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Author Archives: jckozlowski

Arsenal of Democracy: PBS Great Depression Series (1993)

PBS Great Depression Series, #7

Producer: WGBH, Boston

Narrator: Joe Morton

53 minutes

The seventh and final installment in the PBS Great Depression series, this film links the onset of World War II and the role of the United States as the primary producer of war materiel with the lingering struggles of the Great Depression. Blending oral history with photos from Dorothea Lange and others, archival films, and audio clips, “Arsenal of Democracy” details the persistent plight of the poor throughout the 1930s, especially for migrant workers, farmers, and the homeless who, despite the historical attention they received, often remained outside the public and political scope at that time. It also explores the social, cultural, and economic changes that the transition from peace to war wrought, such as the racism and discrimination that African Americans and Asians experienced during the 1930s and in hiring and job opportunities; the internment of Japanese Americans after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941; the use of racist imagery in wartime propaganda; greater employment opportunities for women and African Americans in wartime production; California’s incredible growth due to massive outlays of federal spending; and the end of the Great Depression.

 

 

 

Mean Things Happening: PBS Great Depression Series (1993)

PBS Great Depression Series, #5

Producer: WGBH, Boston

Narrator: Joe Morton

51 minutes

This documentary examines the efforts that tenant farmers and steelworkers undertook to organize and unionize amidst The Great Depression of the 1930s. Using interviews, film footage, and historians’ reflections, it recounts the privation and violent conditions facing H.L. Mitchell and the Southern Tenant Farmers Union (STFU), and industrial workers who formed the Steelworkers Organizing Committee (SWOC) of the burgeoning Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Racism, paternalistic company towns, heavy-handed anti-unionism and violent opposition posed grave obstacles to organizers in the Southern agricultural fields and Northern industrial cities alike. A key element to the success of the SWOC and CIO on the one hand, and the failure of the STFU on the other, was the legal framework protecting organizing, rights, and concerted activity for private-sector workers with the passage of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which expressly excluded agricultural and domestic workers who comprised much of the South’s workforce. The result was the rise of powerful unionism in much of the more industrialized North, Midwest, and West, and the concomitant absence of effective unionism from the more agricultural South and Southwest, in the Depression-riddled 1930s.