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The Farm Security Administration and Rural Rehabilitation in the South

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L’autore

Charles Kenneth Roberts is a lecturer in history at Georgia Perimeter
College. His articles have appeared in the Alabama Review, Southern Historian,
and Agricultural History.

As the roaring twenties turned into the depressed thirties, southern farmers, far removed from theurban prosperity Americans had enjoyed during the 1920s heyday, found already difficult farmingconditions greatly intensified by the onset of the Great Depression. Agricultural incompetenceplagued the rural South through the misuse of land, depletion of natural resources, and a systemof single-crop farming that failed to adequately provide for growing families on small farms, especiallyin the cotton-producing Southeast. Poverty and desperation came to define the farmingcommunities of the rural South, both in reality and in Americans’ collective conscious.In The Farm Security Administration and Rural Rehabilitation in the South, Charles KennethRoberts traces the administrative and political history of the Farm Security Administration(FSA) and reconciles the administration’s goals with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s overall vision for theNew Deal. Roberts takes a grassroots approach to dissecting the FSA’s history. While other studieshave focused on FSA photography or community building, or even policy making in terms oftop-down government directives, Roberts focuses on the people and state governments who facedan immediate need to aid southern farmers within their own borders and to boost their states’crumbling agricultural economic bases. Roberts focuses on rural rehabilitation as a key aspect ofthe FSA and defines the agency’s legacy not in terms of its failures but rather in terms of an idealisticprogram whose modest successes were ultimately too few to effect real change for southernfarmers.Though Roosevelt failed to adequately recognize the plight of the southern farmer and politicalinfighting hindered many of the administration’s goals, the creation of the FSA stands as one ofthe first efforts to provide sustained relief to struggling southern farmers. In light of other federalprograms of the era, the FSA may seem like a mere footnote to the New Deal outside of its smallbut revered photography program. But, as Roberts shows, the FSA’s legacy has endured to thepresent day.

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