I first learned about the Great Depression from my great-grandmother, who had lived during the time. She always referred to it as “Hoover Days” but noted that her family was a bit better off because the operated a small neighborhood store. It wasn’t that they were wealthier than their neighbors, but because they had access to food and shared with those who needed it most, they felt especially blessed. It reminded me of the sense of pride, even in adversity, that was portrayed on the television series The Waltons. People were dirt poor but seemed much happier than they do today. Being an inquisitive kid, I began to read everything I could on the subject.
I vividly remember seeing Dorothea Lange’s iconic Migrant Mother in a grade school textbook and knowing what hard times these people were having. There was something about Florence Owens Thompson’s empty stare in the photograph. It lead me to a lifelong fascination with the Great Depression, as well as an interest in photography that goes on unabated.
It’s accepted by most historians that the “Depression” began in the South about ten years earlier than it did in the rest of the country. The invasion of the Boll weevil by 1919 along with the rapid fall of cotton prices cast our region into an economic apocalypse. And with the national depression a reality by 1929, Georgia Governor Eugene Talmadge wasn’t particularly keen on federal programs or the meddling interventions that came with them. He famously opposed Franklin Delano Roosevelt, even considering a run against the popular Democrat for President. With the infusion of money which accompanied the “New Deal”, though, Georgians themselves quickly embraced its philosophies and improvements, leaving Talmadge vulnerable.
Today, evidence of the New Deal’s so-called “Alphabet Agencies” abounds in Georgia. There are WPA Post Offices, FEA jails, FSA Resettlement Communities, museums, CCC trails and parklands, among many other tangible remnants of the era. The historical archive of photographs left behind by Roy Stryker’s Information Agency provide a visual snapshot of life in Georgia during the Great Depression and will be utilized here in good numbers. Whatever the politics of the day presumed, it can be said with good standing that the programs brought to Georgia by the New Deal permanently changed the landscape. Besides the introduction of electricity to the rural South, the Depression also forever changed agricultural practices. Dependence on a one-crop system was halted, therefore ensuring Georgia’s continued agricultural dominance today.
My hope with this site is to be able to share the historical images alongside photographs I’ve made of some of the remnant landmarks of the era, as well as to encourage people who have memories of the Great Depression in Georgia to share them with others. I welcome family stories and photographs contemporary to the period.
–Brian Brown, 8 March 2012