Our Georgia History

Depression and War

Georgia History 101
by Col. Samuel Taylor U.S.M.C. (Ret.)
exclusively for Our Georgia History

Turmoil would be the best word to describe 1930's Georgia, and most of the turmoil was right outside the farmhouse door. Beset by serious problems from 1920 on, the Great Depression only made the plight of the farmer worse. Falling cotton and tobacco prices, reductions in workforce thanks to the competition from cities, and poor land-use stratagies wrecked havoc on the sector that had supported the Georgia economy since the time of Oglethorpe. These three things combined to chase Georgians from the fields in record numbers. At the end of the ten-year period ending in 1940, less than one-third of all Georgia workers were employed in agriculture.

Economically, urban Georgians suffered less during the Great Depression than their counterparts to the North and West. One reason they had been insulated was the strong industrial base that had only recently begun to form. Coupled with low-cost labor and a dedicated workforce (remember, many had only recently come from farms and did not have the problems of workers in other parts of the country), large Georgia cities did as well as can be expected during this decade.

Richard B. Russell served a single term as governor before he was tapped to go to Washington D. C. to serve as Senator. Eugene Talmadge was elected on a "friend of the farmer" platform that included the now standard fare of "keeping the negro in his place." Talmadge ran into an unexpected buzz-saw on the race issue not too long into the start of his term, the President of the United States.

One of the first relief projects instituted by Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the Civilian Conservation Corps. Talmadge wanted the relief money to go only to white families, so he excluded blacks by listing them as employed, in spite of the fact that unemployment rates among blacks were twice those among whites. FDR told Talmadge to begin hiring blacks for the CCC. Talmadge refused the President's request. Roosevelt told him that if he didn't begin hiring blacks for the CCC he would not get a "single penny" of the relief money slated for his state. FDR had Talmadge. Although black CCC camps were disbanded within two years (whites did not like their presence), the damage had been done between Roosevelt and Talmadge. In 1934 FDR refused to let Georgia disburse its own relief funds.

Roosevelt's strong stance on employing blacks in the CCC shocked most Georgians into realizing that life in the United States may be different than life in Georgia and the other states of the old South. It really didn't matter though, since the politicians were solidly pro-segregation, thanks to the laws that made it difficult for blacks to vote in the state. Still, they realized that the situation between Talmadge and Roosevelt made it difficult for the Georgia governor to be effective, and Roosevelt was well-liked in Georgia because of his frequent trips to Warm Springs.

In 1936 Talmadge ran unsucessfully against Senator Russell, who defended FDR and his programs. Talmadge was soundly defeated. Talmadge became more bitter in his rhetoric over the next five years, but suddenly, Gene Talmadge did not matter anymore. The United States was at war with Germany and Japan. The Georgia "war machine" began to crank up at an astonishing rate.


Our Georgia History: History 101 index

Georgia's Indian Heritage
The Age of Exploration in Georgia
Colonial Georgia
The America Revolution in Georgia
Constitutional Georgia
Antebellum Georgia
Georgia and the Civil War
Reconstrution Georgia
Georgia's Gilded Age
A State Divided

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