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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Lawrence Ridgle, June 3, 1999. Interview K-0143. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Dealing with poverty and thoughts on welfare

Ridgle again addresses how his family and their neighbors faced poverty during the Great Depression. In explaining how his own family made ends meet, Ridgle argues that "getting by" was seen as success. In addition, Ridgle explains how they admired Franklin Delano Roosevelt and admired the welfare programs he implemented because they focused on feeding people and giving people work. Later, Ridgle focuses on what he sees as a decline in the nature of welfare and his opposition to it in its modern form.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Lawrence Ridgle, June 3, 1999. Interview K-0143. 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

And I thought we were poor because some people over here their kids got a lot of toys and stuff like that. I never got that. My dad told us point blank, "Ain't no Santa Claus— [unclear] —your sister needs a coat and some shoes and you need this and you need that. And that's all the money I got. I'll buy you some nuts and candy and stuff for Christmas and some clothes and that's your Santa Claus." And we used to sit in here and wouldn't go out because we didn't have a toy. And look at the kids the next day. So I thought they were better off than we were. But now when I talk to my sister. We talk about this often. In a sense we were the richest family in this community. We damned sure—my mama and daddy damn sure helped more people than anybody has over here. We had plenty of food because my daddy planted a garden, my mother canned stuff. It wasn't nothing. We had two closets in there. She kept it full of corn, tomatoes, string beans, butter beans that we would get out of our garden. And if we didn't have it somebody else would come by—some farmer used to come by on the weekend selling bushels of peaches, apples, pears. And my mother used to preserve all that kind of stuff. And we just didn't have to go to the store. And then she knew how to make meals. You know, we didn't have to go to the store for too many things. And I think that was one of the black successes is getting by. Like today you've got to go to the store for everything. That stuff right there—a loaf of bread in this house, maybe at somebody's birthday or something.
You mean a store bought loaf of bread.
Yeah. My mother made biscuits, good cornbread every meal. And everybody else did around here. Today I think—well. In 1930—I believe it was about '39 or '40, Roosevelt—I mean Mr. Roosevelt's daughter, Miss Eleanor—. We used to see newsreels of her going down in black communities, kissing little black babies and stuff like that. And that wasn't heard of then. And right after that here come welfare. But not the type of welfare—the modern type welfare. They had a little place over on Elm Street and you had to qualify. I forgot what the qualification was. But you went over there—I think it was two days a week. They would give out welfare. They'd give out all kinds of canned goods, meat canned goods, beans, corn, tomatoes. They'd give out plenty of cheese. They used to give a lot of fruit like oranges and sometimes apples. But, butter, oatmeal, corn meal, flour. That's what you got off the welfare. You got something to eat.
And what time period do you remember that in?
This had to be just before—it must have been about '38, '39, maybe '40 because I remember we'd go to school and it was a common thing. Like people used to make fun of people that qualified for welfare. And a whole lot of people did and tried to hide it. But they would go get that stuff. And they used to make a song of it that said, "Don't look at me with you eyes all bloody. I know you eating' that welfare butter." There was a song in school that kids used to pick with each other, you know. But, it really helped. It really helped. There was one other reason why I really liked Franklin Delano Roosevelt because he started work programs to make people work to live like the CC camp, the WPA. They didn't give out—the only thing they gave out was some food. And I didn't know of any meat they gave out but that canned meat. But they gave you some stuff to live off of, you know. And then they made you—they created jobs. They went around and cleaned up all the ditches, a whole lot of things that they should have done. Mosquitoes used to be here thicker than thieves, but after they cleaned up all those little ditches and things around there the mosquitoes kind of went away. And I think I had diphtheria as a kid. And there was a whole lot of old chicken pox, whooping cough. Used to have signs—signs hanging up on your door, you know, your house was quarantined. They didn't want anybody to come and visit you. And I think stagnated water—that's why they told me I had diphtheria. I'd been playing in some stagnated water somewhere because we used to go swimming down here in these places. And thanks to Roosevelt—I truly believe him coming in with the WPA men doing a whole lot of work that should have been done by the city—and then he started that CC camp for young men. And they paid them some. They wasn't paying that much but, of course, you didn't need that much money then. But it was paying some and people were working.
So work based welfare and welfare that was food, you know, food provided versus cash is—you felt was beneficial.
It was beneficial in the fact that they gave you something nutritious that your body needed and you didn't have no selection. And because you didn't have nothing else you got pretty good food to eat.