Navigation
Search

An excerpt from an interview with Ossie Davis recalling New Deal programs in the African American community.

Transcription:

INTERVIEWER: Now about the Depression itself, what was it, when Franklin Roosevelt came to power, when he became president, and it was a New Deal, was that something that black folks in your community felt, I mean was it, was there something different about, how was it different than what had gone on before with Roosevelt? Did it, was there a sense that this was a different time now, something had changed and was it something that felt hopeful or, did it, did Roosevelt have any impact on your family's life or your community's life?

OSSIE DAVIS: Yeah, Roosevelt did have a tremendous impact, and the New Deal, on the life of my family and the community, but not at the very beginning. Politics was something that took place up North. The Depression, even the crash of the stock market, that was Wall Street, and Wall Street was where evil people lived who made money at the expense of other people. The White South and the Black South both looked upon the crash almost as a kind of punishment to the people up there. It was only later when the New Deal began to articulate programs, number one, food was sent into the communities, welfare was sent into the communities, but then they began to institute other kinds of programs. I remember going to classes conducted by people who taught in stores, or in churches, in various other places, sometimes at night, as a part of the New Deal. I remember script. My family didn't particularly, I don't think Mama ever was on welfare in the sense that we had to go and get the script and stuff like that. We relied, as we always had, on the extended family for food. And since we were sort of in an agricultural situation, you know, always there were members of the family who would plant and there would be collard greens, and mustards, and okra, and tomatoes, and beans, and you could go into the woods and catch something, or kill a chicken or whatever. So we were never, except on one occasion, [laughs] close to absolute poverty and starvation. I do remember [laughs] on one occasion, Mama was at the bottom of her resources and she cooked a pot of greens and a pot of grits. Now in the South grits and greens do not go together. Grits for breakfast and stuff like that, but greens for the dinner time and with the peas, and the rice, and the meat, you know it's a whole other thing, but that's all Mama had to offer her children. And we were visited by one of Daddy's sisters, who was a bit above the family in social level, and she particularly looked down on the mixture of greens and grits, but [laughs] she sat at the table and even as she talked against it, she consumed all the grits and the greens [laughs], which left us for the moment without resources. But, the government programs, you know, were there, and not only did they provide a service that was needed, but they put into positions of authority and power, black folks. There were black farm agents who went out and worked with the farmers, and black teachers, people who got these little jobs and who did service the community, oh yes.