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Washington University Film & Media Archive

The Great Depression

The series begins at a time when, in the minds of many Americans, "government" meant City Hall, not Washington. It ends with the realization that "forces are at work that will compel us either to live up to our national ideals or abandon them, and that we are destined to play a role in the world far beyond our own borders," Henry Hampton said. "Today," he continued, "we are once again grappling with many of the same questions that confronted Americans in the 1930's, and our answers will affect everything from our standard of living to the state of the environment and the basic rights of citizenship. The stories of The Great Depression speak to Americans and the headlines of today, and our witnesses have much to teach us about the consequences of out choices." These seven shows document both multi-cultural and multi-regional perspectives that reflect the diversity of American experience during the greatest economic crisis in U.S. history.

A Job at Ford's -- Henry Ford's five-dollar a-day bargain attracts thousands of workers to his River Rouge factory near Detroit. But, neither his high demands for more production nor the private police he hires to enforce industry rules can control the onset of the Great Depression and a bloody battle at the gates of the Rouge.

The Road to Rock Bottom -- With rural America in economic ruin, "Pretty Boy" Floyd robbing banks across Oklahoma, and veterans marching to Washington to demand that President Hoover and Congress pay for World War I services, many find hope in Franklin Roosevelt after a landslide presidential victory.

New Deal/New York -- Nowhere is President Roosevelt's transformation of the American landscape more apparent than in Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia's New York City. Despite disagreements over personal issues and over funds for a bridge that will unite three boroughs of New York City, together FDR and LaGuardia redefine the relations between the government and the people.

We Have a Plan -- A novelist and former member of the Socialist Party, Upton Sinclair's campaigned for governor of California, promising to end poverty in the state. Sinclair was defeated, but one year later President Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act, a signal of the American system's emergence as a modern welfare state.

Mean Things Happening -- On the tenant farms of the Arkansas Delta and in the steel factories of America's industrial heartland workers battle factory managers and landowners for their right to join a union.

To Be Somebody -- When lynchings, segregation and anti-Semitism were commonplace, NAACP's Walter White, attorney Charles Houston, heavyweight champ Joe Louis, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt are symbols of strength who challenge America to fulfill her promise of justice and equality.

Arsenal of Democracy -- Some Americans celebrate dreams of peace and prosperity at the New York and San Francisco World's Fair, while others find work in new defense industries for a European war that ended America's Great Depression.

Premiere: Monday October 25, 1993 PBS