Friday, July 15, 2016
Hope -- Then and Now
My friend Margaret Power teaches history at IIT. Along with two of her historian colleagues, she has written a new book: Hope in Hard Times. I am proud that they used the title I suggested.
The book traces the history of Norvelt, a federal subsistence housing development in Pennsylvania. Margaret grew up just seven miles away. The story begins during the Depression and New Deal and continues to be relevant this 2016 election year. Margaret and I talked recently.
Joan: Tell us about Norvelt.
Margaret: During the height of the Depression, Eleanor Roosevelt learned of the plight of unemployed miners in Southwest Pennsylvania. Her leadership was instrumental in creating Norvelt (incorporating her name). Norvelt provided a dignified life to the destitute miners and their families. It was a success!
Joan: What is the significance of Norvelt in today's political landscape?
Margaret: The all white inhabitants of Norvelt still adore Eleanor Roosevelt and the New Deal. For years, the community was pro-union and pro-Democrat. That changed in the 1980's. Today, they look back at their parents and grandparents as the hard working deserving poor caught up in an economic calamity. Now they vote Republican and don't want their tax money to go to those they consider the undeserving poor. The majority of Norvelters voted for Trump in the primary.
Joan: Many of us feel that we continue to need hope in hard times. What sources of hope do you draw upon?
Margaret: I used to be a Republican from SW Pennsylvania who held racist ideas. I have changed, so I know others can too. The young people I teach are much more progressive. They are the future of this country and this world.