Camera rolls: 311:17-18
Sound rolls: 311:10-11
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Sally Booth , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on December 7, 1991, 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.*
I forgot where I wanted to begin. [laughs] Let's talk... actually, let's, let's start with the story about people coming to the various doors of the house. We'll probably come back to it later on, but why don't you just start telling me about people coming to the front door, into the back door, and peanut butter sandwiches, and... just however you feel like telling it.
I remember very much the, the people, and in my memory they were men. I don't remember any women doing this, but maybe there were some, who would come to the door of our house down in Detroit, and ring the doorbell and sell things like shoelaces and simple things like, I mean, they couldn't have been chewing gum or whatever, but they were very modest things. And, for a very small amount of money, and I don't remember ever buying them but I expect my mother certainly...I don't think she ever turned anyone away. And, but I do very much remember dealing with the people who came to the back door and asked for food, and I remember making them peanut butter sandwiches, and I remember handing it to them. And they never came in, but they would sit on the back steps sometimes and eat their sandwiches, or they would go away with them, and I never remember being afraid of them. They were always very unthreatening [sic] kind of people. And certainly I remember my mother saying to me about them, and about the people on the front porch, the people in the front who were selling things, somehow I was very uncomfortable with and very embarrassed and humiliated for them, for some reason. And I remember Mother always saying to me, "Sara, these people are exactly like us, they just don't have any money. But they're people that are as worthy and as, as... They're people that are no different from you and me and your father." And so I was never afraid of them, but I was, I was uncomfortable for them, because I thought about how humiliating it would be for me to go and sell something. Somehow the people asking for food seemed a little less humiliating to me and I guess I don't know why. I could, I could mull that over if you want me to, but...[laughs]
Great, no. Excellent, excellent. Let's, as long as we're on that story, then let's just do it again. It's fine, we have it, it's—if you can give me a little bit more abbreviated version of it, front door to back door, and remind us at some—the audience will not hear my questions. Remind us at some point that you were a little child.
Oh, how old I was.
That you were [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] . Yeah, just yeah, if you can remind us that, that we're hearing this from a little girl's point of view. And also, feel free to gesture and move around and whatever.
Wave my hands? Well, I'm thinking [laughs].
That's allowed [laughs].
The people coming to the door to sell things and to ask for things.
We lived in a house in Detroit and I must have been six, perhaps seven years old. And the people that came were selling shoestrings and pencils, and they always came to the front door. And other people came asking for food and came to the back door as I remember. And I made them sandwiches, peanut butter sandwiches or whatever we had, and never was afraid of them. I don't ever remember being afraid of them, because Mother said to me, "Sara, these are people exactly like us, and only they just don't have a job like your father has at the moment,
** ,or a job like I have," because my mother was working. And they were... I was allowed to make sandwiches. I don't remember anyone being there with me, but I was...it was a safe thing to do. I felt safe.
So your mother, is it safe to say your mother made it clear that it was not these people's fault that they—
Absolutely. It was—she was very clear to me that these were people who, who, in another circumstance, would be living just like us. It wasn't their fault that they were, that they were poor like this. There were a lot of people that were poor. Poor wasn't, poor wasn't a bad thing, it was an unhappy, scary thing, but it didn't have anything, I never felt it had anything to do with these people. They didn't, they weren't poor because they were bad or stupid or evil, they were poor for some other reason that made it unhappy for them.
Tell me exactly that and, but preface it by saying "My... my mother.. I was a little girl, and my mother made it clear to me that..." Is that correct?
Yeah, sure. Yeah. I was very little, I was six or seven, but I never ever remember feeling that these people were, were poor because it was their fault. My mother made it, made it very clear to me that, that something else was causing them to be poor, and that other than that, they were exactly like us. That all right? [laughs]
Great. Excellent. Well said. That's the reason we came to Detroit. Let's talk a little bit about—let us know that your family was moderately, you know, your middle class family, well-to-do... Make it clear that you weren't on relief, or... but still there were, there was constant worry about money. Even, even your family was not immune.
Well, we lived in a, at a, in a house, a single-family house in Detroit, but we rented it, we rented it furnished. My father had a job as a salesman, so I don't think he was making very much money, but at least he was working. My mother worked for the city as a social worker and was paid in scrip. But because they both were working, and because I had an infant brother, and I was about maybe six or seven, we had a, a full-time housekeeper who, who lived with us. And I remember hearing someplace that, that she was paid five dollars a week, which I, I don't know why we would come up with that except that it must, it must be a real memory. But she lived with us, ate with us, and cooked for us, and took care of my brother and me while my mother and father were working. And I never felt as if, I never felt poor, I never felt afraid that I would not have a house. I was very afraid of money, because that kind of conversation went on all the time in my household. And that was the only thing that I ever worried about was my parents talking in worried, fearful, argumentative tones about money. But, I always had food, and I had lots of friends, and I had, had family that was with me, so I felt, I expect I was, we were a middle class family.
Can you cut bits out and put it together and...
That's exactly what we do. We're going to take scissors and chop this up.
That's good. That's good, because I, I tend to—
[ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] a sentence from here, and a word from there.
I tend to go on.
No, you're doing great. Seriously, you're doing great. I would be stopping you right and left if you weren't.
Remembering that the audience will not hear my voice, did you ever see President Hoover?
I once...I'd...a memory that I absolutely have absolutely clear is seeing President Hoover driving down Woodward Avenue in an open car in a parade of some sort. I have no idea what that parade was about. I have no idea what he was doing there, but the reason I remember is because he was the president! And the president was so exciting! And you didn't see the president, I mean there was no television, so I had never—and there was this man looking to me larger than life, with a big round head like a, like a ball or a pumpkin or something. It was, it was really strange. But he seemed so big and so—and he was sitting in the back seat of this open car, driving down Woodward Avenue.
To your little girl mind, did he represent all that was good or all that was important, or all—
No, he was like a movie star. He was like a movie star. He was [laughs] ... I have no idea what he was except being a president was a large and wonderful thing. Politics were talked a lot in my house. And, and president, being president was wonderful [laughs] .
Great. What about, I don't know if I asked you this before, do you have any recollection of did, did Henry Ford mean anything to you as a little girl or was it something that was—
Henry Ford only meant to me the name on the back of automobiles. And we had automobiles, we had cars that were, that were Fords, I'm sure. Automobiles meant a lot in my family, because my father cared about them a lot, and, and fixed them all the time, and did things, you know, made, made them work. And, and automobiles were, were, were a super wonderful toy. And, and, and, interestingly enough, we must have been, we must have had more money than, you know, then I was worried about, because we always had a car. We always had an automobile.
Cars were cheap.
Cars were cheap. But, but only one, I mean we never had two [laughs].
I'm trying to re-evoke those memories about hearing about the Ford Hunger March in about—
Oh. I think that, that talking about the people that, that came to our house that, that were, that were obviously poor people... the other thing that I remember is what I now realize was the Ford Hunger March. And I remember Mother saying how brave those men were to, to stand up against... apparently Henry Ford. I didn't know who they were standing up against, but I thought of them as very brave men doing something very dangerous, and very, and very important. It... they were doing it for, apparently, a larger reason, which I didn't know what it was, but they seemed, they seemed very, what, strong. They were doing, they were doing something with a mission and I didn't know what the mission was, but I knew they were to be respected.
—knew they were to be respected.
And say these words for me [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] I know, we're going to keep rolling. I just need you to say, "And I was only six years old."
Oh, and I was, I was only six years old then.
Great. Let's cut for a moment.
And say these words for me. [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] I know, we're going to keep rolling. I just need you to say, "And I was only six years old."
OK. You can do it fine without any prompting. Oh, try and don't look up quite so much.
Oh. That's where my end... I, I'm, I think—
OK. Fairy tales.
Fairy tales, yes. I think the reason that I, that I felt the marchers were so brave was because I was very involved with fairy tales as a child. And they seemed, from what I, from what I picked up from, from Mother's talking, they seemed to be doing something that, that was brave, because they were so powerless. They had no, they were losing, they were in risk of losing everything, just like the people in the fairy stories. And they were going out and doing it anyhow. And I had this sense that they were wonderful, brave people. And I think I also thought of them in terms of the people who came to the door, who seemed to me very powerless. And I thought they must be the same people. And they were, they were to be, they were to, to be, what... I've lost the word. What do I want? Yeah.
You did fine, that's no, no. Let's—that's great, that's extraordinary. Let's, do you want to just cut for a second and give your mag a whack there? Is that—
Try again. OK.
Where do you want me to start with it?
Why don't you start with just that you had heard about this thing that happened, "I heard that...
Do I call it the Hunger March, because I wouldn't have known that it was.
No, don't call it the Hunger March, just...you can start right where you did [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] .
Wherever you started last time was great, and I can't remember.
I can't remember where it was either. It was the people, the—
"I thought of them as..."
No, I don't know what I thought of them.
A little kid—
What, I was seven or eight [laughs].
You're doing fine.
[production discussion][cut] [slate marker visible on screen]
They—I thought of them as, as reminding me of the people in fairy tales, who, who had nothing and had, who did something incredibly brave in order to, what, win the kingdom or whatever. They seemed to me very much the same as the people who came to the door asking for food or selling things when I was, and I would give them, as a five or six or eight year old child, I'd give them food or I'd, I'd see them selling shoelaces. They seemed brave and wonderful because they were so powerless, just like the people in fairy tales [laughs]. Any more?
Fantastic. Yes! Well let's not stop now. We're doing great!
I have, I'm going to, that's great. If we've got that—
Is that enough?
I'm going to jump to a couple of other unrelated questions. I didn't ask you this before. Do you have memory of Franklin Roosevelt's election or inauguration? Did that mean anything to you?
Yes. Yes. Because [laughs]
Remember the audience will not hear my voice.
I remember Franklin Roosevelt as being also larger than life in our family because my mother was very pro-Roosevelt and my father was very much against him. So we had wonderful dinner table conversations, some of which were frightening to me because they were so full of emotion. But this was a man who, because I think I identified more with my mother, who I thought of as a real savior, who was going to take care of all these people, who, who I felt so sorry for, because they were, they were the, they were the, the, the powerless and the people that were left out and the, the, the lost children. I mean, I was fairly, fairly dramatic when I was six and seven and eight and... but Franklin Roosevelt was going to take care of them. He was going to be, he was going to make everything be all right. He was going to comfort them and feed them and give them, give them houses and, and it was going to be all right. Because it was a scary time then, for lots of reasons. Childhood is scary, and when you're growing up in the middle of, of anxiety with... the adults were anxious, and you didn't really know why. And it was a scary time.
Very well said. Very well said. It's a great leap of, of thought. In your family, did people listen to... I'm talking about Joe Louis, just briefly, a couple sentences. Did Joe Louis, did people listen to Joe Louis's fights?
People listened to Joe Louis's fights on the radio. Of course, we never saw him, but we listened to him on the radio, and were aware of course because he was black. This was one of the first people who were black, who, who did something that exciting. And I think that the, but the main reason that we thought he was, that we listened to him was that he was wonderful. It wasn't because he was black, and it wasn't even because he was a fighter. But he was another, he was, he was a hero larger than life just like Roosevelt and just like, just like, you know, the president, and just like movie stars. We didn't have all that many people like that and Joe Louis was wonderful, and he was ours, and he was Detroit's [laughs].
That's great, great[laughs]. [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] owes me a beer.
This is for another film in the series, that another director is doing.
And he asked me to ask all of our people about seeing Joe Louis. Oh, that's great.
I think this is my last question. You said that your mom brought home songs in the Great Depression. Was she a singer? Do you remember songs?
I'm not a singer, but I remember, I remember the songs that she brought home and we played on the record player, on the Victrola. They were, they were union songs. They were songs from...help me with his name.
Woody Guthrie, and, and, oh, and they were Woody Guthrie and they were the ones about the, "The union maid who never was afraid/of goons and ginks and company finks/and the deputy sheriffs who made the raid." And, we just played... they were wonderful songs to sing, and they were... they, I think, also reinforced my feeling that these, that these men that were doing whatever the scary things like the marching, and the being on the bridge, and all the things that, that I vaguely heard about...I thought of them as, as brave, exciting men who were doing something good for all of us. I don't know why, but they were, you know, they were out there challenging the king! Maybe, [laughs], just like in the fairy tales.
Great. You can cut [laughs]. Did somebody give you a script?
You can simply tell us that.
I know that the, that was a terribly desperate, worrying time for everybody, and I think the only thing I remember ever worrying about was my parents worrying about money. They talked about it when I was in bed and they would, they would be, you know, loud, upsetting discussions. And that scared me. But I never was worried that anything would happen to us as a family. That, that I knew we'd be all right because it didn't occur to me that we wouldn't. They were strong people and they, whatever they were concerned about, they, I never felt that anything would hurt me.
OK. Great. And cut.