbands had work. And when New Deal relief programs began, a similar pattern took hold, in which most of the jobs created by the WPA, the main New Deal jobs agency, went to white men. Even many white businessmen who ran retail establishments in predominantly black neighborhoods refused to hire black people, preferring instead to keep the jobs for their own (white) friends and relatives.

In Harlem, the nation's most heavily populated black neighborhood, those conditions produced an uprising in 1935, which was triggered by a false rumor that a black teenager picked up for shoplifting at a dime store had been beaten to death by employees there. Only in the aftermath of that event, which produced an estimated $2 million in damages to white-owned businesses, three deaths, and hundreds of serious injuries, did the government begin opening more WPA jobs to black applicants. New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia also began pressuring white business leaders in Harlem to begin integrating their workforces. That combination created more opportunity in Harlem and was duplicated in other places like it.

Those changes marked a major shift in how the establishment of that time addressed the plight of urban black people. During the 1920s, the emphasis had been on increasing support for black artists and intellectuals, something that helped encourage what became known as the Harlem Renaissance. By the end of the 1930s, the emphasis had shifted to creating more employment opportunities, for black men especially. That approach wasn't unique to the black community. An emphasis on creating more well-paid jobs, for white, male breadwinners especially, was part of the New Deal vision from the start of the Roosevelt presidency and was its preferred route to re-stabilizing the middle class and the poor.

For a long time it seemed as though the 1930s era of high unemployment was a kind of &ldquogreat exception&rdquo in American history, but now it has appeared again, suddenly and unexpectedly, just as it did in the early 1930s. So, too, has higher crime, more social protest, increased clashes with the police, and a grim competition for what few good jobs there are to be found. All of these things are related, as they were in the Great Depression. One key difference, however, is that the racial dimension is more widespread this time, reflecting a major shift in where black people now live. In the early 1930s, almost 80% of African Americans lived in the South, which at that time was still a predominantly rural place with few cities. None of that is true today. Over 40% of the black population lives in the North now, mostly in major metro areas, and the South has become much more urban. Today, statistically speaking, the typical black person lives in a major metropolitan area, in either the central city or a nearby suburb, meaning that high unemployment now has an even greater impact on the African American community in some ways than it did during the Depression because many poor black people today cannot engage in the kinds of self-help that they could when more of them lived in rural areas.

A second key difference today has to do with gender. A much higher fraction of women are in the paid labor force now than was the case when the Great Depression began. The fraction of all women who are unmarried is also higher now. Thus, taking a New Dealish approach of prioritizing employment for men would have much more socially explosive consequences today. Like the changes in where black people live, changes in the status of women mean that an effective response to high unemployment is not only urgently needed &ndash it also needs to be updated to reflect new social realities.

43b. The Trust Buster

Teddy Roosevelt was one American who believed a revolution was coming.

He believed Wall Street financiers and powerful trust titans to be acting foolishly. While they were eating off fancy china on mahogany tables in marble dining rooms, the masses were roughing it. There seemed to be no limit to greed. If docking wages would increase profits, it was done. If higher railroad rates put more gold in their coffers, it was done. How much was enough, Roosevelt wondered?

The Sherman Anti-Trust Act

Although he himself was a man of means, he criticized the wealthy class of Americans on two counts. First, continued exploitation of the public could result in a violent uprising that could destroy the whole system. Second, the captains of industry were arrogant enough to believe themselves superior to the elected government. Now that he was President, Roosevelt went on the attack.

The President's weapon was the Sherman Antitrust Act , passed by Congress in 1890. This law declared illegal all combinations "in restraint of trade." For the first twelve years of its existence, the Sherman Act was a paper tiger. United States courts routinely sided with business when any enforcement of the Act was attempted.

For example, the American Sugar Refining Company controlled 98 percent of the sugar industry. Despite this virtual monopoly, the Supreme Court refused to dissolve the corporation in an 1895 ruling. The only time an organization was deemed in restraint of trade was when the court ruled against a labor union

Roosevelt knew that no new legislation was necessary. When he sensed that he had a sympathetic Court, he sprung into action.

Teddy vs. J.P.

Theodore Roosevelt was not the type to initiate major changes timidly. The first trust giant to fall victim to Roosevelt's assault was none other than the most powerful industrialist in the country &mdash J. Pierpont Morgan.

This 1912 cartoon shows trusts smashing consumers with the tariff hammer in hopes of raising profits.

Morgan controlled a railroad company known as Northern Securities. In combination with railroad moguls James J. Hill and E. H. Harriman , Morgan controlled the bulk of railroad shipping across the northern United States.

Morgan was enjoying a peaceful dinner at his New York home on February 19, 1902, when his telephone rang. He was furious to learn that Roosevelt's Attorney General was bringing suit against the Northern Securities Company. Stunned, he muttered to his equally shocked dinner guests about how rude it was to file such a suit without warning.

Four days later, Morgan was at the White House with the President. Morgan bellowed that he was being treated like a common criminal. The President informed Morgan that no compromise could be reached, and the matter would be settled by the courts. Morgan inquired if his other interests were at risk, too. Roosevelt told him only the ones that had done anything wrong would be prosecuted.

The Good, the Bad, and the Bully

This was the core of Theodore Roosevelt's leadership. He boiled everything down to a case of right versus wrong and good versus bad. If a trust controlled an entire industry but provided good service at reasonable rates, it was a "good" trust to be left alone. Only the "bad" trusts that jacked up rates and exploited consumers would come under attack. Who would decide the difference between right and wrong? The occupant of the White House trusted only himself to make this decision in the interests of the people.

The American public cheered Roosevelt's new offensive. The Supreme Court, in a narrow 5 to 4 decision, agreed and dissolved the Northern Securities Company. Roosevelt said confidently that no man, no matter how powerful, was above the law. As he landed blows on other "bad" trusts, his popularity grew and grew.

The Dust Bowl of The 1930s

The 1930s were some of the driest years in American history. Eight long years of drought, preceded by inappropriate cultivation technique, and the financial crises of the Great Depression forced many farmers off the land abandoning their fields throughout the Great Plains that run across the heart of mainland United States. When the high winds came, it lifted the topsoil from barren lands and carried them in large choking clouds of dust for thousands of miles. Many dust storms started around the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma and touched adjacent sections of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas. But eventually the entire country was affected forcing tens of thousands of families to abandon their farms and migrate in search for work and better living conditions.

A dust storm approaches Stratford, Texas, in 1935. Photo credit: George E. Marsh

The early European explorers thought the Great Plains was unsuitable for agriculture. The land is semi-arid and is prone to extended drought, alternating with periods of unusual wetness. But the federal government was eager to see the land settled and cultivated. After the end of the Civil War in 1865, a series of federal land acts were passed granting settlers hundreds of acres of land. These acts led to a massive influx of new and inexperienced farmers across the Great Plains.

A stretch of unusually wet weather in the beginning of the 20th century confirmed the belief that the Plains could be tamed after all, leading to increased settlement and cultivation. Farmers ploughed through the land eliminating the native grasses that held the fine soil in place. When crops began to fail with the onset of drought in 1930, the bare soil became exposed to the wind, and it began to blow away in massive dust storms that blackened the sky.

These choking billows of dust, named "black blizzards", traveled across the country, reaching as far as the East Coast and striking such cities as New York City and Washington, D.C.

"The impact is like a shovelful of fine sand flung against the face," Avis D. Carlson wrote in a New Republic article. "People caught in their own yards grope for the doorstep. Cars come to a standstill, for no light in the world can penetrate that swirling murk. We live with the dust, eat it, sleep with it, watch it strip us of possessions and the hope of possessions. It is becoming Real."

The term “dust bowl” was coined by Edward Stanley, Kansas City news editor of the Associated Press. Originally it referred to the geographical area affected by the dust, but today the entire event is referred to as the Dust Bowl.

After the winds passed and the dust settled, President Franklin Roosevelt initiated a huge project to plant hundreds of millions of trees across the Great Plains to create a giant windbreak. Known as a shelterbelt, it consisted of 220 million trees stretching in a 100-mile wide zone from Canada to northern Texas, to protect the land from wind erosion. The shelterbelt wasn’t a continuous wall of trees, but rather short stretches protecting individual farmlands. By 1942, there was more than thirty thousand shelterbelts across the Plains. To this day it remains the largest and most-focused effort of the US government to address an environmental problem.

Now many of the shelterbelts are either gone or no longer provide the benefits that they used to. The trees that were once essential have now become a burden to the farmers whose focus is now to put more land into production. Some fear that the loss of these trees might lead to another crippling dust storm in the future.

Buried machinery in a barn lot Dallas, South Dakota, May 1936.

A farmer and his two sons during a dust storm in Cimarron County, Oklahoma, April 1936. Photo credit: Arthur Rothstein.

The huge Black Sunday storm strikes the Church of God in Ulysses, Kansas, 1935. Photo credit: Historic Adobe Museum

The huge Black Sunday storm as it approaches Ulysses, Kansas, April 14, 1935. Photo credit: Historic Adobe Museum, Ulysses, KS

One of the most famous photograph of the Depression and the Dust Bowl, The Migrant Mother, by Dorthea Lange

A migratory family from Texas living in a trailer in an Arizona cotton field. Photo credit: Dorothea Lange

Three children prepare to leave for school wearing goggles and homemade dust masks to protect them from the dust. Lakin, Kansas, 1935. Photo credit: Green Family Collection

An abandoned Dust Bowl ghost town in South Dakota. Photo credit: Paul Williams/Flickr

An abandoned Dust Bowl ghost town in South Dakota. Photo credit: Paul Williams/Flickr

How Apples Became a Weapon Against the Great Depression - HISTORY

The war was hardly over, it was February 1919, the IWW leadership was in jail, but the IWW idea of the general strike became reality for five days in Seattle, Washington, when a walkout of 100,000 working people brought the city to a halt.

It began with 35,000 shipyard workers striking for a wage increase. They appealed for support to the Seattle Central Labor Council, which recommended a city-wide strike, and in two weeks 110 locals-mostly American Federation of Labor, only a few IWW-voted to strike. The rank and file of each striking local elected three members to a General Strike Committee, and on February 6, 1939, at 10:00 A.M., the strike began.

Unity was not easy to achieve. The IWW locals were in tension with the AFL locals. Japanese locals were admitted to the General Strike Committee but were not given a vote. Still, sixty thousand union members were out, and forty thousand other workers joined in sympathy.

Seattle workers had a radical tradition. During the war, the president of the Seattle AFL, a socialist, was imprisoned for opposing the draft, was tortured, and there were great labor rallies in the streets to protest.

The city now stopped functioning, except for activities organized by the strikers to provide essential needs. Firemen agreed to stay on the job. Laundry workers handled only hospital laundry. Vehicles authorized to move carried signs "Exempted by the General Strike Committee." Thirty-five neighborhood milk stations were set up. Every day thirty thousand meals were prepared in large kitchens, then transported to halls all over the city and served cafeteria style, with strikers paying twenty-five cents a meal, the general public thirty-five cents. People were allowed to eat as much as they wanted of the beef stew, spaghetti, bread, and coffee.

A Labor War Veteran's Guard was organized to keep the peace. On the blackboard at one of its headquarters was written: "The purpose of this organization is to preserve law and order without the use of force. No volunteer will have any police power or be allowed to carry weapons of any sort, but to use persuasion only." During the strike, crime in the city decreased. The commander of the U.S. army detachment sent into the area told the strikers' committee that in forty years of military experience he hadn't seen so quiet and orderly a city. A poem printed in the Seattle Union Record (a daily newspaper put out by labor people) by someone named Anise:

What scares them most is


They are ready For DISTURBANCES.

They have machine guns

And soldiers,


is uncanny.

The business men

Don't understand

That sort of weapon.

It is your SMILE


Their reliance

On Artillery, brother!

It is the garbage wagons

That go along the street

Marked "EXEMPT


It is the milk stations

That are getting better daily,

And the three hundred

WAR Veterans of Labor

Handling the crowds


For these things speak



That they do not feel

At HOME in.

The mayor swore in 2,400 special deputies, many of them students at the University of Washington. Almost a thousand sailors and marines were brought into the city by the U.S. government. The general strike ended after five days, according to the General Strike Committee because of pressure from the international officers of the various unions, as well as the difficulties of living in a shut-down city.

The strike had been peaceful. But when it was over, there were raids and arrests: on the Socialist party headquarters, on a printing plant. Thirty-nine members of the IWW were jailed as "ring- leaders of anarchy."

In Centralia, Washington, where the IWW had been organizing lumber workers, the lumber interests made plans to get rid of the IWW. On November 11, 1919, Armistice Day, the Legion paraded through town with rubber hoses and gas pipes, and the IWW prepared for an attack. When the Legion passed the IWW hall, shots were fired-it is unclear who fired first. They stormed the hall, there was more firing, and three Legion men were killed.

Inside the headquarters was an IWW member, a lumberjack named Frank Everett, who had been in France as a soldier while the IWW national leaders were on trial for obstructing the war effort. Everett was in army uniform and carrying a rifle. He emptied it into the crowd, dropped it, and ran for the woods, followed by a mob. He started to wade across the river, found the current too strong, turned, shot the leading man dead, threw his gun into the river, and fought the mob with his fists. They dragged him back to town behind an automobile, suspended him from a telegraph pole, took him down, locked him in jail. That night, his jailhouse door was broken down, he was dragged out, put on the floor of a car, his genitals were cut off, and then he was taken to a bridge, hanged, and his body riddled with bullets.

No one was ever arrested for Everett's murder, but eleven Wobblies were put on trial for killing an American Legion leader during the parade, and six of them spent fifteen years in prison.

Why such a reaction to the general strike, to the organizing of the Wobblies? A statement by the mayor of Seattle suggests that the Establishment feared not just the strike itself but what it symbolized. He said:

Furthermore, the Seattle general strike took place in the midst of a wave of postwar rebellions all over the world. A writer in The Nation commented that year:

The most extraordinary phenomenon of the present time . is the unprecedented revolt of the rank and file.

In Russia it has dethroned the Czar. In Korea and India and Egypt and Ireland it keeps up an unyielding resistance to political tyranny. In England it brought about the railway strike, against the judgement of the men's own executives. In Seattle and San Francisco it has resulted in the stevedores' recent refusal to handle arms or supplies destined for the overthrow of the Soviet Government. In one district of Illinois it manifested itself in a resolution of striking miners, unanimously requesting their state executive "to go to Hell". In Pittsburgh, according to Mr. Gompers, it compelled the reluctant American Federation officers to call the steel strike, lest the control pass into the hands of the I.W.W.'s and other "radicals". In New York, it brought about the longshoremen's strike and kept the men out in defiance of union officials, and caused the upheaval in the printing trade, which the international officers, even though the employers worked hand in glove with them, were completely unable to control.

The common man .. . losing faith in the old leadership, has experienced a new access of self- confidence, or at least a new recklessness, a readiness to take chances on his own account . .. authority cannot any longer be imposed from above it comes automatically from below.

In the steel mills of western Pennsylvania later in 1919, where men worked twelve hours a day, six days a week, doing exhausting work under intense heat, 100,000 steelworkers were signed up in twenty different AFL craft unions. A National Committee attempting to tie them together in their organizing drive found in the summer of 1919 "the men are letting it be known that if we do not do something for them they will take the matter into their own hands."

The National Council was getting telegrams like the one from the Johnstown Steel Workers Council: "Unless the National Committee authorizes a national strike vote to be taken this week we will be compelled to go on strike here alone." William Z. Foster (later a Communist leader, at this time secretary-treasurer to the National Committee in charge of organizing) received a telegram from organizers in the Youngstown district: "We cannot be expected to meet the enraged workers, who will consider us traitors if strike is postponed."

There was pressure from President Woodrow Wilson and Samuel Gompers, AFL president, to postpone the strike. But the steelworkers were too insistent, and in September 1919, not only the 100,000 union men but 250,000 others went out on strike.

The sheriff of Allegheny County swore in as deputies five thousand employees of U.S. Steel who had not gone on strike, and announced that outdoor meetings would be forbidden. A report of the Interchurch World Movement made at the time said:

The Department of Justice moved in, carrying out raids on workers who were aliens, holding them for deportation. At Gary, Indiana, federal troops were sent in.

Other factors operated against the strikers. Most were recent immigrants, of many nationalities, many languages. Sherman Service, Inc., hired by the steel corporations to break the strike, instructed its men in South Chicago: "We want you to stir up as much bad feeling as you possibly can between the Serbians and the Italians. Spread data among the Serbians that the Italians are going back to work. Urge them to go back to work or the Italians will get their jobs." More than thirty thousand black workers were brought into the area as strikebreakers-they had been excluded from AFL unions and so felt no loyalty to unionism.

As the strike dragged on, the mood of defeat spread, and workers began to drift hack to work. After ten weeks, the number of strikers was down to 110,000, and then the National Committee called the strike off.

In the year following the war, 120,000 textile workers struck in New England and New Jersey, and 30,000 silk workers struck in Paterson, New Jersey. In Boston the police went out on strike, and in New York City cigarmakers, shirtmakers, carpenters, bakers, teamsters, and barbers were out on strike. In Chicago, the press reported, "More strikes and lockouts accompany the mid-summer heat than ever known before at any one time." Five thousand workers at International Harvester and five thousand city workers were in the streets.

When the twenties began, however, the situation seemed under control. The IWW was destroyed, the Socialist party falling apart. The strikes were beaten down by force, and the economy was doing just well enough for just enough people to prevent mass rebellion.

Congress, in the twenties, put an end to the dangerous, turbulent flood of immigrants (14 million between 1900 and 1920) by passing laws setting immigration quotas: the quotas favored Anglo- Saxons, kept out black and yellow people, limited severely the coming of Latins, Slavs, Jews. No African country could send more than 100 people 100 was the limit for China, for Bulgaria, for Palestine 34,007 could come from England or Northern Ireland, but only 3,845 from Italy 51,227 from Germany, but only 124 from Lithuania 28,567 from the Irish Free State, but only 2,248 from Russia.

The Ku Klux Klan was revived in the 1920s, and it spread into the North. By 1924 it had 4M million members. The NAACP seemed helpless in the face of mob violence and race hatred everywhere. The impossibility of the black persons ever being considered equal in white America was the theme of the nationalist movement led in the 1920s by Marcus Garvey. He preached black pride, racial separation, and a return to Africa, which to him held the only hope for black unity and survival. But Garvey's movement, inspiring as it was to some blacks, could not make much headway against the powerful white supremacy currents of the postwar decade.

There was some truth to the standard picture of the twenties as a time of prosperity and fun-the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties. Unemployment was down, from 4,270,000 in 1921 to a little over 2 million in 1927. The general level of wages for workers rose. Some farmers made a lot of money. The 40 percent of all families who made over $2,000 a year could buy new gadgets: autos, radios, refrigerators. Millions of people were not doing badly-and they could be shut out of the picture the others-the tenant farmers, black and white, the immigrant families in the big cities either without work or not making enough to get the basic necessities.

But prosperity was concentrated at the top. While from 1922 to 1929 real wages in manufacturing went up per capita 1.4 percent a year, the holders of common stocks gained 16.4 percent a year. Six million families (42 percent of the total) made less than $1,000 a year. One-tenth of 1 percent of the families at the top received as much income as 42 percent of the families at the bottom, according to a report of the Brookings Institution. Every year in the 1920s, about 25,000 workers were killed on the job and 100,000 permanently disabled. Two million people in New York City lived in tenements condemned as rattraps.

The country was full of little industrial towns like Muncie, Indiana, where, according to Robert and Helen Lynd (Middletown), the class system was revealed by the time people got up in the morning: for two-thirds of the city's families, "the father gets up in the dark in winter, eats hastily in the kitchen in the gray dawn, and is at work from an hour to two and a quarter hours before his children have to be at school."

There were enough well-off people to push the others into the background. And with the rich controlling the means of dispensing information, who would tell? Historian Merle Curti observed about the twenties:

Some writers tried to break through: Theodore Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, Lewis Mumford. F. Scott Fitzgerald, in an article, "Echoes of the Jazz Age," said: "It was borrowed time anyway-the whole upper tenth of a nation living with the insouciance of a grand duc and the casualness of chorus girls." He saw ominous signs amid that prosperity: drunkenness, unhappiness, violence:

Sinclair Lewis captured the false sense of prosperity, the shallow pleasure of the new gadgets for the middle classes, in his novel Babbitt:

It was the best of nationally advertised and quantitatively produced alarm-clocks, with all modern attachments, including cathedral chime, intermittent alarm, and a phosphorescent dial. Babbitt was proud of being awakened by such a rich device. Socially it was almost as creditable as buying expensive cord tires.

He sulkily admitted now that there was no more escape, but he lay and detested the grind of the real-estate business, and disliked his family, and disliked himself for disliking them.

Women had finally, after long agitation, won the right to vote in 1920 with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, but voting was still a middle-class and upper-class activity. Eleanor Flexner, recounting the history of the movement, says the effect of female suffrage was that "women have shown the same tendency to divide along orthodox party lines as male voters."

Few political figures spoke out for the poor of the twenties. One was Fiorello La Guardia, a Congressman from a district of poor immigrants in East Harlem (who ran, oddly, on both Socialist and Republican tickets). In the mid-twenties he was made aware by people in his district of the high price of meat. When La Guardia asked Secretary of Agriculture William Jardine to investigate the high price of meat, the Secretary sent him a pamphlet on how to use meat economically. La Guardia wrote back:

During the presidencies of Harding and Coolidge in the twenties, the Secretary of the Treasury was Andrew Mellon, one of the richest men in America. In 1923, Congress was presented with the "Mellon Plan," calling for what looked like a general reduction of income taxes, except that the top income brackets would have their tax rates lowered from 50 percent to 25 percent, while the lowest-income group would have theirs lowered from 4 percent to 3 percent. A few Congressmen from working-class districts spoke against the bill, like William P. Connery of Massachusetts:

The Mellon Plan passed. In 1928, La Guardia toured the poorer districts of New York and said: "I confess I was not prepared for what I actually saw. It seemed almost incredible that such conditions of poverty could really exist."

Buried in the general news of prosperity in the twenties were, from time to time, stories of bitter labor struggles. In 1922, coal miners and railroad men went on strike, and Senator Burton Wheeler of Montana, a Progressive elected with labor votes, visited the strike area and reported:

All day long I have listened to heartrending stories of women evicted from their homes by the coal companies. I heard pitiful pleas of little children crying for bread. I stood aghast as I heard most amazing stories from men brutally beaten by private policemen. It has been a shocking and nerve- racking experience.

A textile strike in Rhode Island in 1922 among Italian and Portuguese workers failed, but class feelings were awakened and some of the strikers joined radical movements. Luigi Nardella recalled:

. my oldest brother, Guido, he started the strike. Guido pulled the handles on the looms in the Royal Mills, going from one section to the next shouting, "Strike! Strike!" . . . When the strike started we didn't have any union organizers. .. We got together a group of girls and went from mill to mill, and that morning we got five mills out. We'd motion to the girls in the mills, "Come out! Come out!" Then we'd go on to the next. . . .

Somebody from the Young Workers' League came out to bring a check, and invited me to a meeting, and I went. Then I joined, and in a few years I was in the Risorgimento Club in Providence. We were anti-Fascists. I spoke on street corners, bring a stand, jump up and talk to good crowds. And we led the support for Sacco and Vanzetti.. . .

After the war, with the Socialist party weakened, a Communist party was organized, and Communists were involved in the organization of the Trade Union Education League, which tried to build a militant spirit inside the AFL. When a Communist named Ben Gold, of the furriers' section of the TUEL, challenged the AFL union leadership at a meeting, he was knifed and beaten. In 1926, he and other Communists organized a strike of furriers who formed mass picket lines, battled the police to hold their lines, were arrested and beaten, but kept striking, until they won a forty-hour week and a wage increase.

Communists again played a leading part in the great textile strike that spread through the Carolinas and Tennessee in the spring of 1929. The mill owners had moved to the South to escape unions, to find more subservient workers among the poor whites. But these workers rebelled against the long hours, the low pay. They particularly resented the "stretch-out"-an intensification of work. For instance, -a weaver who had operated twenty-four looms and got $18.91 a week would be raised to $23, but he would be "stretched out" to a hundred looms and had to work at a punishing pace.

The first of the textile strikes was in Tennessee, where five hundred women in one mill walked out in protest against wages of $9 to $10 a week. Then at Gastonia, North Carolina, workers joined a new union, the National Textile Workers Union, led by Communists, which admitted both blacks and whites to membership. When some of them were fired, half of the two thousand workers went out on strike. An atmosphere of anti-Communism and racism built up and violence began. Textile strikes began to spread across South Carolina.

One by one the various strikes were settled, with some gains, but not at Gastonia. There, with the textile workers living in a tent colony, and refusing to renounce the Communists in their leadership, the strike went on. But strikebreakers were brought in and the mills kept operating. Desperation grew there were violent clashes with the police. One dark night, the chief of police was killed in a gun battle and sixteen strikers and sympathizers were indicted for murder, including Fred Real, a Communist party organizer. Ultimately seven were tried and given sentences of from five to twenty years. They were released on bail, and left the state the Communists escaped to Soviet Russia. Through all the defeats, the beatings, the murders, however, it was the beginning of textile mill unionism in the South.

The stock market crash of 1929, which marked the beginning of the Great Depression of the United States, came directly from wild speculation which collapsed and brought the whole economy down with it. But, as John Galbraith says in his study of that event (The Great Crash), behind that speculation was the fact that "the economy was fundamentally unsound." He points to very unhealthy corporate and banking structures, an unsound foreign trade, much economic misinformation, and the "bad distribution of income" (the highest 5 percent of the population received about one-third of all personal income).

A socialist critic would go further and say that the capitalist system was by its nature unsound: a system driven by the one overriding motive of corporate profit and therefore unstable, unpredictable, and blind to human needs. The result of all that: permanent depression for many of its people, and periodic crises for almost everybody. Capitalism, despite its attempts at self-reform, its organization for better control, was still in 1929 a sick and undependable system.

After the crash, the economy was stunned, barely moving. Over five thousand banks closed and huge numbers of businesses, unable to get money, closed too. Those that continued laid off employees and cut the wages of those who remained, again and again. Industrial production fell by 50 percent, and by 1933 perhaps 15 million (no one knew exactly)- one-fourth or one-third of the labor force-were out of work. The Ford Motor Company, which in the spring of 1929 had employed 128,000 workers, was down to 37,000 by August of 1931. By the end of 1930, almost half the 280,000 textile mill workers in New England were out of work. Former President Calvin Coolidge commented with his customary wisdom: "When more and more people are thrown out of work, unemployment results." He spoke again in early 1931, "This country is not in good condition."

Clearly those responsible for organizing the economy did not know what had happened, were baffled by it, refused to recognize it, and found reasons other than the failure of the system. Herbert Hoover had said, not long before the crash: "We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land." Henry Ford, in March 1931, said the crisis was here because "the average man won't really do a day's work unless he is caught and cannot get out of it. There is plenty of work to do if people would do it." A few weeks later he laid off 75,000 workers.

There were millions of tons of food around, but it was not profitable to transport it, to sell it. Warehouses were full of clothing, but people could not afford it. There were lots of houses, but they stayed empty because people couldn't pay the rent, had been evicted, and now lived in shacks in quickly formed "Hoovervilles" built on garbage dumps.

Brief glimpses of reality in the newspapers could have been multiplied by the millions: A New York Times story in early 1932:

After vainly trying to get a stay of dispossession until January 15 from his apartment at 46 Hancock Street in Brooklyn, yesterday, Peter J. Cornell, 48 years old, a former roofing contractor out of work and penniless, fell dead in the arms of his wife.

A doctor gave the cause of his death as heart disease, and the police said it had at least partly been caused by the bitter disappointment of a long day's fruitless attempt to prevent himself and his family being put out on the street. .

Cornell owed $5 in rent in arrears and $39 for January which his landlord required in advance. Failure to produce the money resulted in a dispossess order being served on the family yesterday and to take effect at the end of the week.

After vainly seeking assistance elsewhere, he was told during the day by the Home Relief Bureau that it would have no funds with which to help him until January 15.

A dispatch from Wisconsin to The Nation, in late 1932:

A tenement dweller on 113th Street in East Harlem wrote to Congressman Fiorello La Guardia in Washington:

In Oklahoma, the farmers found their farms sold under the auctioneer's hammer, their farms turning to dust, the tractors coming in and taking over. John Steinbeck, in his novel of the depression, The Grapes of Wrath, describes what happened:

And the dispossessed, the migrants, flowed into California, two hundred and fifty thousand, and three hundred thousand. Behind them new tractors were going on the land and the tenants were being forced off. And new waves were on the way, new waves of the dispossessed and the homeless, hard, intent, and dangerous. . ..

And a homeless hungry man, driving the road with his wife beside him and his thin children in the back seat, could look at the fallow fields which might produce food but not profit, and that man could know how a fallow field is a sin and the unused land a crime against the thin children.. . .

And in the south he saw the golden oranges hanging on the trees, the little golden oranges on the dark green trees and guards with shotguns patrolling the lines so a man might not pick an orange for a thin child, oranges to be dumped if the price was low. . , .

These people were becoming "dangerous," as Steinbeck said. The spirit of rebellion was growing. Mauritz Hallgren, in a 1933 book, Seeds of Revolt, compiled newspaper reports of things happening around the country:

England, Arkansas, January 3, 1931. The long drought that ruined hundreds of Arkansas farms last summer had a dramatic sequel late today when some 500 farmers, most of them white men and many of them armed, marched on the business section of this town. .. . Shouting that they must have food for themselves and their families, the invaders announced their intention to take it from the stores unless it were provided from some other source without cost.

Detroit, July 9, 1931. An incipient riot by 500 unemployed men turned out of the city lodging house for lack of funds was quelled by police reserves in Cadillac Square tonight. . ..

Indiana Harbor, Indiana, August 5, 1931. Fifteen hundred jobless men stormed the plant of the Fruit Growers Express Company here, demanding that they be given jobs to keep from starving. The company's answer was to call the city police, who routed the jobless with menacing clubs.

Boston, November 10, 1931. Twenty persons were treated for injuries, three were hurt so seriously that they may die, and dozens of others were nursing wounds from flying bottles, lead pipe, and stones after clashes between striking longshoremen and Negro strikebreakers along the Charlestown-East Boston waterfront.

Detroit, November 28, 1931. A mounted patrolman was hit on the head with a stone and unhorsed and one demonstrator was arrested during a disturbance in Grand Circus Park this morning when 2000 men and women met there in defiance of police orders.

Chicago, April 1, 1932. Five hundred school children, most with haggard faces and in tattered clothes, paraded through Chicago's downtown section to the Board of Education offices to demand that the school system provide them with food.

Boston, June 3, 1932. Twenty-five hungry children raided a buffet lunch set up for Spanish War veterans during a Boston parade. Two automobile-loads of police were called to drive them away.

New York, January 21, 1933. Several hundred jobless surrounded a restaurant just off Union Square today demanding they be fed without charge.. . .

Seattle, February 16, 1933. A two-day siege of the County-City Building, occupied by an army of about 5,000 unemployed, was ended early tonight, deputy sheriffs and police evicting the demonstrators after nearly two hours of efforts.

Yip Harburg, the songwriter, told Studs Terkel about the year 1932: "I was walking along the street at that time, and you'd see the bread lines. The biggest one in New York City was owned by William Randolph Hearst. He had a big truck with several people on it, and big cauldrons of hot soup, bread. Fellows with burlap on their feet were lined up all around Columbus Circle, and went for blocks and blocks around the park, waiting." Harburg had to write a song for the show Americana. He wrote "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"

Once in khaki suits.

Gee, we looked swell,

Full of that Yankee Doodle-de-dum.

Half a million boots went sloggin' through Hell,

I was the kid with the drum.

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al-

It was Al all the time.

Say, don't you remember I'm your pal-

Brother, can you spare a dime?

It was not just a song of despair. As Yip Harburg told Terkel:

In the song the man is really saying: I made an investment in this country. Where the hell are my dividends? . It's more than just a bit of pathos. It doesn't reduce him to a beggar. It makes him a dignified human, asking questions-and a bit outraged, too, as he should be.

The anger of the veteran of the First World War, now without work, his family hungry, led to the march of the Bonus Army to Washington in the spring and summer of 1932. War veterans, holding government bonus certificates which were due years in the future, demanded that Congress pay off on them now, when the money was desperately needed. And so they began to move to Washington from all over the country, with wives and children or alone. They came in broken-down old autos, stealing rides on freight trains, or hitchhiking. They were miners from West Virginia, sheet metal workers from Columbus, Georgia, and unemployed Polish veterans from Chicago. One family- husband, wife, three-year-old boy-spent three months on freight trains coming from California. Chief Running Wolf, a jobless Mescalero Indian from New Mexico, showed up in full Indian dress, with bow and arrow.

More than twenty thousand came. Most camped across the Potomac River from the Capitol on Anacostia Flats where, as John Dos Passos wrote, "the men are sleeping in little lean-tos built out of old newspapers, cardboard boxes, packing crates, bits of tin or tarpaper roofing, every kind of cockeyed makeshift shelter from the rain scraped together out of the city dump." The bill to pay off on the bonus passed the House, but was defeated in the Senate, and some veterans, discouraged, left. Most stayed-some encamped in government buildings near the Capitol, the rest on Anacostia Flats, and President Hoover ordered the army to evict them.

Four troops of cavalry, four companies of infantry, a machine gun squadron, and six tanks assembled near the White House. General Douglas MacArthur was in charge of the operation, Major Dwight Eisenhower his aide. George S. Patton was one of the officers. MacArthur led his troops down Pennsylvania Avenue, used tear gas to clear veterans out of the old buildings, and set the buildings on fire. Then the army moved across the bridge to Anacostia. Thousands of veterans, wives, children, began to run as the tear gas spread. The soldiers set fire to some of the huts, and soon the whole encampment was ablaze. When it was all over, two veterans had been shot to death, an eleven-week-old baby had died, an eight-year-old boy was partially blinded by gas, two police had fractured skulls, and a thousand veterans were injured by gas.

The hard, hard times, the inaction of the government in helping, the action of the government in dispersing war veterans-all had their effect on the election of November 1932. Democratic party candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover overwhelmingly, took office in the spring of 1933, and began a program of reform legislation which became famous as the "New Deal." When a small veterans' march on Washington took place early in his administration, he greeted them and provided coffee they met with one of his aides and went home. It was a sign of Roosevelt's approach.

The Roosevelt reforms went far beyond previous legislation. They had to meet two pressing needs: to reorganize capitalism in such a way to overcome the crisis and stabilize the system also, to head off the alarming growth of spontaneous rebellion in the early years of the Roosevelt administration- organization of tenants and the unemployed, movements of self-help, general strikes in several cities.

That first objective-to stabilize the system for its own protection- was most obvious in the major law of Roosevelt's first months in office, the National Recovery Act (NRA). It was designed to take control of the economy through a series of codes agreed on by management, labor, and the government, fixing prices and wages, limiting competition. From the first, the NRA was dominated by big businesses and served their interests. As Bernard Bellush says (The Failure of the N.R.A.), its Title I, it turned much of the nation's power over to highly organized, well-financed trade associations and industrial combines. The unorganized public, otherwise known as the consumer, along with the members of the fledgling trade-union movement, had virtually nothing to say about the initial organization of the National Recovery Administration, or the formulation of basic policy."

Where organized labor was strong, Roosevelt moved to make some concessions to working people. But: "Where organized labor was weak, Roosevelt was unprepared to withstand the pressures of industrial spokesmen to control the . . . NRA codes." Barton Bernstein (Towards a New Past) confirms this: "Despite the annoyance of some big businessmen with Section 7a, the NRA reaffirmed and consolidated their power. . . ." Bellush sums up his view of the NRA:

When the Supreme Court in 1935 declared the NRA unconstitutional, it claimed it gave too much power to the President, but, according to Bellush, ". . . FDR surrendered an inordinate share of the power of government, through the NRA, to industrial spokesmen throughout the country."

Also passed in the first months of the new administration, the AAA (Agricultural Adjustment Administration) was an attempt to organize agriculture. It favored the larger farmers as the NRA favored big business. The TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) was an unusual entrance of government into business-a government-owned network of dams and hydroelectric plants to control floods and produce electric power in the Tennessee Valley. It gave jobs to the unemployed, helped the consumer with lower electric rates, and in some respect deserved the accusation that it was "socialistic." But the New Deal's organization of the economy was aimed mainly at stabilizing the economy, and secondly at giving enough help to the lower classes to keep them from turning a rebellion into a real revolution.

That rebellion was real when Roosevelt took office:. Desperate people were not waiting for the government to help them they were helping themselves, acting directly. Aunt Molly Jackson, a woman who later became active in labor struggles in Appalachia, recalled how she walked into the local store, asked for a 24-pound sack of flour, gave it to her little boy to take it outside, then filled a sack of sugar and said to the storekeeper, "Well, I'll see you in ninety days. I have to feed some children . . . I'll pay you, don't worry." And when he objected, she pulled out her pistol (which, as a midwife traveling alone through the hills, she had a permit to carry) and said: "Martin, if you try to take this grub away from me, God knows that if they electrocute me for it tomorrow, I'll shoot you six times in a minute." Then, as she recalls, "I walked out, I got home, and these seven children was so hungry that they was a-grabbin the raw dough off-a their mother's hands and crammin it into their mouths and swallowing it whole."

All over the country, people organized spontaneously to stop evictions, in New York, in Chicago, in other cities-when word spread that someone was being evicted, a crowd would gather the police would remove the furniture from the house, put it out in the street, and the crowd would bring the furniture back. The Communist party was active in organizing Workers Alliance groups in the cities. Mrs. Willye Jeffries, a black woman, told Studs Terkel about evictions:

Unemployed Councils were formed all over the country. They were described by Charles R. Walker, writing in The Forum in 1932:

I find it is no secret that Communists organize Unemployed Councils in most cities and usually lead them, but the councils are organized democratically and the majority rules. In one I visited at Lincoln Park, Michigan, there were three hundred members of which eleven were Communists. . The Council had a right wing, a left wing, and a center. The chairman of the Council . was also the local commander of the American Legion. In Chicago there are 45 branches of the Unemployed Council, with a total membership of 22,000.

The Council's weapon is democratic force of numbers, and their function is to prevent evictions of the destitute, or if evicted to bring pressure to bear on the Relief Commission to find a new home if an unemployed worker has his gas or his water turned off because he can't pay for it, to see the proper authorities to see that the unemployed who are shoeless and clothesless get both to eliminate through publicity and pressure discriminations between Negroes and white persons, or against the foreign born, in matters of relief . to march people down to relief headquarters and demand they be fed and clothed. Finally to provide legal defense for all unemployed arrested for joining parades, hunger marches, or attending union meetings.

People organized to help themselves, since business and government were not helping them in 1931 and 1932. In Seattle, the fishermen's union caught fish and exchanged them with people who picked fruit and vegetables, and those who cut wood exchanged that. There were twenty-two locals, each with a commissary where food and firewood were exchanged for other goods and services: barbers, seamstresses, and doctors gave of their skills in return for other things. By the end of 1932, there were 330 self-help organizations in thirty-seven states, with over 300,000 members. By early 1933, they seem to have collapsed they were attempting too big a job in an economy that was more and more a shambles.

Perhaps the most remarkable example of self-help took place in the coal district of Pennsylvania, where teams of unemployed miners dug small mines on company property, mined coal, trucked it to cities, and sold it below the commercial rate. By 1934, 5 million tons of this "bootleg" coal were produced by twenty thousand men using four thousand vehicles. When attempts were made to prosecute, local juries would not convict, local jailers would not imprison.

These were simple actions, taken out of practical need, but they had revolutionary possibilities. Paul Mattick, a Marxist writer, commented:

Were the New Dealers-Roosevelt and his advisers, the businessmen who supported him-also class- conscious? Did they understand that measures must be quickly taken, in 1933 and 1934, to give jobs, food baskets, relief, to wipe out the idea "that the problems of the workers can be solved only by themselves"? Perhaps, like the workers' class consciousness, it was a set of actions arising not from held theory, but from instinctive practical necessity.

Perhaps it was such a consciousness that led to the Wagner-Connery Bill, introduced in Congress in early 1934, to regulate labor disputes. The bill provided elections for union representation, a board to settle problems and handle grievances. Was this not exactly the kind of legislation to do away with the idea that "the problems of the workers can be solved only by themselves"? Big business thought it was too helpful to labor and opposed it. Roosevelt was cool to it. But in the year 1934 a series of labor outbursts suggested the need for legislative action.

A million and a half workers in different industries went on strike in 1934. That spring and summer, longshoremen on the West Coast, in a rank-and-file insurrection against their own union leadership as well as against the shippers, held a convention, demanded the abolition of the shape- up (a kind of early-morning slave market where work gangs were chosen for the day), and went out on strike.

Two thousand miles of Pacific coastline were quickly tied up. The teamsters cooperated, refusing to truck cargo to the piers, and maritime workers joined the strike. When the police moved in to open the piers, the strikers resisted en masse, and two were killed by police gunfire. A mass funeral procession for the strikers brought together tens of thousands of supporters. And then a general strike was called in San Francisco, with 130,000 workers out, the city immobilized.

Five hundred special police were sworn in and 4,500 National Guardsmen assembled, with infantry, machine gun, tank and artillery units. The Los Angeles Times wrote:

The pressure became too strong. There were the troops. There was the AFL pushing to end the strike. The longshoremen accepted a compromise settlement. But they had shown the potential of a general strike.

That same summer of 1934, a strike of teamsters in Minneapolis was supported by other working people, and soon nothing was moving in the city except milk, ice, and coal trucks given exemptions by the strikers. Farmers drove their products into town and sold them directly to the people in the city. The police attacked and two strikers were killed. Fifty thousand people attended a mass funeral. There was an enormous protest meeting and a march on City Hall. After a month, the employers gave in to the teamsters' demands.

In the fall of that same year, 1934, came the largest strike of all- 325,000 textile workers in the South. They left the mills and set up flying squadrons in trucks and autos to move through the strike areas, picketing, battling guards, entering the mills, unbelting machinery. Here too, as in the other cases, the strike impetus came from the rank and file, against a reluctant union leadership at the top. The New York Times said: "The grave danger of the situation is that it will get completely out of the hands of the leaders."

Again, the machinery of the state was set in motion. Deputies and armed strikebreakers in South Carolina fired on pickets, killing seven, wounding twenty others. But the strike was spreading to New England. In Lowell, Massachusetts, 2,500 textile workers rioted in Saylesville, Rhode Island, a crowd of five thousand people defied state troopers who were armed with machine guns, and shut down the textile mill. In Woonsocket, Rhode Island, two thousand people, aroused because someone had been shot and killed by the National Guard, stormed through the town and closed the mill.

By September 18, 421,000 textile workers were on strike throughout the country. There were mass arrests, organizers were beaten, and the death toll rose to thirteen. Roosevelt now stepped in and set up a board of mediation, and the union called off the strike.

In the rural South, too, organizing took place, often stimulated by Communists, but nourished by the grievances of poor whites and blacks who were tenant farmers or farm laborers, always in economic difficulties but hit even harder by the Depression. The Southern Tenant Farmers Union started in Arkansas, with black and white sharecroppers, and spread to other areas. Roosevelt's AAA was not helping the poorest of farmers in fact by encouraging farmers to plant less, it forced tenants and sharecroppers to leave the land. By 1935, of 6,800,000 farmers, 2,800,000 were tenants. The average income of a sharecropper was $312 a year. Farm laborers, moving from farm to farm, area to area, no land of their own, in 1933 were earning about $300 a year.

Black farmers were the worst off, and some were attracted to the strangers who began appearing in their area during the Depression, suggesting they organize. Nate Shaw recalls, in Theodore Rosengarten's remarkable interview (All God's Dangers):

And durin of the pressure years, a union begin to operate in this country, called it the Sharecroppers Union-that was a nice name, I thought. '.. and I knowed what was goin on was a turnabout or the southern man, white and colored it was somethin unusual. And I heard about it bein a organization for the poor class of people-that's just what I wanted to get into, too. I wanted to know the secrets of it enough that I could become in the knowledge of it. .

Mac Sloane, white man, said "You stay out of it. These niggers runnin around here carryin on some kind of meetin-you better stay out of it."

I said to myself, "You a fool if you think you can keep me from joinin". I went right on and joined it, just as quick as the next meetin come.. .. And he done just the thing to push me into it-gived me orders not to join.

The teachers of this organization begin to drive through this country- they couldn't let what they was doin be known. One of em was a colored fella I disremember his name but he did a whole lot of time, holdin meetins with us-that was part of this job. .

Had the meetins at our houses or anywhere we could keep a look and a watch-out that nobody was comin in on us. Small meetins, sometimes there'd be a dozen . niggers was scared, niggers was scared, that's tellin the truth.

Nate Shaw told of what happened when a black farmer who hadn't paid his debts was about to be dispossessed:

The deputy said, "I'm goin to take all old Virgil Jones got this morning." .. .

I begged him not to do it, begged him. "You'll dispossess him of bein able to feed his family."

Nate Shaw then told the deputy he was not going to allow it. The deputy came back with more men, and one of them shot and wounded Shaw, who then got his gun and fired back. He was arrested in late 1932, and served twelve years in an Alabama prison. His story is a tiny piece of the great unrecorded drama of the southern poor in those years of the Sharecroppers Union. Years after his release from prison, Nate Shaw spoke his mind on color and class:

Hosea Hudson, a black man from rural Georgia, at the age of ten a plowhand, later an iron worker in Birmingham, was aroused by the case of the Scottsboro Boys in 1931 (nine black youths accused of raping two white girls and convicted on flimsy evidence by all-white juries). That year he joined the Communist party. In 1932 and 1933, he organized unemployed blacks in Birmingham. He recalls:

Deep in the winter of 1932 we Party members organized a unemployed mass meeting to be held on the old courthouse steps, on 3rd Avenue, North Birmingham. It was about 7000 or more people turned out.. . Negroes and whites. .. .

In 1932 and '33 we began to organize these unemployed block committees in the various communities of Birmingham. If someone get out of food. . .. We wouldn't go around and just say, "That's too bad". We make it our business to go see this person. .. . And if the person was willing . we'd work with them. .

Block committees would meet every week, had a regular meeting. We talked about the welfare question, what was happening, we read the Daily Worker and the Southern Worker to see what was going on about unemployed relief, what people doing in Cleveland . . . struggles in Chicago . or we talk about the latest developments in the Scottsboro case. We kept up, we was on top, so people always wanted to come cause we had something different to tell them every time.

In 1934 and 1935 hundreds of thousands of workers, left out of the rightly controlled, exclusive unions of the American Federation of Labor, began organizing in the new mass production industries-auto, rubber, packinghouse. The AFL could not ignore them it set up a Committee for Industrial Organization to organize these workers outside of craft lines, by industry, all workers in a plant belonging to one union. This Committee, headed by John Lewis, then broke away and became the CIO-the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

But it was rank-and-file strikes and insurgencies that pushed the union leadership, AFL and CIO, into action. Jeremy Brecher tells the story in his book Strike! A new kind of tactic began among rubber workers in Akron, Ohio, in the early thirties - the sit-down strike. The workers stayed in the plant instead of walking out, and this had clear advantages: they were directly blocking the use of strikebreakers they did not have to act through union officials but were in direct control of the situation themselves they did not have to walk outside in the cold and rain, but had shelter they were not isolated, as in their work, or on the picket line they were thousands under one roof, free to talk to one another, to form a community of struggle. Louis Adamic, a labor writer, describes one of the early sit-downs:

In early 1936, at the Firestone rubber plant in Akron, makers of truck tires, their wages already too low to pay for food and rent, were faced with a wage cut. When several union men were fired, others began to stop work, to sit down on the job. In one day the whole of plant #1 was sitting down. In two days, plant #2 was sitting down, and management gave in. In the next ten days there was a sit-down at Goodyear. A court issued an injunction against mass picketing. It was ignored, and ISO deputies were sworn in. But they soon faced ten thousand workers from all over Akron. In a month the strike was won.

The idea spread through 1936. In December of that year began the longest sit-down strike of all, at Fisher Body plant #1 in Flint, Michigan. It started when two brothers were fired, and it lasted until February 1937. For forty days there was a community of two thousand strikers. "It was like war," one said. "The guys with me became my buddies." Sidney Fine in Sit-Down describes what happened. Committees organized recreation, information, classes, a postal service, sanitation. Courts were set up to deal with those who didn't take their turn washing dishes or who threw rubbish or smoked where it was prohibited or brought in liquor. The "punishment" consisted of extra duties the ultimate punishment was expulsion from the plant. A restaurant owner across the street prepared three meals a day for two thousand strikers. There were classes in parliamentary procedure, public speaking, history of the labor movement. Graduate students at the University of Michigan gave courses in journalism and creative writing.

There were injunctions, but a procession of five thousand armed workers encircled the plant and there was no attempt to enforce the injunction. Police attacked with tear gas and the workers fought back with firehoses. Thirteen strikers were wounded by gunfire, but the police were driven back. The governor called out the National Guard. By this time the strike had spread to other General Motors plants. Finally there was a settlement, a six-month contract, leaving many questions unsettled but recognizing that from now on, the company would have to deal not with individuals but with a union.

In 1936 there were forty-eight sitdown strikes. In 1937 there were 477: electrical workers in St. Louis shirt workers in Pulaski, Tennessee broom workers in Pueblo, Colorado trash collectors in Bridgeport, Connecticut gravediggers in New Jersey seventeen blind workers at the New York Guild for the Jewish Blind prisoners in an Illinois penitentiary and even thirty members of a National Guard Company who had served in the Fisher Body sit-down, and now sat down themselves because they had not been paid.

The sit-downs were especially dangerous to the system because they were not controlled by the regular union leadership. An AFL business agent for the Hotel and Restaurant Employees said:

It was to stabilize the system in the face of labor unrest that the Wagner Act of 1935, setting up a National Labor Relations Board, had been passed. The wave of strikes in 1936, 1937, 1938, made the need even more pressing. In Chicago, on Memorial Day, 1937, a strike at Republic Steel brought the police out, firing at a mass picket line of strikers, killing ten of them. Autopsies showed the bullets had hit the workers in the back as they were running away: this was the Memorial Day Massacre. But Republic Steel was organized, and so was Ford Motor Company, and the other huge plants in steel, auto, rubber, meatpacking, the electrical industry.

The Wagner Act was challenged by a steel corporation in the courts, but the Supreme Court found it constitutional-that the government could regulate interstate commerce, and that strikes hurt interstate commerce. From the trade unions' point of view, the new law was an aid to union organizing. From the government's point of view it was an aid to the stability of commerce.

Unions were not wanted by employers, but they were more controllable-more stabilizing for the system than the wildcat strikes, the factory occupations of the rank and file. In the spring of 1937, a New York Times article carried the headline "Unauthorized Sit-Downs Fought by CIO Unions." The story read: "Strict orders have been issued to all organizers and representatives that they will be dismissed if they authorize any stoppages of work without the consent of the international officers. .. ." The Times quoted John L. Lewis, dynamic leader of the CIO: "A CIO contract is adequate protection against sit-downs, lie-downs, or any other kind of strike."

The Communist party, some of whose members played critical roles in organizing CIO unions, seemed to take the same position. One Communist leader in Akron was reported to have said at a party strategy meeting after the sit-downs: "Now we must work for regular relations between the union and the employers-and strict observance of union procedure on the part of the workers."

Thus, two sophisticated ways of controlling direct labor action developed in the mid-thirties. First, the National Labor Relations Board would give unions legal status, listen to them, settling certain of their grievances. Thus it could moderate labor rebellion by channeling energy into elections-just as the constitutional system channeled possibly troublesome energy into voting. The NLRB would set limits in economic conflict as voting did in political conflict. And second, the workers' organization itself, the union, even a militant and aggressive union like the CIO, would channel the workers' insurrectionary energy into contracts, negotiations, union meetings, and try to minimize strikes, in order to build large, influential, even respectable organizations.

The history of those years seems to support the argument of Richard Cloward and Frances Piven, in their book Poor People's Movements, that labor won most during its spontaneous uprisings, before the unions were recognized or well organized: "Factory workers had their greatest influence, and were able to exact their most substantial concessions from government, during the Great Depression, in the years before they were organized into unions. Their power during the Depression was not rooted in organization, but in disruption."

Piven and Cloward point out that union membership rose enormously in the forties, during the Second World War (the CIO and AFL had over 6 million members each by 1945), but its power was less than before-its gains from the use of strikes kept getting whittled down. The members appointed to the NLRB were less sympathetic to labor, the Supreme Court declared sit-downs to be illegal, and state governments were passing laws to hamper strikes, picketing, boycotts.

The coming of World War II weakened the old labor militancy of the thirties because the war economy created millions of new jobs at higher wages. The New Deal had succeeded only in reducing unemployment from 13 million to 9 million. It was the war that put almost everyone to work, and the war did something else: patriotism, the push for unity of all classes against enemies overseas, made it harder to mobilize anger against the corporations. During the war, the CIO and AFL pledged to call no strikes.

Still, the grievances of workers were such-wartime "controls" meant their wages were being controlled better than prices-that they felt impelled to engage in many wildcat strikes: there were more strikes in 1944 than in any previous year in American history, says Jeremy Brecher.

The thirties and forties showed more clearly than before the dilemma of working people in the United States. The system responded to workers' rebellions by finding new forms of control-internal control by their own organizations as well as outside control by law and force. But along with the new controls came new concessions. These concessions didn't solve basic problems for many people they solved nothing. But they helped enough people to create an atmosphere of progress and improvement, to restore some faith in the system.

The minimum wage of 1938, which established the forty-hour week and outlawed child labor, left many people out of its provisions and set very low minimum wages (twenty-five cents an hour the first year). But it was enough to dull the edge of resentment. Housing was built for only a small percentage of the people who needed it. "A modest, even parsimonious, beginning," Paul Conkin says (F.D.R. and the Origins of the Welfare State), but the sight of federally subsidized housing projects, playgrounds, vermin-free apartments, replacing dilapidated tenements, was refreshing. The TVA suggested exciting possibilities for regional planning to give jobs, improve areas, and provide cheap power, with local instead of national control. The Social Security Act gave retirement benefits and unemployment insurance, and matched state funds for mothers and dependent children-but it excluded farmers, domestic workers, and old people, and offered no health insurance. As Conkin says: "The meager benefits of Social Security were insignificant in comparison to the building of security for large, established businesses."

The New Deal gave federal money to put thousands of writers, artists, actors, and musicians to work-in a Federal Theatre Project, a Federal Writers Project, a Federal Art Project: murals were painted on public buildings plays were put on for working-class audiences who had never seen a play hundreds of books and pamphlets were written and published. People heard a symphony for the first time. It was an exciting flowering of arts for the people, such as had never happened before in American history, and which has not been duplicated since. But in 1939, with the country more stable and the New Deal reform impulse weakened, programs to subsidize the arts were eliminated.

When the New Deal was over, capitalism remained intact. The rich still controlled the nation's wealth, as well as its laws, courts, police, newspapers, churches, colleges. Enough help had been given to enough people to make Roosevelt a hero to millions, but the same system that had brought depression and crisis-the system of waste, of inequality, of concern for profit over human need- remained.

For black people, the New Deal was psychologically encouraging (Mrs. Roosevelt was sympathetic some blacks got posts in the administration), but most blacks were ignored by the New Deal programs. As tenant farmers, as farm laborers, as migrants, as domestic workers, they didn't qualify for unemployment insurance, minimum wages, social security, or farm subsidies. Roosevelt, careful not to offend southern white politicians whose political support he needed, did not push a bill against lynching. Blacks and whites were segregated in the armed forces. And black workers were discriminated against in getting jobs. They were the last hired, the first fired. Only when A. Philip Randolph, head of the Sleeping-Car Porters Union, threatened a massive march on Washington in 1941 would Roosevelt agree to sign an executive order establishing a Fair Employment Practices Committee. But the FEPC had no enforcement powers and changed little.

Black Harlem, with all the New Deal reforms, remained as it was. There 350,000 people lived, 233 persons per acre compared with 133 for the rest of Manhattan. In twenty-five years, its population had multiplied six times. Ten thousand families lived in rat-infested cellars and basements. Tuberculosis was common. Perhaps half of the married women worked as domestics. They traveled to the Bronx and gathered on street corners-"slave markets," they were called-to be hired, Prostitution crept in. Two young black women, Ella Baker and Marvel Cooke, wrote about this in The Crisis in 1935:

In Harlem Hospital in 1932, proportionately twice as many people died as ill Bellvue Hospital, which was in the white area downtown. Harlem was a place that bred crime-"the bitter blossom of poverty," as Roi Ottley and William Weatherby say in their essay "The Negro in New York."

On March 19, 1935, even as the New Deal reforms were being passed, Harlem exploded. Ten thousand Negroes swept through the streets, destroying the property of white merchants. Seven hundred policemen moved in and brought order. Two blacks were killed.

In the mid-thirties, a young black poet named Langston Hughes wrote a poem, "Let America Be America Again":

. I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,

I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.

I am the red man driven from the land,

I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek-

And finding only the same old stupid plan.

Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak. .

O, let America be America again-

The land that never has been yet-

And yet must be-the land where every man is free.

The land that's mine-the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's


Who made America,

Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,

Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,

Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose-

The steel of freedom does not stain.

From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,

We must take back our land again,

America! . . .

Americans of the thirties, however, North and South, blacks were invisible. Only the radicals made an attempt to break the racial barriers: Socialists, Trotskyists, Communists most of all. The CIO, influenced by the Communists, was organizing blacks in the mass production industries. Blacks were still being used as strikebreakers, but now there were also attempts to bring blacks and whites together against their common enemy. A woman named Mollie Lewis, writing in The Crisis, in 1938, told of her experience in a steel strike in Gary, Indiana:

While the municipal government of Gary continues to keep the children apart in a system of separate schools, their parents are getting together in the union and in the auxiliary. . The only public eating place in Gary where both races may be freely served is a cooperative restaurant largely patronized by members of the union and auxiliary. . ..

When the black and white workers and members of their families are convinced that their basic economic interests are the same, they may be expected to make common cause for the advancement of these interests.. . .

There was no great feminist movement in the thirties. But many women became involved in the labor organizing of those years. A Minnesota poet, Meridel LeSeuer, was thirty-four when the great teamsters' strike tied up Minneapolis in 1934. She became active in it, and later described her experiences:

I have never been in a strike before. . The truth is I was afraid. . "Do you need any help?" I said eagerly. We kept on pouring thousands of cups of coffee, feeding thousands of men. . The cars were coming back. The announcer cried, "This is murder." . I saw them taking men out of cars and putting them on the hospital cots, on the floor. . The picket cars keep coming in. Some men have walked back from the market, holding their own blood in. Men, women and children are massing outside, a living circle close packed for protection. . We have living blood on our skirts.

Tuesday, the day of the funeral, one thousand more militia were massed downtown.

It was over ninety in the shade. I went to the funeral parlors and thousands of men and women were massed there waiting in the terrific sun. One block of women and children were standing two hours waiting. I went over and stood near them. I didn't know whether I could march. I didn't like marching in parades. . Three women drew me in. "We want all to march," they said gently. "Come with us.". . .

Sylvia Woods spoke to Alice and Staughton Lynd years later about her experiences in the thirties as a laundry worker and union organizer:

Many Americans began to change their thinking in those days of crisis and rebellion. In Europe, Hitler was on the march. Across the Pacific, Japan was invading China. The Western empires were being threatened by new ones. For the United States, war was not far off.

The Evidence Continues to Mount Against Statins

Although statins get a lot of flak in the Primal health community, you have to hand it to them. They may not cure cancer, or single-handedly save the economy and bring back all the jobs, or render entire populations totally immune to cardiovascular disease, but they do exactly what they’re meant to do: lower cholesterol. And they’re very good at what they do. You want lower LDL without changing what you eat or how much you exercise, or trying that crazy meditation stuff? Take a statin. Do you want to hit the target lipid numbers to lower your insurance premium? Take a statin.

Except that statins lower cholesterol by inhibiting HMG-CoA reductase, a crucial enzyme located upstream on the cholesterol synthesis pathway. If that were all HMG-CoA reductase did for us, that’s one thing. At least we’d know what we were getting ourselves into when we filled the prescription. But the “cholesterol pathway” isn’t isolated. Many other things happen along and branch off from the same pathway.

Some would deem those other products of the pathway inconsequential when you have the opportunity to lower cholesterol. Okay that’s a normal reaction given the widespread hysteria surrounding blood lipids. Still, I maintain that we should give the benefit of the doubt to our physiology and assume the unfoldment of the body’s processes happens for a reason, even when we’re unaware of the “benefits” or existence of a particular process. There are a lot of moving parts in the meat sack your consciousness calls home. Probably a good idea to let them happen, or at least know what’s going on down there.

What else is downstream of HMG-CoA reductase?

CoQ10: Statins block CoQ10 synthesis. Because CoQ10 production is downstream from HMG-CoA reductase, statins interfere. This is a problem, for CoQ10 is an endogenous antioxidant and vital participant in the generation of cellular energy. It helps us generate ATP to power our cells, tissues, and structures. Muscle contractions require it. Deficiencies in CoQ10 have been linked to heart failure and high blood pressure. Luckily, supplemental CoQ10 is both widely available and, according to many studies, effective at countering some of the muscle-wasting effects of statins.

Squalene: Since squalene is the precursor to cholesterol, blocking squalene production is an expressed purpose of statin therapy. Good if you want to lower cholesterol at all costs, bad if you enjoy the antioxidant effects of squalene.

Vitamin K2: Statins interfere with vitamin K biosynthesis. The pathway inhibited by statin use is the same pathway used to convert vitamin K into vitamin K2, which is protective against cardiovascular disease. Interestingly, the sites in the body where statin-related adverse effects predominate – the brain, kidney, pancreatic beta cells, and muscles – also happen to be typical storage sites for vitamin K2.

Vitamin D: Since vitamin D synthesis in the skin upon UV exposure requires cholesterol, statins may impair it. This hasn’t been studied yet, save for one short term study where statin users’ vitamin D levels were monitored for a month. Although no changes were noted, changes in CoQ10 production take months to appear after statin therapy and vitamin D production may require a similar time frame to show changes.

Testosterone: Steroid hormone production is also dependent on cholesterol, and statin therapy is associated with a small but significant reduction in circulating testosterone levels in men.

What are some possible side effects of statin therapy?

Statins may cause myalgia, or muscle pain. If you listen to anecdotes from people who’ve taken statins, this is probably the most common side effect. On the other hand, most clinical trials suggest that muscle pain is rare. What can explain this discrepancy? “ Mild symptoms… such as fatigue, myalgias, or mildly elevated CK (creatine kinase, a marker of muscle damage), are usually not reported to the US Food and Drug Administration in a drug’s postmarketing period,” suggesting that “clinical trial estimates of these adverse events are an underestimation of the real world event rate.” In some cases, statins even lead to rhabdomyolysis, a severe, often fatal type of muscle damage which overloads the kidneys with broken down muscle protein.

Statins impair adaptations to exercise. When you add statins to an aerobic exercise routine, the normal improvements in cardiovascular fitness and mitochondrial function are attenuated (PDF). Furthermore, due to the possibility of musculoskeletal pain and/or injury, exercise also becomes less attractive and enjoyable. It’s no fun working out – or even going for a walk – when you ache all over.

Statins increase the risk of musculoskeletal injuries. In a recent study, statin users (characterized by use of a statin for at least 90 days) were more likely than non-users to develop musculoskeletal pain, injuries (dislocations, strains, tears, sprains), and diseases. Another study found similar results for statin use and osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and chondropathies.

Statins increase fatigue. In one recent study, a group of over 1000 healthy men and women aged 20 and older took either statins or placebo. Those taking statins reported reductions in overall everyday energy and the amount of energy they were able to muster during exercise. These effects were more pronounced in women taking the drug.

Statins increase the risk of diabetes, with stronger statins having a greater effect. Three mechanisms have been proposed. First, statins reduce glucose tolerance and induce both hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia. Second, certain statins change how insulin is secreted by pancreatic beta cells. Third, the reduction in CoQ10 impairs cellular function all over the body, leading to dysfunction. These are features of statins. They may not all lead to full blown diabetes, but these mechanisms occur uniformly across statin users to varying degrees, and the longer you adhere to your statin therapy the greater the risk.

Everything we know we only know because the pharmaceutical companies deign to provide it.

They control the flow of information. They have the raw data and release only the published research that’s been picked clean and gone over with a fine tooth comb. Actually, we don’t know what’s happening, what’s been removed, and what’s been omitted because we don’t have access to it. Seeing as how pharmaceutical companies have both the opportunity and motive to omit or downplay unfavorable results, I’m not confident we’re getting the whole story on statin side effects. For one thing, large statin trials will often have a “run-in period” where people who show poor tolerance of the drug are eliminated from inclusion in the full trial. That’s just crazy. We need trials specifically looking at, or at least including, the statin-intolerant. Side effects certainly are rare when you exclude the people who are most likely to have them.

Okay, okay. Even with the potential for side effects, surely the benefit to heart health makes it all worthwhile. Right?

Even though statins can reduce mortality from heart disease in certain populations, they consistently fail to reduce all-cause mortality in everyone but people with an established clinical history of heart disease. For primary prevention in people without prior history of heart disease, even those considered to be at the “highest risk” (high LDL and such), statins do not reduce all-cause mortality. Same goes for the elderly (who seem to suffer more depression and cognitive decline when taking statins). Nor do statins lower the total number of serious adverse events (PDF), which include death (from any cause), hospital admissions, hospital stays, permanent disability, and cancer. That’s the story, time and time again. You might be less likely to die from a heart attack, but you’re more likely to die from something else. It’s a wash in the end – unless you have prior history of heart disease/attacks.

What does this mean for you?

If you’re currently on statins and notice any of the possible side effects listed above, talk to your doctor about cycling off. Your doctor works for you, not the other way around. Express your concerns, come armed with a few studies printed out, and suggest a trial period without statins to see how you respond under his or her guidance. Keep them apprised of your status with frequent updates. Turn it into an N=1 self experiment. Maybe it becomes a case study, even. Maybe you change your doc’s mind about the realities of statin side effects good documentation tends to do that. Or maybe you realize that statins weren’t the problem after all.

Statins may not hurt you. They may even help, if you’ve already had a heart attack and you’re not elderly. I’m not saying you shouldn’t take them. I’m only suggesting that if you’re experiencing any of the issues mentioned above, you should probably consider not taking them with the help of your doctor to see if they resolve. And if your doctor is pushing you to take statins because of some mildly elevated cholesterol numbers, think about all the important physiological processes that occur along the same pathway whose inhibition you’re considering.

The narrative seems to be changing, though. Yeah, they want to give statins to pregnant women and there’s been chatter for years about putting them in drinking water, but things are getting better. The pill-pushers have overreached. Their latest curated guidelines for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease, which looks suspiciously similar to the guidelines you’d come up with if your primary goal was getting as many people taking your drug as possible, are receiving considerable push back from physicians in the UK. Mainstream doctors who write for TheHeart.org are publicly questioning the utility of statins.

Statins have their place. I won’t deny that. But they’re not for everyone and there are consequences, and I think people deserve to know that.

What do you think, folks? Got any statin experiences? Good, bad? Let’s hear about them!


Oral history has been described as "part of the struggle of memory against forgetting." It's something I'm inclined to commit whenever a little ice and snow shut down the schools and government agencies in Washington. I want to tell the children and grandchildren (with a disdainful sneer, of course) about the "real" winters out on the Great Plains in the 1930s. I'll tell you too, perhaps awakening in the process your own tales of that time.

What I remember about those winters are temperatures of minus 20 to 30 degrees and days when we had to tunnel through snow drifts to get out of the house. What I'm forgetting is whether a reading of minus 30 degrees and the tunneling chores were rare or annual occurrences.

As children, we were like the mythical mail carrier, hostage to neither snow nor stabbing gales off the prairie. The walk to school was less than a mile, and although it was terribly cold it was, as I remember it, a dry cold, far less painful than you'll get on the streets of Chicago or Detroit in the dead of winter. There were no school buses, a fact irrelevant to the tale. They couldn't have run in that weather. Roads were impassable. Rail lines out of Omaha and points north and east -- the Burlington and Union Pacific -- were often blocked for days at a time. How often I can't say with any conviction. But you can be sure no helicopters flew in to drop hay to stranded livestock. No National Guard troops were mobilized to rescue snowbound towns.

There must have been a "snow day" now and then when the school was closed. But I recall none, which makes the sad and unwelcome point that memory, in its struggle with forgetting, is both selective and frail.

The winters seem, in retrospect, to have been endless, the land covered with ice and snow from late October until Easter, which was an important date, the day on which you could take off the hated long johns that couldn't really be concealed by knickers, knee socks and boots. There was a coal stove in the kitchen, and every winter morning the oven door was open so we could warm our feet before heading out for whatever the day would bring.

You could ice-skate for miles on the river. There were a few horse-drawn sleighs in town. Was it two or a dozen? We would hook our sleds behind them and sail in their wake. Townspeople and farmers set out traps for beaver, otter, coyotes and other prairie creatures I've forgotten. Furs brought extra income at the feed store. The rabbits went into stews. Long ago, this had been Lakota country -- Omahas and Osage. My mother remembered seeing wolves as a child. But I never did.

What do you do with stuff like this, fragments of memory and experience from an ordinary life? Who validates memory and straightens out the tales? In earlier times, when extended families were commonplace and members of three or four generations often shared a single home or community, there was time and opportunity for storytelling, for the passing of history and legends from the old to the young. But as we have become a more mobile and rootless society, blessed or afflicted with the diversions of the late 20th century -- television, VCRs, video games and other interests -- those intergenerational transactions are less common and more difficult to sustain.

Grandma doesn't live here anymore, if she ever did she's in a nursing home or a trailer park in South Florida. The kids are in the Army or in Denver or L.A. It's been a long time since you could keep them down on the farm. Besides, the farms are vanishing, and small communities where childhoods like mine were spent are fast becoming ghost towns where there's little left but a gas station, a pool hall or a diner and uncertain memories in which fact and fiction become confused. There is usually a graveyard too, with names on headstones. But the personal histories for which these names are mere labels are mostly lost, never to be recovered from the black hole of nonexistence.

If we and our parents and grandparents escape that fate, it will only be because we immortalize them in our stories, memoirs and oral histories. My mother's father spent most of his working life in a cement factory. But there was another dimension to him, I recently learned. He was a "licensed exhorter" for the Methodists in North Carolina and had "died in the faith of Christ, loving the church and waiting for the call."

Imagine, a "licensed exhorter." I suspect they have long been extinct. We can't count on professional historians to collect or preserve material of this sort. It has meaning and significance only to ourselves. Sequoya, a silversmith and trader who was half Cherokee, recognized this truth early in the 19th century. He invented the Cherokee alphabet, which enabled generations of his tribesmen to read and preserve in writing their own histories, legends and traditions.

The major historians would not have done that. They have always been primarily concerned with kings and queens, generals, tycoons, politicians, the hierarchs of religion and politics and other movers and shakers of the world. That was the case with Allan Nevins, the Columbia University historian who began in 1949 the first formal "oral history" program in the United States. He believed, correctly, that it would be of great value to use a fairly new device, the tape recorder, to capture the voices and stories of important figures before they lost their memories or died. His first interviews were with a prominent jurist, Learned Hand, and with Herbert Lehman, the financier who served as governor of New York and as a U.S. senator.

In time, oral history, as Susan Brenna of Newsday has written, became a "boom industry" embracing not only "movers and shakers" but commoners as well, "those moved and shaken." Today more than 1,000 colleges and universities sponsor oral history projects. So do hundreds of state and local historical societies, municipal libraries, ethnic and racial groups, the National Endowment for the Humanities and private corporations. A lot of freelancers are going around the country collecting the stories of people of all ages and backgrounds -- children, musicians, gay men and lesbians, tattoo artists and folk singers. These individual memories, as Brenna noted, enable historians to "recreate the texture of people's lives -- what they eat, when they pray, how they get the laundry done. Such details have particular meaning in a city churning with culture-shifting transients, many just assimilating."

A lot of this work is imperfect, poorly planned and executed. Still, historian Michael Staub argued in an essay for The Nation magazine in 1991, "anyone who has ever sat in a stranger's kitchen and conversed while a tape recorder is humming a pleasant shock of recognition. . . . Those big talking books' put together by Studs Terkel each and every oral history collection in the country and public television's Front Line' documentaries are all predicated upon the premise that oral sources do matter. They matter, or so the conventional arguments go, because oral history is where the working class and other . . . groups speak for themselves, where the voices without power' can gain an audience." They are rarely "objective" and are often unreliable. But they matter.

While Allan Nevins is generally credited with launching oral history work, it had antecedents in the 1930s, beginning with the Federal Writers Project, a New Deal undertaking that provided jobs for unemployed writers, historians and sociologists. They collected, for example, the testimony of the last living Americans who had been held in slavery in the South. They filled a half-dozen volumes of interviews chronicling the lives of coal miners. These and similar materials are part of extensive collections of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. The center's director and curator is Alan Jabbour.

In Baltimore, the Maryland Historical Society conducted 215 interviews among several generations of immigrants who populated the city's ethnic neighborhoods. It was called the Baltimore Neighborhood Heritage Project and covered the years from 1904 through the late 1970s. Another Baltimore project, sponsored by former Maryland governor Theodore McKeldin and Lillie Mae Jackson, a civil rights figure in the 1930s and 1940s, involved interviews with civil rights leaders in that era and up through the 1960s.

In Washington, the Martin Luther King Library has sponsored oral history projects dealing with the lives of black Washingtonians. The work, directed by Roxanne Dean, has produced a fine book, "Remembering Washington." That library also has three large volumes of interviews with Washington Jews, compiled by the Jewish Historical Society.

In Charlottesville, Virginia oral history materials are available on the World Wide Web to everyone, including public school students and their teachers. One collection from Charlottesville residents covers the years from 1914 through 1984 and has been compiled into a book, "From Porch Swings to Patios." Barbara Rivers, Virginia's 1995-96 teacher of the year, developed a project at Venable Elementary School in which students interviewed longtime residents in their neighborhood. The interviews have been placed in the Interactive Neighborhood web site. Glen Bull, a professor at the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education, has been a prime mover in these projects.

There are tape collections at many institutions in the Washington area including the University of Maryland, where Haruku Taya Cook is a resident professor of history. Her interviews with Japanese survivors of World War II are a masterwork of oral history.

The oral histories of ordinary people, as Susan Brenna noted, often tell us a lot about the daily rituals in the lives of our parents and other ancestors. But very often, our ancestors were eyewitnesses and actors in the greatest historical events of their times and ours. And it is also true that very often they acquired perspectives quite different, more dramatic and more revealing of those events than the perspectives of those whose memoirs and doctoral dissertations fill the shelves of our libraries and archives.

One of the great deficiencies in the oral history collections of the American military services is the paucity of interviews with those who actually fought the battles. There is an abundance of material from generals, admirals and so on. But there are few interviews of men in the enlisted ranks, whose perspectives on the essence of combat were more intimate and personal. Those at the top of the command structure who may have planned famous battles usually witnessed them from afar.

The ex-slaves interviewed in the 1930s Jewish survivors of the Holocaust children and white-collar workers who sold apples on street corners during the Great Depression the coal miners of Harlan, Ky., who spilled and spent blood in the great battles with the coal corporations 60 years ago Southern sharecroppers and graduates of the tenements of New York and of the Oklahoma-Kansas Dust Bowl all had tales to tell that transcend the breakfast menu.

Only three generations separate me from the American Revolution. My great-grandfather, about whom I know nothing, was born before our Constitution was adopted. My grandfather was a smuggler and blockade runner for the Confederate Army during the Civil War. In the Reconstruction era, he was shot down on a street in Memphis by a Union cavalryman, but survived and later had an encounter (unpleasant but bloodless) with the Jesse James gang at Waverly, Tenn. He died before I was born, leaving blank chapters in the story of his life.

My father was born in the 1870s. As a youngster, he was a roustabout in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show, traveling with various pulp novel heroes. They included the Dakota chief, Sitting Bull, who defeated the Custer troop at Little Big Horn. By then Sitting Bull was a betrayed, broken, humiliated man playing Indian against the cowboys.

In a later incarnation, my father pitched in Mississippi, where he organized a baseball team in the Cotton States League. A black hobo, shot several times for riding a boxcar, stumbled onto his front porch one night. My father put a pillow under his head, enraging the mob when it arrived. They got the black man and hanged him. My father escaped an attempt on his life and never returned to the town.

Somewhere along the way he got religion, became a preacher, married and took his family to Loup City, Neb., where I grew up in the 1930s. Charlie Mohr, who later made a name for himself writing for Time and the New York Times, was a playmate in those years. Fred Dutton, adviser to the Kennedys and George McGovern, spent a lot of his summers in Loup City.

It was bleak country then. The Depression had us by the throat. Farmers defaulted on their mortgages. The banks failed. Dust storms, tornadoes and hail storms devastated land and buildings. There were terrible droughts. One year, the crops came in but there was a grasshopper plague: Billions of them darkened the skies, devoured the wheat and corn, the fence posts, the telephone poles. If you were caught out in a field they devoured your clothes, or so I rememer.

Farmers organized a milk strike. They aimed to force the local creamery to raise the prices it paid for milk and to raise the wages of farm women who picked chickens eight to ten hours a day in a hot and filthy processing room. Farmers who didn't join the strike were ambushed on the way to town. Their milk was dumped on the road.

These troubles came to a head one day in a pitched battle on the courthouse lawn, armed sheriff's deputies and townsmen on one side, farmers and strike organizers out of Philadelphia on the other. An 18-year-old farm boy who often took me hunting was in the middle of it. He had a broken leg and used a crutch as a weapon. He took a wild swing and hit his own father, fracturing his skull.

They carried the old man across the street to where my father and I were standing. They asked my father to pray. I can't remember if the man with the broken head lived or died and there's nobody around now to ask.

These ancestors saw a lot of "big" history, but their tales were never recorded. This loss is not vital to the world's understanding of the past, but it is important to those like me who are curious about who and where we came from. That's what kids are looking for when they say, "Tell me a story. Did you have TV? Were there cars then?"

Our generation, the "seniors", "Golden Agers" and "geezers" portrayed in films by Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, could tell them a lot about a world as foreign to them as the Roman Empire to us:

The Roaring Twenties, the Depression, the New Deal, the struggle of labor unions for a place in the sun, the gangster folklore (Capone, Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd, whose exploits took our minds off misery), the rise and fall of Fascist and Communist empires, the Big War, the postwar creation of suburbia and the baby boomers, our progeny.

Journalists have done a lot to recreate and preserve the past. Jonathan Yardley's "Our Kind of People" and Benjamin Bradlee's "A Good Life" are examples. A somewhat more ambitious work has been published by Frank Wetzel, a retired journalist on the West Coast. It is called "Victory Gardens and Barrage Balloons -- A Collective Memoir" of the World War II years. He wrote to 600 childhood friends and schoolmates from those days in Bremerton, Wash., when they went through high school and then into the service or got war-related jobs. Many responded and more than 50 wrote "full blown autobiographies, some of stunning felicity." They had vivid memories of the Depression years and the war that followed:

Geraldine Peterson: "A dollar given to my older brother for a date was a sacrifice. We could not run our refrigerator . . . because it took $1.50 extra for electricity. . . . We went mostly barefoot in the summer and wore cardboard soles in winter."

Jim Taylor: "My father would leave with a dollar in his pocket, hitchhike to Seattle, sneak on the ferry, seek employment and return the same way with the same dollar in his pocket. He was finally hired by the yard in 1932 and the family moved to Bremerton. He pitched a tent in the City Park on Park Avenue. After a couple of paychecks we rented a house for $25 a month. By this time we had eaten up our house in Compton, Calif., which had been sold for $900."

Florence Lindberg: "In 1944, I had 63 pupils in my room. . . . I was teaching sixth grade and each morning it was necessary to have each pupil empty all pockets . . . often I'd keep knives, switchblades, weapons of all kinds . . . until Friday p.m. when belongings would be sent home with the ow ers."

Dave Leathley: "Dad was in those days, out of work, but he always had a smile for us and asked about what we had been doing in school that morning. I can still see him, leaning on the old Monarch range as we ate our lunch at a small table he had made out of apple boxes."

Audrey Landon: "I have dug into an old trunk. . . . There are mementos of all our activities as well as newspaper clippings about . . . our boys in service. Some tell happy news that Lt. Wes Wager is no longer missing but has been found well and alive and the sad news that Francis Ahearn has been killed in action."

There was a lot of bad news:

"Pvt. Francis Berg, 21, has only one leg now and the Army hasn't any further use for him. He lost his leg at Anzio. . . . Fred L. Sunday is missing in action as a member of the U.S. submarine Tang. . . . Lt. Richard L. (Red) Alderman is dead, his wife has been told. He was the pilot of a P-47 Thunderbolt fighter. . . . Jack Campbell was killed in Italy on Feb. 21."

Nearly a million American families got notices of this kind telling of boys dead, wounded or missing. Most of their stories were untold or, at best, told in thin fragments.

If, as the remaining children of the '20s and '30s, we were to clean out the attics of our own minds, we could add something of value to the collective memory of a great national experience or, just as likely, give the grandchildren something to offer up at the show-and-tell hour. The problem, of course, is getting the facts approximately right.

Loyal Blood, the protagonist in Annie Proulx's novel "Postcards," talks to a young couple about stargazing: "You can't pick a cloudy place. . . . The sky has to be clear . . . and your atmosphere has to be steady. . . . Oh, there's a lot to know. Haven't even begun to tell you. . . . We'll get to it some other time."

There's a lot to know and tell about our histories. But it's best not to put it off to another time. Time runs too fast and things get cloudier every year. Richard Harwood is a retired deputy managing editor of The Washington Post. CAPTION: Images From Decades Past: Cotton-picking family looking for work, Jewish refugees from a German concentration camp, a home made desolate by drought , southern blacks packing up to head north. CAPTION: Organized sharecroppers in Arkansas, right, and a Seabee's homecoming after World War II. CAPTION: Richard Harwood at age 14 or 15, long before he became The Post's deputy managing editor.

The U.S.

Short selling was banned in the U.S. due to the young country's unstable market and speculation regarding the War of 1812. It remained in place until the 1850s when it was repealed.

The U.S. later restricted short selling as a result of the events leading up to the Great Depression. In October 1929, the market crashed, and many people blamed stock trader Jesse Livermore. Livermore collected $100 million when shorting the stock market in 1929. Word spread and the public was outraged.

The U.S. Congress investigated the market crash of 1929, as they were concerned about reports of "bear raids" that short sellers were alleged to have run. They decided to give the newly created Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) power to regulate short selling in the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The uptick rule was also first implemented in 1938. The rule stated that investors cannot short a stock unless the last trade was at a higher price than the previous trade. The effort was meant to slow down the momentum of a security's decline.

A U.S. congressional hearing addressed short selling in 1989, several months after the stock market crash in October 1987. Lawmakers wanted to look at the effects short sellers had on small companies and the need for further regulation in the markets.

How Apples Became a Weapon Against the Great Depression - HISTORY

A Photo Essay on the Great Depression

Note: This page is very graphics heavy and will take several moments to load depending on the speed of your connection.

The trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange just after the crash of 1929. On Black Tuesday, October twenty-ninth, the market collapsed. In a single day, sixteen million shares were traded--a record--and thirty billion dollars vanished into thin air. Westinghouse lost two thirds of its September value. DuPont dropped seventy points. The "Era of Get Rich Quick" was over. Jack Dempsey, America's first millionaire athlete, lost $3 million. Cynical New York hotel clerks asked incoming guests, "You want a room for sleeping or jumping?"

Police stand guard outside the entrance to New York's closed World Exchange Bank, March 20, 1931. Not only did bank failures wipe out people's savings, they also undermined the ideology of thrift.

Unemployed men vying for jobs at the American Legion Employment Bureau in Los Angeles during the Great Depression.

World War I veterans block the steps of the Capital during the Bonus March, July 5, 1932 (Underwood and Underwood). In the summer of 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression, World War I veterans seeking early payment of a bonus scheduled for 1945 assembled in Washington to pressure Congress and the White House. Hoover resisted the demand for an early bonus. Veterans benefits took up 25% of the 1932 federal budget. Even so, as the Bonus Expeditionary Force swelled to 60,000 men, the president secretly ordered that its members be given tents, cots, army rations and medical care.

I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean- to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it. (From: Popular Photography, Feb. 1960).

More Comments:

Vaughn davis bornet - 6/19/2009

I just don't remember the origins of "relief, recovery, reform" at this time. I think I knew at some point.

If I were doing it, I would look first in Schlessinger, Jr. and then in Friedel, both orderly historians. I had no luck with Edgar Eugene Robinson, The Roosevelt Leadership, 1933 to 1945.

I thought the essay on Depression a very good piece of work. I am of opinion that Hoover did not know of the several earlier instances the author dug up, and that he thought he was pioneering in its use. Still, I could be wrong.

I will look in Robinson and Bornet, Herbert Hoover: President of the United States, but I would not expect the subject to have come up there.

Vaughn Davis Bornet Ashland, Oregon

Oscar Chamberlain - 2/18/2009

Interesting article. Thanks!

Lately I have been curious about the origin of the division of FDRs programs--in particularly the early New Deal--into categories of "relief", "recovery," and "reform."

Was that part of the Administration wordplay from the outset, or was it first used by others to explain it?