The Great Depression (1929–1939) for AP U.S. History (page 4)

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Updated on Mar 3, 2011

The Effects of the New Deal

The Wagner Act and other New Deal legislation permanently legitimized labor unions and collective bargaining. Some unions became emboldened by the Wagner Act, and several sit-down strikes occurred in the late 1930s. The most famous occurred at the General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan, in December of 1936. Workers refused to leave the plant; by February, management had to give in to the worker's demands. Other strikes of the era turned bloody; in a 1937 strike at Republic Steel in Chicago, 10 strikers were killed. Nevertheless, union membership rose dramatically in the 1930s.

Another development was the creation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The American Federal of Labor, founded in the 1880s, was made up mostly of skilled workers. The first president of the CIO was John L. Lewis; the goal of this union was to organize and represent unskilled factory and textile workers. By 1938, this organization represented over 4 million workers. CIO members were on the front lines of the strikes mentioned in the previous paragraph.

The burden on women and blacks was great during the New Deal. As men lost their jobs, more and more women were forced to take meager jobs to support their families (despite the fact that women workers were often criticized for "stealing" the jobs of men). It should be noted that Francis Perkins was the Secretary of Labor during the 1930s; Roosevelt employed a number of women in influential roles during his presidency.

Blacks were especially oppressed during the New Deal. Often, they were the first to be fired from a factory or business; relief programs in Southern states sometimes excluded blacks from receiving benefits. Lynchings continued in the South throughout the 1930s; Roosevelt never supported an anti-lynching bill for fear of alienating Southern Democrats. The Scottsboro Boys trial received national attention. In 1931, nine black young men were accused of raping two white women on a train. Without any real evidence, eight of the nine were sentenced to die. It is ironic that the American Communist party organized the appeals of the Scottsboro Boys; in the end, some of their convictions were overturned.

Nevertheless, blacks did support Franklin Roosevelt, as they felt that he was generally supportive of their cause. Roosevelt did hire blacks for several policy posts in his New Deal administration. Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of the National Council of Negro Women, was appointed in 1936 as Director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration. Bethune lobbied Roosevelt on the concerns of blacks, and also worked to increase the support of influential black leaders for the New Deal.

New Deal Culture

Many authors attempted to capture the human suffering that was so pronounced in the 1930s. Zora Neale Hurston wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God about growing up black in a small Florida town. Studs Lonigen by James T. Farrell depicted the lives of the Irish in Chicago. The previously mentioned The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck tells the story of Dust Bowlers moving to California for survival, while Erskine Caldwell's Tobacco Road describes the suffering of sharecroppers in Georgia. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell offered a romanticized tale of survival from another period of crisis, the Civil War.

Most Americans of the 1930s got their entertainment through radio. Radio in the 1930s offered soap operas, comedies, and dramas. Americans were also offered "high culture" on most radio stations, as symphonic music and operas were standard fare. The response to H. G. Well's dramatization of "War of the Worlds" demonstrated the power of radio in American life.

Going to the movies provided a way for Americans to escape the sufferings of their daily lives; by 1939, nearly 70 percent of all adults went to the movies at least once a week. Lavish sets and dancing in movies such as The Gold Diggers of 1933 allowed people to leave their cares behind, at least for a couple of hours. Shirley Temple charmed millions, and movies such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington showed audiences that in the end, justice would prevail. Promoters attempted to make movie-going itself a special event in the 1930s; theaters were designed to look like palaces, air conditioning was installed, and dishes and other utensils were often given away as theater promotions.


To achieve the perfect 5, you should be able to explain the following:

  • The Great Depression had numerous long-lasting effects on American society.
  • Franklin Roosevelt was the first activist president of the twentieth century who used the power of the federal government to help those who could not help themselves.
  • The Great Depression's origins lay in economic problems of the late 1920s.
  • The 1929 stock market crash was caused by, among other things, speculation on the part of investors and buying stocks "on the margin."
  • The stock market crash began to affect the economy almost immediately, and its effects were felt by almost all by 1931.
  • Herbert Hoover did act to end the Depression, but believed that voluntary actions by both business and labor would lead America out of its economic difficulties.
  • Franklin Roosevelt won the 1932 election by promising the New Deal to the American people and by promising to act in a decisive manner.
  • Suffering was felt across American society; many in the Dust Bowl were forced to leave their farms.
  • During the first hundred days, Roosevelt restored confidence in the banks, established the Civilian Conservation Corps, stabilized farm prices, and attempted to stabilize industry through the National Industrial Recovery Act.
  • During the Second New Deal, the WPA was created and the Social Security Act was enacted; this was the most long-lasting piece of legislation from the New Deal.
  • Roosevelt was able to craft a political coalition of urban whites, Southerners, union members, and blacks that kept the Democratic party in power through the 1980s.
  • The New Deal had opponents from the left who said it didn't do enough to alleviate the effects of the Depression and opponents from the right who said that the New Deal was socialist in nature.
  • Roosevelt's 1937 plan to pack the Supreme Court and the recession of 1937 demonstrated that New Deal programs were not entirely successful in ending the Great Depression.
  • Many Americans turned to radio and the movies for relief during the Depression.

    Time Line

      1929:   Stock market crash
      1930:   Hawley-Smoot Tariff enacted
      1931:   Ford plants in Detroit shut down
          Initial trial of the Scottsboro Boys
      1932:   Glass-Steagall Banking Act enacted
          Bonus marchers routed from Washington
          Franklin D. Roosevelt elected president
          Huey Long announces "Share Our Wealth" movement
      1933:   Emergency Banking Relief Act enacted
          Prohibition ends
          Agricultural Adjustment Act enacted
          National Industrial Recovery Act enacted
          Civilian Conservation Corps established
          Tennessee Valley Authority formed
          Public Works Administration established
      1934:   American unemployment reaches highest point
      1935:   Beginning of the Second New Deal
          Works Progress Administration established
          Social Security Act enacted
          Wagner Act enacted
          Formation of Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO)
      1936:   Franklin Roosevelt reelected
          Sit-down strike against GM begins
        1937:   Recession of 1937 begins
          Roosevelt's plan to expand the Supreme Court defeated
      1939: Gone with the Wind published
        The Grapes of Wrath published

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The Great Depression (1929–1939) Review Questions for AP U.S. History

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