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Digital History ID 3435


Economic hardship and loss visited all sections of the country during the Depression. One-third of the Harvard class of 1911 confessed that they were hard-up, on relief, or dependent on relatives. Doctors and lawyers saw their incomes fall 40 percent. Though, no groups suffered more from the Depression than African Americans and Mexican Americans.

A year after the stock market crash, 70 percent of Charleston's black population was unemployed and 75 percent of Memphis's black population was unemployed. In Macon County, Alabama--home of Booker T. Washington's famous Tuskegee Institute--most black families lived in homes without wooden floors or windows or sewage disposal and subsisted on salt pork, hominy grits, corn bread, and molasses. Income averaged less than a dollar a day.

Conditions were also distressed in the North. In Chicago, 70 percent of all black families earned less than a $1,000 a year, far below the poverty line. In Chicago and other large northern cities, most African Americans lived in "kitchenettes." Apartment owners took six-room apartments, which previously rented for $50 a month, and divided them into six smaller-unit kitchenettes. The kitchenettes then rented for $32 dollars a month, assuring landlords a windfall of an extra $142 a month. Buildings that previously held 60 families now contained 300.

The Depression hit Mexican American families especially hard. Mexican Americans faced serious opposition from organized labor, which resented competition from Mexican workers as unemployment rose. Bowing to union pressure, federal, state and local authorities "repatriated" more than 400,000 people of Mexican descent to prevent them from applying for relief. Since this group included many United States citizens, the deportations constituted a gross violation of civil liberties.

Private and Public Charity

The economic crisis of the 1930s overwhelmed private charities and local governments. In South Texas, the Salvation Army provided a penny per person each day. In Philadelphia, private and public charities distributed $1 million a month in poor relief. This amount, however, provided families with only $1.50 a week for groceries. In 1932, total public and private relief expenditures amounted to $317 million--$26 for each of the nation's 12 1/2 million jobless.

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