Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Riding the Rails: Teenagers on the Move during the Great Depression

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Riding the Rails: Teenagers on the Move during the Great Depression

Article excerpt

Riding the Rails: Teenagers on the Move During the Great Depression. By Errol Lincoln Uys. (New York: TV Books, c. 1999. Pp.302. $24.95, ISBN 1-57500-037-7.)

Errol Lincoln Uys relied upon oral history interviews collected by his son Michael Uys and daughter-in-law Lexy Lovell, the makers of the documentary film Riding the Rails--a segment of the public television series The American Experience--to create this volume. That film told the story of the estimated 250,000 teenaged hoboes who roamed the country during the Great Depression. It won a 1998 Peabody Award for broadcast excellence and was selected by both the Directors Guild of America and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association as the Best Documentary of 1997. The evocative reminiscences of the subjects of the film and this companion book are interspersed with information gleaned from government reports and surveys conducted by sociologists and other observers of American culture during the "dirty thirties." The book also includes fifty-four photographs, most of which come from the Library of Congress's collection of images from the Farm Security Administration (FSA).

Uys's findings suggest that, although some young people left home during the 1930s in search of adventure, most did so because of dire conditions in their communities. Private economic distress combined with public financial exigency to result in school closings or reduced classroom hours that led 40 percent of high-school-age adolescents to become truants. Unable to find work and believing themselves a financial burden to their families, they hit the rails to seek employment and to escape the shame of poverty. …

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