Camera Rolls: 97-101 (Pilot)
Sound Rolls: 54-56 (Pilot)
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Frank Angelo , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on November 1, 1990, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
[ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] —come here, as immigrants, from Italy.
They come in 19— [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] they get married in 1912. You're born in 1914, but it's now the nadir of the Depression. It's now 1931. What kind of values did your, what kind, what was your family like? What kind of values did they have about being an American?
Well, one, I don't think that, I think, that my father and mother had any great philosophical thoughts about being Americans. They, they, for them, it was, it meant an opportunity to raise a family. It meant an opportunity to have a home and own a home of their own. It, it, it meant an opportunity, it meant that there was an opportunity for their children to, to do well. And that was, that's a very important part in the, in the, in the foreign-born kind of thinking, about the children, and are they going to better than we're doing. There were, it was, their values were family values. Our life was very close, it was a very closely knit family. Our social life, our social activities, if you will, were tied to family. You went out and you visited my aunts and uncles, and we would, we would go on see Uncle Joe or Uncle Diego or whatever. And that was the sort of life that you lived. We—it was kind of an interesting, an interesting thing, there was a sort of a networking factor that came into play. Looking back, I realized that, as a child, as I was growing up, our family never lived anywhere where we weren't close to other Italian families. And not, not, not relatives necessarily, but other Italian families. And, and on, on practically, oh, every block that we lived on, there were, there were—and this was part of the networking that went on. If you had a problem—you, you got more chicken soup than you could tolerate, I mean you know, it's a...
Well, I'm sorry. If you can go back and say, "If you had, if you were sick," or, actually, I'm wondering how did people help each other out during this very tough time?
Well, in terms, in terms of how we were helped out, I, I remember that all of a sudden I noticed that my aunts and uncles were dropping by a little bit more often than normal, and they always had a, a bag and they'd say, "Oh, gee. I was just happening to be going by the grocery store and I saw some beautiful tomatoes," or something, "and I just brought some," and—
"...Oh, I've got a bag here of clothes."
[change to camera roll 98]
—that, you know, my son Tony can't use anymore, and I think maybe Frank can. How 'bout that?," and you'd say, you know.
I'm sorry, we're out of film. We have to change the roll.
So, here we are in 1931, and it's an unbelievably bleak time. How did people help each other out?
Well, in...in my family's experience, basically using that, I talked about the networking that went on in our lives. We lived close to other Italian families. There was a certain amount of help that came that way. But basically, you know, I began to notice that my aunt and, and uncles, and we had, I had a, a couple of them who, who had done well in business, so that they were hurting but it, you know, not, they were, they were doing relatively well. And they would drop in, and they would just happen to drop, be driving by, and they'd, they would have a bag of food, and they'd say, oh, they'd just saw something, you know, at the market they thought was, you know, we'd like, and, and, "Oh yes! It just happens that I've got a bag of Tony's clothes, here. He's just outgrown them and maybe Frank can use them. Or maybe some of the girls, they, you know," they'd had from, from [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] and, and that was, you know, accepted, and you did it, and, and people—I never, at home, well, we were always very simply but immaculately dressed. I mean, my mother was, was, you know, determined that that was always going to be the way it was. And we survived, and you—it was, it was an era when people knew limits, they lived within limits, and it didn't bother them. I mean, they, they understood that there were limits to, to living. If you had, if you, if you had a loaf of bread, you, you, that was it. You had a loaf of bread, you had, you, you, you had, and maybe a bowl of soup that night, and that was it and you accepted that. And, and you didn't go into debt. To this day, for example, I drive my wife absolutely up the wall, half an hour after I get a bill at home, I'm signing the check and paying my bills. I mean, that, you know, that, that's a last—it was a lasting impact, this, this matter of limits. We today live well. And I'm not, you know, but we do not live in debt. I just, that was, if we can afford to do something, we do it, but if we can't, we don't. And, and I think that was a part of the value system. People, people had a sense of responsibility for themselves and for their family. And, and, and life, and life was dedicated and directed in that direction. You, you, you worried about the children and you worried about the family ties. And, you know, you survived. You went about your business. If, if you, if there were jobs and Ford's was working, my dad went to work, or I'd get a job at—in those days, of course, much more than today, you had countless small merchants up and down, you know, the block. You went to the, you, you, you, you didn't go to a supermarket, you went to the grocery store, that was one thing. You went to the, the meat market, that was another thing. You went to the drug store, that was another thing. You went to the hardware store, and so forth. And, and all of these little, little shops along where we lived, you could always, practically always walk in and say, "Gee, you need somebody to, you know, to pack bags or, or to clean up or do a..." and you did it. And I, I remember there was a kid, a ten-year-old kid, working in a, in a drug store, making, you know, doing sodas and, and so forth. I peddled newspapers. I had a, I had a, a route and, and I remember about this, about this period, about 1930-31, I had a paper route about 120 customers. I had the news and Times, and two Polish newspapers were being published at that time. And, and, and I had about 120 customers, and what I made would, would help, help practically support the family. And I recall my, my father helping me on my routes on occasion, you know. And that's, that's, you did this, and, and, and nobody, nobody had to say, "My, you know, my God, it's terrible." We all thought it was, "Gee, that's great!," you know? You know, you got a route, you make some money, you'd be fine, you, that, that was part of it. And, and that was the, that was the, the—and I'm saying, my, what I want to emphasize is this was a not unusual standard in, in the community. There were thousands of families that had this same networking. They, you know, and the, the same concept that, that they were going to take care of their own, they, that they understood, in effect, yes, the American Dream. Talk about the American Dream. What the American Dream was to them was the opportunity to come here and to make, and they understood that the opportunity would only come to fruition if they accepted the responsibility of working, I mean, that they were going to do it. Nobody was going to give them training or do special things for them, that they on their own would do it, you see.
Great. OK, so then nobody could help each other out anymore, because nobody has anything. So your family has to go accept relief. What was that like for your family? What were you feeling?
Well, there did come a time when, when, when the, the things got so rock-bottom, my father was ill at the time and, and, and it, that, that, Mother and my father had to, in effect, accept welfare. And that time it was, it was more or less considered charity, it was, it was no institutionalized welfare program or such. The, the, the people, people accepted this. And all I can say to you is that, in my parents' lifetime, and in mine, there was nothing more dreadful than that moment. It, it absolutely almost destroyed my mother and father that they'd have to go and, and stand in line to get some help. And, at the time, the help came in the form of, of packages of flour, maybe shoes and socks, and so on. And it, it, it was a devastating thing, just devastating. And, and, and, and, it's, it's hard to, you know, to map it, because this was, this was ripping at, at this whole sense that they had of pride in what they were doing, in, of, of, of doing on their own, and so on, a terrible invasion of their privacy. And it, and it, it was just devastating. And fortunately it didn't last very long. It was a very, very brief period in my family's thing, because things began to get better and, as soon as they did, Mother, for example, got a job. She was working at, at the Briggs Manufacturing, sewing cushions for automobiles.
So, Ford retooled in August of 1931. What does this mean? [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]
Well, at that point, in effect, it was a, it was a sign of progress, because things had been so bad that he was retooling and he was getting into a new model suggested that things were going to start to get better [sic]. People, people in Detroit, certainly the working families, the people, the, you know, who worked at Ford's, the, the, the average guy who got on the Baker Street car line and went down to the Ford Rouge Plant or to Highland Park or so on, they took it for granted basically, that, that there was a period every year that, from any time from, say, June to mid-August and so on, well, they were laid off. And that was sort of expected. The other thing about, about the, the employment figures that you have to be careful of is that there was a certain basic staff, let's say, that Ford Motor Company had, but when, in September, for example, when they began the new model year, they would add thousands of new people. They'd add, and then they'd start dropping them off. And then by, by, say, by June, then they'd lay off and shut down the plant, and that, and that was, at that time, that they went through this model change period. And, and, and the average fellow, my father and the thousands like him who worked, you, it was sort of part of life. You know, you got used to it. In terms of, in terms of what you were talking about, the nadir of, of the Depression... there was a period in, in 19-, [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] in...
[change to camera roll 99]
During this period of time, in 1931, some of the stories say there were as many as 150 evictions a day. And 150,000 have to leave the city, looking for something. Did you ever see any evictions?
I can honestly say that, personally, I never saw—I don't, the figures are, you know, if you say those are the figures, they, that's, those are the figures. I have, and obviously there were, there were evictions, and, and that was a part of the social trauma at the time. There's no question about it. I personally and my family, where we lived, I, I never, you know, actually saw an eviction. But I don't, I don't, if you say those are, if those are the figures, I can, I can—
OK, I'm sorry, I, I forgot to do something. I should've gone back to what you were talking about before, which is that these retooling situations was something you accepted as a sign of progress.
Well, it was understood that you were, and the 30s, when the, when the Ford Motor Company retooled and was starting to build the, the Model, what was it, the Model...
OK, let's start again. It was really the V8. They did not call it a model.
The V8, OK. So, at, at, at that point, when, when Ford announced that they were going to start doing that, it would've, would've been an indicator that the things were changing, you know, beginning to improve. That here was the companying coming out with kind of a new model and so forth. The number of people employed, obviously, was much, was low, but what, what would happen in, in, in, in Detroit was that, in the retooling process, you always had a low number, and by, let's say, the first of September, when they really went into production, the companies would add thousands of men to, to their rolls. And, and they would peak, and then they'd stop dropping them again at the, at the end of the model year, and, and, and then, come summer, people found themselves pretty well, you know, out, out of work again. And then they, you'd, this was sort of, sort of a cycle that, you know, you had started out with the low, and then you went to peak employment, and you came down and, and moved. That was sort of a rhythm of life, I guess. People adapted to it. I don't, I'm not saying that they were all cheering and happy about it, because, you know, now, nowadays they're, I've, I've heard people say that, "Gee, wouldn't it be great to be laid off so I can take a vacation and go to Europe?" Well, in those days, I mean, the, you didn't go to Europe. You stayed home and worked in the garden or you didn't have the money to do a lot of, a lot of other things. It's, you had, and, and, basically, you had money to support your family. You, you took care of that. So, but this was part of the, the, of, of life, it was--
I'm sorry, let's cut for a second.
As, just, you know, a normal family, what's your reaction to that sort of thing, that they would come with these demands?
Well, at the, at the time, obviously there was, there was a economic and social ferment. And if I said that our family sat around the dinner table and discussed these demands, and had any great opinions on it, pro and con, it's not true. Now there's, that's not to say that others didn't, but you have to, you have to understand, one, that Detroit at the time was a, a total open shop city. The, the attitudes that I was talking about, the people who lived here, they, they wanted to work, and they wanted to, and they were, they were happy, you know, relatively happy in what they were doing. This was a—the list of demands that, that we, that was presented at that time. If you take and look very closely at it, these are the, these are the goals that became part of the whole structure of the union movement, these are the goals that that have been achieved, by and large, and, you know, that, that have been achieved. In terms of, in terms of involvement, I, I can't, I would, I would say that perhaps my father and my mother might have been sympathetic and we were sympathetic, but that there was no immediate involvement. No sense, that, "By god, let's join and man, and man the ramparts." I, as a, I, for example, at that period, during this period of '31, '32, I was away at City College, and one of the things that I did is, is I got taken with the concept of industrial democracy. And Norman Thomas was the patron saint of, of industrial democracy, and he would come and all, we'd, we'd go and, and listen to Norman Thomas, and we, we, we talked about, about that, as a, as a factory. We never got into specifics, such as were presented to the Ford Motor Company at that time. The thought of the six hour day, well, jeez, that would've been nice, but everybody figured that that was going way, you know, way out of the line. And most of the, most of the, then, of course, if you look at the list, you see that by next, in the, in, in that period, you began to develop the whole trans-industrial unionism. And Walter Reuther and his brothers, who were at Wayne State University, as a matter of fact, City College, they, they began to be very active and, and developing that. In terms of, in terms of my immediate family, I can't, can't say that—
That's all right [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] inaudible. I should pursue the next question, which is: You're reading a paper the next day. What was your reaction to the story that some people had been killed, some of the marchers had been killed, some wounded, some of the Dearborn police had been wounded, some of the Service Department people had been wounded? What was your reaction?
Well, I've got to be honest. I could, I could say that, you know, I was horrified, and I'd read the paper, and it was in, at that, at the time of, of, of, of travail and, and it was sad and so on. I don't recall that the, I know that—being honest, that I had no sense of real, you know, upset about it. I, it was sad, it was unfortunate, it was a terrible thing to happen, but to say that, you know, I said, "Now is the time to man the ramparts," and, "Let's move ahead," that, that, that was, you know, I, I had no such feeling. And the, that's, I'm just being honest about it. I, I don't remember that the—I later became involved in union organization. I tried to, I was one of the leaders and organizers of the union at the Detroit News, for example, and, in fact, eventually became president of the Newspaper Guild of Detroit. But I was never what you'd call a firebrand. I, I believed in unionism, I finally came to the conclusion that it made sense, and, and I participated in it, and so on, but I was not the kind of, have never been, someone who would grab a sign and start picketing and start yelling and, you know, demanding things. I, my approach has always been a much softer approach. I always figured "Let's reason to together" kind of guy, and, and, but I was active as a unionist and, and I, I was in the, very formative period of my life at this particular moment.
What was your reaction to statements like that, when people—what did you feel about, what do you feel about those sort of statements?
Well, if, if there's, if I'm, if I'm thinking in hindsight, obviously it was pretty stupid. But, at the time, statements like that sort of rolled off people's backs. I mean, they, you know, that's what these people said. But, the reality, you didn't have to, you didn't, you, you, you, you know, my parents didn't have to be told this, they knew what the reality was. The reality was that they were struggling to survive. And, and, and a lot of other people were doing the same thing. And, and the, the, the, the reaction, the, basically was that, you know, they rolled off people's backs. When, when Henry Ford said, for example, that he would shut down his plant before he would allow it, he would board up, he would board up the... front door of the Ford Motor Company, before he would accept Social Security and then, later, unionism, everyone laughed. They said, "Oh, well, you know. The old man's just talking," and everybody, you know, it, it, so, in terms of, in, in terms of, as this again I'm talking from my own memory, you know. People just sort of let it roll off their back, and those people who were very active became very active in the Democratic Party and they began to, you know, began to think in those terms, began to think in terms of, of changes in the, in the, in the social structure. But, I, I can't say that, that people became infuriated or, my God, this raised [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] inaudible because of, because of these statements. The one statement that really got, that got Ford in deep trouble, and that caused the biggest stir, was when he, when he had the Independent, the Dearborn Independent, the newspaper, and he in effect interjected a very anti-Semitic tone to the paper, and then said that history was bunk. That, that really created a stir. But this type of thing, you know, the, at the time, the newspapers, the, the free press in particular, and, and, and, and the, and the news, to some extent, their whole approach to things was, "Well, you know, things are getting better," and, and they, there was no kind of reporting that there would be today, for example, of a, of a real major depression. If, if, if—something comparable to 1930 happened today, you know, the papers would be absolutely dripping with this sort of thing. In 19—in the 1930s, this, there was, there was always an up-beat in the papers, always they were trying to say, "Hey!" you know, "Things are getting better or will be getting better," or so forth. And there was always that, that, the tone of coverage, the tone of approach to things wasn't that today.
So if you could tell us about the auto industry in the 20s, starting in the late teens and working through the stock market crash.
Well, if you look at the art of industry, the development of the, of, of the industry, Ford Motor Company in 1914, of course, came up with the eight hour day, the five dollar day, which had a tremendous impact on--
In, in 1914, the auto, the development of the auto industry in Detroit, had a, had a, a major turning point in 1914, when Ford came up with the five dollar day. It, it, he, his philosophy was that you wanted to build a car that the people who worked in his plant could buy and own. He came up with the Sociological Department, for example, where they literally sent people into people's homes to be sure that they spent the money properly and their home was clean and so on. The whole process helped Ford to take the leadership in, in, in, the auto industry. And by 1919, 1920, in that period, Ford Motor Company was building about 55% of all the cars in the world. And it was a one model thing, you know. You could buy a Ford in black, that was it. And then, it was, you know, everybody accepted that, because it was a transportation and, and, and, and, and a reasonable, relatively inexpensive transportation. Well, at the same time, in, in about 1920, for example, General Motors, and I, I'd have to be, I want to be careful, but at that point, Durant brought all the elements of the, of General Motors together, and General Motors became a, a major force in the auto industry about 1920. Chevrolet was their sort of competitive car with the Ford Motor Company. And they began, gradually, to kind of come out with cars each year, and began to say, "You know, you don't have to buy a black car. Yeah. We'll sell you one, painted blue or tan. Or we'll give you, you know, seat sides that are in color, and so forth. And this helped to create the competitive tenor in the auto industry that led to the idea that, you know, every year was a new model. And it became a very critical thing in terms of the life of the city of Detroit, and also, what happened was that by, I think Chrysler came into the picture around 1925. He bought up a couple of the other old auto companies. And about 1926, '27, Chevrolet was now leading Ford, in terms of the number of sales, and creating quite a, quite a consternation within the Ford hierarchy. There was a feeling, Henry, Henry Ford himself, was, was dead-set on, on maintaining a, a, a, a very inexpensive, "don't-get-too-fancy" kind of car. The people around him, and as I understand it, particularly his son Edsel and others, said, you know, "You've got to do something, because the, the, there's, this is getting so competitive, that all of a sudden Ford is going to be, you know, pretty much the tail end of the auto industry." And it was in '27, in that period, when Ford suddenly, and he was a man of, of, of, very stubborn in some ways, but when he said, made up his mind [sic], he'd make it up. Bang! That was it. And then one day he said, "OK, we'll have a new car." Tomorrow, bang, they'd shut down the plant and start building a new car. And, and he demonstrated this in other ways over the years. If you recall, he had demonstrated that at the time of World War I, when he set out in a peace ship. He was going to stop the war. He was, and he, he'd organize a peace ship, and sail it across the Atlantic. In 1939, '40, when the UAW had, was organized in the plant, he had said that he would shut the plant down before he would allow the union to move into his plant. And then there was a strike. And, and, and, and all of a sudden, out of a clear blue sky, there was a settlement, and the settlement went beyond even what the UAW had asked for. He gave them the, the union shop. And, and, but he was, that was his kind of thing. Well, he shut down in '27. He shut down, and they went into the, a period of almost a year, building the Model A. The Model A then became one of the most important stories from, in many ways, I guess, at, at the time, from a social, sociological, economic, and other places, this, the, the, the build-up became so great that the papers in Detroit, for example, were, was, was devastating competition. Who could get the first pictures, you know, who could get the first story, the detail. And, and you, if you go back in the files, you'll find double-eight column line, big black headline, you know, "First pictures of the Model A." And then finally when they set the date, and I don't recall precisely, I don't have it at my fingertips the precise date, when they, they opened up, you know, and they showed, you could see the Model A. It, it was the—thousands of people across the country, that was, I mean, there was just thousands, and they'd literally just would break down the doors. They'd, they'd get in to see this car. And in Detroit they had the Convention Hall, and the, the Convention Hall was a, a very large hall. I would say, well, it was almost a block square, so, you know, it was a very sizable thing. And they had the Ford Model A in, on pedestals about, in about three areas in that hall. And I have a, I've seen, I know, I've, I have pictures of—people were crushed, you know, crushed in, just to stand and stare at this car, and all of the, all of the salesmen and everything. And it was a very, very major, major thing. And, of course, Ford was just barely getting started and it, and the car didn't really take off like he wanted, and of course you had the crash, and the Depression, and, and, and the whole new set of challenges in the industry...when I think in terms of the, of the period that we've been discussing, the Depression, I think of my mother, I think of the tremendous fortitude and courage that she showed. To me she was an unsung hero. I'll never forget, for example, when I was graduated in 1934 from Wayne University, she had saved up from, from the meager savings she had, to get me a watch. When I walked out on the steps of the Masonic temple right after the graduation ceremony, and I knew how much it, you know, it meant to her to give me that watch, and how proud she was. And then, the other thing that I remember about her, and I guess it says something about the, the, the, the, the, how people lived then, she had come and married my father here in Detroit about 1912. And, in 1939, I gave her one of the biggest thrills of her life. I drove her to New York to see the World's Fair. And that was a, a very treasured moment, because it meant so much to her and, and to me, of course, it was a, a real, a real moving thing. And it, it point out how people lived their lives, they lived for their family, and the fact that she had never been out of the city of Detroit, basically, since she arrived—
So, please tell me about taking your mom to the World's Fair.
Well, I think what I'd like to do, is, is, is to, you know, to emphasize the, how much my mother meant to me and, and the courage that she demonstrated, particularly in this period we were talking about. And, the—she had come to Detroit in 1912 and married my father. And, in 1934, she had never left Detroit from that point on, and, in 1934 when I was graduated from Wayne State University, I'll never forget walking outside of the Masonic temple auditorium, and she was waiting on the steps, and handed me a watch. And it was a, I knew that this came from very meager savings. It was a great moment. And, and, and I always, I guess, always felt I wanted to do something special for her, and in 1939 finally came the opportunity. The New York World's Fair was on. And my, my mother's sister lived in New York, and I thought this would be a great time to, to, to take her to New York and she could see her sister, and she'll see the World's Fair and the Italian pavilion, because that meant a lot to her, too. And we did. And, and we drove to New York and we did all these things, and it was the first time, you know, since 1912, she had left the city. And, and it meant a lot to her. And, and, of course, quite a bit to me, also. Well, it was, it was, it was kind of a gesture for me to demonstrate, I guess, some filial kindness to her for some of, much of the kindness she'd done for us, you know. I was only, you know, I was working at the news, I wasn't making very much money at the time. I had bought my mother a house, and I was at, I had four sisters, and I had brought them up, and, and I remember buying my house, my mother a house for $4000, for example. That was her house, you know, I bought it for her. And, and this was, you know, this was just, something very special. Getting her out of, you know, the fact that she could get out of Detroit and see her sister, see the World's Fair. And, and, and I remember how the, how terribly proud and excited she was when we walked into the Italian pavilion. I mean, that was a, for her, a very sort of moving moment. She was back home, you know.
One more question. Was the 1939 World's Fair especially attractive to people? Was there something special about that fair?
Well, as I recall it, you know, the, the, the last previous fair I think had been in Chicago. Was it Chicago in '32? It was at a time when the people, people were not, not much in the mood for World's Fairs. And that, in '39, the, the New York World's Fair was sort of a, a, a, a, a milestone time for, for America. We were coming out of the Depression, and, and people were talking about television, the first television pictures were, were going to be shown at the fair. And, and there was a certain amount of, of excitement that, that the New York Fair was kind of a major milestone in, in American history. And I think that probably also helped me to decide that this would be a great time for me to take Mother to New York and see the Fair.
Great, we're done.