On Oct. 29, 2009, the 80th anniversary of the 1929 stock market crash, the N.C. Museum of History will open an exhibit of photographs documenting daily life in rural North Carolina during the Great Depression. In Search of a New Deal: Images of North Carolina, 1935-1941, will feature 50 Farm Security Administration photographs that provide a compelling and diverse portrait of a state coping with tough economic times. The exhibit, originally produced by Historic Oak View County Park in Raleigh, will be supplemented with Depression-era artifacts from the N.C. Museum of History collection. In Search of a New Deal will run through Jan. 31, 2011, in Raleigh, and admission is free.
During America’s dark journey into the Depression, North Carolina was a rural state dominated by small farms. Bank failures, plummeting crop prices, and environmental problems brought further hardships to farmers already facing economic woes.
After his 1932 election, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt used his New Deal programs to bring national attention to the farmers’ plight. As part of this effort, photographers working for the new Resettlement (later Farm Security) Administration traveled across the country to document conditions among the rural poor and the impact of government relief efforts. This unprecedented project resulted in 160,000 images — approximately 2,000 of them focus on North Carolina.
“These striking photographs provide an unparalleled documentary record of how the Great Depression and New Deal affected rural Americans,” says Diana Bell-Kite, associate curator at the N.C. Museum of History. “The exhibit highlights the work of the eight photographers who came to North Carolina. The images cover topics ranging from sharecropping to community gatherings.”
These “reality” photographers of the day included Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Jack Delano. They captured the harsh truths of the era: the weary faces of migrant workers, children preparing tobacco for market, a family’s living quarters in the second story of a barn. But all was not grim. Some images convey lighter moments, such as women socializing at the grocery store, children making ice cream for a church benefit, and farmers using government loans to acquire new livestock.
Exhibit artifacts help tell the story of this pivotal period. The items include tools used in tobacco farming, a quilt commemorating Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential victories; a Firestone Air Chief Radio; campaign buttons; and signage indicative of the racial boundaries of the segregated Depression-era South.
An interactive station will give exhibit visitors an opportunity to view even more North Carolina photographs from the FSA collection. A second interactive station will feature Depression-era film footage of three Tar Heel towns shot by Lexington filmmaker H. Lee Waters.
Visit In Search of a New Deal for an insightful look at the Tar Heel State during the Great Depression. Exhibit sponsorship is provided by UNC-TV.
Food Drive in Conjunction With Exhibit
The similarities between today’s economic hardships and those presented in In Search of a New Deal are all-too familiar in North Carolina. The exhibit prompted the museum staff to hold a food drive for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. From Oct. 29 through Nov. 8, the museum will be collecting canned goods and other nonperishable items for this worthy cause. A collection bin will be placed outside the exhibit for donations.
The N.C. Museum of History’s hours are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free. The museum is part of the Division of State History Museums, Office of Archives and History, an agency of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources. The department’s Web site is www.ncculture.com.