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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ralph Waldo Strickland, April 18, 1980. Interview H-0180. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Surviving the Great Depression

When the Great Depression struck, Strickland had a hard time making ends meet. He managed to do so without going on government assistance, and he believes that he actually had a better quality of life because he remained independent.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ralph Waldo Strickland, April 18, 1980. Interview H-0180. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

LU ANN JONES:
How did you all make it through the Depression?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
It was pretty hard, lady. I got cut off May 9, 1931. That was right during the real, sure enough, heart of the Depression. I'm going tell you another story from Roosevelt. This is from the horse's mouth too. My brother Lee worked down there at Warm Springs. He worked for Roosevelt, wired all them houses down there. I helped him wire that little White House. When Roosevelt took office, that was right during the worst part of that Depression. The very day that he was sworn in and took his oath of office. He went in the blue room there and called his cabinet together. See he got steel braces on both his leg and one crutch and a walking stick. He improved so where he could drag his legs around. The day he was sworn in, he called his cabinet together nad had a big table in this room. They was all sitting around on that table, and he told Lee out of his own mouth the absolute fact. He called his cabinet around and says, "Gentleman, I want to tell you. This country is really in a real state of emergency right now. We got good honest, sincere people standing in these soup lines and bread lines in this country. There's thousands and thousands of good honest people that's umemployed and can't find work. We're right on the verge of a revolution." He got up there on the side of the table right away and begin to beat on the top of that table and looking at all his cabinet members. He turned to Mr. Andrew Mellon was Secretary of the Treasury, he said, "Mr. Mellon, how much indebtedness can this country stand?" Mr. Mellon told him that they had eighty million dollars ready cash money that they could stand to spend right now. He looked at all of them and says, "Get on your horses, I mean, get on your horses. We got to put these people back to work. We going to have to create jobs." That was when that WPA and NRA, when that was born. That was right back in there. I was cut off on the railroad. I walked the streets here in Charlotte for two or three years, couldn't find no work. But when business picked back up, then they called me back to the extra board, 1935, 1936. I had seniority then. Some of them old men retired, died off from one thing or another. I got seniority and stood for a regular job. I retired in 1971. I had forty-four years and sixteen days from the time I started to the day I retired.
LU ANN JONES:
During the Depression, did you have friends who would help you out, lend you money or anything like that?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
Yes. No, I didn't have that. I must have been pretty lucky because Jack Tillis, the round house foreman, he give me work. I watched the crossing. I worked for $1.80 a day since I been in Charlotte. Just anything, but like I say, you could take three or four or five dollars and go up there and buy enough groceries to feed. I got a year behind in rent. Joe I was renting two rooms upstairs down there on Tryon Street, lived down there about seven years. I got over a year behind in rent. I just went to him and told him, I said, "Joe, I'm cut off and I haven't got no job and can't find no job. I got that furniture and we're trying to get enough groceries to get by to live on someway or another." He said, "Forget it, Ralph." He was engineer on that Southern, Joe was. He said, "Just forget that out rent. We'll take care of that in a brighter day." So he's good to me. I did got some help, but it was pretty tough going. I guarantee you there's people standing in these soup lines, I'm talking about good people too. Roosevelt, he knew what was going on. That's what took place. He put these people to work. My brother's cut off during that time down at Hamlet. He was on the main line. He the one to set out all them pine trees. That NRA and WPA, they put them people to work at twelve to fifteen dollars a week. That was a job, house rent and grocery bill. A man could get that, he's doing pretty good.
LU ANN JONES:
Did you ever try to get a government job like that around here?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
No, I picked up enough emergency days on the railroad. They'd call me down there sometimes might be every two or three months, I'd get two, three, or four days of I kept body and soul together. I don't know how I done it. I guarantee you, I got down pretty low. I got down where I didn't have maybe fifty cents in my pocket.
LU ANN JONES:
Your daughter had been born by that time, right?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
Oh yes, Mary Sue and Carlos, my two oldest children. Mary Sue was born November 11, 1928, and Carlos was born May 20, 1931. Right in the head of that bad Depression is when I cut off, May 9. Carlos was born—my oldest boy—born May 20, 1931. I stayed cut off three or four years there. I worked a little bit at something all along, not too regular. I got behind in that house rent, but I kept body and soul together till I got back on the railroad. I'm glad I stayed down there. I come out better by staying on the railroad that I would have done anything else. I know and realize that. Railroad comapny was good to me. I left down there with a real good record. I put a plaque down there in the railraod station. You can go in, I got a bronze plaque down there. I'm responsible, me and my crew. I got a safety car handling aware. The general manager—the headquarters in Portsmouth—they issued that. It's a big bronze plaque and it's hanging down there in the waiting room at the Seaboard station now. I don't know if it's still down there or not. I haven't been down there now. I haven't been down there. I retired in 1971 and I haven't been down there but three or four times. I don't know whether that plaque's still down there, but it was hanging right there in that white waiting room for years and years. I had a real good record. I got a good letter of commendation from Joe Goldson was general manager. Wrote me a letter of my faithful service and all. I'm really proud of my railroad record. I don't apologize to nobody. I done a good job and a real good record. I'm proud and I'm glad I stayed down there. It paid off. I don't have to worry about nothing now, lady. Financially, we don't have to worry about nothing. I got pension enough to support us. I don't have to worry about nothing. Have anything we want to have, in a poor way. I'm still a poor working man. I don't have to worry about where the next meal's coming from.