The Great Depression began with Black Tuesday, the now-famous stock market crash of 29 October 1929. It followed nearly a decade of optimism and prosperity, wherein banks made significant investments of clients’ money in the stock market. With the money gone, some banks were forced to close. (The FDIC was created in 1933, as part of the New Deal‘s recovery programs, to insure consumer accounts.) In turn, many Americans panicked, rushing to withdraw their money from banks before they lost their savings. While understandable, the rush to withdraw funds undoubtedly perpetuated the problem of widespread bank failures.
Bank failures, mass unemployment, and the Dust Bowl were all features of the ensuing Great Depression, a global economic crisis. It was not the first financial crisis faced by the US (see also, the panics of 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1893, and 1907), but it was the most long lasting and severe. It was documented in the songs of Woody Guthrie, the photography of Dorothea Lange, and novels of John Steinbeck, and now, in a newly digitized collection of interviews of those who lived it.
This collection of interviews was originally filmed for an Emmy-winning 1993 PBS special on the Great Depression. It has now been preserved by the Washington University Libraries’ Visual Media Research Lab and Digital Library Services, a repository known for its talented team of media and film archivists. The searchable digital repository features interviews by famous Americans, including writer Maya Angelou, actor-author Ossie Davis, historian John Hope Franklin, and novelist Gore Vidal. Other names will be less familiar to many of the site’s visitors. In total, there are 148 interviews, which cover topics like race, economics, politics, and culture during the 1930s. This collection is sure to be a treasure trove not only for course material for educators and students, but also for anyone curious about the Depression era.