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Using Primary Sources in the Classroom:
The Great Depression Unit

Lesson 2: ". . . a delegation of citizens"

1. Background information for teachers:

 

Depression-era Governor Benjamin Meek Miller proposed a tax package to the 1932 Alabama legislature as a means of boosting the state's income to fight the economic disaster. Conservative business leaders defeated the proposals in that year, plunging state finances into chaos. In January of 1933, Miller called the legislature back into special session and, in the aftermath of widespread school closings, it grudgingly passed a new tax program (including the state's first income tax).

 

While the state's politicians haggled over whether new taxes were needed and in what form, destitute groups of Alabamians cried for immediate relief. Some of these groups requested not only immediate economic relief, but fundamental changes in the government's role in the welfare of its disadvantaged citizens.

 

2. Learning Objectives:

 

Upon completion of this lesson, students should be able to:

 

1. Identify and discuss the multiple sides of the issue of governmental responsibilities.

 

2. Analyze the economic ability of the government to respond to requests for aid.

 

3. Synthesize a governmental response to requests for aid from the disadvantaged.

 

4. Identify and define the poll tax.

 

5. Define socialism and capitalism.

 

3. Suggested Lesson:

 

1. Define socialism and capitalism.

 

2. Give a copy of the document from the Unemployed Councils of Alabama to each student.

 

3. Read the measures suggested by the Unemployed Councils of Alabama for dealing with the rising numbers of families in need during the Great Depression.

 

4. Divide the class into groups of four.

 

5. The groups each represent an advisor to the Governor. Each group should select a spokesperson to present their views. They should approach this letter from several positions. Some suggested committees are:

 

    a. The finance committee -- responsible for "paying the bills" of the government as well as making recommendations about raising capital for the state.

     

    b. The utilities committee -- responsible for providing utilities to the citizens of the state but they must also continue to operate their businesses so that their employees can be paid and their stockholders can make a return on their investments.

     

    c. The education committee -- responsible for providing schools and teachers for the state.

     

    d. The human resources committee -- responsible for providing assistance to children.

     

    e. The business and commerce committee- responsible for bringing businesses into Alabama and urging the city and state governments to provide these new businesses with tax cuts and other incentives to move to Alabama.

     

    f. The public relations committee -- responsible for insuring that the voters of Alabama are informed about the work and concerns of the Governor. This group may also discuss racial concerns.

 

6. Have the students decide what type of government would exist if the recommendations of the Unemployed Councils of Alabama were accepted as written.

 

7. After the groups present their ideas and concerns, each student will write a letter of reply to the Unemployed Councils of Alabama as if he/she is the governor.

 

Documents:

 

Document 1: Unemployed Councils of Alabama Letter: James Burke, author, Governor B.M. Miller Administrative files, SG19952, folder 21, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.