Black Thursday, the first day marking the Wall Street Crash of 1929, occurred on October 24th and is recognized as a major catalyst in the 12-year Great Depression. The stock market crash was a result of multiple factors, including excessive financial speculation, rising unemployment, high amounts of debt, a floundering agricultural sector, and a period of overproduction followed by one of decline, among other things. The consequences of the crash delivered the country into the most devastating economic downturn in modern history and was only relieved upon entrance into World War II.
Despite the fact that society was stuck in a poverty-stricken era for over a decade, American resiliency once again showed its might in preserving character and restoring the people back on the path toward success. This is evident in the way Americans were able to quickly mobilize and secure victory in Europe against Axis forces, emerging from the fight as an international powerhouse. Just as inspiring, however, are the stories told by those who lived through the Great Depression, often displaying the very best of human nature.
Around the time of the global financial crisis in 2008, Time Magazine featured ten of these stories, all of which give cutting insight as to the degree of hardship faced during the Great Depression and reveal the integrity and principle of past generations. For instance, one Patricia Johnson recalls the lessons her father taught her during that difficult time:
People would be sleeping on benches. They’d have holes in the bottom of their shoes and in order to keep their feet off the ground they’d fold up newspapers and put it in the soles. He said, “Patsy, I want you to realize while you lay down at night in a house that’s warm and you have food, this is part of the world that doesn’t have what you have. And I want you to be thankful for what you have.”
Such gratitude and humility is rare in today’s communities, though not totally absent. As a society that continuously strives to climb higher on the success ladder, Americans too often forget to reflect on the blessings they already possess, most notably the freedoms they hold as American citizens. Johnson expands on this idea in reference to 2008’s financial crisis:
My father used to say, “The trouble with you narrow-backs — that’s first-generation Irish — is, you don’t appreciate what you’ve got and the only way you’re going to appreciate it is if you lose it.” But he also used to say, “There is good in everything if you want to look at it.” If we are going through a slow time now, my hope is that this generation will learn from it and become better. Be the people I know they can be. These kids today are so bright and so smart, but they just don’t have any sense of responsibility. If this little downturn can wake them up, they’ll be magnificent.
Personal responsibility is such a crucial element of traditional American culture. Without it, the American Dream and all other pillars upon which the nation balances begin to crumble. This slow collapse is already under way as citizens increasingly depend on big government to run their lives for them. A further continuation of government interference ultimately results in the reduction of the human individual to a number in the collective will. Unfortunately, there are those who are inclined to interpret individualism as a cold approach to civilization in which each person is only concerned with his or her own well-being and is willing to step on others to secure a successful future. Johnson’s story provides an alternate take on the matter:
As the Depression progressed into 1938, people would be coming around and knocking at doors, asking for something to eat, for a piece of bread or something of that nature. My father left orders that no one would ever be turned away. If anyone ever came to our door and they were hungry, they would be fed. We had a rather large porch and there were always table and chairs out there. My father would bring them out there and feed them on the porch and sit and talk to them in a very casual manner. These were total strangers.
Johnson’s father saw the value in each of those hungry people and treated them with the dignity and respect warranted to every individual. He took it upon himself to give to the needy without the pressure of a government demanding it of him. Therefore, his charity was able to influence society on a more immediate and personal level rather than simply paying taxes to fund a government sponsored welfare program. People like Johnson’s father were responsible for the great nation’s ability to endure. America needs more individuals like him to pull through the current struggles and division. Hopefully it doesn’t take another Great Depression to bring them about.
Read more stories like Patricia Johnson’s here.