Millions of people across the world went hungry as farmers burnt their crops and refused to plant seed. Food prices had fallen too low to make farming worthwhile. The Great Plains and some of the southern and western states had experienced drought. In 1933, high wind swept the topsoil from the fields, swamping crops, forming sand dunes, obliterating roads and partly burying farmsteads. This area was known as the Dust Bowl, which continued to suffer windstorms which ruined cropland - causing poverty and caused widespread pneumonia. Interestingly enough, the farmers were much to blame for the soil erosion, and they plowed up and over-cropped the grasslands, so there was nothing to prevent high winds from sweeping away the powdery soil.
During this time, America had no national system of unemployment benefits; each state had to provide its own measures, such as money payments, relief work and free soup at soup kitchens. In some states relief was non-existent. Thousands took to the road and the railroad, looking for work. They begged for food and sometimes stole items in order to buy food - and many lived in squalid camps along the railroad tracks.
Many of us remember the "bums" that road the rails and got off the empty boxcars when they saw signs that food and/or work was available in that location. Many of these people came to our farmhouse begging food - which my mother always provided. She prepared the food, and then asked them to sit on the front steps to eat it. Our dog, Bud, always stood guard - so we were never afraid. We realized that many of these "bums" were probably educated men who had probably had good jobs that disappeared when the Depression hit.
At harvest time, my dad would go down to the bum camp along the Yellow Medicine River and ask who would like to help with the harvest. He would get about three or so, who would live in the hayloft of our barn. They were always good workers; appreciated the good and plentiful food and caused no problems. Many years later, when riding along on the farm tractor, I noticed that marijuana was growing wild at the point where there was a sign pointing to our farm - apparently the sign had a double meaning.
Farm prices had fell so low that corn was used to heat the government courthouses since it was cheaper than coal. And this was much before ethanol came unto the scene. Farmers had to leave their farms because they could not make the bank loans. In some really desperate areas milk was poured away and animals killed and burned in hope of bringing prices up.
"The Negroes' plight was desperate in both the cotton-growing South and the industrial north, where the Negro was 'last hired, first fired.'"
The unemployed in Britain received just enough to feed their families at a very low level, leaving nothing for clothes, household items or entertainment. Since capitalism had failed there were revolutions and riots in some countries where they then turned to Fascism or Communism. "In the Western world, apart from Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany, the birth rate fell, as though parents dreaded bringing children into such a world."
(Continued next week)