Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A Legacy Worth Having

It's terrible times like these that gave rise to some very good works we have all over the country, put in by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) and WPA (Work Progress Administration). In San Antonio,TX, it's the river walk. In Providence, RI, it's the zoo. My parents worked in CCC camps in Mississippi, my father teaching the art of farming and my mother teaching home arts like cooking. The unemployed people they taught mostly came from cities, and didn't have agricultural or sometimes even living skills. The programs took them off the streets, gave them a roof and enough to eat, and put them back to work.

Today the Dallas Morning News has coverage of some of the works in Dallas that resulted from the programs of the New Deal. It's encouraging that once before the country had a bad time like the one so many of us are having, and that this country worked its way out of it.

Take a stroll through a Dallas park, study in a public school or visit the grassy knoll where JFK was shot – they were likely built, beautified or enhanced by unemployed workers during the Depression.

The white pergolas that flank Dealey Plaza were constructed as part of a WPA project in the 1930s. Some are proposing a modern version of Depression-era programs to put Americans back to work and rebuild infrastructure.

We may not know it, but everywhere we go in Dallas, we're surrounded by places that were touched in some way by these workers, who got a paycheck and some hope through the national Works Progress Administration.

Their work – along with that of other Depression-era programs, such as the Public Works Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps – helped transform the face of the city and others across the country, scholars say. The WPA employed 8.5 million people and spent $11 billion on public projects nationwide.

"They did make lasting contributions to Dallas," said Darwin Payne, a Dallas author and historian. "It's so surprising that so many of us don't realize that."

As many call today's economy the worst since the Depression, the WPA is again making headlines. Scholars and pundits propose a modern version of the agency to put Americans back to work and rebuild the country's infrastructure.

President Barack Obama has said he wants to create 3 million jobs and launch the biggest public-works program since construction of the interstate highway system.

To pump up the economy, the House last week approved an $819 billion stimulus plan, some of which would be spent on infrastructure improvements. The Senate will now take up the matter. Obama wants a package approved by mid-February.

Some say the stimulus package is reminiscent of parts of the WPA launched by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935. Across the country, WPA workers built or improved roads, bridges, dams, schools, airports and courthouses.

But they didn't just build stuff. In Dallas, they wrote books, performed concerts and even sewed clothes.

My mother taught cooking, canning and sewing to ladies who didn't always appreciate the program, Mississippi, or having to sew, but they learned and they had new talents. She was for a time paid in IOU's, like CA has taken up, and never got the full value for them, in her opinion. She traded them for a set of tires, at least as she remembers it. Of course, my parents also didn't starve, and had jobs, courtesy of the New Deal.

In case you listened to the new RNC Chair Steele, claiming that the government never made a job, we know better.

A program for giving jobs and renovating infrastructure is very much a benefit this country badly needs. The progressives in our Congress are working on such programs, and obstruction to that work is detrimental to the country.

As I posted previously, it's time for the public servants to walk right over that obstruction. They are sworn to work for, not against, this country's interest.

If you haven't told your senators what you want, please do it now. All of us need working people making living wages to get the economy operational again.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went to Indiana University, where the beautiful auditorium with built-in pipe organ and Thomas Hart Benton murals was built by WPA. As was the theatre. I remember having a cup of coffe at a diner late at night, listening to a janitor after his shift, talking on and on about how wonderful Eleanor Roosevelt was. He felt WPA saved the country, a Hoosier blue-collar worker. They're not all red in Indiana, and the responsible actions of the government during GD I certainly impressed at least some of rural America. My Mom was a big Roosevelt fan; I believe she also worked for the WPA.

8:21 PM  
Blogger Ruth said...

The work programs were great and it makes my blood boil to hear the wingers trying to blame FDR and the New Deal for GD I, as you call it. Of course, they want no regulations and no recovery for workers.

3:38 AM  

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