Ordinary People Great Depression


The Great Depression affected American society and culture in profound ways. Students should consider How did ordinary people respond to the Great Depression? The effects of the Depression were worsened by the Dust Bowl, a result of natural drought combined with unwise agricultural practices that led to the dislocation of farmers who could no longer make a living from agriculture in the Great Plains. The famed Okies, portrayed in the literature of John Steinbeck and photographs of Dorothea Lange (among other artists of the 1930s), were pushed off their land and joined the significant migration of workers who came to California in search of work and opportunities only to find themselves treated poorly and in a continued state of economic turmoil. In addition to migrant farmworkers faring poorly during the Depression, the trial of the Scottsboro Boys, nine black youths falsely charged with raping two white women, illuminates the racism of the period. The economic crisis also led to the Mexican Repatriation Program: a massive effort by government officials and some private groups to get rid of Mexicans, citing federal immigration law, the need to save jobs for “real Americans,” and a desire to reduce welfare costs. The resulting repatriation drives were done in violation of individual civil rights. Scholars estimate that at least one million Mexican nationals and Mexican Americans, including children, were deported from the United States to Mexico; approximately 400,000 of them were from California. Many of those who were illegally “repatriated” returned home during World War II, joining the armed services and working in the defense industry.

Inquiry Question

How did ordinary people respond to the Great Depression?