Memphis in the Great Depression
The New Deal made vast sums of money available to cities, paved the way for innovations ion public services, and heralded new American values. In the South, according to some historians, the New Deal undermined traditional patterns of life and laid the foundation for future change. Challenging this generalization, Roger Biles shows that in the case of Memphis, federal initiatives actually reinforced local policy.
To determine whether the New Deal had somehow exerted disruptive effects, Biles asked a series of questions. Did the surfeit of federal programs itself impel change? Did federal funds cost Memphis its local autonomy or alter the social hierarchy? And finally, did the New Deal transform Memphis politics or social life?
The answer in each case, the author finds, was no. Memphis proved largely immune to the forces unleashed during the 1930’s. The depression decade brought continuity, not modernizing change, to this thoroughly southern city.
Roger Biles is assistant professor of history at Oklahoma State University.