Money on the Left

No Depression in Heaven with Alison Collis Greene

October 15, 2019
Money on the Left
No Depression in Heaven with Alison Collis Greene
Chapters
Money on the Left
No Depression in Heaven with Alison Collis Greene
Oct 15, 2019
Money on the Left
We speak with historian Alison Collis Greene about what she calls the “myth of the redemptive depression."
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Money on the Left, we speak with historian Alison Collis Greene about her book No Depression in Heaven with an eye toward contemporary debates around the Green New Deal. Subtitled The Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Transformation of Religion in the Delta, Greene's book critiques what she calls the “myth of the redemptive depression” which, particularly in the American south, eroded the legacy of the original New Deal by affirming regressive fantasies of self-help and individualism. 

Many on the left today see the “New Deal” framing of contemporary social and ecological politics as a concession to liberal nostalgia. However, No Depression in Heaven reminds us that right-wing and religious dismissals of the New Deal played a key part in rolling back government provisioning under neoliberalism. From our perspective, then, the original New Deal remains a crucial rhetorical battleground for the future of American political economy. 

Greene teaches United States religious history at Emory University, and researches American religions as they relate to politics, wealth and poverty, race and ethnicity, the environment, and the modern rural South. Check out her poetic mediation on scarcity, gender and history, “Pine Knot Woman,” which Greene reads for us at the beginning of the show.

* Thanks to the Money on the Left production team: Alex Williams (audio engineering), Richard Farrell (transcription) & Meghan Saas (graphic art).



Speaker 1:
0:01
Ty not woman is this all there is there for children is surely asked than this once or twice as they returned from a long day in the fields to yet another dinner of cornbread and peas. Maybe they no longer ask because noodle relief meant more provisions or maybe they no longer asked because the answer didn't change. The family selection specialist described mrs Barkley as a thin person of the pine, not variety. Was it her own biology that rendered her a woman reduceable to wounded lump of tree. Was it a life of hard work and sorrow? Was it that she pushed more cornbread and peas onto her children's plates and less onto her own? Is this all there is? She surely asked this of what was left after the tornado tumbled. The house flipped the crops, spun 80 chickens into the sky and it's desperate. Aftermath swept her family away from those with whom they had gathered in community.
Speaker 1:
0:53
Is this all there is? Surely she asked this when the children died, perhaps pine nut. It was just the word for after all, a tree binds its wounds into a not when a branch is torn away, perhaps her body gathered into itself and sorrow when the children died, hardened in its moons, even as her heart wrapped itself around those four living children, those children, the family selection specialist thought cute, well fed and well dressed. Is this all there is? The question surely lingered at the end of each harvest. Another rented farm, another board in Baton shack. This time they knew no one and some are there tall corn head from view, the largest peach orchard in the world now a thousand acres of abandoned crab trees that abutted the farm, the rotting fruit permeating the air. Maybe they could sneak a peach or two, maybe even a bushel or so to can for winter hungry winter and surrounded by farmland as far as the eye could see, God knows I must not know how to farm.
Speaker 1:
1:53
Her husband said, I've been at it all my life and I still have no more money than I had at first. Is this all there is sorrow lettered in green on the white wooden cross, two feet tall on the left side of the mantle adversity and that identical cross to the right framed in the middle. Joshua Reynolds age of innocence, that classic image of unspoiled childhood sold everywhere available nowhere good dead children whose faces faded from memory remembered through a small girl dressed for a life of ease, softly lit her and blemish skin blending into the creme of her dress. Is this all there is mrs Barkley and name but are given one a sliver of a story in an archive, the husband and the family selection specialist who interviewed them for resettlement, the main attraction, an unobservant unreliable narrator, a hint at loss on the mantle, a moment in Amber, its beginning on told its ending unknown, a life of scarcity and midst abundance, a whisper of love and it's a trace of hope. Amidst despair is this all there is?
Speaker 2:
3:16
You've just heard is titled pine knot woman and and read by historian Alison Collis. Green. We described it as a poem. Alison wasn't so sure, which is likely the point, whatever we call it, pine, not woman ponders and contests scarcity and the economic and religious history of the American South. Returning to the refrain is this. All there is, it longs reflexively for keen articulable alternatives when impoverished gendered archive, this episode of money on the left, we speak with Alison about her book, no depression in heaven with an eye toward contemporary debates around the green new deal, subtitle, the great depression, the new deal, and the transformation of religion in the Delta. Allison's book critiques what she calls the myth of the redemptive depression, particularly in the American rural South, eroded the legacy of the original new deal by affirming fantasies of self-help and individualism. Many on the left today, see the new deal framing of contemporary social and ecological politics as a concession to liberals and style Joe Oliver. No depression in heaven reminds us that right-wing religious dismissals, the new deal played a part in rolling back government provision under Neo liberalism. From our perspective, then the original new deal remains a crucial rhetorical battle ground for the future of American political economy. Alison teaches United States religious history at Emory university and is American religions as they relate to politics, wealth and poverty, race and ethnicity, the environment and the modern rural South
Speaker 3:
5:07
[inaudible]
Speaker 4:
5:07
Alison Collis green welcomed the money on the left.
Speaker 1:
5:10
Glad to be here.
Speaker 4:
5:11
Can you start by telling our listeners a little bit about your personal and scholarly background, how you became a scholar of religious studies in particular?
Speaker 1:
5:19
Sure. Yeah, so the religious studies part came first and for a long time I was, well that's pretty self centered. My dad was a Southern Baptist minister. This goes way back. Um, he left seminary to return to his home church when I was small and that was in a rural part of the North Carolina mountains where he and my mom had grown up. I was four and the church that we went to, like I said, it was a church he'd grown up in. It's kind of the center of our universe. I spent a lot of my childhood climbing the trees and the church yard playing hide and seek in the pews or wandering up the road by the church to my grandparents' house. I knew everyone there. Um, I learned later that we were kicked out of our first rental when the landlord saw that my dad had Greek and Hebrew texts on the shelves.
Speaker 1:
6:02
You were just supposed to trust King James and not mess with all that other stuff. Um, and I learned that after another transition, which was when I was 12, this big split in the Southern Baptist convention that had been ongoing, rocked our world. And we had to leave that church. Um, too much learning and too little preaching, too much love and too little hell was what people said. So my dad, um, found odd jobs after, after he left the church. He drove a fuel truck for most of my childhood and um, he'd figured out what he was doing for a while. And I knew from that moment that I was going to study religion. Christianity was this thing that had held us all together in this community. And then it was the thing that had torn us all apart in this community. And I wanted to understand it.
Speaker 1:
6:50
Um, and in a sort of really childish way, I also want to know what was so dangerous in those foreign texts. They got us kicked out of the house. So when I went to college, I knew it was going to study religion and I knew I wanted to learn Hebrew Bible. And, and I thought I went to learn Greek, but I fell in love with Hebrew. I took six semesters of biblical Hebrew, some anthropology of religion and Scottish Calvinism on the side. That was my adolescent rebellion. Um, that's a pretty typical, right? So when I graduated, I joined teach for America. I moved to the Arkansas Delta. I thought going in, I thought with my background and he Bible and not knowing much about the world around me, I thought all the rural places were the same. And so my childhood in the Appalachians would be a perfectly adequate preparation to teach in the rural deep South.
Speaker 1:
7:42
You will be shocked to hear that it wasn't, um, am my first week in the Delta. The local churches of God. And Christ led a boycott of the segregated public school system where I taught the schools were segregated because the white kids went to an Academy and I faced new questions about race and class and justice. And for the two years I was there, I knew that what I really needed to know and learn was American history. Uh, and if I wanted to answer any of the questions that I, that I, that I learned there and some of the ones I'd had all along that was the route. So I went to grad school to study religion, wanted to learn some history on this side. I took one. So it started in a religion program. It took one semester of history classes and I was just hooked. Now the methodologies of history fit the way I think. I began to learn what was wrong with the narratives of history or limited about the narratives of history that had grown up with and started to piece together some of the answers to the questions I had, um, to ask better questions. So I switched programs and here I am, I'm a historian of religion now.
Speaker 5:
8:45
Right. So I'd like to turn to your book, no depression in heaven. Um, in that book you focus on the Delta region kind of nestled between Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi in order to develop a critique of what you call the myth of the redemptive depression. Would you mind flushing this out for our listeners? What, what is this myth? Where did it come from and what are its stakes for you for, um, history and maybe even contemporary American politics?
Speaker 1:
9:17
Yeah, let me start with some of the stakes and I'm gonna move on from personal narrative after this, but I w I learned a story about my own family only after I'd written the book. So it's not a story about what motivated me, but it's one that helped me see the stakes of the argument that I was making. Um, my grandfather and my great grandfather brother in the 1920s had, uh, three children and three, uh, three school aged sisters and was left with all of them in his care
Speaker 1:
9:50
in the 20s when things were supposed to be great. He had to send two of his sisters to an orphanage because he couldn't afford to feed them this orphanages four hours away. He had a job in the feldspar mines. And it wasn't enough. My great grandfather thought he could bring his sister's home when things got better, but things did not get better. And one day when his wife, my great grandmother was array running an errand with one of her own children. The third child who hadn't been accepted by the orphanage because she was chronically ill, she fell into the open fireplace in the kitchen and burned to death. Um, so I had written about abuses and orphanages and about the things that happen to families who were for various reasons, um, crippled and crushed by the depression. I didn't know how much of that was part of my own story.
Speaker 1:
10:40
Um, those living sisters lived, uh, four hours away in that orphanage for the rest of their childhood. Never again to live with members of their own family. I knew them distantly. They didn't have much to do with the family for what I think are probably obvious reasons. So I knew about the sisters, I knew something about the orphanage story. I knew nothing about the sister who had died until I'd finished my PhD in history, written this book about religion in the depression. And my grandfather died and the family started telling me stories. We had joked all through my childhood about all the moonshining preachers and married cousins and our family tree. But nobody told this story about poverty and suffering and hardship and loss and humiliation. And so I started to think about the way that the stories that we have in our own histories that are full of pain and sorrow and shame often die with the people who carry them instead of becoming part of our, of our lived knowledge.
Speaker 1:
11:33
So we learn cleaner, tidy, or versions of our histories. And so those stories shape our ideas about the world and where we fit in it. And if we don't learn about the suffering in our own pasts in our own worlds, then I think it can be really hard to see it in others. Or if we see it, we are likely are to blame other people, the suffering that befalls them. So that's a sort of personal story about what I see as the stakes in this myth of the redemptive depression. Um, and I think you can, I'm going to sum it up in a couple of ways. One of those ways is, uh, when I finished the book, I had a friend on Facebook who posted a meme of, it's like a picture of a grandmother. She looks very Appalachia and she's sitting in front of a farm.
Speaker 1:
12:18
She's all by herself, which is really important. And it says over it, it says grandma survived the great depression because her supply chain was local and she knew how to do stuff. Now this is a claim that you can make a, that seems so persuasive because it's a version of history that all of us have heard, but it's also a completely fabricated version of history. And it's a completely inaccurate version of history. I mean, the local supply chain was a central problem in depression. Knowing how to do stuff doesn't mean he'll have beans when there is no money and there's a drought and you can't even grow a Hill of beans. And if you can, you're probably gonna feed them to hungry neighbors. So in this kind of framing, in this meme, suffering becomes, especially the suffering of poverty, becomes an individual problem. Neither a political problem nor social problem.
Speaker 1:
13:07
So you have one of the richest countries in the history of the world with one of the highest wealth gaps, highest rates of child poverty, homelessness, and incarceration in the world. And we blame the poor of the homeless in the incarcerated, or we blame the work the government does to mitigate unnecessary suffering. So we have in this country a long history of blaming poor people for their problems, but that that wasn't always the only way we thought. The great depression brought such quick and deep suffering that it made visible the costs of capitalism and the systemic causes of poverty. And so American sort of United around this idea that a federal response and a federal safety net wasn't just like a pipe dream or a path towards doom. It was a moral imperative, the best and maybe the only way forward in this crisis. So if you want to tear away that safety net that was not completed but begun during the depression or if you want to tear down the federal government, none of the things I've just told you is a convenient story.
Speaker 1:
14:07
So you have to make up a new story. And I would say that that story goes sort of like this. This is the sort of standard narrative that a lot of us inherit of the depression. So the greatest generation suffered through the ravages of the depression, but they came out of it stronger. Maybe Franklin Roosevelt helped them back on their feet with works programs or social security, but then they pulled together and they helped one another and they helped themselves. So if you think of it in religion, religious terms, you could say the great depression redeemed them. They suffered just enough to turn to God to realize they could help themselves and help their communities. And then they fought another world war and they won and they built cozy houses and they went to college and they raised families and they went to church or to synagogue every weekend.
Speaker 1:
14:52
So the greatest generation and this framing is independent and hardworking and grateful. And then the social programs of the new deal destroy their descendants. Right? The rest of us are just a big disappointment. We're cuddled by the government were lazier and greedier with each passing generation. Um, does that sound like a familiar narrative? So that's the narrative that I call the myth of the redemptive depression. Um, that's a story that I'm talking about. It recasts the greatest economic crisis of the 20th century into this sort of morality tale. It's like this purifying experience that brings people together and brought people to God. Or it would have done that if Franklin Roosevelt and his big government hadn't gotten in the way. Um, and, and big government's a problematic term there, but I'll come back to that. The thinking about that story though is it, it's a really handy story to sort of erase the suffering and the sorrow of the depression.
Speaker 1:
15:48
All of the things that brought about the new deal in the first place. It's a story that erases the decades of bipartisan effort that protected Americans from another great depression for a long time. It's a story that ignores the way the greatest generation actually rallied together to build a welfare state, which is what enabled them to prosper, but it didn't enable them all to prosper equally. And so it's also a story that emphasizes the experiences of the white middle class, but ignores the network of federal programs that enabled the white middleclass to become what it was like home loans and farm loans and social security and the GI bill. These programs at the expense of people of color, and especially black Americans who have historically received far fewer federal benefits than white folks. So I think one of the most toxic elements of this myth of the redemptive depression, as I call it, is the argument that really is an echo or began in the welfare reform debates of the 90s.
Speaker 1:
16:45
But now we've just sort of accepted that the new deal destroyed the work of churches and voluntary association CDs there, even if you think the new deal was okay, it destroyed this work. Uh, and in so doing undermined Americans inherent compassion in favor of a, an impersonal and permanent welfare state that rendered the poor, helpless, independent. This is a, uh, framing advanced Valley, Marvin Olasky and a lot of, a lot of others. In the 90s, Paul Ryan, um, said in 2012 and Electra at Georgetown, that rather than a basic entitlement of Senate citizenship, which I would argue it is, the social safety net in his words, dissolves the common good of society, dishonors the, and, and dishonors the dignity of the human person. So conservatives then frame this as a debate about who should do the helping. It's not, it's, it's, it's not a debate about what we do, but who should do it?
Speaker 1:
17:36
Why shouldn't churches care for the poor and leave the state out of it? But that's a little or a lot disingenuous. No one really believes churches would do what the federal government does or did. And I think that's actually the point. Um, even now, a lot of private charitable work, a lot relies on public dollars. Without our taxes, it would be gone. Um, that's where we might disagree. But that's, that's at least that's how it's funded. Now, back in 2018 when the first disastrous Trump budget came under discussion, this anti hunger organization called bread for the world, estimated that if you were gonna, um, make up for individual church spending, what was, uh, taken out of the budget, it would cost $714,000 to maintain the existing social programming that that budget would cut. So the moral case against the welfare state rests on basically two assumptions. One, that poverty and suffering are the result of individual failures. And not flaws and political economic systems. And second, that there's thus no need for a welfare state to assure a baseline standard of living for everybody. That in fact, that's, that's bad somehow. So the moral problem then is the poor and not the persistence of poverty. And at the end, that is the message of the myth of the redemptive depression
Speaker 6:
18:53
are fair law.
Speaker 3:
18:56
Aw,
Speaker 6:
18:56
top men are failing. [inaudible]
Speaker 7:
19:02
[inaudible]
Speaker 6:
19:03
we know that grade
Speaker 3:
19:08
[inaudible]
Speaker 6:
19:09
[inaudible] spreading God's word.
Speaker 3:
19:14
[inaudible]
Speaker 6:
19:15
well [inaudible] I'm going
Speaker 3:
19:20
[inaudible]
Speaker 6:
19:20
there is no dead fresh. Here's the love
Speaker 7:
19:26
[inaudible]
Speaker 6:
19:26
that's free from yeah. Ali, this
Speaker 3:
19:32
[inaudible]
Speaker 6:
19:32
Paul and trouble. I owned it.
Speaker 3:
19:38
[inaudible]
Speaker 6:
19:38
go. And
Speaker 8:
19:40
so to dig into the specifics of the counter narrative that, um, you traced to that myth, um, in your book, um, I'd like to perhaps talk about the history of aid in the Delta as you do from the 19th century up until the great depression. Um, what did aid look like in the Delta region leading up to the depression and how is it structured and perhaps also what were its problems.
Speaker 1:
20:05
Yeah. So the first thing you have to do to peel back this myth, right, is look at what things looks like on the ground in this moment. Uh, so today that you, you could sort of start anywhere. I'm going to start with the sort of mythic golden age up to and through the 20s when there was no federal safety net to speak of. And when Americans were supposedly doing really great when everything was booming. Now if you want to see that golden age of voluntary aid in its purest form, then you have to look at places where public aid didn't exist. There were parts of the country where municipal and state level aid was, was, was fairly, uh, expansive. Memphis, Tennessee and the Mississippi and Arkansas Delta were, uh, a place that had very little of either a, so Memphis and a Delta F from just a little context as a, it was, and to some degree, still as a single coherent economic region.
Speaker 1:
20:55
Memphis was the economic and cultural capital of the Delta. It sits North of the Delta. It was where the cotton market was. It was the mule market for the Delta. Um, and then the Delta is that the, the rich Plains, the rich soil, uh, sort of area beyond them that extends for miles down both the Arkansas and Mississippi sides of the river, the Mississippi river, the population of that region in the 30s was more diverse than you'd probably imagine. There were wealthy planters and industrialists. There were poor factory workers and farmers. There were Protestants and Catholics and Jews. They're African Americans and a pretty wide range of immigrants and white folks. And this makes it a pretty interesting case study of how aid operated across institutional lines, how it operates across geographic lines and how it operated across racial and ethnic lines. Um, and then from the rural outpost to the city center, cause it's also going to look very different in the city from the countryside.
Speaker 1:
21:49
Um, so before I go on to describe that aide, I have found it useful to have. Um, I, I do this with my students and, and I do this when I talk about the book, um, I want to ask you to do something. So imagine this, let's say it's 1930. You have a little farm in the country or you have a little shop in the town or the city you have a family constituted, however you want to imagine it. You've always scraped by. But since the stock market crashed, prices have bottomed out. Nobody's buying anything. You lost your savings in a bank crash. Your farm or business has gone under. The bank has repossessed your property, your family's hungry, your partner has doubt of tuberculosis. You're sick,
Speaker 1:
22:34
your kids have no food, you have no money, there's no work to be found. So I want you to actually answer this and I don't want listeners to think about this. Where do you go for help? Okay, so let's say, let's say I go to my church. Okay, so great. One of the first places you think to go is to your church and you might be depending on who you are, your church might be middle-class. Um, maybe you were once part of the middle class because churches are divided by class. You might be able to get a little help from your church. They might feed your family for a week. Now your churches or say you want to go to a portrait. So they've already helped everybody. Either way, your churches, your church has done what they can. Where do you go next? Neighbors. Yeah, you go to your neighbors, but man, there's a drought. There's a crisis. Everybody's hungry. You share, you share what you have the best you can. But I mean the drought doesn't stop at your doorstep. So where do you go now? Well, I started, I started thinking about stealing things. Yeah. I mean one option is to, is to just take, but you got to travel pretty far to find people who even have much to take.
Speaker 9:
23:44
Hmm.
Speaker 1:
23:46
Any other, any can you think of anywhere else you would go? You're really desperate. Gone everywhere you can think. Yeah, right. This is a significant response to this crisis. There's this pick up whatever you have left and you go, you look for a place where things are better. Maybe you find it, maybe you don't. Everybody else is doing the same thing
Speaker 10:
24:11
and we can't go back to the church at this point. They then haven't replenished their good yet.
Speaker 1:
24:16
Right. So you might try a different church, right? That, that's, that's an option. Not all churches are equally resourced. Um, so, so I'll just sort of go through the options that there are a few more options that you would have had than you've mentioned, but, uh, not a ton. Um, so let's say look, first at public options. Now I asked you to think about if you lived in the Delta, if you lived in the Northeast, uh, or in the Midwest, you'd have a few more options. Um, in terms of their, cause there were municipal aid funds and there were state forms of aid. In either case, those resources were still pretty patchwork. Now, if you happen to be a veteran, you might have access to a state pension. Now this would only be the case in the South if you are a Confederate veteran, uh, which was the South first form of welfare and clearly a form of welfare for whites only.
Speaker 1:
25:06
If you were an abandoned or widowed mother wouldn't apply to any of you. Uh, you might receive a few dollars of mother's aide, which was essentially a program that, um, social workers advocated for around the turn of the century in the progressive era, so that widowed or abandoned mothers could care for their children at home instead of turning them over to orphanages. Orphanages in this period weren't just filled with kids without parents, but with kids whose parents simply couldn't take care of them. So the idea was that mother's aid would keep kids out of orphanages so that mothers who could prove that they had been widowed or abandoned and hadn't just been irresponsible and gone and had a kid. Um, cause those did not deserve any help obviously. But if you've done everything right and Oh and probably you had to be white in most places, then you could get a little bit of help, uh, in the Northeast, it actually might be enough to help you take care of your kid.
Speaker 1:
25:58
In the South. Mother's aide was mostly for whites, uh, was available only in a few cities and it was just a couple of dollars a month and a lot of cases. Now, if you were sick and you were sick in this scenario, there were a charity hospitals at both the state level and private charity hospitals. If, and this was a big, if you could get a bed, um, and there were hospital beds, uh, in the, in Memphis for both black and white patients. Uh, but they were not equivalent, uh, and they were not adequate in either case. Now, if you a really destitute, you could also go to the poor house where if you were deemed able and deserving, if you weren't able or deserving, you're out of luck. If you're able and deserving, you could work the poorhouse farm in exchange for very basic accommodations and all of your worldly possessions.
Speaker 1:
26:48
So that's sort of it from public aid in much of the United States before the new deal. Now on the city level, uh, some cities beyond Memphis offered more by 1930, 76% of total aid and the nation's largest, 116 cities was public. Uh, that averaged a dollar and 9 cents per person per year. Now in Memphis, my sort of exemplar here of private charity, that total eight average 55 cents per person per year, and those proportions are precisely reversed. 76% of total assistance in Memphis was private in the Delta. It was all private. That was the only option. So I want to tell you a little bit about now about what that private aid would've looked like. That's the, the aid that, that y'all thought of first, the F sort of your family, your community, your church. There was a little bit of institutional aid because between the civil war and the great depression, women societies and home missions organizations built schools and hospitals and orphanages and settlement houses to reach needy white people in the city.
Speaker 1:
27:51
And they always prioritize their own members. First. Catholic and Jewish Catholic and Jewish charities were a lot more expansive. They serve members of their own communities first, but they also helped a lot of others. Um, by the 20s. A lot of those aid organizations, both in Memphis and kind of around the country, United and consolidated community funds that produced all sorts of brochures explaining as one in Memphis was titled, that was titled where to send people for help. And then it had a long list of all the agencies that might help people who are aged or orphaned or hungry. So you could look at these brochures and you can think, wow, I mean, anybody who needs help has somewhere to go. They gave the impression that all you had to do is just ask. But if you look more deeply, you see that those agencies only focused on institutional aid.
Speaker 1:
28:38
So you could find a place, there's a real problem with poverty among older folks, but you could find a safe place to send a really indigent, older person if you didn't really care about the conditions there, uh, you could find an orphanage. Um, each of these agencies made it clear that nobody was entitled to adequate nutrition or a home or to health. In fact, if you had too much of any of those things, it might spoil your will to work. Uh, and so the head of Goodwill industries, which is like the Goodwill we have today, it was a sort of make work and charity organization, the head of Goodwill industries, uh, said that his Methodist, uh, said in 1927, the first taste of charity is as dangerous as the first shot of dope. And like, there's a big dope scare at the same time too.
Speaker 1:
29:29
So that is a, you know, that's a real danger there. So this was the way that even the people who are providing charitable AA or thinking about it, right, it is a last resort and people really have to show they deserve it because you really don't want to mess with the workforce and their willingness to work at low wages. So for people in the South and mid Memphis, this argument doesn't apply equally of course to everyone. It applies most strenuously to African-American's who in Memphis represented 40% of the population but received even less than they paid into the municipal and charitable coffers. Only 3% of the community fund and Memphis, a 3% of the community fund budget went to the blanket category of Negro aid, black churches and women's societies and fraternal orders were the only source of support for most Blackman fans in need. If your family just was like chronically poor or hungry, starving, even maybe losing their home, they really didn't have anywhere to turn in Memphis, only the salvation army offered a comprehensive soup kitchen in the countryside.
Speaker 1:
30:32
People relied entirely on informal aid on their local churches, their families, their communities. And there's this sort of sense that nobody really starved in the depression, but there are all sorts of state level in nutrition studies that show that in fact people were very hungry and were suffering a really wide range of diseases, malnutrition, pellagra and rickets and all sorts of horrific diseases of hunger. And that is while things are good, that's before the disaster. So the stock market crashed and immediately affects Memphis in the Delta. But then you have this record setting drought in the spring and the summer of 1930 and so the cotton, which is a drought resistant crop, the cotton is parched in the fields. Food crops shrivel up long before the cotton and farmers now faced a long winter with no food to store, no income for basic staples. And even those who had managed to put buy a little bit of money, especially in Memphis and a Delta saw their savings disappear in a wave of bank failures for the Delta region. It was a bank in Nashville that collapsed. Most of the banks in the region failed. So if you'd say, if you've done everything right, you still lost all your money, you still had nothing. Uh, and so that, that is the start in Memphis and the Delta of, of what would become known as the great depression.
Speaker 5:
31:53
So how much of this is tied in and explicitly with the kind of theological doctrine of like, or how it was interpreted as like personal responsibility, individual responsibility, and how much of it can we explain by broader political concerns about the spread of like Bolshevism socialism, communism, anarchism throughout the 20s?
Speaker 1:
32:14
That's a really good question. I mean, there's no, as far as I know, I'm a historian, not a theologian, but I don't have a formal doctrine of personal responsibility. There's an American doctrine of personal responsibility, I would say. Um, yeah, I mean the fear of Bolshevism is part of this, but these attitudes long predate those fears. Um, these attitudes are deeply, uh, embedded in American thinking in the 19th century. Uh, and part they come out of Americans difficulty in managing the transition from a kind of community based society to a larger one. The sort of, you know, big themes of industrialization and urbanization and trying to figure out how you live together in a world where you don't know most of the people around you. Um, but this sort of, there's, there's definitely a theological component to this idea. Um, it's, it's part of the messages folks would hear in churches on Sunday. And there's a tension between the social gospel ideas that emerge in the late 19th century. Very much out of if you take Keith Carter's argument very much out of the ranks of labor, I'm coming only later to the middle class. Uh, and, and if you take Janine Drake's argument very much, uh, reduced in ambition by the middle-class. Um, you get this sense that people in the churches have some sort of social responsibility to each other, but that social responsibility, which has to look different in the city from how it looked before,
Speaker 11:
34:03
um,
Speaker 1:
34:05
entails in part a a responsibility to manage the behavior of people who are not prospering. Right? If you do things right in this sort of American narrative, you should prosper. I mean, the 19th century gospel of wealth literally says that that poor people deserve what happens to them and that everyone should be rich and everyone could be rich if they just did things right. Um, so yeah, it has, and I had the long history. It has deep precedent. What's really striking about the depression is not,
Speaker 11:
34:43
um, the,
Speaker 1:
34:48
that this legacy persisted, but that it actually faded for a little while. That there was another way of thinking that gained traction, not just among Christian socialists who also were increasingly numerous in that period. Um, or socialist more generally, but among, um, a, a wide swath of Americans.
Speaker 4:
35:08
Could you talk a little bit about that new way of thinking and how it evolved? You've done a nice job of, of giving us overview of the infrastructure and the kind of rhetorical scaffolding for the, uh, shoddy aid in, in the Delta region. What happened after the great depression and how did that sort of infrastructure and, and justification, um, evolve?
Speaker 1:
35:30
Yeah, sure. Yeah. The, I mean the,
Speaker 11:
35:32
okay.
Speaker 1:
35:34
The depression is a process, right? It's sort of a long period. The initial response to the depression, you know, the banks crash in 29, nobody really thinks this is going to be more than a little hiccup, um, or no one who gains a lot of public hearing. So the first, the initial response really isn't very promising. People at the start of the depression did not know that what they were looking ahead at was the great depression. They actually thought things were supposed to get better. Um, and for the first couple of years, most people thought things would just turn around pretty quickly. As with previous recessions, there was this boom and bust cycle and this was just part of American capitalism. And we had tried to manage it in the progressive era so that you could control the cycle. But this was really, this was just a thing that was going to, uh, get better with time.
Speaker 1:
36:22
A lot of religious leaders said that, you know, this was, this was a good thing because this will kind of purify the, the country and people would stop, you know, girls would stop cutting their hair short and smoking cigarettes and just sort of a response to all the, like the roaring twenties kind of stuff. Right? We would get right with God and then we'd get better, but that didn't happen. Uh, you had, you had all this, all this, uh, preaching about a spiritual, uh, depression and we just needed a spiritual recovery for an economic recovery and you didn't get your, the one things kept getting worse. Um, the response among a lot of people wasn't this moralizing, um, or call for evangelism, but just like this kind of stunned agony and silence, just kind of bewilderment about what was happening. And then there were people who had the luxury of sticking their heads in the sand.
Speaker 1:
37:14
There's a Methodist Bishop in Memphis, uh, who wrote on Christmas day of 1930, uh, an editorial in the commercial appeal called nobody is starving in America. And essentially the message of the editorial was, we don't need soup kitchens. We need a moral awakening. Well, nine days after he writes this editorial, black and white farmers outside the town of England, Arkansas, banded together and marched into the center of town demanding food for their families. So these farmers are starving and people all around the country are just sort of stunned by this as it, as it reaches the news. They're stunned by the idea that when relief worker said that people could hunger with the bountiful soil immediately underfoot, uh, they had assumed that farmers as another relief worker said had only to decapitate another hint or pull up some produce from the garden, but the hands were gone.
Speaker 1:
38:12
The gardens were cold and bear. It's winter by February, more than a half million people in Arkansas, a quarter of the state's population, uh, w w needed help getting food. The one other place you can get help is from the red cross if a disaster is declared. And so that's what happens. And the red cross begins to provide a limited amount of food. What people were marching for was actually for red cross food aid for, for which had been been denied. So these events changed the way people talked about suffering and charity and individual responsibility. When you have farmers in bread lines, you have bread lines, do you have farmers marching for food? Then it's really hard to make the same claims about deservingness and about the meaning of poverty that you might've made a couple years before. So private aid organizations had been really proud of all their success and caring for everyone who really needed help.
Speaker 1:
39:07
Again, very limited number, but they face three crises all at once. First, the number of people who wanted help goes through the roof. Second, the donations to charities and churches plummet and their savings vanish in the same bank failures that crushed farmers in the middle class. So more people need help, there's less available. And then finally the defense, the people tune this has happening, deserve whatever they get completely falls apart in the face of such widespread economic and environmental crisis. So churches and charities tried to help. They didn't just moralize, although they rarely gave up an opportunity to do that. In December of 1929 in the salvation army in Memphis had served 1,700 meals. The next winter it served depending on the month, every single month that served five or 10 times as many meals as that. It eventually drained the swimming pool to make room for homeless men and boys to sleep on pallets on the pool floor.
Speaker 1:
40:09
So the salvation army is doing all this work is actually expanding its work, but most agencies are collapsing because they don't have the kind of support that they need. Uh, and if voluntary agencies are doing poorly, churches are doing almost as badly or worse. They're struggling just to stay open. And a lot closed between 1929 and 1932 this applies to churches. This applies to voluntary agencies. National income dropped by more than 50%, 50%. So for another couple of years, church giving hold steady relative to national income, but that still means a 50% loss at the very moment that demands on the resources of voluntary agencies and churches are increasing. And the churches immediately went into the self preservation mode. They cut benevolent spending as they called it first. Um, the president of the Southern Baptist convention, which had had a series of crises in the 20s said in 1931 we are putting off the Lords cause while we try to settle with our other creditors.
Speaker 1:
41:14
So they weren't like, they were pretty direct about what was happening. When the money ran out, the churches turned their spending inward instead of outward. So, so denominations are scrambling to keep the programs they value, but they're cutting corners. So we talked about orphanages before and so I'll use orphanages as an example. Like I said, orphanages housed non orphans and in the depression there housing and growing number of non orphans, kids whose parents just couldn't take care of them, couldn't feed them enough. Um, and even before the depression, these orphanages, orphanages were often really inadequate and dangerous places. There is a growing recognition that institutional care, it was not the appropriate setting for children. The institutions persisted on the last and in Memphis in orphanage called the industrial settlement home. It was a church supported African-American orphanage in the city of Memphis in August of 1929.
Speaker 1:
42:09
This orphanage burned to the ground and the matron ushers the, the responding fire men that everyone is out of the orphanage. And she was wrong. So a young boys from ages two to six died huddled together in a second floor bathroom of the orphanage. The report that followed showed that the boys hadn't died of the fire or smoke inhalation, but essentially died in a room that became an oven in the heat of the fire. It also revealed that the home had been declared a fire hazard long before that it was so overcrowded. Children regularly slept in the closets and in bathrooms and that the matron regularly beat children with shoes and hot fireplace pokers and in fact, the fire had been set by a girl whom she had just beaten. This wasn't a, this might have been a particularly dramatic, but wasn't the only episode of abuse like this.
Speaker 1:
43:08
Similar episodes rock to the white Mississippi Baptist orphanage and Jackson in 1929 and 30. This is right at the start of the depression. A grand jury actually indicted the superintendent for administering excessive corporal punishment. And let me tell you to get indicted for administering excessive corporal punishment in Mississippi in 1930 it has to be pretty excessive. In one case, uh, the superintendent beta 14 year old girl with a board stopping only when the board broke and discovered only because this girl wasn't an orphan. Her aunt visited and discovered that she was just a mass of bruises from her shoulders to her knees. So she shares this with the churches with the orphanage. She makes a stink about it. And immediately the denomination blamed the children. They were too unruly. They had brought this on themselves. And then only later, uh, with outcry of parents and others in the church did it remove this administrator.
Speaker 1:
44:04
So the depression, it leaves people so hungry now that parents have to choose between letting their children starve and leaving them in orphanages or that are rife in many cases with abuse and violence. Not all, not all work, but how could you know? And then between 1929 and 1930, one, private aid collapsed completely overstuffed orphanages now turned kids away to starve. Religious leaders saw what they could ignore in the 20s and what Paul Ryan and what he said and his colleagues ignore today that poverty exact a price, a terrible price on families and communities. There's no dignity of the human person as Ryan put it, when that person lies dying alone of hunger or the diseases of malnutrition and exposure or when that person can't keep her children warm or safe or when that person has to abandon his own siblings so they don't starve. So the church has had to reckon with this, they had to look at this and they had to figure out what to do with it.
Speaker 1:
45:03
They could have religious leaders could only turn their heads away for so long and some had had been looking for a moment when they could speak up. So as they looked at the suffering before them and their own inability to do anything about it, religious leaders across the nation actually stopped using the language of individual responsibility almost entirely. They also stopped using the language of charity in large degree. Even Southern Baptist started to write about the failures of capitalism and state Baptist papers. And Mississippi and about American's basic responsibilities to each other. There's this renewed sense of the public and a public responsibility and of our common fate. They called for the federal government to step in to protect its citizens. So Americans in the churches outside the churches had started to started to conclude the a welfare state. As we would come to know it would not destroy human dignity. It would recognize and preserve human dignity. Now, the actual response came much more slowly, but this was a like a pretty significant shift in, uh, in language and an under
Speaker 6:
46:15
[inaudible] darn arose. Keep it going. And if it hails or if it snows, keep a goal. Ain't no use to sit and whine. How's the fishing on your line? Bait your hook and keep it dry. Keep it going. When the weather kills your crowd, he's gone. Why? It takes work to reach the top. He gone. If this guys look dark and gray, tell the world you'll be okay. And don't forget to pray. Keep going. Wow. Now win's gone. [inaudible].
Speaker 5:
47:06
Yeah. The response, uh, we'd like to know about in especially sort of how, um, federal action, uh, is being framed and interpreted locally and through, uh, through the lens of, um, religious community.
Speaker 1:
47:22
All right. That we can do so. So like I said, federal response came slowly. The demands increase. Um, Herbert Hoover is really committed to voluntary aid and he's genuine about it. He thinks this is the way that you address problems, that if you take, if you, if the power of the government bends itself to these problems, it'll create a bigger disaster than, than the one he's already in the middle of. He also, I don't think ever quite got his head around the scale of this disaster. He had worked for the red cross. He was deeply committed to this idea of voluntary aid. But in January of 1930, two, Hoover's administration made a move to provide emergency loans to banks and to corporations and then later to States and municipalities for public works project. But a lot of States and municipalities didn't take these because they're loans and they couldn't pay them back.
Speaker 1:
48:13
It was all too little, too late. So Roosevelt trounced Hoover in the 1932 election on the promise that he would leverage the federal government to end the depression. And the model there would be some of the programs that he had first tested out as the governor of New York. And when I say he trounced Hoover, I mean it's almost unimaginable in 21st century terms. Now you have to take into account the limited electorate and the voter restrictions in the South. But Roosevelt one, I'm 57% of the popular vote and 88.9% of the electoral vote. So he won handily the barrage of legislation that he signed in 33 and what would become known as the first hundred days included an agency that would be especially important to the church's conceptualization of what they did. And that's a federal emergency relief administration or Farrah, which was the first program to put federal funds, not just towards employment relief, but also towards direct aid to people who are suffering with the caveat that this aid would be administered in whatever way that people at the city and state level administrators at the city and state level decided what's appropriate.
Speaker 1:
49:23
And in practice that most often net food aid and jobs aid. Now significantly Farrah prohibited explicit racial discrimination, not surprisingly local administrators figured out and proved remarkably skilled at finding proxies for racial exclusion. So even though racial equity to some degree was written into it, it was also written out of it in practice.
Speaker 1:
49:49
So federal aid outpaced that of private agencies by a magnitude that sort of hard to even comprehend because of course it could leverage so many more resources across the nation, but especially in places like Memphis and the Delta that hadn't offered much in aid to the poor new deal spending made. Everything else just look like pocket change. So at the peak of private giving in 1931 Memphians raised 88 cents per person in aid, 75% of it private three years later. By 1934 with the new deal in full swing, eons received $7 and 21 cents per capita in aide for direct and work relief and only 12 of that was private. So that's a really dramatic change. And, and who's spending money and, and how it's being used and how much of it there is. So in just five years as federal dollars provided the work and food that Memphian is needed, private aid dropped from three quarters of really spending in the city to less than 2% in the Delta.
Speaker 1:
50:49
Uh, almost all aid was public. So you kind of look at this and say, Oh well look, I mean you can see here that the state swept in to take over the churches work. They, they, they did this and the churches just, they, they were crowded out. But by 1933, the limited aid that churches had offered before the depression was already long gone. This wasn't, this wasn't the state replacing Hort churches were doing. This was the churches collapsing and, and the state then stepping in at the, at the request and demand in many cases of the leaders of those churches and agencies. And I think even more significantly new deal programs shifted the emphasis from individual suffering to collective responsibility. So it's no longer about your particular suffering, it's about our shared responsibility to each other. This is also a shift from private charity to public welfare. This I this ideal that the depression justified and that the new deal reinforced. And so you ask what religious leaders had to say about it. Well,
Speaker 12:
51:45
yeah,
Speaker 1:
51:46
I'll talk first about what they said in the region and then a little bit about what people said nationally. Now you probably won't be surprised to hear that liberal Protestants applauded Farah as well as the national recovery administration, which for the first time acknowledged workers rights to organize labor unions. Um, liberal Protestants saw both programs as a realization of the social creative, the churches, a statement that the federal council of churches published in 1908 Catholics linked new deal programs to people decrees regarding social justice and workers' rights and Jews pointed to the connections between the new deal and the teaching of ancient Israel's profits. So you have a, a pretty unanimous and vocal, a range of support for the new deal across the country, including in this region. Maybe more surprisingly, conservative Protestants were just as enthusiastic. Um, a lot of them said Roosevelt drew his inspiration straight from the Bible.
Speaker 1:
52:38
A, there's a, a Southern Methodist, uh, who, who wrote the new, the blue Eagle is now perched on my door. This was the symbol of the national recovery administration. I've signed up for the war against the depression. He said, uh, and the national Bible press actually tracked the biblical illusions and Roosevelt sermons and publish those. And if you saw complaints about the new deal from the clergy in the, in the years after the first new deal. Uh, most of those complaints were that the new deal didn't do enough. Right? Christian socialists were, were particularly unhappy with it. So Farah and the other 1933 programs curbed the crisis, but they didn't establish a permanent welfare state that would come later. In fact, those came in part as a response to those demands. When Roosevelt signed the social security act in 1935 making a sort of what we know as social security, there are also provisions for the orphaned and the disabled.
Speaker 1:
53:32
And then the works progress administration at the same time eventually created public works jobs for eight and a half million Americans upon the passage of those two programs. This is, this is a remarkable resource. Roosevelt actually wrote a letter to clergy that were supposed to go to every clergy person in the country, uh, asking them to describe the conditions in their area and then also to say what they thought about the social security act and the WPA in particular. And then the second new deal in general and over 30,000 clergy responded by the end and the letters I've read, I've read them, they're kind of astonishingly enthusiastic now the new deal like to catalog everything. So the first 12,000 replies that came in within the first couple of months, administrators actually tallied them as by how positive they were towards the new deal. And the full 84% were either entirely or largely in approval of the new deal and its programs.
Speaker 1:
54:34
A clergy row over and over and over that the welfare state was in there and and their understanding are religious achievement, not an encroachment on their work, that it freed them to focus on supplementary care or to return to a focus on evangelism. And you really see this across the theological spectrum. Of course, there were those who disagreed their pre-millennial pre-millennial lists who see Roosevelt as one of many possible antichrist. There are the elite white southerners and primarily, although not exclusively elites, who worried that the new deal would undermine Jim Crow capitalism, which was pretty remarkable because they had kind of gained an iron grip on it. To ensure that it wouldn't do that. Um, and then you have Christian and Joe's socialists who wanted a president who would unmake American capitalism, not revive it. And that's in the end what Roosevelt was trying to do.
Speaker 1:
55:26
So their frustration is that the new deal is shoring up the system that they, that that for the socialists needs to fall. So there's a, there's a, there's a, there's a range of concern. It's pretty quiet to start. Um, and then there's a sort of slow simmer of concern that the federal government in taking over the responsibility for, for caring for people was in some way weakening churches, moral authority, uh, weakening the churches, hold on. American's best strengthening, strengthening secular institutions, but not religious ones, which, which also weren't in the works programs. Religious churches weren't rebuilt in the same way that like community centers were. But that was kind of it. I mean that's the, the, the descent in those early years wasn't happening in the churches. It was happening in the ranks of business. Thanks for that. Reading your book from the perspective of modern theory,
Speaker 8:
56:24
especially in the spirit that we approach it in this podcast can help notice a few meaningful threads sticking out. Um, that we'd like you to theme Mathais and consider. Um, one that struck us was how conservative fantasies of independence often affirm and evenly even avowedly embrace this sort of false sense of scarcity. That I think, um, you really theme ties in the poem that, um, that you read for us, um, often to shore up Jim Crow racism or you know, even in the sense that you were mentioning with this so called theory of crowding out between church and state. I think that central to the way modern monetary theory phenotypes is this false sense of scarcity. And I was wondering if you could perhaps ponder those questions in that, those, those linkages for us, um, and perhaps seeing the ways in which these ongoing tensions between church and state inform, uh, the way we can think about our relationship to one another in America today.
Speaker 1:
57:32
Yeah, I really, I really like this question. I haven't, um, I thought maybe in precisely the, that language before. Uh, but, but I think that works if you, if you think about the grandma mean that I talked about earlier, that she knew how to do stuff in her supply chain was local. That's a grandma who doesn't need anybody. It's an image where she's on this big farm all by herself. Uh, and you know, one of the key realizations of the great depression was that people need one another and that we need one another, not only as members of our particular community or communities, but as members of a broader public. Um, when we rally together, when we look at ourselves as members of broader public, then we ensure our collective health and our wellbeing. We can build good, diverse and inclusive communities on schools, um, and ensure jobs with a living wage for those who want them.
Speaker 1:
58:20
Although I do have reservations about the emphasis on work because, because it has echoes of those ideas about deservingness and um, but, but still you can, you can accomplish these things. And Americans did this. That's how they thought. And that's what they did in the midst of this devastating economic crisis. And it's something we could do again if we wanted to, if we had the sort of shared initiative and sense of collective, uh, abundance, um, that, that somehow Mark to the response to the depression. But we have this sort of zero sum language of scarcity. And I agree with you that it's false. We are a mind bogglingly wealthy country. Our kids don't have to starve our kids. And if we believe in the sort of sense of the collective, these are all our kids, they don't have to be ripped from their parents. They don't have to be thrown in cages to starve.
Speaker 1:
59:15
They don't have to be shot down in the street. And the, the language of abundance doesn't create competition in the way the language of scarcity does. If there's enough for everyone, then the very wealthy, the people who hold the levers of power will have a much harder time pitting the port against each other. And if you can't put the poor against each other, then the poor might band together. This fear that that the portable band together, it goes back all the way to reconstruction. It goes back further, but take reconstruction wide elites saw these fragile and incomplete and messy and problematic and really fraught alliances, but alliances nonetheless between poor black and white southerners, especially among farmers. They sought interracial labor unions, the Knights of labor, the populist, all of them imperfect and lots of ways, but terrifying to the white elite power structure. So you get men like Ben Tillman who Rose to the South Carolina governorship on the promise of doing lots of great things for poor white people and the threat that black men were just violent rapists.
Speaker 1:
60:20
This is a, an intentional effort to fracture these alliances across lines of race within lines of class and it worked. People fell for it. White people fell for it. White poor whites chose race over class and it happens over and over and over. And as long as that works, as long as your gain is my loss, then we'll be exactly where we are. And as long as your gain and is my loss as long as we think in those terms, we preserve white supremacy, we preserve elite economic power, we preserve the systems that separate us from each other. If we think in terms of abundance, if we think in terms of what we can all do together and who we all are together, then we're starting from a very different frame and those powers, the powers of white supremacy and sort of elite economics which are deeply bound together, they start to, they start to lose power and the church and state is part of this sort of same, no, you, you, this is the sort of idea that that church and state zero song is like the same sort of set of ideas. Um, and so I think the implications are enormous, right? For thinking in terms of abundance as opposed to scarcity.
Speaker 5:
61:33
For a lot of people on the left, they're excited about, um, the green new deal, right? Reviving the, the name and the legacy of the new deal project. Um, and especially since really it's taking off. On the other hand, I think people who are, you know, not just left of center but really left, left are, are, are wary of that framing, um, for a number of reasons, um, many of which we've outlined here already. Um, and so it feels a little bit like a kind of concessionary move, uh, to kinda, you know, get happened to a certain kind of like, um, white liberal nostalgia or something. Um, but know, talking to you and reading your work, it just becomes so clear to me that the legacy than the memory of the new deal is actually key semiotic terrain, uh, for American political identity, both past and future.
Speaker 5:
62:39
And, and I think it's your, your project is so important for us to, to think about, you know, what, what this green, new deal framing is doing and not just more broadly in the larger American political landscape, but then even more specifically, uh, in the South and, and uh, what, what the South, not that the South is some homogenous block, but what, what, what the South living memory of the new deal is. And what does the green new deal potentially sound like in the South? Um, and yeah. What are, you know, what are your thoughts on that? What are the, what are the limits? What are the problems that need to be overcome? Are there certain problems that are not going to be, uh, overcome any time soon?
Speaker 1:
63:29
Yeah, that's a, that's a good question. I think for me the,
Speaker 9:
63:33
Hm,
Speaker 1:
63:34
huh. This is such as Dorian's answer, but for me the best way to answer this question is to sort of step back and look at the ways in which the new deal reinforced and in some ways codified white supremacy, but also the ways that it, um, enabled new kinds of responses to it. So the new deal consensus of course, thrived for decades. Um, Republicans and Democrats both expanded the welfare state well on through, on, into the 60s. And in response to civil rights activists in part who protested the unequal benefits that the welfare state provided to whites. You at Lyndon Johnson's great society programs, many of which, when people think of the welfare state and talking about the new deal, the programs they're talking about didn't exist in the new deal like Medicare and Medicaid. And like the way we think about, um, food stamps and food aid.
Speaker 1:
64:29
Those are, those are more recent innovations, um, and Johnson's administration imperfectly, but it responded with war on poverty programs that were designed to expand provisions for health and child welfare this time across explicitly across racial and ethnic lines. Uh, and so this was a really re this was to that point, the most equitable expansion of the welfare state. Uh, and so when you're talking about the new deal, you also have to talk about the, the great society, which is a sort of connected part of its legacy. It operated very differently. It operated very often through, through voluntary and private agencies as opposed to primarily through public agencies. Um, it also operated in an era when you had had a couple of decades of backlash. Uh, and you can't separate that backlash from this sort of idea of scarcity and the idea that, um, as long as white people lose any sort of hold on economic power, then, um, then then everything's gonna fall apart and nobody, you know, white people at least are no longer going to have anything.
Speaker 1:
65:32
Um, you know, frankly they're thinking in terms of, of, of non white people doing white people had been doing. So the war on poverty sort of with this rhetoric, uh, of, of scarcity became what is often an aptly called the war on the poor. This idea, again to blame the poor for their own suffering. Um, and then you got all these efforts to shrink and privatized the welfare state and also simultaneously to expand its punitive powers so that there's a lot more emphasis on policing and a lot less emphasis on aid. Uh, and like Elizabeth Hinton has written beautifully about this, um, and this are racist. The efforts of the state to close gaps between rich and poor, between black and white, between new immigrants and established citizens, between women and men. We now have this new period of vast income inequality that is unmatched even by the 20s.
Speaker 1:
66:22
And what I'm saying is all of this work to dismantle the welfare state rests on this myth of the redemptive depression. Uh, and that's a myth that infuses the sort of contemporary faith in the voluntary and the private sectors and skepticism about the federal government. So this retelling does this sort of a ratio that I've talked about before. And because it's a misrepresentation of our history, it also represents a misunderstanding of our present. And I think that there are kind of two pieces of things we should know about the new deal, things we should remember about the new deal, um, that without setting aside all of the ways that it replicated existing Jim Crow and white supremacist structures, uh, in fact, we should, we should, we should kind of double down in focusing on those, I would argue. And, and in order not to replicate them yet again, uh, in order to do better.
Speaker 1:
67:17
There are a couple of things there, a couple of lessons to sort of take away from the new deal. One of which is, um, there's a long and storied history of the religious, specifically the Christian left, the political Christian left. Uh, if you want to describe it as such to separate it from the theological left. But this isn't just a story of the left. The story of the new deal is in part of a consensus across a wide range of Americans that we are in some way part of a collective that we are responsible for each other and that what you have doesn't mean, uh, I don't. And, and so I think that's one lesson to take away is there are many ways that American religious and faith traditions have conceptualized their place in society. And the one that we have right now is far different from the one that we had for most of the 20th century. And there's no reason that it need persist. And I guess second, the real shortcoming of the new deal was it's work to bolster white supremacy. And so the w the last lesson is that
Speaker 1:
68:40
there are all these, all this language about racial solidarity in class solidarity and you can't, white people cannot choose class solidarity over racial solidarity. It's not a choice. Um, if you want to see yourself as high as in solidarity with, with working people, um, then then, then you can not only think of yourself as in solidarity with white working people, people of color, especially black Americans have reason to be suspicious of the intentions, even of well-meaning whites because over and over and over, white supremacy has broken these interracial alliances. So the new deals, great co flaw was its concession to even its occasional embrace of white supremacy. Um, and so I would say white, white, as white activists, we have to step back. We have to listen to people of color, we have to carry through with our commitments, um, and stop picking white people first. It's a rather abrupt ending, but that's, I ran out of words.
Speaker 10:
69:45
Well thank you so much Alison. College screen for joining us on money on the left.
Speaker 1:
69:51
Yeah, it's great to be here. Thanks for hanging out for awhile.
Speaker 10:
69:55
Yeah, that's fantastic. Thank you so much. Thank you.
Speaker 3:
70:50
[inaudible] [inaudible] [inaudible].
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