Through extensive research Richelle Putnam shows that during the worst of times, Mississippians relied on their ingenuity to survive, that—regardless of the myth of the Confederate—the strength of Mississippi is its ethnic diversity, and that the Federal Government has proven to be of great historical assistance to Mississippi, including the construction of “thirty-nine buildings on the University of Mississippi campus.” Yet, the most essential lesson Putnam shows is how the Great Flood of 1927 and the Great Depression were both missed opportunities by whites to create a union with blacks, such as the failed farming cooperative that existed in Hillhouse, Mississippi, that could have propelled Mississippi to being one of America’s top states rather than plummeting it to one of America’s worst states. As such, Mississippi and the Great Depression is another reminder that man’s iniquity (fear and greed) is often more powerful than his intellect. Specifically, Putnam demonstrates that while poor whites were treated similarly to blacks, they were simply unable to overcome their white supremacy and form a union with their black counterparts as a way to seize power from the elite class. This disconnect continues to undermine Mississippi’s economics and education, creating a vicious cycle of poor education, leading to poor economics, leading to poor healthcare (physical and mental), all maintaining perpetual poverty. To this end, Putnam’s work is not just a photograph of the past but a case study of why Mississippi remains one of the poorest and most underdeveloped states of the Union. Thus, the question remains: how many people will read this text and realize the amount of talent and opportunity that Mississippi continues to squander merely for the sake of maintaining the myth of white supremacist status quo?
C. Liegh McInnis, former editor of Black Magnolias Literary Journal, author of eight books, including Brother Hollis: The Sankofa of a Movement Man, and an instructor of English at Jackson State University
Expertly combining prior scholarship with primary sources, in Mississippi and the Great Depression historian Richelle Putnam details how this crisis impacted the lives of Mississippians during some of our state’s most harrowing years. Bringing national events into local settings, and traveling city by city, almost farm by farm from the Delta to the Coast, Putnam illuminates the experiences of locals from all races, classes, faiths, and vocations. Putnam’s account is not just the story of resilience under Jim Crow, the invention of Masonite, or the origin of slugburgers—rather, it is the story of the search for dignity amid adversity and hope within despair. Rarely have the lives of our ancestors been held in such warm and knowing hands.
Mississippi and The Great Depression is a monumental and brilliant achievement. Richelle Putnam delivers a treasure trove of history, perspective and insights. In this comprehensive, thoroughly researched and elegantly written book, the author weaves a sweeping history – one certain to become a classic. Combining rich details, meaningful statistics and personal narratives, she captures the soul and spirit of Mississippians who struggled and persevered during the Great Depression. It is a reassuring reminder that the human spirit, ingenuity and resourcefulness can triumph over terrible adversity. “Mississippi and The Great Depression” is an outstanding, indispensable book - one that deserves to be read and re-read. It’s magnificent and I’m already looking forward to Richelle Putnam’s next books.
Charlie Spillers, author of Confessions of An Undercover Agent: Adventures, Close Calls and the Toll of a Double Life, instructor in continuing legal education courses, and former adjunct professor at the University of Mississippi.
Richelle Putnam’s Mississippi and The Great Depression sheds light on one of the pivotal periods of American history, a time that is remembered today by only the most senior members of the population. This rigorously researched volume focuses on the effects of the Depression on the men and women of Mississippi, one of the poorest states in the nation. Putnam deftly demonstrates the way the Great Depression permeated every aspect of society, from the hard-scrabble farms, schools, and jails to the airports, city Halls, and state parks. More than just a sociological examination of one of the state’s darkest times, Mississippi and The Great Depression also tells the human story behind the nation’s worst economic disaster. The broad scope of the book covers all the entire social strata of the state, everyone from the sharecroppers to the writers, artists, and politicians who shaped the cultural fabric of the state. The real stars of the book, though, are the common people, who exhibited amazing powers of resilience as they coped with floods, droughts, financial run, and social upheaval. The inclusion of period photographs and interviews with Mississippians who lived through the Great Depression adds a personal touch to history. Mississippi and The Great Depression clearly takes its place alongside Clarence Casson’s 90 Degrees in the Shade as one of the most compelling histories of the Deep South’s Depression years. It firmly establishes Richelle Putnam as a first-rate chronicler of Mississippi history.
Dr. Alan Brown, author of The Haunting of Alabama, Stories from the Haunted South, Myths and Haunted Places in the Haunted South, and more than 20 other books.
Richelle Putnam’s Mississippi and the Great Depression is a veritable cornucopia of information concerning how Mississippians (white, black, Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Jew, and Arab) coped with the worst economic calamity in US History. She does an excellent job in detailing the efforts of the New Deal administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to transform the landscape of Mississippi while helping thousands of its citizens stay afloat in the storm that was the Depression. Her work chronicles the trials and tribulations of poor Mississippians, especially those of African Americans who suffered not only economically, but also socially and politically under the oppression of Jim Crow. Throughout her book, she records the resilience and self-sufficiency of the average Mississippian, while also pointing out the resistance to change and the intransigence of those who held the reins of power. Putnam’s book documents that while the Depression devastated Mississippi, the state was still a place of intense cultural output from blues and country music to the writings of William Faulkner and Richard Wright. For the reader who wants to get a front row view of what life was like for Mississippians between the late 1920s and World War II, this is a good place to start.
Dr. Jeffery B. Howell, Associate Professor of History, East Georgia State College, Statesboro Ga, author of Hazel Brannon Smith The Female Crusading Scalawag
MISSISSIPPI’S HISTORY IS ABSORBING
Anyone with even a passing interest in Mississippi history will find Richelle Putnam’s “Mississippi and the Great Depression” (The History Press) enthralling. If one’s passion is Mississippiana, “Depression” deserves a prominent space on the bookshelf. Ruminations about the Depression by aged relatives and oft-repeated family lore does little to dispel the fact that if times were tough nationally, then it was especially grim in the poorest state in the nation.
But Putnam’s exhaustive research, detailed reporting, wealth of archival photographs and vivid writing makes reading about Mississippi during the Depression a rich experience. Putnam achieves this by first putting the Depression as it uniquely impacted the Magnolia State into historical perspective. Factors that made Mississippi’s experience all the more severe included: *The 1927 Flood that ravaged the Delta and also accelerated The Great Migration of Southern blacks to Northern cities.*The catastrophic drought of 1930-1934 that devastated agriculture in the state, on top of generations of cotton farming depleting soils.*The end of the state’s timber boom that had sprouted railroads, towns and wealth in local communities. The combination of factors had the state bankrupt by 1931 and personal circumstances so dire, Putnam reports, that “on a single day in 1932, one-fourth of the real property in Mississippi, including 20 percent of all farms and 14 percent of town property, was to be sold for taxes.” Men were desperate for work, she writes. Women sewed clothes from feed, flour and sugar sacks.
If life was rough for white citizens, as Putnam details, it was horrific in the Jim Crow South for black Mississippians who had no voting, legal or economic rights. But if conditions were rock bottom, the state also saw remarkable ingenuity and resilience with creative solutions to overwhelming problem. Putnam reports this resurgence ranging from development of the first planned highway system in the state in 1936, to creation of the state sales tax, to massive public works building programs.
Many of these achievements still stand as concrete testaments today. Putnam details how Mississippians coped in colleges and universities, arts and entertainment (including of note, early blues musicians), municipal development—even a fascinating chapter on local foodways. A notable feature is the detailing of family stories and histories of minorities, including people of Middle Eastern descent, Chinese immigrants and Jewish communities in the state. Putnam’s honest appraisal is refreshing, if at times difficult to face, but “Depression” is not depressing. Indeed, through truthful, factual recounting, it offers a hope “to make Mississippi a better place for everyone.”
Jim Ewing's journalistic expertise spans three decades of work at The Clarion-Ledger, the Jackson Free Press, The Jackson Daily News, and USA TODAY. A three-time winner of the J. Oliver Emmerich Award (the Mississippi Press Association's highest honor for commentary) and winner of the Mississippi Wildlife Federation's Conservation Writer of the Year award, he has also won national Best of Gannett, regional Associated Press Media Editors, and state press association honors. Ewing's books (Findhorn Press), include "Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating," "Dreams of the Reiki Shaman: Expanding Your Healing Power," "Reiki Shamanism: A Guide to Out-of-Body Healing," "Healing Plants & Animals from a Distance: Curative Principles and Applications," "Finding Sanctuary in Nature: Simple Ceremonies in the Native American Tradition for Healing Yourself and Others," and "Clearing: A Guide to Liberating Energies Trapped in Buildings and Lands."