Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Stetson Kennedy, May 11, 1990. Interview A-0354. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Lost promise of reform impulse during Great Depression

Kennedy reflects on the effect the Great Depression had in illuminating the problems with the American political and economic system, but southern racists resisted any efforts to reform the American system.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Stetson Kennedy, May 11, 1990. Interview A-0354. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

STETSON KENNEDY:
We were roughly a half century ahead of America today in such matters. We've gone that far backward in my opinion, so that on the one hand you had the Great Depression which meant that not only the United States of America but the western World was in a state of collapse, far worse than that in Eastern Europe today. Whereas, today Bush is prating about the bankrupt ideology of Socialism, Communism, Marxism. In the Great Depression everyone from the Pope to the labor leaders to the leaders of government were all saying that something was very wrong with this system, its failed and that millions around the world are starving and the system is in a state of collapse. Soi that in that environment to be liberal was almost not enough. Anyone who wasn't liberal was either dead mentally or something had to done obviously—it wasn't working and when the thing was at rock bottom no one had any reasonable assurance that there was any way to resurrect it, the system looked beyond resurrection. Roosevelt came along with his pump priming and work programs with a great deal of opposition. When Roosevelt spoke to the southern audience and said that southern feudalism had to go that he needed some liberal men and women in Congress and the Senate up from the South so that he could carry on his programs, the reactionary southern racists demigods were in the saddle in Congress and ruining the nation.
JOHN EGERTON:
He said that at least once when walter George was sitting on the platform.
STETSON KENNEDY:
Right, so asking the electorate to sending better people and they didn't do it. In my mind that was the abortive end of the New Deal. He was in a state of a holding pattern from then on.