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The Road to Rock Bottom: PBS Great Depression Series (1993)

03 Jul

PBS Great Depression Series, #2

Producer: WGBH, Boston

Narrator: Joe Morton

53 minutes

This film, the second in the PBS Great Depression Series, examines the plight of farmers, sharecroppers, and agricultural workers before and particularly during the onset of The Great Depression. Devoting ample time to the hardships of agricultural labor, it focuses on the devastating effects that environmental factors such as drought wrought on farmers, migrant laborers, and sharecroppers alike. Sliding farm prices due to the glut of products on the market spurred a cycle of diminishing returns for most farmers, exacerbating their indebtedness and causing foreclosures, homelessness, privation, and starvation. “The Road to Rock Bottom” also devotes considerable time to the allure that Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd had among many impoverished Americans in the early Depression era. A bank robber, Floyd enjoyed popular support–and occasionally some protection–among struggling farming communities, for Floyd’s targeting banks tapped into their resentment at institutions that, on the one hand many blamed for causing the Great Depression and, on the other, were increasingly foreclosing on their farms and homes. The inability and unwillingness of the federal government to devote far more resources to battling the onslaught of poverty and desperation receives ample attention in the documentary as well. Many politicians, including President Herbert Hoover, believed that increasing the federal government’s role in the daily lives of its citizens would foster dependency that ran counter to the themes of individualism permeating both America’s political parties at that time, and long-standing American political traditions. Culminating the film is the Bonus Army’s march to and occupation of parts of Washington D.C. Its unsuccessful efforts to pressure Congress to pay the service bonus to military veterans earlier than promised resulted in violent clashes between the Army (led by Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur) and the Bonus marchers, sealing the fate of the Hoover presidency well before his overwhelming electoral defeat to Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential elections.

 

 

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