by John Grooms
Have you ever enjoyed riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway? Lingered in front of a particular painting in the Mint Museum? Or attended a play at Charlestons historic Dock Street Theatre? If so, you have the WPA to thank for your experience. Thats the Works Progress Administration, the largest New Deal agency, started by Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression. Its stated goal was to attempt to employ most of Americas unemployed people until the economy recovered. Today is the 75th anniversary of the WPAs creation, and it should be celebrated and appreciated. And those three Carolina recreational and cultural institutions? All helped, or created, by the WPA.
The WPA employed millions of Americans to complete a slew of public works projects. Those included the construction of an enormous number of public buildings and roads, the feeding of children, distribution of food, housing and clothes, and the creation of hundreds of public libraries and bookmobiles in small towns plus, way more than we could possibly list here. In fact, nearly every town in America benefited from the WPA not just in the number of citizens who were given desperately needed jobs, but also the construction of parks, bridges, roads, public buildings, or schools. The WPA also ran large literacy, drama, art and media projects that gave unemployed artists, writers and editors jobs, and produced enduring works of art. Link here to a North Carolina Archives site about the WPAs work in this state.
Today, a coalition of groups is in Raleigh, calling for new, WPA-like works programs to help restore economic stability to families in need in North Carolina. I have to agree with them that a public works program would be better for the country in the long run (as well as immediately beneficial to those who need it most) than, say, bailing out General Motors. Good luck to 'em.