An Oral History Of The Great Depression
A tape marathon of the Depression days, edited by a Chicago radio man who employed the same approach with considerable success in a portrait of his city and its ills called Division Street: America (1967), This "attempt to get the story of the holocaust. . . from an improvised battalion of survivors" is quite effective too; the subject is eminently suited to the technique of oral history. People relive the bad times (and the good times), and the social, political, and economic realities of those years are concretized in their large and small dimensions. A few of the speakers sailed through the Depression totally unscathed, but for most it was indeed a hard time, inflicting, despite its obviously public causes, a private sense of shame and "invisible scars." A substantial number of the people are notables of one sort or another--Cesar Chavez, Pauline Kael, Myrna Loy, Saul Alinsky, Rev. Gerald L. K. Smith, Alf Landon, Colonel Hamilton Fish, and others--but mostly it's just folks: ex-soldiers who crowded into boxcars for the bonus march on Washington, ladies who shared their limited kitchen fare with all hungry comers, businessmen, farmers, laborers, radicals, drifters, writers, students, politicians. Terkel strikes an admirable balance between black and white, between rich and poor; his editing is generally excellent. But, unfortunately, he overextends his microphone across the generation gap to include too many speakers whose only familiarity with the Depression is through "its occasional invocation for scolding purposes." These additional themes tend to distract from rather than amplify the Depression experience. Otherwise, a very rewarding excursion down rocky memory lanes.