Photographs from the Farm Security Administration (New Deal), 1937-1939

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Document Description:

A wide variety of mass-produced consumer products became available in the 1920s, among them automobiles, household appliances, and processed foods. These goods, promoted with endless advertising campaigns, supplied middle class families with visible signs of higher incomes and new prosperity. The stock exchange in New York offered a barometer capable of measuring the new prosperity, and inspired average individuals to invest all they had in the high yields offered by money markets. Most often, Americans invested beyond their means, borrowing “on the margin.” Yet in the midst of this carefree prosperity, the Brookings Institution of Washington conducted a study that estimated that in 1929, sixty percent of families in the United States survived on a substandard income. Poverty existed in the rural South and urban North even in the booming 1920s.

When the US stock market crashed in October of 1929 the majority of South Carolinians had already been living with economic hardship for more than a decade. In the 1920s, the fortunes of the state economy were still indelibly tied to agricultural production and, despite a stabilization of cotton prices in the early portion of the decade, a steady decline begun in1926 continued until the price bottomed out at six cents per pound. Reduced production combined with recurring boll weevil infestation devastated the cotton economy. The total value of the crop dwindled from $307 million in 1920 to a mere $72 million in 1929. As farmers’ incomes declined, so too did the state’s banking system. In 1926 alone forty-five banks failed, due in large part to the plummeting values of agricultural lands that had previously served as loan collateral. Mortgage foreclosures, crop destruction, and low crop prices forced nearly a quarter of a million South Carolinians to leave the state by 1929. For the citizens who remained, times worsened as the Great Depression set in.  

Federal relief programs implemented in the 1930s endeavored to create a basis for wide scale recovery, and in South Carolina these efforts centered on agriculture and the textile industry. The Agricultural Adjustment Act (1933) provided farmers with subsidies in exchange for leaving their crops unplanted. The desired effect was reduced product, increased demand, and eventually an increase in crop prices. Further New Deal initiatives inspired the development of the State Parks system and the construction of highways, bridges, schools, sewer systems, and, the largest project of all, the creation of a hydroelectric plant which provided electricity to areas beyond large cities.

These four photographs above, taken between 1937 and 1939, were part of a larger photographic project of the Farm Security Administration that existed well into the 1940s. The FSA, supervised by the Department of Agriculture, was part of the New Deal’s attempt to understand and address the realities of rural poverty. Photographers captured the faces of rural South Carolinians; their poverty is evidenced by their appearance and surroundings. These images were taken in the midst of recovery initiatives.  The entry of the United States into World War II helped take the country out of the Depression, even though poverty continued to exist in many rural and isolated areas in South Carolina and elsewhere.

Citation:

“A Sharecropper Boy.” Photograph.  As reproduced in A South Carolina Album, 1936-1948, Constance B Schulz, editor.  Columbia: The University of South Carolina Press, 1992.  Original in Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

“The Wife and Mother of a Sharecropper.”  Photograph.  As reproduced in A South Carolina Album, 1936-1948, Constance B Schulz, editor.  Columbia: The University of South Carolina Press, 1992.  Original in Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

“The Home of A Negro.”  Photograph.  As reproduced in A South Carolina Album, 1936-1948, Constance B Schulz, editor.  Columbia: The University of South Carolina Press, 1992.  Original in Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

“The Brown Family in Front of Their Home.”  Photograph.  As reproduced in A South Carolina Album, 1936-1948, Constance B Schulz, editor.  Columbia: The University of South Carolina Press, 1992.  Original in Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Correlating SC Social Studies Academic Standards:

Standard 3-5: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the major developments in South Carolina in the late nineteenth century and the twentieth century.

Indicator 3-5.4 Explain the impact and the causes of emigration from South Carolina and internal migration from the rural areas to the cities, including unemployment, poor sanitation and transportation services, and the lack of electricity and other modern conveniences in rural locations.

Standard 5-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the economic boom-and-bust in America in the 1920s and 1930s, its resultant political instability, and the subsequent worldwide response.

Indicator 5-4.2 Summarize the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, including economic weakness, unemployment, failed banks and businesses, and migration from rural areas.

Standard 8-6: The student will demonstrate an understanding of South Carolina’s development during the early twentieth century.

Additional Flash Versions:

A Sharecropper Boy, c. 1937 The Home of a Negro

The Brown family in front of their home, c. 1939

The wife and mother of a sharecropper

 

Related Lessons:

The Great Depression in SC

 

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