Revisiting Sacramento's depression-era shantytown

8:11 AM, Oct 10, 2011   |    comments
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Sacramento's depression-era shantytown, also known as a Hooverville.

SACRAMENTO, CA -- Sacramento had its own Hooverville during the Great Depression, a shantytown where thousands struggled to survive and often helped each other.

Hoovervilles sprang up across the country as the economy collapsed in the early 1930s. They were named for President Herbert Hoover, whom many blamed for helping send America into its economic tailspin beginning in 1929.

California began the Great Depression with only about 5 percent of the nation's transient population, but that number grew to 14 percent as conditions worsened, according to historians.

Sacramento's Hooverville was a hodge-podge of tents and shacks made of wood and metal scraps, even cardboard.

"For all their shortcomings, they were at least a semi-permanent, established community for people to live in," said former Sacramento history instructor Mark Bradley.

In one photograph of a family taken inside their one-room shack in Sacramento's Hooverville in 1935, two young girls cover their faces with their hands in a reflection of the humiliation many felt at living in such difficult conditions.

Bradley said it is a reflection of the view still heard today that anyone in America can lift themselves up by their bootstraps.

"Everyone can make it in this country. I hear that kind of talk now from politicians and from corporate CEOs who say if you don't make it in this country it's your own fault. I think that's a simplistic view," said Bradley.

Hoovervilles were often located near soup kitchens, where many residents relied on public charities or begged for food. Some were torn down and even burned by authorities frustrated by the blight and desperate conditions.

To Bradley, the memories and images of Sacramento's own Hooverville are a reminder that failed economic policies can bring deep social costs.

"I think we're in a holding pattern where we better decide are we going to remedy some of these problems now, or are we going to wait until they fester and become almost insoluble?" he said.


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