Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

6-23 Remembering the Great Depression

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- What do you remember about the Great Depression? If you are over 80, you have some vivid memories. If you are over 60, you likely heard many stories from your parents. If you are over 30, you may have heard stories from your grandparents.
At any age, you still are affected by New Deal programs created by the Franklin Roosevelt administration between 1933 and 1942. A new book, "The New Deal: A 75th Anniversary Celebration," by Kathryn Flynn, with Richard Polese, remembers those programs with poignant text and pictures.
Although I was born toward the end of the Depression, the book rekindled memories for me. I remember parents who always cautioned me never to buy anything on credit because I would lose it if I couldn't finish paying for it.
My parents and grandparents warned me never to put all my money in one place and to keep a stash safely hidden at home. And we seldom ate chicken because that was the only meat they had been able to afford during the Depression.
My mother's parents lost everything. Her father was a bank officer in El Paso. They packed up and moved back to Las Cruces where my mother and grandmother found jobs with the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, one of the first New Deal programs -- and a very controversial one.
My father already was teaching at the beginning of the Depression. He landed a job in Lordsburg which almost totally was a railroad town. The railroads could still pay their property tax, which supported schools at that time, so he was paid in cash rather than scrip.
The Depression hit New Mexico hard, but fortunately our state benefited as much as any state from New Deal programs. We ranked fifth in the number of New Deal projects. These projects focused on farms, parks, the arts and the Hispanic and Indian cultures. It also helped that Gov. Clyde Tingley and President Roosevelt became great buddies.
Virtually all of New Mexico's communities were direct beneficiaries of the New Deal but most New Mexicans no longer are aware of that legacy. Flynn's book increases that awareness and helps New Mexicans discover or rediscover New Deal treasures in their communities.
The Civilian Conservation Corps was the flagship program of the New Deal. It employed five million jobless young men and World War I veterans to perform projects beneficial to America. Most of the unemployed came from the East but most of the projects were in the West. New Mexico had camps throughout the state.
The CCC was run by the War Department in cooperation with the Departments of Agriculture and Interior. The camps were run by the Army and differed little from Army life except that the training was vocational aimed at building roads, bridges, trails and buildings.
Eight years later, with the outbreak of World War II, these men, along with National Guard units, became the backbone of America's first line of defense in the South Pacific.
There were other programs too. The Federal Art Project created murals in many courthouses and school houses around that state that were built be the CCC and the Works Progress Administration.
The Federal Writers Project published a comprehensive New Mexico Guidebook which can still be purchased today. When the War came, these writers prepared pamphlets and booklets on military instruction, radio scripts, local defense emergency procedures and documents that explained national policies to local communities.
The Rural Electrification Administration was another major project in New Mexico, bringing power to rural communities throughout the state. New Mexico's 16 rural electric cooperatives, serving 80 percent of the state, are a result.
These, and many more programs, are a product of the New Deal in New Mexico and throughout the nation. Flynn's book is a superb way to remember them.
Flynn will be signing her book on July 5 at Garcia Street Books in Santa Fe.
MON, 6-23-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)

I'll be out of the office 6/11-6/16. Cell: 505-699-9982. Not taking my computer this time.


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