Camera Rolls: 318:32-36
Sound Rolls: 318:16-18
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Frank Iusi , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on March 11, 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.*
Mr. Iusi, we're, we're going to talk about your memories and your experiences working for the government and helping some, some people in some real desperate times. I guess before you tell me any of the specific things, you were just telling me in the kitchen a minute ago about your philosophy, what, how you feel someone has to be, to act, to work well in that situation. What kind of person do you have to be?
Well, having worked there forty years, and I look back, and I, and I also recommended to the Personnel Department in San Francisco that they should not hire any camp managers unless the man was basically a humanitarian, that he had a feeling for the so-called lower echelon of our economic status. These people were at the bottom. And therefore, you had to have a passion or a, some sympathy for them. Otherwise, you weren't going to get to first base, or you would find it frustrating because they were contrary to your expectations. If you realized that these people, it was no fault of their's that they were what they, they were where they were economically speaking, then you could have some compassion for them. And if you didn't have any compassion for them, then you were going to have an uphill fight. But if you had compassion, you would tolerate a lot of occurrences, a lot of statements, a lot of actions, behaviorism of the people, because you start out with the philosophy, "These people are way below my academic training and therefore I have to expect them not to know any better." Their economic situation was, was not brought upon them by themselves. It was, let's call it an act of God, there were Dust Bowls...
Let's talk about what kind of people they were. Were they real—?
Well, they were—
Hang on a second.
We were just starting to talk a little bit about, you know, you told me how you have to be sympathetic to people otherwise you're not going to help them. Tell me a little bit about what kind of people these were and what, what their conditions were?
First of all, I had, before I went into this work, I had been reading the newspapers of the plight of the so-called Dust Bowlers. And I'm an avid reader of newspapers. And having, shall we say, my background schooling was economics, therefore it was right in my, my type of reading. And I was very sympathetic in reading the plight and reading stories about these migrants coming in from Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas that were, causing problems in our various areas where they lived. They were here, they were staying under bridges, they were staying in, you might say, temporary cardboard boxes. And therefore the paper was proceeding to be concerned that they were jeopardizing the health status of the school because the children were not getting a chance to have sanitary facilities and therefore sickness. And, and, and, and, and the sanitation part of it. They had no place for toilets this became quite a problem for the Californians. They were coming in here by the two or three hundred thousands at a time per year. And I was reading this, not, not thinking some day I was going to be a camp manager. So therefore I was fairly well-introduced to the plight of the so-called Dust Bowlers, not knowing that three or four years later I would become a camp manager, because I believe the migrants' problem was, at least I can remember probably '33 and '34, right after the Depression. In the meantime, I went to work as a prison guard in La Tuna, Texas. And I never forgot it. And then I, I came home from my vacation several months later. And I didn't want to go back to Texas to work as a camp, as a prison guard. I, I loved California. I did love, I did love Texas. I didn't love the Texans because they made no bones about being very prejudiced. They were very prejudiced. In other words, they equated the Negro with the Mexican, put them in the same class. And of course that irritated me. So I used to tangle up with the Texans. And, I said, and the, my fellow prison guards told me, I remember Regis [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] said, "Well, Frank, if you don't like what you're doing and you don't like Texas, you ought to go home". I said, "Well, I'm working on it". And I knew what I was doing. When I got my vacation, which was February 1st, 1939, I believe. And I came home and I spent my whole month's vacation looking for another job. Well, my wife had come home ahead of me, and had made some contacts. And one of the persons that she knew quite well worked for the Farm Security Administration, so she mentioned to him that I would be interested in trying to find a job and come home to California. And so he told my wife, "Tell Frank to go and see the Personnel Department at the Farm Security Administration Center in San Francisco". And, lucky for me, I went there and the first thing I got there was in the morning. And I didn't get to talk to Mr. Henderson, the Head of the Personnel Department, until five o'clock when it was ready,the joint was closing! I thought I was there wasting my time, but I could see him in the office, and I figured he's going to have to talk to me when he comes out sooner or later. But when he did come out, he said, "I'm sorry, Mr. Iusi, that I've been busy". I said, "I could see it through the window that you're busy, but as long as you're going to talk to me and you're going to interview me, I don't care what time it is". So, lucky for me, we went into the office, and he asked me about my background. I told him what I was doing, and I was a university graduate. And the thing that hit him, that automatically said, "Frank you've got a job!", was the fact that I could speak Spanish. I don't know why because, oh, I know why, his wife was Spanish, that's why. So he took a liking to me. So he said to me, "You come back tomorrow. You're going to have to be interviewed by other people in the institution of the office". And, but he said, "I like you". And nice thing about it, he said, "You, we won't have trouble getting clearance for you because you're already working for the government, Justice, the Justice Department". So I went back the next morning, and I, and I talked to his assistant, and his assistant, three minutes he was sold on me. He says, "Well, Frank, the only hurdle you've got now is the Head of the Engineering Department which builds the camps". I said, "Fine, let's get it over with". So I went up to...I can't think, I can't think of his name at the present time. But I went up to his office, and he introduced me to him and he closed the door on the way out. And the first thing he said to me, "Have you ever had any experience as a migratory labor camp manager?". And I remember my answer as clear as if it happened yesterday. I said, "Hell no! Who has had experience as a camp manager? It's a new project!" He looked at me and said, "Yeah, you're right. Who the hell's had the experience?". He said, "Well, why would you take a job as a camp manager?" "Well, first of all", I said, "I want to come home to California and work. And to me I'll take any job, and I think that I have the background for it. I have the training for it. And I have to learn. And I think I can learn very fast. And I, I'm sure that I will enjoy it, the work." He said, "Well," he says, "Frank, let me tell you. I like you. Just go downstairs and see that they don't cheat you on your salary." I'll never forget that. And I wasn't interested in the salary. The fact is that I got the job, and I immediately wrote a, sent a telegram to La Tuna, Texas resigning my position down there. But I would go back there. And I had to wait until I was confirmed, because you're working for the government. I finally was confirmed.
Let's go on a few months to, to when you actually started working as a camp manager and you realized what a tremendous challenge it was. What was the challenge that was so...?
Well, the challenge was—
Let's start over again.
The big challenge at the migratory labor camp, being a manager, considering, when I look back at what happened to me, I was brought there by Mr. Dempster to the Gridley Camp, because he had left there and he was managing a camp, I think at Tracy, California. He took me up there, introduced me to the so-called local government of the camp, because they elect their own governing body, and said, "This is Frank Iusi. He's going to be your new manager, and I hope that you get along with him, and I'm sure that he will get along with you," and he wished us all good luck, and he, and the next morning he disappeared. And I never saw him again. Now, it's like throwing yourself in a river, and you have to swim. The question is, I never saw a camp. I didn't know what a camp was. I didn't know what I was going to get into. I just had to feel my way into the job. And I was very serious about the job. I take all my work serious. But that particular job sort of fit my philosophy of life. Here, we have some economically threatened people. They're, they don't know where their next meal is coming from, and they were working for twenty-five cents to pick a box of peaches. And therefore I could appreciate their economic plight.
Your...are we okay on that? Okay. We've got to change film.
You were explaining to Susan that, in a way, we could understand what your job was. It was sort of like being the mayor of a city of a thousand people. Tell me a little bit about that.
Well, of course, Gridley was a small camp, and I, but I wasn't there very long, and, I was then transferred to Marysville, which was a little bigger. And they were, already had been constructing the biggest migrant labor camp in Yuba City. And the understanding was that I would be transferred from Marysville to the Yuba City camp when it was complete. And, and the reason for the Marysville Camp was being abandoned because it was on the wrong side of the levy, and therefore was subject to flooding.
But tell me what it was like to be responsible for so many people's lives.
Well, you know, you don't, you don't get the...well, first of all, the responsibility is tremendous. In my opinion, it's tremendous because you are dealing with a livelihood and the social behaviorism of a group of people could be, and at the peak was, 1,500. When you stop to think that in Yuba City, 7,000 was the population of Yuba City, and I've got 1,500 people in my camp, that's a pretty good percentage by comparison, so I had a small town, that I, was under my supervision. I was the manager, but the people in the camp elected their own government, the head and group of councilmen and so-called mayors. They didn't call them, I forgot what they, what they called them, but I don't think it was, they gave them the title of mayor. I think he, he was just selected to lead the council. But he was in charge. And my responsibility was to, to, first of all, to let them govern their general behavior so long as it did not infringe on the safety of the camp. My job was to see that the camp was kept clean, and it was respected for safety. And, therefore, I had that responsibility, so that when, the, when you listened to the migrants, themselves, govern themselves, every week they had a meeting, and I was there. I had no vote. I had the power to get up and suggest and, and, and many, many times the migrants in, in the audience would say, "Who would like to hear Mr. Iusi's opinion on what we're trying to vote on?" And I was allowed my opinion, and, and sometimes my opinion swayed them, and sometimes it didn't. And you know it, it developed that the camp itself, was no different than other small towns. You had the pros and cons. You had those that went with the councilmen and those that opposed them, just like today we have agitators and we have Democrats and Republicans, and we even have, so-called, have Communists.
Now, let me ask you something else. Apart from your responsibility in the camp, another really important part of what you did was to sell the camp to the local community.
Well, you had, well first of all, it was a very big strong public relations job. We had...Don't think—
You had problems, though.
I had problems with it because, let's be honest about it, throughout the state of California in those days, migrant camps were referred to as hot beds of Communism. Now there's a common piece of literature in the newspapers: "Hotbeds of Communism." So therefore, when I went in there, I had two strikes against me, knowing that I, my camp was not accepted by the, the commune, the, the city of Yuba City, any more than the city of Marysville liked the camp in Marysville.
So what, how do you convince them?
Now, I, what started me to work on a plan to, to sell the camp to, to the citizens, I had to think what's, what is the cardinal important economic thing that the American businessman is interested in. And it came, it flashed in my mind: the dollar sign. Strictly money. Money is the important thing. So therefore I decided, "Well, let me hit, let me hit them with that approach." So I prepared myself and got all the figures from the main office as to the amount of money that the United States government gave to these migrants to assist them when they weren't working. And it was, was really like welfare. Therefore, I had armed myself with all the figures, so that the next time I was called to be the principal speaker at the Chamber of Commerce or the Rotarian Club or whatever club, I had the golden opportunity now of working on my presentation to the businessmen and arguing with them that it wasn't fair for them to not look upon the camp as an asset. And I didn't appreciate the fact that we were referring to the camp as a hotbed of Communism. I, I start off by saying, "First of all, let me be honest with you. These people are very uneducated, very low in grade, in grade school education. They don't know the definition of Communism. They don't know the definition of Americanism. They don't know the definition of democracy, and all the other 'isms' you can think of, fascism, Nazism." I said, "How are you accuse these poor guys of being Communists?" That's as openers. "Now, let me start off by pointing out to you people you the advantage of the camp to you, the economic advantage. And I want you people to know that I came prepared today. I got my figures from the United States government, your government. And these are easily to be verified, and I'm going to give you those figures today as to what the camp economically means to the community of Yuba City." And I start spieling out the tremendous figures. They ran into a lot of money. "Now, these people get these little welfare checks and where do you think they spent them? They spend them in your store. And you mean to tell me you're not appreciating that?" So I put it right. "You mean you don't appreciate it?" I says, "If somebody was going to come and spend that kind of money in my store, I'd be his best friend. And I think I want you business people, you're the crux of this society here, you're the backbone of this society, you elect your representatives, you're interested in Yuba City. I'm interested in you accepting the camp as an integral part of Yuba City as an asset. And you're dealing with human beings, and I think that you're no different than they are. And let me tell you something: I'm from Italian stock. I think my migrants are the best Americans I've ever run into, outside of a pure Indian. Because some of them got an eighth or a quarter Indian in him." I said, "What better American can you get?" I went into the patriotic approach.
And how did they respond?
Well, let me tell you. The outcome of that, those speeches...I made two or three. Now I, I get some friendly responses every time I walked into the town. "Hey Frank, it was nice of you to tell us about the camp and I think you're right. I think we were wrong." And then I began thinking to myself, "I'm going to make these guys pay for this relationship." So I went back to them when it was time, like 1st of December. I said, "I think you owe these guys all a Christmas Dinner." Says, "Well, what do you mean?" "If a family of five should have a chicken with all the, all the trimmings, and a family of over five has to have two chickens and all the trimmings. And I think you owe it to them as a token of appreciation." And, by George, I want you to know, every Christmas thereafter, we had a Christmas. And then I told the migrants, I said, "Now you see it works both ways. I want you to be a good citizen. I want you to go, whenever you go into the city, and they can single you out as a migrant, I want you to behave yourself as best you can, because, don't forget, they're now respecting you by giving you a Christmas dinner which you cannot afford. I think we should show our appreciation." Well, what, that, that, that whole, that whole thing just completely changed. Now, instead of calling me Comrade Iusi, I was the manager, manager of the labor camp. No more Comrade Iusi. Another thing, too, we started putting on plays. And we had a softball team. I was the pitcher, manager, and the whole caboodle, caboodle.
How much do we have left?
OK. Let's, let's start on another story. One more thing, in terms of what you told Susan before about, about the problems with the city. You told this story about, about someone who came up to you at one of these lunches and said, "Say, Frank, I hear you have some Communists in the camp". Tell me that story.
While I was the principal speaker at the first, one of the questions that I would normally expect, "Do you have Communists in your camp?" Now, that happened in Yuba City, and it also happened when I was in Denver, Colorado on a vacation and attended a conference.
So, but in Yuba City, when someone says, "Do you have Communists?", what do you say?
Well, the first thing I said to him, "So we understand each other, what is your definition of a Communist?" Now, the only one that I can remember was the one that happened, outside of Yuba City, which is a classic. And the man stumbled around, and it was pretty much the same in Yuba City, "Well, a Communist is a—"
Hold up. I think we should change the magazine on this if we've got—
So, you were going to tell me the story of what happened in Yuba City when someone asked you, "I hear you've got Communists in the camp."
Yes, I was at one of the luncheons there, I don't remember which one. It could either been Chamber of Commerce, whatever. But one of the individuals sitting in the audience, and, and, by the way, he would have had to be a businessman, that's because the association was for business people. Asked me the question—
Start over again just saying "One of the individuals asked me the question..."
The, the, the question that was asked to me if I had any Communists in the camp, direct question. And my answer to him was, "What is your definition of a Communist, so that we understand each other? Your definition might be different than mine." He said, "Well..." He, he fumbled around. He said, "Well, I think a, a Communist is somebody that does not approve of the status quo." "Well," I said, "It's a rather interesting definition, and I'm glad you, you told me what your definition is. Now I can give you an answer." I said, "So let me ask you one or two questions, and then I'll give you the answer as to whether I have Communists in my camp. First of all," I said, "let's presume you are picking peaches, and you're getting twenty-five cents a box. You've got three or four kids, and you can't make ends meet. So you want, you go to the farmer and you say to the farmer, I would like to get thirty-five cents a box, because I can't make it on twenty-five cents a box. You are changing the status quo, aren't you?" He says, "Yeah." I said, "Would you call yourself a Communist?" He says, "No." Then I said, "I have no Communists in the camp."
Did that satisfy him?
Yeah. Sure, because that's what happened. The migrants—
Did you, did you explain to him that, that Communism was a concept that these people didn't—
Well, first of all I said, "Let's be first of all very honest. That's why I have to have a definition of what you think is a Communist. I happen to know what a Communist is. I can give you the technical definition of it. But why labor you with that? I want your definition of it because then I can answer you properly. And Communism—"
Why do you think it was that, that whenever people didn't like anything during that period that the easiest way was just to call it a Communist.
Well, I think it was an easy...You see, it was in the newspapers for years. "They were hotbeds of Communism." So therefore, if the newspaper said they were hotbeds of Communism, we had Communists. And therefore, they were already indoctrinated with the thought that there were migrant, Communists in the migratory labor camps, because they would ask for raises and go on strike or rebel. Therefore they called them Communists. This guy came right out and said, "He wanted to change the status quo."
Well, it's true that there probably were some Communists organizing, but that they tended to use Communism to discredit everybody else.
Well, I, you have to understand that you have to be pretty well conversant with Communism, yourself, so that you could answer the question intelligently. And I think that I had to the benefit. I had the benefit, because I was a liberal, and I'm still a liberal, very proud of it.
But, I mean, you knew these people, and you knew they weren't Communists.
Oh yeah, they were, they, they didn't, they didn't even know, they couldn't give you a definition of democracy. They didn't even know, well, they would say you got the freedom of opening your mouth and expressing your opinion, that's democracy. But to a person that's a businessman sitting and asking you a point blank question. Now if he said, he'd give me a definition of Communism, let's say the academic definition, then I, I wouldn't be able very well use, but you see I had the ability...
It's more like, just, they didn't like them, and that was a good way to—
They didn't like them, and, and not only that, they were fearful. Let's be honest about it. They were fearful that these migrants might cause an economic ruckus by, by all striking, and they couldn't harvest the crops. Yuba City, don't forget that that area was the peach bowl of the world. Three hundred thousand tons of peaches were harvested from that, that area...
And they're a very delicate crop.
You better believe it's delicate. You know it's delicate, here. You've got to eat a peach. Beautiful peaches, and these people were working twenty-five cents a lug boxes. That isn't a lot of money. And therefore they began to grumble by themselves, and there was always leaders. I don't care where you go in life, there's leaders. And there was leaders in my camp that worked behind my bank to aggravate my position, aggravate me, and get me even fired from my job. And I have had those kind of experiences. But, you know, I had to figure out how to lick the situation. And I did. Now that was a different, totally different situation.
Let's cut for a second.
During that period, actually, you mentioned to Susan there was someone else who was an individual labor leader who was, who criticized a lot and attacked the same way. I'm talking about Harry Bridges. You told her this story from '34 when you were working in San Francisco.
Well, when I, I was, I was a coat cutter in '34. We're talking about cutting a suede coat. And my employer walked upstairs, and he came to my bench where I was cutting, and said to me, "Frank, what do you think of Harry Bridges?" Now, Harry Bridges had paralyzed, economically speaking, had paralyzed the city of San Francisco. And therefore I was well aware of what he was doing. And when my boss asked me what I thought, I said, "What he's doing what should have been done long time ago by somebody, not necessarily Harry Bridges, somebody else." And he walked away from me. He didn't argue the point with me. He'd gotten his answer from me, and he never bothered to fire me or anything because I think that he was well aware of the fact that it was my opinion. I was well-versed in labor unions. I was well-versed in, in the fight of what Harry Bridges was interested, so consequently...
But Bridges was a pretty unpopular guy with certain people there, wasn't he?
Harry Bridges? Well, but he was unpopular with the so-called commercial end of them. He was paralyzing the city. But Harry Bridges turned out to be, when you look at his whole past life...They tried to, as you know, deport him three or four times and failed, because Harry Bridges was on the right track. I have been to, have known, personally. I was living in an apartment house in San Francisco, and my next-door neighbor worked as a longshoreman. And he said to me, "Frank, do you know what has been going on at the waterfront?" I said, "I haven't the least idea. I'm too small a guy to work on the waterfront." He said, "Well, let me tell you, those people that are working are the people that are paying under the table the boss five and ten dollars, and they're the ones working. A guy that's got five or six kids can't afford to slip the boss five or six dollars, so a guy, Harry Bridges knows that, and he is blowing that system off." Now Harry Bridges comes in, he said, "We're going to have a union, and if you're the first one's that out of work, we put your name at the top of the list, and as twenty or thirty names, the first job comes in it goes to the first guy. No slipping of five dollars." And I knew that because, of, of, of being informed by longshoreman himself. Therefore, this is very equitable. This is, Harry Truman, Harry Truman [sic]...Harry Bridges was only trying to clean up a lousy situation. And I figured it was lousy to begin with because it was unfair, inequitable. Therefore, I was for Harry Bridges.
And he was really...
He turned out to be an idol, you might say. Let's be honest about it, yeah. If you read his history, it, Harry Bridges' history speaks for itself. And another time, let me tell you, I went to, I went to a meeting at the, at the auditorium in San Francisco, the Civic Center, and Harry Bridges got up, and what he said changed the whole complexion of the conversation about the guys that were on, on stage. He spoke right from his heart. And I was sitting only a short distance from him.
But I mean he really threatened a certain bunch of people in San Francisco.
Oh yeah. They, they...I don't know , of course, I don't know the details of it, but I think the only guys that could have got rid of Harry Bridges would have had to be the Mafia itself. But the businessman tried legally, as you know, as a matter of record, three or four times to, because he was in Australia, if you remember. Never succeeded. And Harry Bridges, I think, if I'm not mistaken, died in San Francisco after all these years. He was an asset to the labor unions, and he cleaned up a mess whether it turned out to be after he, he lost his position it got worse, I don't know. I was never too much involved in unions because I, I went to university and I got jobs and worked for the federal government. So I was never an active union man.
But you're pretty knowledgeable about them. Tell me a little bit about, about how you and your friends felt about Roosevelt during that period.
Well, I, to tell you the truth, in my, personally speaking, I became very, very fond of Roosevelt. I was in the middle of Depression, so that in 1935, when he's going to run for president, which would start of his term, his second term in 1936, I was then thirty years old. I quit my job. I was so imbued with Roosevelt's economic principles and economic endeavor to get the country out of the Great Depression that I quit my job and I went and took on thirteen precincts in San Francisco. I was the leader. I was in charge of thirteen precincts just to get Roosevelt re-elected the second time. Now, that's my personal interest in him. He had built the, you know he created three Cs, he got rid of, brought booze back in, liquor. He had WPA projects. And, by the way, I worked on a WPA project in my whole life, three months, as an accountant.
OK. You were going to tell me the story about a friend of yours, the Republican who didn't like Roosevelt giving people work.
Well, I ran into, well, I was acquainted with a customer of mine, a friend of mine, and did some business with him. And at that time, I was in, I was in the real estate business, and we naturally confronted each other, because I was a devout Catholic, not Catholic, devout Democrat, and he was a devout Republican. And so one day, I said to him, "You know, you are a working man and you've worked with your hands. And I just wondered how come that you talk so adversely about President Roosevelt? Didn't you like...?" That's when he said he changed his denomination. From Democrat he went to Republican. He said, "Well, you remember Roosevelt, what he did. He made everybody, he tried to make everybody work three days and those guys that are working five days had to cut it down to three." I said, so therefore I said to him, "Therefore, the reason that you didn't like Roosevelt was because you were cut from five days' work that you were able to do to down to three." He said, "That's right." I said, "Well, let me tell you, supposing you had been on the other side of the fence and you didn't have any work, and Roosevelt gave you three days at the disadvantage of somebody else that had five days, would you have the same opinion of him?" He wouldn't answer me. I said, "Therefore, for economic reasons, you don't like Roosevelt." I said, "You are being very selfish." I was living that...I said, "You know, you're only seven years older than I am, so therefore I was a pretty well grown up man myself. And I didn't feel, I felt very comfortable with three days' work, better than no work at all, but you were selfish and therefore you don't. You're a republican just because you lost two days' work."
Yeah. If you have three days' work and Roosevelt gave you the work, what do you think of Roosevelt?
Well...He said, "Well, Roosevelt took away two days of my week. Therefore I gave up the Democratic Party." And I said, "Well, but you, your reasoning, your reasoning doesn't make sense to me. You are admitting to me that you turned Republican because you really were selfish. You didn't have any consideration for your fellow man." I said, "There are other people in this world. And if you had been on the opposite end of the, the, the, you wouldn't be a Republican today." "Well, I don't know about that." I said, "Well, yes I do. You were strictly selfishness." And, and that was the end of it."We still remained friends, by the way. We didn't like each other's political...
Let me ask you a general question about the period. When you look back at that decade, what's the, do you look back at it as a, as a difficult time or a good time? How do you see it when you look back?
I, I consider The Great Depression as one of the worst periods, because it was during my lifetime, and it was during my lifetime when I was [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] . When we figure that the Great Depression started in November, I think it was November of 1929, I was twenty-four years old. So I was just not a youngster. Lucky for me that I was going to school. But I had to work to go through school. I worked my way through college. I not only worked my way through college, I got married and had the wife help me go through college.
From '29 up 'til the war, do you see it as good times or bad times?
Oh, that was a very bad time. Those were probably, in my, in my lifetime, we're talking about depressions. There's no depression that could come anywhere near equaling the Depression of the '30s. There's no depression! I have an old saying that I quote: "In those days it was so bad, let's presume that a man had a job, and you were next in line if anything happened to him. And you killed that guy, they'd give you a medal for having killed him. How they got rid of you and him." Now I used to use that as a classic example of expressing the economic situation of our country during those 13 years.
Do you think the country learned anything from going through that experience?
Oh, I don't think they learned anything. I don't this country learns anything, because our politicians don't learn anything. Our politicians should learn. I know I would learn, but look at your situation today. We have a recession. Now if you look back, in my opinion, I think it started with Reagan's deregulations of the watch-dogs of our economy, which caused the...
But, but, but going back to the hard times and what it took to survive then, nobody remembers that anymore, do they.
No, no because if you're going back into the '30s, the average man today that is still living, like me, it doesn't mean a thing to me because I'm economically independent, so why should I worry about those days? But I'll tell you what it taught me: that this could happen again. So my planning of my life, economically speaking, was with the thought that it could happen again. Therefore, I prepared for another Great Depression, but not the...
Well, but, but, I mean that's, you're, you're set. But suppose you talk to a younger person, how can you make them explain what the country...?
Well, it is impossible. It is impossible to tell a young man today what the economic situation, and make him feel it, by just word of mouth. He had to live it. I think one of the great educators of our country said one day that the part of life is that we, as parents, cannot impart our experiences and knowledge to our offspring. They have to live to learn themselves. And I think there's a lot of truth in that. They just, they listen to it. They can't feel it. It's sort of like saying, "If you cut your hand, it hurts", but until you cut his damn hand, he ain't going to feel that hurt! Now you cut his hand, and he'll say, "Ouch!" Now he knows what it means to be cut. Had he lived those ten years, he would know what the Depression was. There are a lot of people today, because of the Depression of the '30s, are very, very cautious, have been very cautious in their subsequent years, because it could happen again. It taught them a lesson. But the young generation today, you can't teach them something that they've missed. They've got to go through it.
Do you think they're going to?
I don't, I don't know. I don't think they have had the Depression of the '30s today. We have a depression, I know it. Nobody knows it better than I do. But the question is, it isn't what it was in the '30s. The '30s was the, the worst during my lifetime. I don't know if there was any previous. I don't think so. I, at least I read enough of my history. And I'm, probably the reason for it is that after all this country, when it goes way before my age, was a young striving country, was always on the goal of improving. Today, this country is, is a big country.
Well, in the 1930s we weren't as wealthy a country as we are now. We didn't have so much to lose, did we?
Yeah, but we've got more people, so that wealth has to be separated. And the funny part, the wealth isn't equitably leveled off. You're getting, in my opinion—
That's right. That was true of then. There were rich people, there were the Du Ponts and the Fords, and then there were the—
But I think that the Du Ponts, the rich guys in those, in those periods, my opinion, I think they're, there were, they had more humanitarianism in 'em than we have today. That's my opinion. I think that they had a sense of appreciation. After all, he's a millionaire. Nobody becomes a millionaire unless he's gotten you and I to work for him and produce the, the items that make him a millionaire. He can't be a millionaire by himself. He need us. He needs the laboring force to help him become a millionaire. Now he either become a double millionaire, or he just wants to be a millionaire. My philosophy is: This country's got great opportunities to making money honestly. There's too many making money unhonestly [sic].
But back to the '30s.
The '30s today, I think the '30s had, first of all, I think we had less, first of all, we had less millionaires. I think we had better millionaires. I think we had a little more compassionate millionaire. What better...
Do you think in general people were more compassionate about their fellow man?
Yeah. Yeah, I think so, than today.
Why is that? What made people care about each other?
Well, first of all I think that our, I—my opinion is that our educational system is faulting the classes of today.
Well, but what, what was it that brought people together?
Well, I think that first of all, I...how did I become a humanitarian? I look at myself. I came from a large family, a poor family. I had to make it my own. I had to go to work at the age of nine. Therefore, I had to work all my life to get where I am today. Now, I did it, and I did it, and I think that everybody has the ability to do it. If you have the intestinal fortitude, you can do itself. But today, you have to remember that most of our young people have had a greater luxury. They've got rich parents by comparison to my parents...
Oh no, I understand that, but I'm trying to figure out what people, even poor people helped each other in the '30s, didn't they?
Well, I think, I think that in general, in general, people by nature, all people, no matter what, what, what stage of our life have a, have a feeling for their fellow man if he's down and out. Americans do. Yeah, they do. Unfortunately, there's not enough of them, because the younger generation doesn't feel it. The older generation, the middle class generation. If an American is down and out, they pour their hearts out him. They still do.
No, that's true today; but the younger generation doesn't do it.
OK. Whatever you say. Just, just from the heart. OK. So tell me the story about the Republican who didn't think people should work three days a week.
Well, this, I had a friend that I was very close to and spent a lot of time with him. And, and because he was an ardent Republican and I was an ardent Democrat, it was, it's, it was obvious that the time would come when he and I would tangle up. And so one day I was at his home, and I asked him, what, when and what caused him to become a Republican, because after all he just a good, hard working cement finisher. And he said that Roosevelt had put on the, the IRA or whatever was it. I forgot the initials.
We're talking the WPA—
Well, there was the WPA, but there's also another, terminology to it, that he was going to put—
Let's start the story over because I don't like to interrupt in the midst.
Now the story is that he was working five days a week. And the reason he was working five days a week is he's a top-notch cement finisher, so it was easier for him to have odd jobs. And he was working five days a week in Hackensack, New Jersey. I said, "Fine." And he said, "I didn't like the idea of Roosevelt putting a law through that he wanted to put everybody to work three days a week, and therefore those of us who were working five days a week had to give up the other two. And therefore, I dislike him for having done that." And I said to him, "Well, therefore you are telling me that the only reason you are a Republican is because Roosevelt took two days of your job away from you, or cut you two days off, and you resented the fact that Roosevelt was trying to put everybody else to work that were having their difficulties. So, therefore, you're just a selfish old so-and-so. That's not a very good reason to change parties, just because you were really selfishly motivated. And I don't think very much of that. And had you had a real reason, a good reason, that would have been different." To me that's not a good reason, because, I said, "I think it's important that all the Americans were able to get a job and survive." We had to survive in those days. And therefore Roosevelt used the right approach. And I'm not, and, and, and I wouldn't criticize Roosevelt for that. I said, "I just did the opposite. I quit my job in, at a time when you'd be crazy to quit a job, and went and spent three months of my life to get him elected in 1936. Now, how do you like those bananas?"
Good. OK. Now lets, let's cut on this.