As of December 31, 2014, I retired from full-time teaching in Humboldt State University's Department of History. While this website will remain online, it is no longer maintained.

History 383 - Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer

California within the National Framework: The Great Depression and WWII

Dorthea Lange Depression era photoIntroduction: Last time we met, we began our third unit in the class - Bringing California Into the 20th Century - and we discussed three national movements that spilled over into California at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century:

We concluded our discussion with the knowledge that while between 1910-1920, Progressives accomplished a great deal, progressive reform in California was over by 1930. Today, we are going to pick up the chronological story of how national movements influenced California in the 1930s and 1940s - during the Great Depression and World War II. We are lucky that this era has been captured well in American music and photography - and this video featuring Dorthea Lang's photos and Big Crosby singing the Depression Era song, "Brother can you spare a dime?" is especially helpful for setting the stage for our discussion.

Discussion Goals:

  1. To discuss the impact of the Great Depression on California.
  2. To understand the federal relief efforts that helped California through the Depression era.
  3. To understand state politics during the Great Depression.
  4. To learn about California's wartime economy and its support from the federal government.
  5. To gain a chronological understanding of California's and the federal government's role in the internment of the Japanese.
  6. Goal 6: To understand the experiences of the Japanese incarcerated in the camps

Cold Call: 15th cold call on required reading - Goals 1, 2, and 3 in the discussion guides for today at

Goal #1: To discuss the impact of the Great Depression on California

Major Impact of the Great Depression on California

  1. Sharp declines in California's economy - especially agriculature, oil, and the movies.
  2. Widespread unemployment...
  3. Reduced state revenues and huge increases in delinquent taxes with 1,250,000 people on relief by 1932.
  4. Emotional depression, hunger, and hopelessness of many Californians who had to cope with unemployment and poverty.
  5. Increased discrimination against agricultural workers - the majority of whom were Mexican American - and their involvement in labor unions, which, in turn, by 1937, had resulted in the forced repatriation of 150,000 Mexicans to Mexico.
  6. Migration of nearly 300,000 southwesterners who had lost their homes and jobs, over half of whom settled in the San Joaquin Valley where they worked for the low wages that eventually displaced Mexicans as Californian's cheapest source of harvest labor.
  7. Expanded small public works programs as well as private charities and church groups who provided services for the "indigent poor" - all of which were overwhelmed and unable to meet the needs of Californians by 1932.
  8. Increased transient and homeless populations, with 1,000 entering the state each day by 1931.
  9. Political radicalization of a large segment of the voting public that was ready to consider any and all proposals to better themselves and their families.

In short, Californians were in desperate need for assistance as they entered the 1930s. By 1933, the State faced a $9.5 million deficit. The only place left to turn was the federal government. Herbert Hoover, however, shared the belief of most Americans prior to the Great Depression - that the federal government had never helped individual citizens nor did it have any responsibility to do so.

Goal #2: To understand the federal relief efforts that helped California through the Depression era

Immediately upon coming into office, FDR began providing relief efforts to the states. After two years in office, the President expanded these efforts.

Immediate Relief, 1933-35. California experienced some immediate relief via at least three federal programs:

  1. Federal Employment Relief Administration (FERA) provided states with matching funds for relief efforts.
  2. Civil Works Administration (CWA) which employed more than 150,000 Californians to build bridges, airports, roads, schools, and other structures.
  3. Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) put thousands of unmarried and unemployed young men to work in forest and soil conservation programs.WPA poster

By 1935, California had received $285 million in federal relief expenditures.

Expanded Relief and Recovery, 1935-39. The federal government provided expanded relief efforts to California from 1935-39 - especially through the Works Progress Administration - as well as major recoveryefforts through the organization - the PWA, RFC, and Bureau of Reclamation.

  1. Works Progress Administration (WPA) - which replaced both the CWA and FERA - brought public works jobs that built schools, post offices, city halls, bridges, and roads as well as employed artists, photographers, actors and musicians in public works projects.
  2. Public Works Administration (PWA) financed municipal improvement projects: the development of Newport Harbor.
  3. Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) provided loans to construct large scale public projects: the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge.
  4. Bureau of Reclamation financed huge public works projects: the Colorado Dam Project which carried Colorado River water to California; and the Cental Valley Project that transported waters of the Sacramento Valley to the farms of the San Joaquin Valley.

Goal #3: To understand state politics during the Great Depression

In 1934, the Democrats expected a return to power - especially since the party was closely tied to Roosevelt and his New Deal politics. But similar to its 19th Century predecessor, the Democrats were divided between two groups - the moderates and conservatives.

The EPIC Plan

  1. A legislative enactment for the establishment of State land colonies whereby the unemployed may become self-sustaining and cease to be a burden upon the taxpayers. A public body, the California Authority for Land (the CAL) will take the idle land, and land sold for taxes and at foreclosure sales, and erect dormitories, kitchens, cafeterias, and social rooms, and cultivate the land using modern machinery under the guidance of experts.
  2. A public body entitled the California Authority for Production (the CAP), will be authorized to acquire factories and production plants whereby the unemployed may produce the basic necessities required for themselves and for the land colonies, and to operate these factories and house and feed and care for the workers. CAL and CAP will maintain a distribution system for the exchange of each other's products. The industries will include laundries, bakeries, canneries, clothing and shoe factories, cement-plants, brick-yards, lumber yards, thus constituting a complete industrial system, a new and self-sustaining world for those our present system cannot employ.Poster for Upton Sinclair's EPIC plan
  3. A public body entitled the California Authority for Money (the CAM) will handle the financing of CAL and CAP. This body will issue scrip to be paid to the workers and used in the exchanging of products within the system. It will also issue bonds to cover the purchase of land and factories, the erection of buildings and the purchase of machinery.
  4. An act of the legislature repealing the present sales tax, and substituting a tax on stock transfers at the rate of 4 cents per share.
  5. An act of the legislature providing for a State income tax, beginning with incomes of $5000 and steeply graduated until incomes of $50,000 would pay 30% tax.
  6. An increase in the State inheritance tax, steeply graduated and applying to all property in the State regardless of where the owner may reside. This law would take 50% of sums above $50,000 bequeathed to any individual and 50% of sums above $250,000 bequeathed by any individual.
  7. A law increasing the taxes on privately owned public utility corporations and banks.
  8. A constitutional amendment revising the tax code of the State, providing that cities and counties shall exempt from taxation all homes occupied by the owners and ranches cultivated by the owners, wherever the assessed value of such homes and ranches is less than $3000. Upon properties assessed at more than $5000 there will be a tax increase of one-half of one per cent for each $5000 of additional assessed valuation.
  9. A constitutional amendment providing for a State land tax upon unimproved building land and agricultural land which is not under cultivation. The first $1000 of assessed valuation to be exempt, and the tax to be graduated according to the value of land held by the individual. Provision to be made for a state building loan fund for those who wish to erect homes.
  10. A law providing for the payment of a pension of $50 per month to every needy person over sixty years of age who has lived in the State of California three years prior to the date of the coming into effect of the law.
  11. A law providing for the payment of $50 per month to all persons who are blind, or who by medical examination are proved to be physically unable to earn a living; these persons also having been residents of the State for three years.
  12. A pension of $50 per month to all widowed women who have dependent children; if the children are more than two in number, the pension to be increased by $25 per month for each additional child. These also to have been residents three years in the State.

The highlights of the EPIC Plan:Anti-Upton Sinclair for Governor Cartoon

  1. Proposed taxes on stock transfers, increased state inheritance tax, and taxes on privately owned public utility corporations and banks - all of which shifted the tax burden to the wealthy and to corporations. (Points #4, 5, 6, and 7)
  2. Supported a $50 per month pension for the aged, widows with dependent children, the blind, and needy people over 60. (Points #10, 11, and 12)
  3. Provided a program for unemployment relief - "production-for-use." The state would acquire idle factories and agricultural land where the unemployed would be put to work in a system of cooperative self-help and in which the exchange of goods was facilitated by issuing state script. This would be financed by a $300 million bond issue that would give the state funds to buy the properties. (Points #1, 2, 3, and 9)


  1. An End Poverty League was established to coordinate the activities of more than 2,000 EPIC clubs formed throughout the state.
  2. Sinclair won the Democratic primary with more than 52% of the vote in a large field of candidates. Party leaders deserted Sinclair and FDR delivered the fatal blow by deciding not to endorse him.
  3. A huge campaign was launched to defeat him - political cartoonists like that above pictured him as a wild-eyed fanatic, movie industry "newsreels" portrayed thousands of unemployed people migrating to California anticipating Sinclair's election. Republicans accused Sinclair of deliberately attracting hoboes and relief cheaters to the state.
  4. In contrast, Republican candidate Frank Merriam - the incumbent - projected an image of reason and moderation. He also came out in favor of collective bargaining, a shorter work week, and let it be known he would cooperate with FDR's New Deal programs. He easily won.
  5. Sinclair's support was more a measure of the depths of the Depression and weaknesses in the Democratic Party than of widespread support for his radical ideas.
  6. Sinclair's loss brought Frank Meriam and the Republicans to office with what has been called "pragmatic conservatism" by some historians. He brought California as far into the New Deal as Republicans would let him.
  7. Meanwhile, the Democrats were regrouping with a large number of the more radical members uniting under Culbert Olson who was Los Angeles County State Senator.
  8. Olson came to office with a "New Deal for California" in mind, but was unable to achieve passage of almost all of his reform proposals. He did, however, vigorously protect civil liberties and minority groups, raise the standard of living conditions for migrant labor, and appointed liberals to many judgeships.
  9. Unfortunately, Olson's term in office coincided with the U.S. entry into WWII and led to reluctantly cooperate with the worst decision of his administration - internment of Japanese Americans.

Goal #4: To learn about California's wartime economy and its support from the federal government

Ever since California became a state, it had close connections with the U.S. military. This connection became even closer during World War II the San Francisco Bay area became the Pacific Coast's premier military command center. Map of the US and AsiaAdditionally, San Francisco was the center for the nation's prisoner of war camps for the Germans and Italians. Los Angeles became the nation's center for military ship building and the Army Air Corp established a number of pilot and mechanic training programs with privator contractors in Riverside County. According to California Historian, Kenneth Starr in California, A History, the two areas became essential to the nation's military efforts throughout the war:

The consequences for California, as Starr concludes, were enormous:

  1. In general, "the Bay Area was Army country, while Southern California belonged to the Navy and the Marine Corps". (p. 229).
  2. The federal government spent more than $35 billion in California which, in turn, multiplied the manufacturing economy in California by a factor of 2.5 and tripled the average personal income of Californians.
  3. Hundreds of military bases cropped up across the state.
  4. The war stimulated a population boom. About 1.6 million Americans migrated to California during the war in search of well-paying jobs in the newly arising miitary industrial complex. Many servicemen shipping out of California ports vowed to return after the war - and they did.
  5. The defense industries throughout the state would drive California's economy through the end of the 20th Century.

So, while the federal government had stepped in to help California through the creation of a vast military industrial complex, the solution to California's problems led to new problems for the state:

  1. The huge population boom created several unanticipated problems:
  2. The massive population shift, efforts to create more housing and new suburbs as well as better schools and transportation systems created a complex new urban and suburban world that many Californias found difficult to navigate..

One bright note to this rapidly changing world was a man who dreamed big. During the war, Walt Disney began planning to build a park that he believed could help Californians and other Americans deal with the wartime and post-war chaos in their lives.Starr describes the opening of Disneyland in 1955 as one of the nation's first "utopian statements ... a permanent exposition and resort assured a newly suburbanizeing generation that the values of a more intimate America - small town America - need not be lost, as was being feared, in the creation of the suburban developments of the postwar era." (p. 239).

And Walt Disney proved that dreams could indeed come true - Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955 on what had been 160 acres of orange groves after only 364 days of construction. On opening day, Disney dedicated Disneyland with these words:

"To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world."

Disneyland was one of the positive consequences of the postwar world in California. But the legacy of one of its most negative consequences - the internment of Japanese Americans - lingered.

Goal #5: To gain a chronological understanding of California's and the federal government's role in the internment of the Japanese

1790 - Congress passed the Naturalization Act which required "that any alien, being a free white person, who shall have resided within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States for the term of two years, may be admitted to become a citizen thereof ... and making proof to the satisfaction of such court, that he is a person of good character, and taking the oath or affirmation prescribed by law, to support the Constitution of the United States." While the act was amended over the next 150 years to reinterpret what "white" meant, it was consistently enforced with the Japanese until 1952 when the Naturalization Act was nullified.

1869 - The first Japanese arrived in California and began an agricultural settlement near Sacramento.

1900-1910 - Japanese began to buy property in Central California and establish farms, vineyards, and orchards.

1906 - The San Francisco School Board ruled that the city's 95 Japanese students could no longer attend public school and instead would be sent to the Chinese segregated school.

1907 - President Theodore Roosevelt brokered a compromise between the Japanese government and San Francisco's local government: the Japanese would halt further immigration of laborers by denying them passports and San Francisco would not segregate Japanese students.

Photo of Japanese Farmers in Burbank, California1910 - The California Japanese population numbered 41,356 and Japanese farmers owned or leased 194,742 acres of farmland.

Japanese farmers produced 70 percent of California’s strawberries and dominated the flower-growing industry.

1913 - The California Alien Land Law prohibited “aliens ineligible to citizenship” (the language from the Naturalization Act of 1798) from owning land or leasing it for more than three years. Nonetheless, the Japanese continued to purchase more farmlands, largely by buying in the names of or transferring title to their American born children who were American citizens.

1920 - The California Japanese population numbered 71,952 and Japanese farmers owned or leased 458,056 acres in California.

The Alien Land Law was amended to close the loopholes in the 1913 and thereafter forbidding any Japanese from owning or leasing land. Japanese landholdings dramatically decreased.

1930 - The California Japanese population numbered 97,456, with Los Angeles County having the largest population of 35,390.

1940 - The California Japanese population numbered 93,717. Japanese farmers grew 95 percent of fresh snap beans, 67 percent of fresh tomatoes, and 95 percent of the state's celery.

Photo of Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor1941 - Dec. 7 War with Japan.  The US declared war on Japan after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in which 2,300 American soldiers and sailors were killed and 1,200 wounded.

1942 - On January 5, Japanese American selective service registrants were classified as enemy aliens. Many Japanese American soldiers were discharged or assigned to menial labor.

1943 - In June, the Poster "Arrested for being Japanese"U.S. Supreme Court made its ruling in Hirabayashi v. US.  Gordon Hirabayashi, a senior at the University of Washington, challenged military evacuation and curfew orders and was arrested, convicted and jailed.  Hirabayashi argued that the orders were an unconstitutional delegation of power and that to them only against citizens of Japanese ancestry amounted to a constitutionally prohibited discrimination solely on account of race. The Supreme Court upheld the curfew order as a legitimate exercise of governmentís power to take steps necessary to prevent espionage and sabotage in an area threatened by Japanese attack.

Yasui v. U.S In late 1942, Minoru Yasui, an Oregon lawyer, had been arrested for violating curfew orders.  His lawyers argued that the government's restrictions were unconstitutional because they were based upon racial prejudice, not military necessity.  The Supreme Court unanimously ruled the government could restrict the lives of civilian citizens during wartime.  After spending 9 months in solitary confinement, Yasui was released to an internment camp at Minidoka.

1944 - On January 20, Secretary of War Stimson announced that Japanese Americans were eligible for the draft.

1946 - In March, the last Japanese Relocation Camp was closed down.

1948 - In Oyama v. California, the California Supreme Court struck down the Alien Land Laws as a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

1952  - The McCarran-Walter Immigration and Naturalization Act ended racially-based naturalization ban and nullified the 1790 Naturalization Act which required that anyone who was to become a naturalized citizen of the US had to be a "free white person." The Act was amended, "The right of a person to become a naturalized citizen...shall not be denied or abridged because of race or sex or because such person is married."

1969 - First Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage began when a group of about 150 people, mostly young, mostly Japanese Americans, drove by car and bus to Manzanar.

1972 - After a year-long campaign led by the Manzanar Committee and the Japanese American Citizens League, Manzanar was designated California State Historic Landmark #850.

1976 - President Gerald Ford rescinded Executive Order No. 9066.

1978 - The Japanese American Citizen's League formed a Redress Committee which proposed that the U.S. government acknowledge their mistake and asked for $25,000 redress for each internee.
1980 - Congress approved and President Jimmy Carter signed Public Law 96-317 that established the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians.

1983 -  The report of the Commission of Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians - Personal Justice Denied - concluded that exclusion, expulsion and incarceration were not justified by military necessity; such decisions were based on racial prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.  The Commission recommended monetary compensation to each surviving internee of $20,000.

The Hirabayashi, Yasui, and Korematsu cases were reopened in 1983 by a group of mostly Japanese American attorneys on the basis of newly uncovered documents showing that the government knew Japanese Americans did not pose a security threat but hid that information from the court. The convictions were overturned by the Federal District Court of San Francisco with the court finding that the government was guilty of misconduct during the trial by intentionally withholding documents from multiple federal intelligence agencies clearly acknowledging that Japanese Americans posed no military threat to the U.S.

1988  - The Civil Liberties Act called for the U.S. government to issue individual apologies for all violations of civil liberties and constitutional rights and too issue $20,000 tax-free payments to each internment survivor.  Congress allocated $1.2 billion.  Signed into law in 1989 by President Bush.

1990 - Reparation payments began for each surviving internee.  Eventually 60,000 survivors received payments.

1992 - Manzanar became a National Historic Site. The 23rd Annual Pilgrimage to Manzanar, held on April 25, 1992, brought more than 2,200 participants to Photo of Fred Koramatsu and Bill Clinton, Medal 1998celebrate the designation.

1998  - During a White House Ceremony, President Bill Clinton honored Fred Korematsu for pursuing his plea of innocence for 56 years by presenting him with the Medal of Freedom.

2000 - In June, the seven surviving members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team received the nation's top honor for bravery - the Medal of Honor - at Arlington National Cemetary.

2001 - In June, a national monument was unveiled in Washington, D.C. and dedicated to Japanese American veterans of WWII and to people of Japanese descent who were forced into internment camps.

2003 - In February, Representative Howard Coble (Republican, NC and Chairperson of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and homeland Security) made a comment on a radio talk show that he agreed with FDRs decision to intern Japanese Americans during WWII in order to preserve the nation's security. "We were at war.  They [Japanese Americans] were an endangered species.  For many of these Japanese Americans, it wasn't safe for them to be on the street."

2004 - On September 16th, Fred Korematsu wrote an article for the San Francisco Chronicle in response to the statement made by Fox News media personality Michelle Malkin who claimed that because some Japanese Americans were spies during WWII, their internment was not such a bad idea.  She then continued that racial profiling of Arab Americans was similarly justified by the need to fight terrorism.  His article ends, "I know what it is like to be at the other end of such scapegoating and how difficult it is to clear  one's name after unjustified suspicions are endorsed as fact by the government.  If someone is a spy or terrorist they should be prosecuted for their actions.  But no one should ever be locked away simply because they share the same race, ethnicity, or religion as a spy or terrorist.  If that principle was not  learned from the internment of Japanese Americans, then these are very dangerous times for our democracy."

2005 - As a result of legislation sponsored by California Assemblywoman Sally Lieber and passed in 2004 allowing high school districts to give diplomas to internees, 400 total people had received their diplomas, some of them posthumously.

2010 - Honorary Degrees were awarded at UCLA to Former Japanese American students.

Poster for Fred Koramatsu DayIn September California passed the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties bill, creating the first day in U.S. history to be named after an Asian American. Starting on Jan. 30, 2011 of each year, schools are encouraged to teach Korematsu's story and why it remains so relevant today.

2011 - Acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal issued an official Confession of Error, admitting that the office was wrong in defending the country's war-time internment policy in the two U.S. Supreme Court decisions involving Gordon Hirabayashi and Fred Korematsu

2012 - Soji Kashiwagi wrote a letter, publicized by the Manzanar Committee, protesting President Obama's signing of the National Defense Authorization Act on Dec. 31, 2011. The letter reads, in part: "The words, 'authorization to order the U.S. Military to pick up and imprison without charge or trial, civilians, including American citizens' and 'suspected' sends a chill down my spine. These words became a tragic reality for 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II, when President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066 authorized the U.S. military to forcibly remove American citizens, without cause or due process, and imprison them in ten desolate concentration camps located in the badlands of America - for over three years. It wasn’t until many years later that these 'suspected' citizens were found to be innocent and this completely unnecessary - and unconstitutional - action against them has been proven to be a massive civil rights disaster unprecedented in American history."

Goal 6: To understand the experiences of the Japanese incarcerated in the camps

Discussion of required Assignment #1: Read Elinson and Yogi, Ch. 12, "Behind Barbed Wire: WWII Removal and Incarceration" and watch Japanese Internment During WWII at and A Challenge to Democracy at and George Takai - Life in the Internment Camps at Then, complete the assignment that can be accessed by clicking here.

Conclusions - California within the National Framework: The Great Depression and WWII

  1. Throughout the Depression, the federal government provided both relief and recovery assistance to the state - assistance that had both positive and negative impacts on the state. The federal government:
  2. California had close connections with the U.S. military ever since it came under control of the U.S. - a connection that became even closer during World War II.
  3. Through the 1930s, a "toxicity" of "racism" tainted a significant proportion of Californians - especially against the Japanese and Mexicans.
  4. The war was responsible for the emergence of the SF Bay Area as the Pacific Coast's "premier military command center" and of Los Angeles as the nation's center for military ship building.
  5. The aircraft industry created jobs for an entire generation of women who mastered airplane manufacturing.
  6. The federal government spent more than $35 billion in California during the war years which increased the manufacturing economy of the state 2.5 times and tripled the average personal income of Californians.
  7. The immigration of people coming to California for jobs, the moving in and out of the state of 1.6 million military personnel brought about a huge increase in the state's population.
  8. Between 1940-50, California's population grew from 6.9 million to 10.6 million (53% increase). By 1962, it was the most populous state in the nation.
  9. Population increases led to a huge increase in suburbs - which, in turn, brought about an acute housing shortage.
  10. The new population and housing boom overwhelmed the physical and social infrastructure of the state.