Winter 2019 Newsletter

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!

In this Issue:


Ten Lessons for a Green New Deal

Poster

The Green New Deal by Jan Berger
The Green New Deal  Source

FDR and the New Dealers were idealists, but their genius lay in a hard-nosed pragmatism and a willingness to experiment. The Green New Deal is still mostly a set of potential policies and hoped-for outcomes.  To succeed, it needs to take seriously ten lessons from the first New Deal.

  1. Advance universal programs. The New Deal succeeded by serving a wide range of Americans, rather than targeted populations. All seniors would receive pensions, all jobless qualified for work relief, and all localities were eligible for public works.
  2. Fix income inequality. The New Deal dramatically reduced income inequality by taxing high incomes and corporate profits, curbing financial speculation and lifting the fortunes of workers through the right to organize, fair labor practices and federal minimum wage. As a result, the postwar era was the most equal in American history.
  3. Civilian Conservation Corps Poster
    In the 1930s the CCC employed millions of young men. They planted a billion trees, fought wildfires, restored cropland, and were on the scene following hurricanes and floods.  Source

    Create good jobs.The New Dealers understood that Americans do not want handouts; they want jobs that provide dignity and a living wage. The Civilian Conservation Corps hired 3.5 million young men to build parks, plant trees and fight wildfires in exchange for family income and education. The Works Progress Administration trained and employed 9 million workers in useful jobs in their communities.

  4. Fiscal stimulus pays. New Dealers rejected the conventional wisdom about balanced budgets that had hamstrung the Hoover Administration and used fiscal stimulus to spur economic recovery.  The higher tax revenues from growth meant the deficit stayed within reason.
  5. Modernize the nation. The Public Works Administration and other agencies invested in big infrastructure, such as airports, dams and bridges, laying the foundation for the nation’s future prosperity. Most of these New Deal public works are still in use today.
  6. Invest in lagging places. The New Deal closed the gulf between urban and rural America by aiding rural areas through programs such as the Farm Credit Administration, Soil Conservation Service and Rural Electrification Administration. It improved the lives of people everywhere through new schools, hospitals, parks, housing and more.
  7. WPA sewer project for the City of San Diego

    WPA sewer project for the City of San Diego
    The Works Progress Administration, a federal jobs programs during the Great Depression, paid for all kinds of projects that federal, state, and local leaders thought would be worthwhile.

    Involve local communities. The New Deal worked with state and local governments to build hundreds of thousands of small-scale projects—parks, sidewalks, waterworks, etc. —requested by local officials. These brought visible benefits to local communities across the country and made Roosevelt the most popular president in U.S. history.

  8. Focus on the public good.The New Dealers sought the public good over private profit and put public careers ahead of personal gain. This spirit of public service pervaded a nation previously in despair.
  9. Restore faith in government. The New Deal rekindled Americans’ belief in government by programs that aided ordinary people and by the example set by the New Dealers. Corruption was extremely rare because it simply was not tolerated.
  10. A growing movement

    A growing movement
    Climate protesters urge Congress to adopt a Green New Deal
    Photo Credit: Sunrise Movement

    Go green. Conservation and environmental restoration were central to the New Deal’s agenda. It provided clean drinking water and new sewers; built thousands of parks and wildlife refuges; and planted billions of trees.  Restoring the land and the people were two sides of the same coin.

While the centerpiece of the Green New Deal is climate change, its advocates understand the need to address inequality, jobs and infrastructure. They now need to come up with dozens of concrete ways to attack the many problems facing the nation, as did the New Deal.

Meanwhile, critics calling the Green New Deal pie-in-the-sky need to learn the greatest lesson of the New Deal.  A climate program that does not address the needs of ordinary Americans is not only unjust, it is doomed to failure. Only a sweeping call to rebuild the country while serving the people will galvanize Americans to work for their common betterment.

Opposition to the Green New Deal

Opposition to the Green New Deal
Conservatives decry the plan.
Photo Credit: Heartland Institute

 

A version of this article appeared in The Washington Post.

Richard Walker is the director of the Living New Deal.

West Virginia Homesteads a Legacy of the New Deal

Son of homesteader

Son of homesteader
Tygart Valley, West Virginia
Photo Credit: Marion Post Wolcott, 1938, Courtesy Library of Congress

The river winds from its Appalachian headwaters down the Tygart Valley in West Virginia, where a road known as the Seneca Trail takes snowboarders and hikers to and from Snowshoe’s year-round resort. Nearby, nestled in the crook of the valley’s elbow, are three New Deal homestead townsDailey, East Dailey, and Valley Bend.

Between 1933 and 1935 the federal Division of Subsistence Homesteads (DSH) gave those displaced by the Great Depression the chance to build new homes on small plots of land that would allow them to grow food and sustain themselves. Residents were chosen for their skills to build, farm, and operate businesses. The program left a legacy of affordable and sustainable housing and community-serving buildings, constructed by the residents themselves. Of the thirty-four New Deal communities created under the DSH, the Tygart Valley homesteaders are the only ones to fully repay the government loans that enabled them to resettle here.

Tygart Valley Homesteads, 1939

Tygart Valley Homesteads, 1939
Near Elkins, West Virginia
Photo Credit: John Vachon, Courtesy Library of Congress

While some of the original community buildings are empty and in need of repair, all but two of the 198 original homes remain occupied. They are easy to spot—A-frame and Dutch-style plaster-and-wood frame houses on one-to-two acre lots with garages, outbuildings, and an obvious mound of earth on one side indicating a root cellar for canned goods.

The Homestead School in Dailey operated until 2017 when a straight wind ripped the roof off the gymnasium and dumped it on top of the school’s cafeteria. Repairs took time; students were bused to nearby communities. Last year the community lost its battle to re-open its school, but the building is being re-purposed as a community center. A vacant kindergarten classroom still holds supplies and the community-built furniture that served generations of students, parents, and valley residents.

A woman who grew up in Dailey showed me around her homestead. She was proud of the beautiful wood floors, generous shelving, walk-in closets, and the ingenious hidden storage in a hinged stair near the bottom of the staircase. She shared memories of her school days, the community band, the little shops in the town center.

Homesteader’s child bringing home some potatoes from the community garden

Homesteader’s child bringing home some potatoes from the community garden
Tygart Valley, West Virginia
Photo Credit: Marion Post Wolcott, 1938, Courtesy Library of Congress

The town once housed a restaurant, a lumber mill, a dentist’s office, a beauty shop, a dance hall, post office, cooperative store, community weaving and woodworking areas and a toolshed. Various businesses, including the original post office, still operate, though the lumber yard, which recently changed hands, has closed.

President Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor repeatedly visited the region to help nurture the Preston County, Randolph County, and Putnam County communities that were hard hit when the once-roaring coal and timber industries came to a halt in the Depression. West Virginia remains among the nation’s poorest states. Yet, part of its wealth is the musical, dance, and cultural traditions that document collective labor’s still-powerful voice, heard in the recent 55-county-strong teachers’ strike.

Keepsake, Resident's photograph of the community band in Dailey, West Virginia.

Keepsake
Resident’s photograph of the community band in Dailey, West Virginia.
Photo Credit: Carol Denney, 2018

During the Great Depression, government recognized that people need jobs, room for their families and belongings, recreational and educational opportunities, and to be treated with dignity. The longevity of the homestead communities makes the success of that commitment clear. These hard-scrabble towns worked hard for what they have and offer a living example of what people working together can create out of sensible, practical government policy.

Please visit, if you can, the Rennix Flowers shop along the Seneca Trail (5179 Seneca Trail, Valley Bend, WV, Rt. 219). It is a great place to chat with residents trying to gather support for the homesteads’ history.

The website of the Tygart Valley Homestead Association describes the effort.

Dimension Plant

Dimension Plant
Construction of new community dimension woodworking factory for furniture making, 1938
Photo Credit: Marion Post Wolcott, Courtesy Library of Congress

Homestead School classroom

Homestead School classroom
Homestead School Kindergarten room, Dailey, West Virginia
Photo Credit: Carol Denney, 2018

Buying groceries in community store, 1938

Buying groceries in community store, 1938
Tygart Valley homesteads, West Virginia
Photo Credit: United States. Farm Security Administration, Courtesy Library of Congress

Trading Post, 1939

Trading Post, 1939
Community-serving stores at the Tygart Valley Homesteads
Photo Credit: John Vachon, Courtesy Library of Congress

Tygart Valley A-Frame today

Tygart Valley A-Frame today
The mound next to the house indicates an original root cellar.
Photo Credit: Carol Denney, 2018

Carol Denney is a California writer and musician who volunteers with the Augusta Music Heritage Center in Elkins, West Virginia.

On the Trail of the New Deal in Yosemite National Park

Tuolumne Meadows Mess Hall, 1934

Tuolumne Meadows Mess Hall, 1934
An example of the “parkarchitecture” of the 1930s, the CCC used native materials to blend with the surrounding environment.
Photo Credit: The Living New Deal

Beginning in 1942, when I was a year-and-a-half old, and for years thereafter, I would spend all summer with my parents in Tuolumne Meadows in the upper reaches of Yosemite National Park. I didn’t know until four decades later that not far from our campground, hidden among the trees, was a mess hall built in 1934 by young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). There, CCC workers would relax and refuel between shifts on New Deal projects that made the park’s High Country hospitable to families such as ours.

Upon taking office in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order expanding and consolidating the nation’s disparate portfolio of parks under a single agency, the National Park Service. He singled out Yosemite as the New Deal’s “showcase for national park values.” 

Eleanor Roosevelt at Yosemite

Eleanor Roosevelt at Yosemite
The First Lady poses with CCC boys at the Wawona Hotel.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Yosemite Research Library

Park officials jumped at the opportunities that designation implied. Resources flowed. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes visited Yosemite. So did Eleanor Roosevelt, in a parade of Studebakers. FDR himself arrived in July 1938, touring in the back seat of an open convertible. Watch a newsreel clip of FDR’s 1938 visit to Yosemite

Today’s visitors to Yosemite who know what to look for can spot the New Deal’s legacy almost everywhere.

The 45-mile-long Tioga Road was the first project in Yosemite that put New Deal relief programs to work. Crews from the Public Works Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Bureau of Public Roads took on the reconstruction and realignment of the highest mountain highway in California. A particular challenge involved constructing a bridge over the Tuolumne River. It took until 1961 to finish the Tioga Road project.

Setting cables on Half Dome.

Setting cables on Half Dome.
The climbing cables, originally installed in 1920 by the Sierra Club, were replaced and strengthened by CCC workers.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Yosemite Research Library

The 15.7-mile road to the park’s most famous and popular overlook, Glacier Point, was completed in 1940. Along the winding route, the CCC developed one of the first downhill skiing areas in California, Badger Pass. The resort, together with the more distant Ostrander Ski Hut, a hand-hewn stone structure for long-distance cross-country skiers, established Yosemite as a destination for winter sports.

Projects continually sprang to life. One of the CCC’s most impressive achievements was rebuilding the cable system up Half Dome. New Deal agencies improved the 27-mile Wawona Road from the park’s south entrance to Yosemite Valley and paved the route to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. New entrance stations, campgrounds, vista points, parking areas, lookout towers, and picnic sites also materialized.

CCC Ostrander Ski Hut

CCC Ostrander Ski Hut
The 2-story shelter was intended to be part of a larger system of winter trails and huts along the Sierra crest that never were developed.
Photo Credit: The Living New Deal

The CCC’s signature rockwork masonry is a staple throughout the park. Today’s hiker encounters old jackhammer grooves and remnants of asphalt paving along many well-worn trails. The rock garden around the Valley’s Fern Spring is also recognizable as the Corps’ handiwork. One can even spot where the Works Progress Administration expanded the Wawona Airport—now extinct—whose runway consisted of 3,000 square feet of sod.  

Many of the CCC’s efforts, including reforestation and the removal of invasive species, blend into the park’s natural scenery. Firefighting protected it. One former enrollee recalls that during his hitch in the CCC his crew went more than a hundred hours without sleep battling a forest fire in Yosemite.

Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center

Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center
The former CCC mess hall now serves as Tuolumne Meadow Visitor Center, a High Country hub.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Andrew Laverdiere

The CCC mess hall that I overlooked for so many years now serves as the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center, its conversion completed in 1980. The building, with its steeply pitched roof, craggy exterior, and stone chimney retains the rustic architecture and handcrafted techniques that are unmistakably the work of the New Deal in Yosemite.

Learn more about major New Deal projects in Yosemite: https://livingnewdeal.org/us/ca/yosemite-national-park/ and https://livingnewdeal.org/us/ca/wawona/

John Broesamle is Professor Emeritus of History at California State University, Northridge, and the author of books on American political history. A lifelong visitor to Yosemite, he is working to restore the memory of the New Deal in the park. For assistance with this article and with the broader project, he gratefully thanks Susan Ives; Tom Bopp; Virginia Sanchez, librarian of the Yosemite Research Library; and Paul Rogers and his staff at the Yosemite Archives.

A Better United States, c. 1937

Newsreel

Newsreel
Before television, newsreels were a source of current affairs and entertainment for millions of moviegoers.

In order to restore public confidence and hope during the Great Depression, the federal government created a short-lived agency, the U.S. Film Service. Frustrated with anti-New Deal propaganda and obstructionist Republicans in Congress (sound familiar?), Harry Hopkins, chief of the Works Progress Administration, invited commercial producers—“Hollywood,” in popular parlance—to make newsreels that would show mass audiences how workers formerly on relief were building a better United States.

In 1935, with an eye toward the 1936 presidential election, Hopkins invited forty-one firms to bid on a contract for thirty, 600-foot, that is 5-minute, films. Pathé News won the contract with a bid of $4,280 a reel and a promise to include one WPA story each month in its national newsreel.

Colonial Park (now Jackie Robinson Park)

Colonial Park (now Jackie Robinson Park)
African American workers construct Colonial Park pool and bathhouse in Harlem in 1937. A Better New York City, 1937, Federal Works Agency, Works Progress Administration, National Archives.

It was a challenge to keep to the grueling production schedule. And there was backlash from the Republican National Committee, which charged that these short films would be nothing but “propaganda . . . paid out of relief funds.” But Pathé’s general manager, Jack S. Connolly, countered that the huge array of activities of the WPA would generate enough “straight news for unprejudiced releases.”

(You can judge for yourself by watching these newsreels on the Living New Deal website. The trove of forty-seven films gleaned from the National Archives includes A Better West Virginia,  A Better Chicago, and A Better New Jersey. Some are longer, such as We Work Again, a film about African Americans, and Work Pays America, a survey of WPA accomplishments.)

School Lunch Program

School Lunch Program
A woman makes school lunches in an industrial kitchen. A Better New York City, 1937, Federal Works Agency, Works Progress Administration, National Archive

A Better New York City is in some ways an anomaly in the “A Better” series. Instead of breadlines and beggars the newsreel opens with billowing clouds that part to reveal Manhattan Island; the music swells; the skyline glimmers in the sunshine; and the narrator states that this is, “a great city, the financial, commercial capital of the entire world.” The unfolding panorama features Central Park (restored and improved with CWA and WPA funds and labor) and the Triboro Bridge (built with federal money). Streets, sidewalks, and buildings come into view as the narrator explains the program that “removed residents from relief rolls” and made New York a better city.

Like every newsreel in the “A Better” series, the New York City film highlights work and workers—blue and white collar, unskilled and skilled, men and women, whites and people of color. Manual labor, executed by men with weathered faces, strong hands, and brawny bodies, is valorized.

Caretaker

Caretaker
An African American caretaker and her young charges. A Better New York City, 1937, Federal Works Agency, Works Progress Administration, National Archives.

They build airports, bulkheads, and highways, and repair streets, sewers, and public buildings. The film heralds public swimming pools and bathhouses the New Deal built in this city.

For all the good that was done here, the New Deal tolerated racial segregation, and the newsreel disseminates a message of racial difference that is consistent across the “A Better” series.

Another consistent message is how the New Deal benefited children. The WPA operated twenty daycare centers in New York City for the children of needy or working mothers. In A Better New York City, youngsters are clean, heathy, and amply fed. They don’t work. Rather, they play in supervised sites such as play streets, parks, playgrounds, pools, day camps, nursery schools, and day care centers and enjoy a school lunch program, substantiating the narrator’s praise “In the knowledge that we are providing healthy bodies in sound minds for our future citizens . . .”  

Play Street

Play Street
Healthy children are shown playing in supervised areas. A Better New York City, 1937, Federal Works Agency, Works Progress Administration, National Archives.

As we look back to find a way forward, we should assess the imperfections of the New Deal along with its successes. African Americans were the hardest hit by the Depression, and yet they are underrepresented in A Better New York City just as they were underserved by New Deal programs.

Still, the WPA films remind us of the transformative power of the state to improve our wellbeing—and the power of moving images to craft political narratives.

Marta Gutman is professor at the City College of New York and a founding editor of PLATFORM, https://www.platformspace.net where a version of this article originally appeared. [email protected]

Marta Gutman teaches architectural and urban history at the City College of New York and the CUNY Graduate Center. Her research focuses on public architecture for city children.

Past Is Prologue: Oregon Murals Provide a “Teachable Moment”

Library Mural

Library Mural
“Development of Science”
Photo Credit: Howard Davis

Just as the controversy over the Victor Arnautoff murals in San Francisco’s George Washington High School draws national and even international attention, New Deal era murals in the University of Oregon’s main library stir debate over public art, representations of gender and race, and conditions for an inclusive campus environment. The future of the Knight Library murals, however, was decided in a much different way, with a much different conclusion–and offers a model for engagement with challenging public art.

The controversy surrounding the Knight Library murals began several years ago as students launched successive protests over three murals installed as part of the 1937 New Deal-era library’s east and west stairwells. The focus was on the WPA artists Arthur and Albert Runquist’s pictorial murals “The Development of Science” and “The Development of Art.” The Runquist brothers, graduates of the University of Oregon, shipyard workers and regionally known artists, were associated with progressive politics. Today’s critical analysis, however, draws attention to their selective narrative. As shown in “The Development of Science,” progress is suggested by a tree portraying eight vignettes from the early human discovery of fire and agriculture to science in the early 20th century. Its emphasis on Western civilization and a limited representation based on gender and race normalizes forms of privilege that university values presumably should challenge. Certainly, twenty-first century UO students have.

Mural, "The Mission of a University"

Mural, "The Mission of a University"
The words “our racial heritage” were defaced with red ink.
Photo Credit: Howard Davis

The mural that draws the greatest fire, however, is titled “The Mission of a University,” inscribed on the wall as if it were a medieval manuscript. The text borrows from a 1909 speech by UO Sociology professor Frederick Young in which he argues the service required of a university, contending: “From now on it must be a climb if our nation is to hold its position among the nations of the Earth. It means conservation and betterment not merely of our national resources but also of our racial heritage and of opportunity to the lowliest.”

A student petition, filed in November 2017, called for the University to remove it—mobilizing over 1,750 students in the process.  During the summer of 2018, the mural was defaced. A protestor highlighted the phrase racial heritage” with red paint and left a taunting note: “Which art do you choose to conserve now?”  

The library administration’s response was to clean the mural, send the note to be archived as part of the campus’ history of protest, and to place a placard next to the mural acknowledging the defacement, yet calling for “continuing our cross-campus project to contextualize these artifacts for educational and cultural reasons, and for allowing them to remain uncensored as evidence of the embedded racist and sexist legacy against which many of us still struggle.”

Librarian’s Response

Librarian’s Response
Placard addressing vandalism of the Knight Library Mural
Photo Credit: Judith Kenny

Education rather than erasure has been the consistent response from the administration. This might, in part, be understood as an aspect of its conservation responsibilities for a building with historic preservation requirements. Completed in 1937, the Knight Library was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. It exemplifies the quality of public building that could be produced through the financing of the New Deal’s PWA and WPA programs and the creativity inspired by the WPA Federal Arts Program. Because the murals are embedded in the library’s walls, removal would likely destroy them. But the conservation of a building, as the placard cited, is less an issue than is the uncensored evidence of an “embedded racist and sexist legacy.”

Even as protests took place, in February 2017, Adrienne Lim, Dean of Libraries, launched the Knight Library Public Art Task Force, charged with several tasks. Just last month, it submitted its report to the University Senate.

Knight Library

Knight Library
University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon
Photo Credit: Howard Davis

The first task was to set up a committee of library faculty members to work on a guide to the library’s historic resources. The second, overseen by a committee of students and faculty members, involved conducting a public forum, “Public Art, Cultural Memory, and Anti-Racism” to explore public art as an artifact representing past and contemporary values. The third task undertook a juried exhibit of student art that reflected contemporary values, titled “Show Up, Stand Out, Empower!”

A public forum, “Public Art, Cultural Memory and Anti-racism,” discussed the implications of removing the “The Mission of the University” mural.  Professor Laura Pulido, Head of the Department of Ethnic Studies, argued against removal, “I understand that many want to tear down racist symbols of the past for reasons I respect. But I am opposed to such erasures,” she said, adding, “The only way to move forward to not be held hostage to our past is to engage the past.”

Judith T. Kenny is a Living New Deal Research Associate living in Portland, Oregon and Associate Professor Emerita, Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.