Camera Rolls: 102:84-87
Sound Rolls: 102:47-49
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Floy Murrah , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on July 20, 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.*
Back in 1930, what was England [Arkansas] like as a town?
Oh, it was a wonderful place to live. I was a happy-go-lucky girl, had a job, and I had a mother and a father and a sister and two sisters and a brother. And we were all a happy family.
What did the town look like?
Oh, all of the streets were filled with stores, and had merchandise. We have five Jewish ready-to-wear stores. We had three big furnishing stores that furnished the farmers. And they furnished them. in the fall they'd pay the bill. And, and we had five passenger trains through here a day, and we had one train that stayed overnight here. It went to Gillett and then came back, spent the night. And a funny thing: a boy had lockjaw, and this engineer got on that train, and he took that train to Little Rock and back in twenty-two minutes.
Now, you described this town as the best little town in Arkansas. Could you describe it for me again in that way?
Well, it was a prosperous town then, because the country was filled with sharecroppers, and they all had a good living and they had families that could work the crop. And they were all happy. They all had a church, and they're just happy as could be.
Did you love this town?
Sure. I never lived anywhere else. Before, I lived in Memphis four years, when my children were little, but I came back. My husband's a railroad man.
So, if I were to walk down the street of England, Arkansas in 1930, what would I see?
Well, I'll tell you what you'd see if you were here on Saturday. You would have to get out in the street to, to make your way down the street. It'd be so many people in town shopping. And the store where I worked was a big double store, twenty-five foot store, and we had a big vinegar barrel there, and three kegs, three 100 pound kegs of ice in every day. And everybody that came in would get a drink of ice water. And we had a restroom open and three stalls there. And everything was just wonderful.
Now, when the drought came along, it was hard times for people who were farming. Did you notice that? Did you see any hard times?
You mean in my immediate family?
Well, did you notice a change in the farmers that came in? Did business drop or change in the store?
Well, there wasn't any business except the place I worked, and the reason we had business is because the Christian Scientist church is Boston sent a man here and he issued clothing to all the people in the family, and it didn't make, didn't matter how.
Now, Mrs. Murrah, Ma'am, could you describe the stores in the town, how, what, the variety of the town? I mean, was this the best little town in Arkansas?
Can you say that?
Yes. It really was.
Could you tell me about it, what it was? Just—
Well, on Saturdays, they would give away a cow or bedroom suit or something to draw the people to town that day. And, of course, people would come, you know, for that drawing. And there's always someone who would win it and be very happy for it. And, of course, we had more business than we could take care of.
How did people feel about this town? Was there a sense of community here?
Was there a feeling of community here, that this was a community and people liked it?
There was an incident in, in early 1931, called the England Food Riot. Can you describe what you saw that day?
Well, I was on my way to work, at noon. And there was a grocery store that was where the crowd had congregated. And they was, it was the rural people, and they wanted to know when they could help. And this George Morris was a lawyer, and he made us talk, and he told them the Red Cross would be here the next day, which they were. And they issued food for those people.
So George Morris told them that they'd get help?
Yes. He was very influential.
Can you tell me more about George Morris, please? Who was George Morris?
He was a lawyer that lived, born, lived here all his life. And he was very influential and everything.
People have described him as levelheaded.
Yes, he was. He was down to earth.
When—I, I would like you to describe the, the family, Wright family wagons coming to town. Can you tell me that story again about the Wright family mules?
Well, it would be about a dozen of them—
Well, could you start from the very beginning? There was this family, the Wright family who lived about 10 miles out. Can you start at the beginning of that story?
Well, Mr. Wright owned a big plantation, and he had farmers on, had farmers that had families that could work the land. And they would have these big wagons roll into town, and they would come for groceries and anything that they wanted. And sometimes there'd be a darkie walking around on the street, and he'd buy a fish off of the wagon, and he'd walk all day with the fish [laughs], and he'd go home at night and cook it. [laughs] Now, he'd die from so many poisons.
Now, what was it like when the wagons passed? What was draw—drawing the wagons?
About eight big mules.
So mules were pretty important, then?
Oh, yes. You didn't have horses on the farm. You had mules to do the work. They didn't have any tractors. There was no such thing as a tractor. And they tilled the soil with mules.
Was there a riot here in town that day? Was there a riot?
I wouldn't call it a riot 'cause people just congregated there and asked for help.
What kind of people were there?
Just farm people.
Could you start that again please, Ma'am, because there was a car that went through? What kind of people were these people?
Well, some of them were well-respected farm people.
Because people described them later as Communists and radicals.
Oh, that wasn't true. There's no such thing as a Communist.
So these were, these were not dangerous people?
Oh, no. They were just run-of-the-mill, ordinary people who lived on a farm. A lot of them raised their, had children and reared their children on the farms.
What would, what would make someone come to town and demand food like that? What was going on that they needed to, to do that? Why were they there?
Well, they saw that they couldn't make a crop, and they had to have some relief somewhere.
Did you ever hear about a man named H.C. Coney?
No. Was he the one wrote that article in the paper?
So tell me what happened that day.
Well, I was on my way to work, then, from, I had my lunch. And it didn't dawn on me that it was a riot here or anything like that. It just, people just going there to try to make contact with the Red Cross. And then of course we had Mr. [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] from the was sent to us. And we just faired fine. Everybody was happy, and we sold more merchandise, because we clothed everybody that came in the store. We'd give them two garments for each one in the family, regardless of how many was in the family. And gave them $100 in cash money and 100 leghorn chickens. And everybody was happy.
Now, can you tell me about seeing Will Rogers?
Well, Will Rogers came, flew to Little Rock, and one of the citizens here, a young fellow, had a new car, and he drove up there, brought him down here. He made a speech on the, at the high school. And when he left, of course, the paved streets, and this fellow was kind of a smart aleck who was driving the car, and he just kicked up all the dust, and Will Rogers had his old hat in his hand, and so he leaned over and he said, "Hi!" I said, "Hi!" [laughs] And I could've touched him, he was so close to me.
Well, that was wonderful.
Yes, it was. [laughs]
What about Senator Joe Robinson? What was he like, Senator Joe Robinson?
Well, he was a very influential man.
Could you start out by saying "Senator Joe Robinson"?
Senator Joe T. Robinson. And whatever he asked for, he would get it. He did a lot for this county. And he would've been president if he had lived long enough. He was a brilliant man.
I need to ask you that again, because I talked during it by mistake. Can you tell me and name his name?
Joe T. Robinson. Senator Joe T. Robinson.
What was he like?
Well, he was a wonderful in every respect. He had, he had two nephews that lived here, not at the present time.
Now what was your reaction to the press coverage that said there was a riot here in England?
Well, that wasn't true. And that fellow that wrote that article, he just tried to make something big out of his article.
So it really wasn't a big deal.
What's the phrase that pops in your mind when you think of that kind of journalism?
Well, I think he was just trying to make a big splash for himself. It was on two different parts of the paper. And there were some citizens in the town that didn't appreciate all that malarkey that he put out.
OK. You're doing a fine job. What was your opinion of Herbert Hoover?
Well, I didn't think much of Herbert Hoover. I thought was a sorry president. That's what my elders said. Of course, you know, a young girl, she don't know too much about politics. All she do is just repeat what the elders say.
I want, I want you to walk down the street of England, Arkansas, and tell me everything that you see in 1930. What does this town look like, and what does this town mean to you?
Well, I was a happy-go-lucky girl that, that I didn't have any worries. Everything was rosy with me.
Why was that? Why, why was it good for you?
Well, I had a job. I had my family. And we had church. And the town had five churches, and doctors, and lawyers. We had about four lawyers. And we had five drug stores. And we didn't have anything to worry about.
Now, it was kind of a center, kind of a center where the farmers would come in.
What, what would it be like when they came into town? What did it look like?
Well, when they'd come to town, they would buy their groceries and load them in those wagons, and then they'd stand around and visit with different ones, you know, that they hadn't seen for a long time.
So visits at the town were sort of very special?
What effect did the drought have on the business in this town?
Well, there was no work for the laborers, and they had to move, seek more work. That's the reason so many of the colored people went to Chicago and New York and Kansas City and St. Louis. That's where all of our colored people that were on these farms went.
So Mrs. Murrah, why was it different for you during the drought of 1930 than for other people?
What do you mean, other people?
Well, a lot of people didn't, didn't have work.
Well, a lot of them lived on credit. And when they got the money, they'd pay their bills.
But you were, you were doing pretty well during this period of time.
Yes. We had two picture shows here. And they had big crowds in the picture shows. But it finally got to where the people didn't have the money to go to the picture show, and then they went up on the admission and they got, people had televisions and radios, and they didn't go to the picture shows like they did when before televisions came in.
Now, England, Arkansas, in 1930, was different than England, Arkansas today.
Tell me why it was different, how it was different.
Well, people didn't have cars then, and people didn't have televisions and radios, and they visited their neighbors, and they'd turn out to churches for amusement. They, it was a long time before most people had television.
What did the streets look like?
You mean the—well, they were, some of them were rock, little rock streets. And there were about three or four paved streets in 1927.
That's when they put in the paved streets.
If you were looking out the window where you were working, and some interesting sight was going by, what would it be like in 1930? What would it, what would it look like, just to look out the window where you were working?
You didn't have time to look out. We were busy all the time.
When you'd, when you'd go out for your lunch break, and you'd walk down the street, what would you see?
Well, I'd see my friends and I'd speak to them, maybe have a conversation with them, and hurry home, and hurry back to work.
Now who were the people that lived in this town? What kind of people were there?
Well, they were all law abiding citizens, Christians.
OK, let's cut for a second.
Oh, it was the most wonderful place to live. When you walked down the—
OK, hold on. I wasn't ready. Can you start off by saying "England, Arkansas"?
You've got to tell him the names now, Mother, 'cause they're not going to hear him talk. Remember that.
What kind of town was England, Arkansas?
England, Arkansas was one of the best towns in the state, and people were, were religious and friendly. And you'd walk down the street and you'd meet everybody and speak to them, and it made you feel good. And you passed the store windows, and you'd gaze and see what was in the windows. And then on Sunday you'd go to church and see all of the friends. And we just had a wonderful town, little town here.
Now, did you know that there was a drought coming along? Do you remember the drought?
Well, I remember that it didn't rain. It didn't rain for months and months, and the farmers couldn't plant the crops. And that's the reason that the farm labor had to go to different places to seek labor, seek work.
What did the town look like at, at, when the drought hit? Did it change? Was it less busy in the streets?
Well, yes. Except for the store that I worked, that the Christian Science sent a representative here, and this was a Jewish lady, and she was a Christian Scientist. And this Mr. [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] stayed about six weeks here, and they gave away clothing for all the members of the family, and then they gave them money, $100, for groceries, and 100 chickens, if they wanted chickens. And then they could establish credit and buy the things that they couldn't get in the store where we were.
How did you make ends meeting during this, this year in 1930? How did you get by? Hold on a second.
—ends meet during this drought? How'd you get by?
Well, I worked, and you could buy a bushel of potatoes for fifty cents. Groceries were cheap then. And, of course, I sewed, and my mother sewed and made my clothes. And I bought clothes and cloth to make dresses. And in those days, there were no nylon hose, everything was rayon. And I remember when they first began to make nylon hose, you had to have you name on the chart so when they came to your number, they'd send you a pair of hose or notify you that you had a pair of hose coming.
What was your feeling about Franklin Roosevelt running for president? What was your image of him when he first ran for president, the very first time?
Well, we just thought he was sent from God.
Can you say his name? Can you say that again?
No, Franklin Roosevelt.
Oh, Franklin Roosevelt, yeah.
Can you say his name and tell me what you thought of him?
Franklin D. Roosevelt was the most wonderful thing that ever did happen to this country.
Can you compare him to Herbert Hoover?
Oh, I wouldn't compare anything to Herbert Hoover. He was about the sorriest thing that—
—he was as sorry as Coolidge.
So could you...?
England, Arkansas was the most wonderful place in the world to me and my family, because we were happy here. And we had a good living and a good church. And we had our family that was very loving. And we didn't need for anything, because we had a cow and chickens and garden, and, and my mother sewed and made dresses. And we just had anything anybody would wish for.
What did this town look like then? If you walked down the street on a nice summer nice, what did it look like?
Well, people were out in the cool, and they had benches in front of all the stores for people to come and sit and wait for their family and, and be where it would be cooler than inside somewhere. And—
Can you describe all the stores that there were in town?
There were five Jewish stores, ready-to-wear stores, and four furnishing stores, big stores where they furnished everything to the farmers, and they would be off then, at the, they gathered the crops.
You also had two movie theaters. Can you tell me about that?
Two movie theaters.
Can you say, "There were two movie theaters"?
There were two movie theaters, and you had good shows then. You didn't see the vulgarity on the shows then that they have now. And there was one, George Morris's mother never missed the pictures show. And she'd stand out front, and there's some little poor kids that'd come buy, and she'd buy them all tickets and send them inside. And we had a sheriff here then that was a man about 6'4", and you know how kids would cut up in there, I don't guess they do that now, but they'd cut up in there before the show started, and all he had to do stand up [sic] and let the kids see him, and they'd quiet down.
What was George, what did George Morris say that day to the crowd of men?
Well, I don't know, because I wasn't, I didn't stop long enough to hear what he had to say.
Can you start out by saying "George Morris" and tell me who he was?
George Morris was a lawyer, and he was very influential. He, he owned quite a bit of land himself, and his father was a big landowner, and he had sharecroppers. And they had, they had the store there on the corner that was Morris and High, and they had everything in that store, even had, they sold wagons and what not. And it was a very prosperous town at that time, until the Depression hit.
What happened when the Depression hit?
Well, the bottom dropped out. The banks closed, and there just wasn't any money in circulation.
It's like it knocked the town right on its read end.