- Historic Sites
Hard Times Remembered
April 1970 | Volume 21, Issue 3
There were a few judges who would refuse to take the cases. They’d postpone it or turn it over to somebody else. But this one was pretty gruff and arrogant: you do this, you do that, it’s my court. When a bunch of farmers are going broke every day and the judge sits there very proudly and says: this is my court … they say: who the hell are you? He was just a fellow human being, same as they were.
These farmers gathered this one particular day. I suppose some of ‘em decided to have a little drink, and so they developed a little courage. They decided: we’ll go down and teach that judge a lesson. They marched into the courtroom, hats on, demanded to visit with him. He decided he would teach them a lesson. So he says: “Gentlemen, this is my court. Remove your hats and address the court properly.”
They just laughed at him. They said, “We’re not concerned whose court this is. We came here to get redress from your actions. The things you’re doing, we can’t stand to have done to us any more.” The argument kept on, and got rougher. He wouldn’t listen. He threatened them. So they drug him from his chair, pulled him down the steps of the courthouse, and shook a rope in front of his face. Then, tarred and feathered him.
The governor called out the National Guard. And put these farmers behind barbed wire. Just imagine ( he weeps ) … in this state. You don’t forget these things.
There’s a saying: Depressions are farm led and farm fed. That was true in the thirties. As farmers lost their purchasing power, the big tractors piled up at the Minneapolis-Moline plant in the Twin Cities. One day they closed their doors and turned their employees out to beg or starve. My cousin was one of them. I took my truck to Minneapolis and brought him and his family out to my farm for the duration. They stayed with us until the company opened up again, two or three years later.
During my first session in the state senate, in 1927, five hundred farmers came marching up Capitol Hill. It thrilled me. I didn’t know farmers were intelligent enough to organize ( laughs ). They stayed there for two days. It was a strength I didn’t realize we had.
The day after they left, a senator got up and attacked them as anarchists and bolsheviks ( laughs ). They had a banner, he said, redder than anything in Moscow, Russia/What was this banner? It was a piece of muslin, hung up in the auditorium. It said: “We Buy Together, We Sell Together, We Vote Together.” This was the radical danger ( laughs ). They’d been building co-operatives, which the farmers badly needed.
Horace Cayton , a Negro, is a sociologist and writer.
What was the black people ‘s attitude toward Roosevelt?
Oh yeah, that was something. He broke the tradition. My father told me: “The Republicans are the ship. All else is the sea.” Frederick Douglass said that. They didn’t go for Roosevelt much in ’32. But the W.P.A. came along and Roosevelt came to be a god. It was really great. You worked, you got a paycheck, and you had some dignity. Even when a man raked leaves, he got paid, he had some dignity. All the songs they used to have about W.P.A.: Oh, I’m for you, Mr. President / I’m for you all the way / You can take away the alphabet / But don’t take away this W.P.A.
When they got on W.P.A., you know what they’d mostly do. First, they’d buy some clothes. And tried to get a little better place to live. The third thing was to get your teeth fixed. When you’re poor, you let your teeth go. Especially the child. If she’s got a rotten or snaggle tooth and that tooth may ache, dulled by aspirin or something or whisky. Then they’d pull them out. They’d get their teeth fixed. W.P.A….
Ed Paulsen did odd jobs in the igso’s. Now he has an administrative job with UNICEF.
The N.Y.A. [National Youth Administration] was my salvation. I could just as easily have been in Sing Sing as with the U.N. Every bit as good a chance. Hell, yes. Everybody was a criminal. You stole, you cheated through. You were getting by, survival. Stole clothes off lines, stole milk off back porches, you stole bread. I remember going through Tucumcari, New Mexico, on a freight. We made a brief stop. There was a grocery store, a supermarket kind ofthing for those days. I beat it off the train and came back with rolls and crackers. This guy is standing in the window shaking his fist at you.
It wasn’t a big thing, but it created a coyote mentality. You were a predator. You had to be. We were coyotes in the thirties, the jobless.
No, I don’t see the Depression as an ennobling experience.
Daisy Singer is a photographer who grew up in New York.
We lived on Park Avenue before the Depression, like in eleven or fourteen rooms. One of those big apartments which are essentially very dreary. But they’re what people hoped to achieve. After the crash, we moved to Central Park West, which wasn’t such a terrible comedown. Except my grandparents moved in with us:.keep up appearances and double in brass.