The Damned

A Nation in Torment: The Great American Depression, 1929-1939

by Edward Robb Ellis
Coward-McCann, 571 pp., $10.00

Hard Times

by Studs Terkel
Pantheon, 450 pp., $8.95

The Block

by Herb Goro
Random House, 186 pp., $10.00

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory

by Anita Bryant
Revell, 159 pp., $3.95

In May of 1934 [Billy Graham’s father] lent a pasture to some thirty local businessmen who wanted to devote a day of prayer for Charlotte because the depression had spread spiritual apathy in the city…. During that day of prayer on the Graham land, their leader, Vernon Patterson, prayed—as [his father] would often recall between Billy’s rise to fame in 1949 and his own death in 1962—that “out of Charlotte the Lord would raise up someone to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.”

—John Pollack, Billy Graham: The Authorized Biography

Of course. Billy Graham was first raised up when Charlotte tried to pray itself out of the Depression, God having so clearly looked down His nose at the world that he could choose for us even then the prophet who takes our minds off our national sins. If we begin to think of the Depression again, it is not so much because we fear its return as because we have begun to understand that our America was born then.

Our President is the son of a Depression storekeeper. He is our most admired citizen, first on a list that had certainly to be prepared in advance by the Gallup people, since the admirable are not in that condition of national surplus where the names of heroes leap spontaneously to the mind of any man stopped on the street. Mr. Nixon is not given to recollecting occasions which reflect on the ways of God and the stewards of His economy. But as witness to the permanent wounds of a childhood in a small and failing store, we may freely substitute Hubert Humphrey who, the parts of Gallup’s list being interchangeable, would now, with better news from California in November of 1968, be our most admired American.

Humphrey’s place in Edward Robb Ellis’s splendid history of the Depression is as a young man who had to leave college to help his father in the family drugstore in Huron, South Dakota:

Sullen, disgusted, feeling trapped, Hubert went about his work mechanically, eager to get back to college, to escape a prairie turning into a desert. Seventy-two dust storms in South Dakota in one year—that was too much. One day, unable to control the ferocity that was building up inside himself, Hubert smashed a dozen glasses in the sink behind the drugstore. Hubert adored his father but even this deep love was not enough to hold him in South Dakota. The elder Humphrey, sympathizing with his brilliant son and wishing to ease his tensions, offered him half ownership in the family business. Hubert replied, “I can’t stay. These dust storms—I just can’t take them anymore. I’m so tense I’m sick all the time. I get these pains and I know it’s because of the worry. But the depression, the dust, the drought—they’re wearing me out.”

The young man developed a lifelong habit of vigorously dusting …

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