Camera Rolls: 102:94-97 (Pilot)
Sound Rolls: 52-53
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Martin Hayden , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on November 1, 1990, 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.*
In 19—, late 1930, Mayor Murphy is running for mayor of the city. What is he telling people? What are his speeches saying?
Well, he was, he was making very generalized promises to do better. Now, what it was, what it meant, nobody really knew. He had a phrase, "Dew and Sunshine."
I'm sorry, could you start by saying "Frank Murphy's"?
Oh, oh yeah. Well, Frank Murphy was promising better times. And he used to love the phrase "Dew and Sunshine." "When I become mayor, there will be 'Dew and Sunshine' for everybody." And the newspaper men had to cover him. Now my [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] , I liked Frank Murphy, but he was kind of a populist, and very much of an opportunist politically, had really gotten elected because William Randolph Hearst said that the Detroit Hearst paper wasn't doing enough on local politics. And there was an election coming up. And they decided to pick this Irish Catholic judge, Frank Murphy, who had gotten a lot of publicity because he'd handled the first racial case in Detroit history, the Sweet Trial. I might mention that, at that time, no one went after the black vote. It was ignored, and up until then had been Republican anyhow, still following the Abraham Lincoln line. But Murphy was the first one to appeal to the black voters. And it was highly successful, as was the case with Franklin Roosevelt a year later—two years later, in '32. And the newspaper men used to tease, that covered Murphy, because they had a terrible time writing a story about his speeches, because it was so nebulous. He didn't say, "I'm going to do this, this, and this." He essentially said, "I'm going to have 'Dew and Sunshine'." So, the reporters covering the campaign used to parody a Murphy speech in which he, they had him saying, "I'm going to have 'Dew and Sunshine,' and the Lord has said that the meek shall inherit the earth. And I'm going to see to it that these meek people are taken care of while their on earth. And all I hope is the Lord looks down and see what I'm doing, and promotes me to a better job before this one blows up underneath me." And, it really—there was a certain amount of truth in the parody. And Murphy did get promoted, by Franklin Roosevelt, became governor of Mich—Attorney, he became governor of the Philippines, then governor of Michigan for two years, and, when he was beaten, became Attorney General of the United States, and then a Supreme Court justice.
Now, here he is in July, of—May, June, July of that year, the following year, 1931, and he's made these promises, but the city is in desperate trouble. Can you describe why this is?
Well, the city was in trouble because, mind you, this was the start of the national depression. Here, it was an automotive depression primarily. But in the Detroit of 1931, if the auto industry went down, which it did, that spread all over town, because all the parts factories closed, then that meant that the unemployed couldn't pay their grocery bills and grocery stores were hurt.
It was a city-wide depression.
I'm sorry, we have to change roles of film.
That was great.
Sound roll 52.
The [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] go back to the idea that the city of Detroit was in trouble in 1931. Why?
Well, definitely the city was in trouble because, in the first place, because of the unemployment. Tax collections were down. But then Murphy, to his credit, tried to keep the promise he had made and tried to give welfare to everybody that needed it, said that he was going to. And, of course, the city didn't have that kind of money. But he went ahead and did it anyhow, and ran up a huge deficit, and caused great turmoil in the financial community. And the city essentially was going broke, and they finally got to the point where they had to issue script [sic] to pay city employees and so forth. And it was because Murphy did take over the welfare, which, up 'til then, had been a private affair. And during this period, for instance, the then-governor of Michigan, I was there one afternoon or one morning, when he came to the city council, Governor Wilbur Brucker, and said flatly that providing relief was not the obligation of any government, federal, city, or state, that that should be taken care of by the private sector and private charities. And therefore there was going to be no state, state health for Michigan. And, about that time, Herbert Hoover, as president, was beginning to talk about maybe having some help. But there was none, but Murphy still kept letting the welfare rules expand.
Now, it's May, June, July 1931, and they're slashing the, the welfare roll. I mean, they're trying, but it's a very difficult situation.
Well I'm sure they did try, because it was the beginning of the era in which the charge was made that people were coming to Detroit in order to get on welfare. And I'm sure there was some of that, particularly from the Deep South. But, and Murphy did go through the motions at least, and I think did, tried to get off the rolls people that didn't deserve the welfare. But whatever he cut, it was like pushing people out a window when the back and front doors are open and new ones are coming in that did need the welfare.
What was he thinking in his Welfare Department? What is happening to them?
Well, the Welfare Department, prior to this, had been a relatively small operation with relatively few people. It was headed by a very nice gentleman named Tom Dolan, who was the superintendent of the Welfare Department. And of course it was just swamped with this, so they had to have a great expansion and hire a lot more relief workers, and change the whole philosophy of the department, which did happen. And Murphy, incidentally, hired good people. That was one of his — while they kid about his "Dew and Sunshine" — as mayor, as, in the Philippines, and as governor, he hired very able people to work for him. And, as I remember, John Ballenger, became the head of welfare. I know he did ultimately, and whether he succeeded Dolan I don't quite remember, but he had a much better organized approach on how to handle this.
Irene Murphy, the mayor's sister-in-law, suggested in June, July of that year that, that, if they didn't provide welfare, and relief, to these people, that they were inviting radicalism.
I think that was entirely true. It was the story, it was the story of the whole Depression. It was the theme of the whole Depression story in the United States. For instance, many who disapproved of Franklin Roosevelt ultimately admitted that, at the start, his early efforts in the welfare field probably prevented serious riot troubles in the big cities.
Now the Communists are moving in and amongst them, trying to organize them in 1931, they've been doing this since 1929. Who were these Communists and what were they trying to do?
Well course you've gotta be careful, because a time came when they called everybody a communist, including Frank Murphy, some people. But there was a hardrock group of card-carrying Communists who unquestionably wanted to see a duplication in the United States and Detroit of the revolution in Russia... and, you know, roused the masses. Well, they fell flat on their faces, because although they did set up some meetings that led to trouble, they'd get four or five thousand people, which was piddling when you had 300,000 unemployed. The reason that they failed in their initiative, I think, was that the, for reasons known only to the Lord, the black population never did go for communism. And the white population of that era, the auto workers who were out of work, were heavily Irish, Polish, and Italian Catholics. And they listened to their parish priests, and this new idea that you ought to have a revolution and throw the church out, that was not for them. And I think, this is only my speculation, I think that was a base reason why the Communists never got anywhere in Detroit.
Now the, they were, they were, was there fear in the city at this point in time?
Yes, there was fear. I think it was mostly on the part of, understandably, on the part of the workers that were out of work. And, as it rippled out from there, the fear that hit the middle classes, didn't come until '33, with the closing of the banks. That hit everybody. And then there was real economic fear. I don't think even then, though, that people were overall afraid of the Communists. The Communists were used by the Employers Association and others in subsequent years, continued to the McCarthy era, to try to blame the Communists for everything, and attributing to them success that, I think, fortunately they never had.
Now was the business community upset about what was happening in Detroit with this sort of meetings in the street, Unemployed Councils? Were they upset about that?
Well I'm sure they were upset. Yes, but—
I'm sorry, but could you start that over again by saying "The business leaders" or—
Yeah. I'm sure the business, of course the business leaders were upset about the economic condition of the town. But I don't think that they were upset about the fear of revolution. It, they were upset because, with the auto plants all closed, it had a rippling effect, which wasn't recognized in most parts of the country. They don't, didn't realize what was going on. This is in '30 and '31.
So could you continue with that thought, or talk at, at that thought about this retooling, and all—
Well, the, the charge, as you mentioned to me, has been made that Henry Ford was unfavorably regarded because he decided at this point to close down his plants and—with a model change. Well, I don't even remember that there was a hullabaloo about that. Model changes were more or less standard in the city, more or less every year, and it always did lead to the plants closing. Now, toolmakers and others had jobs as a result as they changed over. But the idea that this was some kind of villainous move by Henry Ford I don't think is valid at all.
What was he trying to do?
Well, I think that he, in the first place, they were going to have to have a model change, that was particularly I think to get the V8 engine in. And, really, I suppose he would consider what better time to do it is it when you can't sell automobiles, anyhow, so you'll be ready with something that's popular, when you can get a market back again. After all, when factories are three-quarters closed anyway, what better time is there to close down altogether and do this job that has to be done?
Now going, we're going to run out of film in a second, so, but, what was happening to the Welfare Department in, just prior to this closure?
Well, prior to '30 and '31, the Welfare Department was a typical bureaucratic organization that handled a relatively small number of people and had a budget to do it.
Well, all of a sudden this thing explodes, and with hundreds of thousands of unemployed, the number of people on welfare just skyrocketed.
** Well, the old department wasn't ever set up to handle like, anything like this. They had a lot of welfare workers that were kind of paper shufflers, and they had to hire a whole lot of people that came in and took a new approach on this thing and tried to manage this massive affair.
And then, of course, they had to find the money, which wasn't there.
All right, that's great.
Now, Chrysler and General Motors are in trouble too, right?
Of course, they all are. They were all in the same boat. And I think that the zeroing in on Ford by the radical leaders was chiefly because he was Henry Ford. He personified the capitalist system that had done so much to put the world on wheels. And there wasn't any personality at Chrysler or General Motors that compared. But Henry, well, you want to remember, a few years before he had, was a serious candidate for the United States Senate and they were talking about electing him president, because he had done more than any other industrialist, and his fellow industrialists hated him for it, to improve workers' conditions. Typical was the $5 day, which just horrified the rest of the industrial establishment. But Henry just had this simple idea. Every, all Henry's ideas were simple. Some of them were a little nutty, but they were simple and he believed them. And he thought that if you paid workers enough and you increased efficiency of production, you would get results that would allow you to sell the car at a lower rate, then more workmen could buy it, and then you could reduced inefficiencies further, and reduced the price some more, and more and more people would have automobiles. And it was a philosophy which worked. And I think Henry, more than anybody else, put this country on wheels. At the beginning, when he first started,
the idea that a farmer would ever own an automobile was beyond conception. Automobiles were for, were for rich people.
** But Henry got it down where workmen could buy automobiles, partially by reducing the price, and partially by encouraging higher pay for workers. He was, in his way, a socially-minded guy. He did want to see his workers go well. Now the trouble was that he had his own ideas of what that meant. The Ford Service Department, which turned into a horrible outfit when they started the unions, but they were initially set up as a service department to help Ford workers that were in trouble. But Henry's idea was that he determined what the trouble was. If they were drinking or beating their wives, or anything of the sort, that he frowned on, and out they went. He wanted to run their whole personal lives, see them go to church,
** educate their kids with the McGuffey Readers, entertain themselves at square dances, and then it was going to be a wonderful world, and that's what Henry wanted.
** And, of course, some things he achieved. But other things were terrible and the radicals had to knock him down in this town to get anywhere.
Now, what is he doing for the city of Detroit at this point?
Well he, at some point very early in the Depression, he had the idea and announced that if all the factories just started rehiring, and he was going to do it. That would take care of everything. And I guess the Ford Motor Company did try it very briefly. But it was nonsensical, because the reason that the companies were in trouble is they couldn't sell the automobiles. And to hire people to make more automobiles at a time when the dealers couldn't pay the, take them anyhow, it made no sense and the Ford Motor Company very quickly and quietly backed away from that. But, when the welfare bite hit and the city budget was in such bad shape, Henry did come in and picked up some of the tax delinquency certificates, which the city was holding, and did make one or more flat loans to the city, in the million dollar to five million dollar range, which nobody else was doing to speak of.
That's great, thank you. Let's cut for a second.
What do these demands mean? What are these marchers really, really asking for?
Well, I think it was a typical radical agenda into which they threw everything. Some of them were utterly nonsensical.
I'm sorry, could you start over by saying "The demands of the marchers," so that—
Well, I think the published demands of the leaders of the march were a typical radical agenda, and some of them were nonsensical. The idea of the Ford Hospital should take care of all Ford workers for free was nonsense. The Ford Hospital was an independent hospital that Henry Ford had endowed. The, now, mixed in there are a number of things on speed up, the right to organize, the status of the Service Department, no spying, all those things became part of the labor agenda, the union agenda, when Ford was organized and they were continuing. But this list of demands is just what a couple of guys in a back room would sit down and say what are we going to demand, and it was everything that conceivably could attract attention and with no regards to whether Henry Ford would or conceivably even could satisfy these demands.
Did these, did these marchers have a right to do what they did?
Sure they had a right. I don't think there's any doubt about that, that they had a right...we didn't in those days talk about freedom of speech as much as we do now, but sure they had a right to do it. Now when they, as a few of them did, started throwing bricks, on one of these marches...Harry Bennett, the head of the Ford Service Department, got hit by a brick, not too many people sympathized with him, and certainly that was legally wrong. But as far as a right to demonstrate grievances, yet.
Now when you, what was your reaction, in the days that followed, to the, to the shootings? How did you feel about what had happened?
Really there was, it's hard to imagine now, there was, I think, on the whole, very little reaction to it. It was regarded as one of those things that happens, and, course, by many people, it was regarded, if you wanted to be a radical, to cause trouble, this is what you might get. Others were sympathetic. But I don't think that, at that time, it had a great reaction in the sense of upsetting Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company. In the first place, it was a small group compared with the total number of unemployed.
Now, when he, someone like Henry Ford resorts to, I mean, I don't think Henry Ford knew anything about it until afterwards, but, and I think that's documented, but to have someone like Harry Bennett in operation seems to me like their last card. Here, I mean, they're, they're literally protecting the gates of his factory.
I'm not even dead sure, I'd have to go back in the records, who did the shooting. I think it was police.
Not, per se, the Service Department. But the Service Department, I think history now recognizes, that the Service Department and Harry Bennett went wild. Particularly as Henry got older and, of course, they were going to protect the factory, they were going to protect his children from kidnappers, and, so, he gave them kinda carte blanche, and Bennett got much more power than was ever assumed, and I think even Henry didn't realize how much it was. But he did run wild. And of course one of the first things that Henry Ford's second had to do when he took over from his grandfather was fire Harry Bennett. And it was quite a, it was quite a thing, because there was some question as to whether he could get away with firing Harry Bennett, but he did.
Yeah. '32 is part of the period.
Yeah. Did the rest of the country recognize what was happening in Detroit, what it meant?
I don't think so and, well, I know not, because I can cite the case of my father, who, since 1915, had been a Washington correspondent, was writing about the country, and when the 1932 presidential campaign started, he and the other correspondents were travelling with Roosevelt and Hoover. And as he related it, they were flabbergasted when, although they'd been writing about the Great Depression, they were flabbergasted when they got out and saw what it meant. In other words, going to cities like Pittsburgh and Detroit and Chicago, and, as he related, they would typically go into them in the morning on the presidential or the Roosevelt trains, and, as they looked out the window, here were all the factory chimneys and no smoke coming out of any of them. And in the railroad cars there would be miles of empty and warehoused railroad cars and locomotives just standing end-to-end, waiting for the future when they might be put back in again.
So, these Washington correspondents who thought they knew what was going on in the country, the suddenly woke up to the fact that this was serious in these industrial cities.
So please tell me what were you doing during, doing, during these years, in 1930, '31, '32.
Well, it's a, it's a good question, because, if you look back, you've got to remember how young I was. I had started, in 1930, working for the Detroit News and was very unimaginative and stayed for forty-seven years. And, but I started as the, in the Ann Arbor bureau, covering the University of Michigan in the wintertime, and then in the summertime I came into the office and was a police reporter and so forth, so these things that I'm recalling seeing, I was awful young on the beat to be seeing them, but I can speak with freedom because there's, anybody that was older isn't around anymore. When you first started talking to me about this broadcast, you asked if I knew any business leaders that were still alive. Well of course they'd have to be one hundred and ten years old if they were business leaders at, at that time there. Only ones left are people like me who didn't have very responsible jobs in those days but saw it.
Now, just on one point. At, at, at one point in our chronology, it states that the hospitals were reporting that every seven hours and 15 minutes someone is dying of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. This is right in the middle of 1931.
You're talking about Detroit?
Detroit. Right in Detroit.
Well, look. It's, it's, it's comparable to some of the modern statistics that you have. I don't know how anybody could report such a thing. I, if you say dying of starvation, I don't believe it. Now the minute you throw in related illnesses, that I suppose is possible, but certainly there wasn't someone dying every seven minutes in the hospital.
Seven hours and 15 minutes.
Oh, every seven hours and fifteen, well, I guess that's true. I suppose that today most of the, a large percentage of the deaths are people from the lowest economic group who haven't had the right diet and haven't had the right medical care, and they die in larger proportions than those who are fortunate enough to know what to eat and where to go and get a good doctor. But there were no doubt that, with the Depression and with unemployment, a lot of people were, and, of course, unfortunately, as is always the case, they were the lowest ones on the totem pole that suffered the most. They were the first to get laid off, and the hardest, had the hardest time getting new jobs.
How successful were the Communists during this time?
Well, I would emphasize again, that they were really not successful at all in their basic objective, which was to start a revolution. Now, they were successful in that they infiltrated various organizations. 'Course in '31, the unions didn't amount to anything. But a few years later, when the UAW got started, the Communists got a good foothold, and of course the business community, and their press agents in particularly, were inclined to call all union people, all union leaders, communist, including Walter Reuther, who was generally regarded by the know-nothings of the business establishment as being Communistic. Actually, nothing could be farther from the truth. And as soon as he got control of the UAW, the first thing he did was purge a whole raft of guys who had been very active and very effective in forming the union but were Communists. And Reuther threw them out. And during this period he was shot by, it is generally agreed by, within, among union people, by people inspired by the communist group, because he finished them, really, in Detroit.
A last question. Here are these people meeting on the streets, in the East Side, Grand Circus Park, and there are evictions on these streets, people—did you see any of these evictions?
People being evicted from their homes.
Oh sure, there were people evicted from their homes. There was no question about it. It, the, the old system was still working, and if you didn't pay your rent, or you, you could be evicted by the courts. And course there were, as in any depression period, there were evictions, I know, to imagine that you couldn't walk down the street without seeing someone evicted is nonsense, but of course there were evictions.
Now did you ever see evictions?
As a reporter I went out and covered stories at various times that had to do with evictions. But not very much, because it wasn't really that newsworthy.
At point they were recording that there were 150 a day in Detroit in 1931.
Well, I suppose that could be true. I don't know where the figure came from, but, after all, Detroit was a city of a couple of million people at that point, and when a lot of people get out of work and can't pay their rent, they're evicted. And they still are today.
Was the business community upset about the, the, the Unemployed Council meetings, you know, these communist-inspired—
I don't think they were upset at that time about the radical approach to it. Sure they were upset. The business community wasn't getting business. If they were dealing with the auto industry, they weren't getting it. Now the real upset to the community came a little later in the winer of 1933 just before Franklin Roosevelt took office, when the governor of Michigan closed the banks in Michigan first, then the national holiday followed that. Well, that really hit the business community and the white collar workers. Then they, then they knew the Depression was on.
OK, we're done.