Happy Franksgiving!

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

Happy Franksgiving!

President Abraham Lincoln had proclaimed in 1863 the last Thursday in November as a national holiday for giving thanks. But in 1939, retailers feared that a late Thanksgiving that year (November 30) could hurt Christmas sales. Traditionally, the Christmas shopping season began the day after Thanksgiving, but President Roosevelt decided to move the date up a week, to the second-to-last Thursday of November. Much upheaval, protest and comedy ensued, leading some to deride the holiday as “Franksgiving.” Democrats favored the switch 52% to 48%, according to a Gallup Poll, while Republicans opposed it 79% to 21%. Americans overall were opposed. That year, twenty-three states and the District of Columbia recognized the holiday on November 23; twenty-two states preserved the traditional date, which some called the “Republican” Thanksgiving; and three states celebrated the holiday in both weeks. Popular comedians of the day, Burns and Allen, Jack Benny and the Three Stooges joked about the confusion over when to observe Thanksgiving Day. A 1941 Commerce Department survey found no significant expansion of retail sales due to the change, and Congress voted to designate the fourth Thursday in November of each year as Thanksgiving Day. Roosevelt went along and signed the bill.

A New Deal for America’s Workers

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

A New Deal for America’s Workers

Sit-down strike. Nearly 500,000 workers engaged in about 400 sit-downs across the nation between September 1936 and June 1937.

Labor Day became an official US holiday in 1894, but took on particular meaning during its 50th anniversary. In 1934, a quarter of American workers were unemployed. The country was rife with unrest, with thousands demanding jobs and better wages and working conditions. FDR’s first priority was to restore confidence and get people working again. The New Deal not only provided jobs, it led to federal legislation that fundamentally changed the relationship between workers and management, and by extension, American society. The National Labor Relations Act, enacted in 1935, guaranteed employees’ right to collective bargaining. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 set a minimum wage (25 cents); provided for a 40-hour work week and overtime pay; and outlawed child labor—a cause championed by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. On Labor Day, as we celebrate workers’ contributions to the strength and well-being of our nation, let’s also reflect on the New Deal’s contributions to America’s workers.

Neither Snow Nor Rain Nor Heat Nor Gloom—Nor Politics?

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

Neither Snow Nor Rain Nor Heat Nor Gloom—Nor Politics?

During the Great Depression, struggling artists got work through federal art programs creating public art that reflected America to itself. The 1,200 murals they painted in post offices around the country often portrayed hard work, determination and confidence—values meant to encourage Americans through hard times. As post offices are sold and these murals vanish from view, Americans’ determination and confidence are being tested, as is the U.S. Postal Service’s ability to deliver the 80 million mail-in ballots expected to be cast in next month’s election on time—potentially disqualifying them. Chiseled in granite on New York City General Post Office is this promise, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” It makes no promises about politics.

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“Mail Transportation” (1938) by Fletcher Martin, San Pedro, California, Post Office.

Vulnerable New Deal Art and Sites

The following is a partial and ever-changing list of New Deal art in need of preservation.

"Rational Medicine"

George Washington High School Arnautoff Murals

UCSF Campus Zakheim Mural 

Luverne, Alabama Post Office Mural 

WPA mural at the Memorial Hall at the University of Kentucky in Lexington

Natick MA Post Office mural 

Jeanerette, Louisiana Post Office

Father Junipero Serra Sculpture – Ventura CA

Post Office Mural – Madison FL

Post Office Mural – Medford MA

Post Office Mural – Jackson GA

Post Office Mural – Rhinebeck NY

More Than Just Pretty Pictures

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

More Than Just Pretty Pictures

Gordon Parks. Credit: Toni Parks, The Gordon Parks Foundation

Gordon Parks’ work epitomized the black-and-white photography of the Depression era. He joined the Farm Security Administration in 1942—the agency’s only black photographer. He chronicled African Americans’ everyday lives, poverty, racial injustice, and the struggle for civil rights. Parks died in 2006 at age 93, but continues to inspire a new generation of photographers documenting these turbulent times. Reflecting on Gordon Parks, the Brooklyn-based photographer Andre D. Wagner recounts, “The camera in my life started to make sense when I thought about it the way Parks did: I could use it as a weapon.” “Photography became more than just pretty pictures—it was a way to be defiant and to speak about society.” Watch Wagner’s video essay “On Being a Black Photographer.” (4 minutes).

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

Brief, but Spectacular 

Growing up during the Great Depression, the screenwriter, actor and director Carl Reiner signed up for a drama class sponsored by the Works Progress Administration. He said the WPA, which ran from 1935-43, was instrumental in steering him towards a comedy career. Reiner credited President Franklin D. Roosevelt as one of the people who helped him break into showbiz. The New Deal’s support for the arts launched a thousand careers. Carl Reiner’s spanned a lifetime. He died last month at age 98. We could all use a good laugh. Watch: Brief and Spectacular. (5 minutes)

 

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

Help and Hope for Trying Times

FDR and his advisors knew that rebuilding the nation would require both reforming the economy and tending to the needs of struggling Americans.  “We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure,” FDR said. He challenged Congress to enact an Economic Bill of Rights. The New Deal again has taken center stage, offering help and hope for these trying times.

FDR’s Fireside Chats were a staple of his presidency. During these evening radio addresses, Roosevelt calmly reassured the American people; explained the path to national recovery; and rallied national unity.  Like all of you, we at the Living New Deal have been feeling our way into unknown territory. We take inspiration from the New Deal and those who in difficult times rise to the challenges and responsibilities of public service. We want to share such stories with you in The Fireside. We hope you find our compendium of news, commentary, history and highlights as welcome as a fireside chat. 

Lessons for a Green New Deal

Lessons for a Green New Deal

Though our nation faces critical challenges–political, economic, and environmental— the New Deal holds important lessons for a better future. Inspired by the original New Deal, a Green New Deal is emerging as a way forward. A new generation of leaders is demanding an all-out response to climate change and calling upon government to address economic and social inequality in the process. This is where the Living New Deal can help. Lessons from the New Deal offer hope and a path toward renewal. You’ll find inspiration in the stories in this issue of our newsletter. You can also learn more about the Green New Deal at our website, which topped a million views in 2019! And and we hope you will join us at our New Deal talks, tours, and special events in the year ahead.

Your generosity keeps the lessons of the New Deal alive. As ever, we are grateful for your support. Thank you!

The artist must be a critic of his society

The artist must be a critic of his society

In June, the San Francisco the Board of Education voted unanimously to destroy thirteen murals at George Washington High School it deems “racist.” Commissioned by the Federal Art Project in 1935, the frescoes depicting the life of the school’s namesake cover the walls and ceiling of the school’s main entrance. Victor Arnautoff painted Washington as son, surveyor, general, and president. He also showed him as a slaveowner and pointing colonists westward over the body of an Indian. Arnautoff’s murals are at odds with American mythology even today. “The artist must be a critic of his society,” he once said. There’s not a cherry tree is in sight.

The school board voted to “paint down” artworks that some parents say dehumanize and traumatize African American and Native American students. Historians, politicians, civil rights leaders, free-speech activists, authors, actors, and artists defend the murals, arguing that history needs to be taught, not whitewashed. The debate has drawn international media attention. In the face of growing condemnation, the school board last month reversed itself. It decided not to destroy the murals, it plans instead to install panels to permanently hide them at an estimated cost of more than $800,000. Mural advocates are weighing political and legal options. Stay tuned.

We are especially thankful for your advocacy and support!