Alabama: The History of a Deep South State

By William Warren Rogers; Robert David Ward et al. | Go to book overview

TWENTY-SEVEN
Hard Times, 1930-1940

HARD Times. The Great Depression. The Cataclysm. The decade of the 1930s went by lots of names, but all stood for trouble. In fact, Alabamians born during the first third of the twentieth century would live through the most severe depression and the bloodiest war in the history of the world. They were a tough generation and lived in trying times. The world would never quite be the same again. Neither would Alabama.

Although most people think of the Great Depression as a sudden event triggered by the stock market crash of November 1929, it actually was a gradual collapse. As already noted, agriculture entered a depression during the early 1920s and did not fully recover for two decades. Most industries peaked in 1926 or 1927, then began to decline, usually hitting bottom sometime in 1933. Even after hard times began, some industries and cities suffered more than others. Forest products sustained perhaps the worse decline; textile production held up fairly well. Some experts considered Birmingham the worst-hit city in the United States; Montgomery experienced difficulty, but to a lesser extent.

Between 1930 and 1940 employment rates declined for both races in Alabama. For whites the decline amounted to 5.6 percent, but for blacks employment fell by 13.6 percent. Only three Southern states registered an absolute drop in white employment during the decade; Alabama had the dubious distinction of leading the way. Nonfarm employment declined by 15 percent between 1930 and 1940--also a rate higher than any other Southern state. Because nonfarm jobs fell faster than farm employment, Alabama momentarily reversed its historic trek from country to city. During the twelve months from April 1, 1929, to March 31, 1930, 17,580 people returned to the farm and only 7,836 left. The state began the decade 28 percent urban and ended it only slightly higher at 30 percent urban. Whereas Alabama's urban population had increased a little more than 37 percent between 1910 and 1920 and about 46 percent from 1920 to 1930, it increased only 15 percent between 1930 and 1940. By 1940 Alabama had a population of

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