Friday, June 19, 2009

The Great Depression and Bonnie & Clyde

Many cite the Great Depression and embittered anti establishment feelings spawned in America during those years, as a reason or contributing factor-- for the advent of outlaws such as Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd and others. Although Clyde's life of crime actually began as a petty thief in 1926, The Depression is almost always equated with the rise of Bonnie and Clyde. I agree with the premise, that anger generated within the general populous in the '30s-- combined with a newly developed tolerance for lawlessness, within those who wouldn't normally support violence and rebellion-- resulted in the environment necessary, to foster the rise of the dust bowl desperadoes.

I believe these "people's heroes" (whether or not they viewed themselves as such)-- were born from The Great Desperation and uncertainty of those most unique times. Although in my view, The Depression cannot be considered the "end all" argument, in supporting any measure of sympathy for the actions of The Barrow Gang-- especially in having killed so many-- there must be a "balance" struck in viewing them, based on an understanding of the times in which they lived. Some call today the Age of Lawlessness. I would respectfully disagree. I view the 1920's and 30s as the true Age of Lawlessness in America. Nonsensical crackdowns on the populous such as the establishment of prohibition, combined with an ineffectual government and then, with "all hell" breaking loose economically-- seemed legitimate reasons for people to have become "fed up" and rebellious. Times were tough-- and people then were a reflection of their times.

Today, comparisons are drawn between The Great Depression and our current economic condition. Perhaps the following facts regarding these darkest of times in America, will be helpful in showing-- that although things could be better now, the economic realities of today cannot compare-- to the tremendous plights experienced three quarters of a century ago. A reality not often expressed, is the length of time The Great Depression lasted. Having begun late in 1929, the last of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal 2 support programs-- wasn't discontinued until 1943, when the war economy of WWII took hold. It's important to understand, that the depression of the 1930s was a worldwide economic downturn of catastrophic proportions.

Some Facts about The Great Depression in America--

> 13 million people became unemployed > In 1932, 34 million people belonged to families with no regular full-time wage earner > Industrial production fell by nearly 45% between 1929 and 1932 > Home building dropped by 80% between the years 1929 and 1932 > In the 1920s, the banking system in the U.S. was a nearly $50 billion enterprise, which accounted for nearly 50% of GDP > From the years 1929 to 1932, about 5,000 banks went out of business > By 1933, 11,000 of the 25,000 banks in the U S had failed > Between 1929 and 1933, U.S. GDP fell around 30%, and the stock market lost almost 90% of its value > Over one million families lost their farms between 1930 and 1934 > Between 1929 and 1932 the income of the average American family was reduced by 40% > Nine million savings accounts had been wiped out between 1930 and 1933 > 273,000 families had been evicted from their homes in 1932 > There were two million homeless people migrating around the country > Over 60% of Americans were categorized as poor by the federal government in 1933 > In the early 1930s, more people emigrated from the United States than immigrated to it > And although overall crime rates fell during this period, murder rates rose-- both within domestic disputes and robberies.

As a comparison-- in 1932, the U.S. population was 124,840,471-- and the unemployment rate was 23.6%-- 13 million people had become unemployed since 1929-- In 1932 alone, the GNP fell a record 13.4% en route to a 31% total decline-- and the top tax rate was increased from 25 to 63%. Today the U.S. population has topped 300,000,000. Since December 2007, the GDP has fallen 2.5%-- the unemployment rate is currently 9.4% with 9.5 million unemployed. Perhaps we should count our blessings. The Depression years were "indeed"-- tough and desperate times.

A question??-- If times today were to become as bad as they were so many years ago-- do you feel we as citizens would react any differently to those pressures, hurts and heartaches?? Its something to ponder. I would welcome your comments.


Anonymous said...

Hard times came to the Barrow and Parker households long before the Great Depression, but I think the GD was the knockout punch for many disenchanted youth back then. For the Barrows, cotton prices collapsed after WWI and the boll weavil added to the uncertainty of income from farming. For the Parkers, the dad and breadwinner died when Bonnie was 4. Both kids spent a lot of time around families who were doing at least a little better. Much harder to explain are people like Ralph Fults whose background was more stable. But he eventually straightened out, in part because he managed to live long enough.

reeko said...

My grandparents, and my gr-grandfather (grandmother's dad) lived in and near Eagle Ford and West Oak Cliff during that timeframe. In fact, grandfather and some of his cousins went to the Eagle Ford school with Bonnie Parker. (Two of his cousins were killed in a train/car accident going to school on Chalk Hill road not far from the school.) We still live here in Oak Cliff too. But my gr-grandfather (grandmother's dad) owned and/or run several gas stations up and down Davis street and in Eagle Ford and Arcadia Park. It was said that he fueled the Barrow gang's cars quite often. Probably out of fear, but that entire bunch was not very well liked by any of my relatives. My grandmother, who has dementia and alzheimers now, sometimes has moments of clear lucidity and she talks about events in her youth. One day a few months ago, I was driving her someplace and we passed Western Heights cemetery, and I casually mentioned "that's where the bad outlaw Clyde Barrow is buried" and she perked up and said matter-of-factly "yes. I went to the funeral. Bonnie is buried there also." Well, of course I first thought it was just the dementia because Bonnie's family would not allow them to be buried together. But then it dawned on me that I had not mentioned the name "Bonnie" - she remembered that name. Even more interesting, later, other family members told me that grandmother's church would "witness" to the Barrows (and other such scoundrels) in Eagle Ford and it is entirely likely that they (the church group) would've indeed been to at least Clyde's funeral. Grandma would've been 14 at the time. That entire group of several families (Barrows, etc) and good-for-nothings in that area were not known "church people" and considered "bad" people at THAT time by the people who lived around them - and it had nothing to do with the Great Depression. FYI: Any V8 Ford would've made a distinct impression by its sound and sight in that very poor neighborhood also. There would not have been very many of them in the area for sure. It would've left a very clear memory on anybody pumping gas and/or servicing it - and also on any kids playing at their daddy's gas station.

t o m said...
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A. Winston Woodward said...

Thanks reeko for a most interesting comment. Having had both my parents die from dementia prone diseases, I can appreciate what you are experiencing with your grandmother-- ie: good days and bad. I recall my father one day not knowing who I was, and then just a few days later-- saying something like "hi Win, how are you?? Let's talk". Perhaps sometime, your grandmother will recall stories from Clyde's funeral. I'm sure those recollections would be well worth noting, from someone who witnessed that event. Thanks again.