Selected titles from The Children’s Science Series. SourceAlbert Whitman & Company, 2015
Through the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), 6,600 out-of-work authors and journalists chronicled the landscape (See: The American Guide Series); catalogued experiences with racism, past and present (See: Richard Wright’s enduringly topical “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow”  and the Slave Narratives); and celebrated America’s diverse foodways (See: America Eats).
Less well known is a series of books with titles like The Romance of Rubber and Life in an Ant Hill. These texts haven’t been enshrined in our cultural canon. But during the Depression, the Pennsylvania Writers’ Project, an arm of the FWP, employed “writers, editors, and consultants” to produce The Children’s Science Series, forty-odd books dedicated to science and nature, published by Albert Whitman & Company, which has been putting out children’s books since 1919. The publishing house reminds us of these now-forgotten cultural gems, each with a striking cover. More than just antiquarian pleasures, they speak to the ways in which the New Deal put people back to work and strove to foster a healthy, informed citizenry in the coming generation.
The LND map of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Photo Credit: Alex Tarr, 2015
A reminder: When you visit the San Francisco Bay Area, you visit “a landscape transformed by the New Deal.” Writing in this month’s journal of the Association of American Geographers in anticipation of the organization’s meeting in San Francisco this spring, Alex Tarr details the extent to which this is the case—beginning, for visitors, with disembarkation at the airport (both the San Francisco and Oakland airports were the beneficiaries of funds and labor provided by the Works Progress Administration [WPA], the Public Works Administration [PWA], and the State Emergency Relief Administration [SERA]). The (sometimes literal) imprint of FDR’s government is found on sites small (playgrounds and sidewalks) and large (the western span of the San Francisco Bay Bridge, completed by the WPA in 1936).
Tarr holds a Ph.D. in Geography from Berkeley and is now Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Spatial Humanities at the Rice University Humanities Research Center. As the former Project Manager for the Living New Deal, he knows his stuff. And he knows us: In introducing readers to Bay Area cities dotted with monuments to a “historical moment when the federal government invested directly in the arts, infrastructure and its poorest citizens,” he credits the LND’s efforts to chronicle and circulate the New Deal’s myriad legacies and lessons.
Nor were all of those legacies without their problems: “From environmental destruction (note how much ‘reclaimed’ land the airport occupies), to the racist representations and exclusions of indigenous peoples in art celebrating California’s colonial history, to the complicated first ‘progressive’ efforts at public housing (coupled with policies that underwrote the mass suburbanization of whites), the Bay Area contains it all.” Indeed, one of the Living New Deal’s concerns is to promote a general public good while not shying away from—instead, to learn from—past injustice. This was, after all, a key component of New Deal-era culture. (Just consider the WPA Slave Narratives.) We’ll keep doing our part. Thanks for remembers your old chums, Alex!
Richard Wolff speaking on the legacies of the New Deal and the crisis of contemporary capitalism. Richard A Walker, 2015
Remember when “Socialism” wasn’t a dirty word? In fact, it used to be “an American tradition,” one with deep national roots and a far-flung influence. This past Thursday, October 29, Richard Wolff reminded us that Socialism, and all the other Left “isms,” aren’t synonymous with “un-Americanism” or “terrorism.” They are, in fact, part of an American legacy of activism and agitation that are as relevant today as they were during the Great Depression. Indeed, we might take stock of a global Left politics as a worthy challenger to late Capitalism, currently in a state of crisis the world over.
Wolff, Economist and founder of Democracy at Work, delivered a talk entitled, “Another New Deal?: Answers to Capitalism’s Crisis Today.” Speaking to some two hundred cheering supporters, he held up the New Deal as the model for a time when the President of the United States listened to the country’s working people and did the best he could to please both Labor and Capital, avoiding revolution on the one hand and starvation on the other. But Wolff pulled no punches: Franklin Roosevelt’s conciliatory gesture wasn’t shy of its problems, and perhaps set the stage for monied interests to reclaim their wealth and power after World War Two. (This, Wolff noted, is a grand tradition in American socio-economic life.) Nevertheless, the New Deal pointed up a belief that “the people” are more important than the bottom line.
So: What would a new New Deal look like? Here at the Living New Deal we’ve been trying to figure that out. However it looks, as Richard Wolff suggested, a government’s commitment to economic equality and workers’ rights should be as permanent as the infrastructural and monumental sites it constructs. And it’s up to the person on the street, not her representative in Washington, to push for a permanent inclusion in American economic development.
Richard Wolff on “the best solutions for reversing inequality and stagnant wages” SourceKALW, 2015
Monday on KALW’s Your Call with Rose Aguilar, Richard Wolff spoke about the wealth gap brought about by modern capitalism (an often-ignored “redistribution of wealth”), and that dirty word—“Socialism”—in our current political and cultural climate.
Dr. Wolff will speak at our Fall Benefit this Thursday; but here is the interview to whet your appetite.
Between 1937 and 1939, Native American and Latino New Mexicans employed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) constructed the Old Santa Fe Trail building, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987. Made of materials drawn from a nearby CCC camp, the site is a testament to local craftsmanship and the region’s “history and multicultural heritage.”
Susan Ives, our Communications Director, has written an opinion piece for the Santa Fe New Mexican detailing the building’s history and calling for the its continued preservation amidst budget cuts and staffing shortages. Please take some time to read Susan’s piece—and to celebrate and support this important New Deal (and American) site.
The Living New Deal invites you to our Fall Benefit, featuring Dr. Richard D. Wolff, Economist and Founder of Democracy at Work.
On Thursday, October 29, Dr. Wolff will be giving a talk at the Berkeley City Club, entitled, “Another New Deal? Answers to Capitalism’s Crisis Today.”
Reception and lecture with Dr. Wolff: 6 pm, $50
Lecture: 7 pm, $20
Student rate for lecture: $15
To RSVP, please call (510) 642-5987 or visit our Eventbrite page.
Please make checks payable to The Living New Deal, UC Berkeley, CA, 94720-4740.
Berkeleyites turn out to save their post office. Source
Photo Credit: Charlotte Wayne Berkeleyside, 2015
Over at Jacobin Magazine, R. H. Lossin has a scathing takedown of recent attempts to sell off an important piece of our democratic heritage. “Why the Post Office Matters” presents the myth of USPS debt for what it is: A myth, “manufactured” by special interests intent on privatizing post offices, subcontracting their various services to companies like Staples, and reaping the financial benefits at the expense of postal employees. (As Lossin notes, “Precisely because the postal service is quite profitable, a number of corporations would be happy to take responsibility for certain aspects of its operations.”) In any event, the myth has created reality: According to advocate Steve Hutkins, who runs Save the Post Office, there has been a loss of between 60 and 100 post office properties in the past five years. In this thoughtful, wide-ranging piece, Lossin gives due recognition to Living New Deal Founder Gray Brechin, whose Save the Berkeley Post Office has won a major victory for historic preservation and civic mindedness at large.
What is lost when these sites, with their New Deal murals, are gone? As Lossin argues, “The art itself ranges widely in content and style, depicting nostalgic country view, the aftermath of the Civil War, and scenes critical of capitalist exploitation. More than a mere byproduct of privatization, the disappearance of New Deal artwork from the public sphere is an active repression of the knowledge and memory of social alternatives — a sort of negative propaganda in the service of neoliberalism.” Because the murals are federally protected as “interior landmarks” they will remain intact. But does their meaning change if, say, they grace the walls of the local Restoration Hardware (the fate of the historic Greenwich, Connecticut, post office) instead of a public space dedicated to a truly democratic attempt to connect people and places regardless of the bottom line?
Last week, we reported on a Works Progress Administration (WPA) mural unearthed from a post office basement. This week, courtesy of Diane Bell and the San Diego Union-Tribune, we bring news of WPA art “hidden in plain sight.”
Last spring, Antiques Roadshow devoted an entire episode to a WPA artwork being sold on eBay. (The artworks’ sale is illegal. The works are technically on loan from the federal government.) Inspired, Michael Shefcik, supervisor of plant operations at San Diego’s Hoover High School, decided to follow up on rumors of the school’s possessing some WPA art of its own. Turns out, the artwork in question had been under Shefcik’s nose the entire time: A 30-inch-tall marble statue of a young girl reading a book, its “pages” engraved with “So California Art Project WPA 1940,” had been a part of the school since its completion.
The work did not note the artist’s name. After some research, Shefcik discovered that the statue, entitled “Girl Reading,” was the product of a prolific local artist named Donal Hord. Plans to remodel part of Hoover High School will now make “Girl Reading” a centerpiece of the main entrance’s foyer.
Another testament to the New Deal’s overlooked omnipresence.
Victor Arnautoff, Richmond: The Industrial City (1941): Rediscovered and soon to be redisplayed. SourceThe Richmond Standard, 2015
Last year, Melinda McCrary, Director of the Richmond (CA) Museum of History, heard tell of a legendary, seemingly lost mural. Richmond: The Industrial City, was painted in 1941 by Victor Arnautoff, displayed in the city’s main post office until 1976, and then packed away… somewhere. A series of calls led to Earic Bonahon, the post office janitor, “poking around the basement,” where he discovered the mural, packed away in a crate. Recently, Mike Aldax chronicled this saga, and the effort to bring the mural to the public once again, for the Richmond Standard.
Funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Arnautoff—a Stanford Art Professor and former student of Diego Rivera, perhaps best known for his Coit Tower mural, City Life—painted Richmond before its transformation into the West Coast center for battleship construction during World War Two. As the mural’s title suggests, his isn’t a bucolic vision of prewar Richmond. But it’s certainly a different one, predating Rosie the Riveter and the city’s massive wartime population boom and demographic shifts. In Richmond, the refinery towers belch smoke in the background, the harbor is free of ships, and Richmonders mill around—reading the news, talking, receiving the mail.
Richmond: The Industrial City is now at the Richmond Museum of History, where it is undergoing a delicate restoration process. The museum hopes to display the mural by the end of 2015.
FDR at Yellowstone National Park, 1937 SourceWETA, 2009
Five days before Pearl Harbor, and anticipating American involvement in a world war, Franklin Roosevelt forced the Tenth Mountain Division to abandon a $25 million training site in Henry’s Lake, Idaho–because the site was also a breeding ground for trumpeter swans. “The Army must find a different nesting place!,” FDR wrote to Secretary of War Henry Stimson. On September 17, Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History at Rice University and a fellow at the James Baker Institute for Public Policy, delivered a speech at the University of California, Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, entitled, “Forester in Chief: Franklin D. Roosevelt, the CCC and Wild America.” (A book-length study, entitled Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America, will be released in March, 2016.)
Prof. Brinkley’s talk spanned the Roosevelt family’s legacy of nature preservation; FDR’s love for the “sanctified landscape” of his native Hudson River Valley; preservation efforts on the East Coast (and not just cousin Teddy’s beloved West); the influences of grass roots activism on federal policy (including the closure of the training site in Henry’s Lake); and a legacy of governmental involvement in, and protection of, nature that is unprecedented in American history (and was quickly squandered by President Truman’s focus on Cold War resources, especially off-shore drilling). It’s filled with fascinating tales of FDR’s work as “Forester in Chief” while not shying away from major missteps, including sexism and segregation in the CCC. Watch the entire talk here.