Using Primary Sources in the Classroom:
The Great Depression Unit

Lesson 5: STRIKE!!!

1. Background information for teachers:


The economic dislocations of the Great Depression created fear and anxiety in Alabama's citizens. Urban areas like Birmingham and Huntsville were especially hard hit. Heavily dependent on industry, these cities suffered greatly when the wages and/or hours of its citizens began to be cut back in an effort to combat the economic problems.


The severity of the economic problems prompted political groups to agitate for fundamental changes in the economic and political systems of the nation and their arguments found a larger audience among the increasingly desperate workers. In 1930 the Communist Party concentrated its southern efforts in Birmingham and began organizing and publishing a newspaper, the Southern Worker.


Labor unions and the "strike" weapon seemed to many workers the only way to gain relief and recognition. Unions experienced an increase in membership after the passage of Section 7(a) of the National Industrial Recovery Act which guaranteed workers the right to organize and bargain collectively. This "legitimized" union membership in the eyes of many Alabama workers, especially miners and textile workers, who began responding to the efforts of union organizers.


Many Alabamians responded to the call for changes to the status quo from labor and political organizations. Even racial and gender divisions that were so common for so long in Alabama became blurred in the resulting confrontations between workers and management.


a. T.C.I.: Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company. The largest single employer in Alabama in 1930, it was primarily involved in the production of iron, steel and coal.


b. N.R.A.: National Recovery Administration created in 1932 by the Roosevelt Administration to, among other tasks, adjust wages and hours nationally in an attempt to keep business and industry operating.


c. U.M.W.A.: United Mine Workers of America. A union formed to assist steel and mine workers in labor issues such as wages and safety/health.


d. I. L. D.: International Labor Defense Fund. A Communist-front organization that agitated among coal and steel industry workers in the city of Birmingham during the Great Depression.


e. Scottsboro Boys: Nine African-American men convicted of the rape of two white women on a train near Scottsboro, Ala. The case became a symbol for the injustices of the southern legal system in the 1930s.


2. Learning Objectives:

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


1. Discuss some of the fears and needs of workers in Alabama during The Great Depression.


2. Discuss the racial and gender issues being raised.


3. Identify a strike and its participants.


4. Identify some of the issues of a labor strike.


5. Discuss some of the economic and political issues of the time period.


6. Evaluate the multiple views presented by historic documents.


3. Suggested Lesson:


1. Give each student a copy of a different document.


2. Students should use the general suggestions for analyzing a written document found at the introduction.


3. After reading and analyzing his/her assigned document, each student should write a statement to the press as Governor concerning the proposed actions of the documents.


4. At the completion of this activity, give each student a copy of the letter from J. A. Murphy and Governor Miller's response. Allow the students to decide if they support Governor Miller or Mr. Murphy after reading the documents.



Document 1: Communist Party handbills, Governor B.M. Miller, Administrative files, SG19922, folder 18, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.


Document 2: The Lincoln Mills of Huntsville strike settlement records, Alabama Department of Labor, Labor dispute case files, SG4191, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.


Document 3: Letter, Mr. J.A. Murphy, Governor B.M. Miller, Administrative files, SG19922, folder 18, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.


Document 4: "Photograph of mine foreman" WPA Alabama Writers Project, photographs, LPP 1, container 2, folder 11, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.