Friday, December 12, 2014

Birmingham Photos of the Day (24): Migrant Workers in 1937

In February 1937 photographer Arthur Rothstein took a number of photographs in the Birmingham area. I've discussed one particular photograph here. He was among a number of photographers traveling around the country documenting conditions during the Great Depression for the Farm Security Administration. Almost 8000 of his photographs can be seen here.

Many of his Birmingham shots featured the mills, mines and miners of industrial Birmingham. But he also visited a migrant workers camp on U.S. Highway 31 near the city. The photographs below were taken there.

Migrants of the Great Depression are often associated with "dust bowl" residents leaving Oklahoma for California as immortalized in John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath and subsequent film. Yet during that Depression tens of thousands of individuals were traveling all over the country in search of work. Sociologist Paul S. Taylor estimated in 1937 that more than 200,000 people were on the move.

My paternal grandmother [I have discussed an old Baptist hymnal she gave me here] told me stories about men who came to the back door of their house in Gadsden during the Depression looking for work. She would give them some food.

Migrants from Indiana

Child of migrant family

Children who live in the migrant camp on U.S. Highway No. 31

Making chairs to sell to tourists

Migrant workers in the camp

Another part of the camp

Tent occupied by former sharecropper family

Washing clothes in the migrant camp

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