The Great Depression

In the 1930s when the country was in the grip of what is known as the Great Depression, Georgia was hit doubly hard. In this economic crisis, people lost their jobs, their savings, and many, their hope for the future. The decade of the 1920s was already a time of crisis for Georgians; the boll weevil devastated cotton fields, and cotton prices hit rock bottom. Dan Carter, a historian at Emory University, explains how the stock market crash triggered the Great Depression and led to a downward economic spiral of factories and banks closing, job losses, and no money for food, clothing, or any of life’s necessities. Wilkes County resident Russell Slayton and his daughter Betty discuss life in those days. Mr. Slayton describes coming to school with no shoes and little lunch to a classroom of students. Betty explains how the phrase, “working can to can’t,” meant working long days from sunup to sundown (can see to can’t see). The Slaytons were fortunate to have food because they lived on a working farm that had been in their family for ten generations. Mabel Johnson lived in the city of Washington in Wilkes County as a young girl during the depression. She recalls her mother making candy and selling it for a nickel a bag to make money to buy groceries. Without cash, people made do by bartering or trading with goods. Neighbors and friends looked after one another and shared what they had to help one another. Dan Carter reports that conditions began to improve with the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932. Many New Deal programs came to Georgia and gave people a boost. With the start of World War II and the need for production of war materials, the depression ended.

Teacher tip: Ask students to take notes while watching the video and complete a table with the following headings: Economic Problems in Georgia (1920s); Economic Problems in the United States (1930s); Examples of Ways Georgians Coped with the Depression; Steps toward Recovery. Include two entries under each heading.