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The most enduring image of rural America during the Great Depression is one of dust and human migration. This image was formed in the nation’s heartland, where the people of the Great Plains and Southwest suffered both natural and economic disasters during the 1930s.
Decades of intensive farming and inattention to soil conservation had left this region ecologically vulnerable. A long drought that began in the early 1930s triggered a disaster. The winds that swept across the plains carried away its dry, depleted topsoil in enormous dust storms. Dramatic and frightening, the dust storms turned day into night as they destroyed farms. The hardest hit area — covering parts of Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle — was nicknamed the “Dust Bowl.”
During December and January, the Los Alamos Historical Museum will exhibit “This Great Nation Will Endure: Photographs of the Great Depression” over two-dozen documentary photographs from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum will be on display. Many photos are by Farm Security Administration photographers Russell Lee and Dorothea Lange.
For those born after the 1930s, the Great Depression is something that can be visualized only through photography and film. Certain images have come to define the view of that uncertain time: an anxious migrant mother with her three small children; a farmer and his sons struggling through a dust storm; a family of sharecroppers gathered outside their Spartan home. These photographs are icons of an era.
Many of these familiar images were created by one small government agency established by Franklin Roosevelt: the Farm Security Administration. FSA photographers produced nearly 80,000 pictures of life in Depression-era America between 1935 and 1943. This remains the largest documentary photography project of a people ever undertaken.
Roosevelt created the FSA in 1937 to aid those impacted by these harsh conditions.
The FSA resettled poor farmers on more productive land, promoted soil conservation, provided emergency relief and provided loans to buy new or improved farms. It built experimental rural communities, suburban “Greenbelt towns” and sanitary camps for migrant farm workers.
But conservative critics attacked the FSA as “socialistic.” Therefore, to defend and promote the FSA, a publicity movement to document rural poverty and governmental efforts to alleviate it emerged through the FSA photographic unit.
The exhibit of FSA photographs comes through the efforts of the New Mexico Chapter of the National New Deal Preservation Association, an organization that celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2008 to promote the identification, documentation, preservation and education of people about the New Deal visual and performing arts, literature, crafts, structures, and environmental projects.
The Los Alamos Historical Museum is located in the historic district of Los Alamos, directly north of Fuller Lodge at 1050 Bathtub Row. Admission is free and hours of operation are from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday and from 1-4 p.m. Sundays. For more information call 505-662-6272 or visit their Web site at http:www.losalamos