Camera Rolls: 314:57
Sound Rolls: 314:29-30
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Susie Clifton , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on July 13, 1992, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
Susie Clifton, take one.
Well, I was newly married—
Wait. We have to wait.
[production discussion][slate marker visible on screen]
OK, can you tell me what attracted you to Sinclair and EPIC?
About the EPIC camp?
What attracted you? Why were you interested in Upton Sinclair?
Well, I was still interested in Roosevelt and what he was trying to do for the country, and he had only been elected in '32 and inaugurated in '33, and so here's this campaign before '34, and it just seemed like a continuation of the Roosevelt type of thing. So I was interested in that, but mostly I was interested because Bob was interested, and were newly married, and he said, "Let's do something for the EPIC campaign." And I said, "Look, we're having a hard enough time just surviving in the Depression. I think we should work on our own affairs first." But I was persuaded, and so then I got into it, and I started helping organize the clubs and I also was assigning the precincts and I was doing the paperwork, getting the precinct chiefs ready for the volunteers to go and use. So, I got deeply involved in that.
Was it an exciting movement to be part of?
Was it an exciting movement to be part of? Did you feel like...?
Yeah, you did, and you found so many other people who were interested.
Can you start again by telling, since my own questions won't be in the film, if you can tell me that it was an exciting movement, you know, what you felt about being part of the EPIC movement?
Well, it was being part of a movement and trying to meet the needs of the concerns of the people at that time.
Susie Clifton, take two.
So if you could describe what you felt about being part of this movement.
Well, I'd never been in a movement before. I went to UCLA and I was very close to the students there as just students. But it wasn't until this terrible thing came along where factories closed down and 5000 people at a time were out of jobs through no fault of their own, no control they had over it. And it was a genuine concern, and so people that you would have just walked past in the grocery store you started talking about the price of this particular thing and "Can you afford it?", and pretty soon you begin to feel this feeling about other peoples' worries, and the young people, because we were young and very poor at that time, just before we were married. I had a job wrapping shoes and a cashier in a little shoe store down on North Broadway, and I got two dollars and 72 cents a day, not an hour, but two dollars and 72 cents a day, and that didn't buy very much.
So were you afraid ever that you weren't going to make it, that times were so bad?
Well, Bob and I, when we decided to get married we knew we were jumping off, and how we were going to make it we weren't sure. Now he was practicing law, but again people couldn't pay their legal bills. People could get a divorce for $25, but they couldn't even pay the $25, and so we moved in one of the empty apartments in his parents' apartment house, and half of the tenets there couldn't pay.
You said that your own parents lost their apartment?
You said that your own parents lost their house during the Depression?
Well, in fact, when I first took Bob up to meet my folks, they had just gotten their notice of a foreclosure. So we still had the home that we built out in Southgate, but it was going to go down the drain very shortly, and it did within three months.
So at one point your parents had lost their home and Bob's parents were also afraid of losing theirs, is that right?
Can you tell me?
Well, they had an eight unit apartment, and half of the tenets weren't able to pay their rent.
OK, but times were so that, you were never, I guess, again, just what the fear, if your parents lost their house, it was that—
They either moved in with the kids or the kids moved in with them.
Take three on Susie.
So, I just want to go back to the situation with your own, with just being on the edge at that time, and how fragile, really, the young situation was. If you could tell me about it again.
Would you like to know about our honeymoon?
We borrowed his brother's car and we went from here to Indiana, and we started out with $100, and we were to pick up money being sent forward from his law office — it'd been collected after we left — in St. Louis, and then another one in Indianapolis, and then another one in a small town in Indiana. When we picked up the $25 we had 50 cents between us. You'd never let your kids go off on something like that nowadays, but we were young and very altruistic about things and one way or the other it was going to work, and somehow we got home.
Wow. What I want to know, again, if you don't mind about your own debt, about your parents, and just that it was so close to yourselves, that it was so easy to lose a home or to not, you know, that's the environment that Sinclair came up in, right?
Well, it didn't come on suddenly. It got harder and harder for my folks to be able to make the payment, and it was only one large loan company, Pacific, at that time. So we knew that sooner or later, I mean we were shorting ourselves, not on food, but we were eating very cheap food, if I could explain it that way. A lot of macaroni and rice puddings and things like that, and very damn little steaks or chops. In fact, we didn't have steaks and chops in our house. So we could feel it coming, and my dad was short-changing things. By that I mean he cut off the telephone and cut off the newspaper. He cut off other things that were frills for us just to try and make the mortgage payment. So it wasn't sudden but pretty soon we got the notice that we were foreclosed.
OK. Can you tell me—
Let me say that the state legislature, because of the number of foreclosures, put a moratorium and stretched out the time that the loan institutions could foreclose, because it affected so many people.
OK, you told me that there was no viable Democratic Party in California at the time, and there hadn't been a Democratic governor in 40 years. Can you tell me about that?
Well, there were a few office holders, but there hadn't been a governor for 40 years in '34.
What was the state of the Democratic Party in '34?
Well, as far as we were concerned the Democratic Party was Washington and FDR. We had no feeling of local or state Democratic Party. So we were brand-new at politics when we got into this. We were really babes in the woods and everyone else with us were babes in the woods.
And so when you heard about Sinclair you felt that he was representing the Democratic Party?
Yes, absolutely. And these Assembly candidates that we fostered and the state senate candidates and the Congressional Democrat candidates, those were all Democrats. In fact, we all thought we were part of the Democratic Party.
Were you optimistic the whole time that Sinclair would win? Did you feel that the movement was growing and you were gaining support?
Yes. Absolutely. We thought he would be elected governor.
Can you describe the feeling that you felt at that time?
Well, again it was the duplication of Roosevelt. And it can be done if you get everybody involved, push lots of doorbells, persuade people to go down and vote and you win.
And what did you feel when Sinclair didn't win?
Very disappointed. Very disappointed. But you were ready to pick up things and go on for the '36 campaign for Roosevelt.
OK, great. Did you feel that even though Sinclair didn't win that there was a victory because the other 27 Democrats were elected?
All these legislators, absolutely. And quite a few of the legislators were so poor themselves that they hitch-hiked to Sacramento for their first term.
Did you feel this was a new era in the Democratic Party in California?
Well, we didn't know what the old era was to be honest with you. We were involved in it, and so we had the feeling of everyone else of how we're moving to change things.
OK, great. Was there ever in the anti-Sinclair material...you told me before that you received anti-Sinclair in your utility bills, is that right?
Well, the , which at that time was very, very conservative, ran terrible cartoons and things. I presume that a conservative feels Conrad's cartoons are the way we felt at that time about the slant on the cartoons, and the was a very reactionary newspaper at that time. During that era they'd have a picture, well, it was a little later, a picture of Earl Warren running for governor and Jimmy Roosevelt running for governor, and it was a very statesman-like picture. It was on the front page and it was the same number of inches of paper but Roosevelt was one of the most idiot-looking pictures he ever had. And so you look at just that, so you felt it was stacked against you.
OK. I think the last thing that I really want to ask is about, I want you to describe going to the movie theater from your point of view, when you saw those newsreels.
This was almost the election.
Wait, because we have to wait until...OK, start again.
This was the almost the election, the June primary, and our daughter was born on June the 4th, and I think it was just within a couple days and this was two weeks before—
Take number seven.
So I can remember this was a special occasion, because we normally couldn't afford to go to a theater in Westwood, a big theater. We went to little neighborhood theaters occasionally, and this was because we were so close in the campaign and I was going to have the baby in two weeks and then I was going to be tied up with the baby. So he took me for that reason, and he bought loge seats because...uncomfortable. And so we were sitting clear in the back when he did this, and I had no idea he was going to do it.
Tell me what he did. You were sitting in the back of the movie theatre.
And the newsreel came along, and the newsreels are like ads you see in the movies now. They were just interspersed in there. And this was a picture of people getting off the trains that were going to live in luxury in California, and they were saying it was because Sinclair was running for governor, was going to attract all of the unemployed people from all over the United States here, which I thought was very unfair. It was a stacked thing. He stood up and said, "I like my movies without propaganda!" [laughs] And the lights when on, everybody turned around to see who this idiot was. As I say, I was feeling very conspicuous anyways. We left.