How ya gonna keep 'em
Down on the farm,
After they've seen Pa-ree?
THE answer to this ditty of
demobilization was, we weren't gonna. Even in 1920 a good many
flivvers showed their tail lights to the old red barn for the
last timeabout 900,000 people left their farms for the
city that year. But in 1922, the number jumped to two and a
quarter million, and for the next seven years it never sank
below the two million mark. During those seven fat years in
the cities the new hard roads seemed made pretty much for one
way traffic. In 1922, for every two people who were headed for
the city, less than one was headed for the farm.
the seven fat years, in other words, the cities were bulling
the market for farm people.
The Chambers of Commerce blazoned
the story. Population boom. Building boom. New busline. Um-teen
thousand people on the payroll of a single corporation. The
people behind those headlines were mostly not the products of
the citieswho ever heard of anybody being born in New
York? Neither were they to any important extent immigrants from
other shorescertainly not after 1924. A very great many
of them were country boys and girls, come to the great city
to share in and create the rewards of the New Economic Era.
all of them, of course, were young. I remember the top floor
of the YWCA in one of the big automobile cities in 1926. The
whole place had been turned into a dormitory, with bunks at
50 cents a night for newcomers to use until they got settled
with a job and a regular boarding place. The turnover was rapid;
the bunks were all full all the time. A woman was sitting on
the edge of one of them. A New England spinster, she had listened
to an agent of one of the motor companies who travelled through
the country districts telling of the earnings which factory
work could produce. She had sold the farm and come west. She
was too old. That is to say, she was over forty. She couldn't
make the output that they wanted. She was going back.
most of the bunks around her held nimble-fingered youngsters
who could slap numbers onto speedometer ribbons in the tempo
of America's quickening pace. During the decade of the 1920's,
the number of farmers in Michigan decreased by 25,000; but the
population of the state increased by 32 percent.
those days, muscle brought an attractive price as well as speed.
I remember the 12th Street Station in Chicago, one January morning
in 1924. It was about 18 above zero; not bad, for that time
of year. The Seminole Limited came in while I was standing there;
I watched the day coaches empty themselves of Negro families,
ten, twelve, fifteen to the group. They wore the cotton clothes
of the Deep South. Ihey walked in (a few carried) shoes that
were a painful novelty. They straggled off towards the Lower
South Side. The net migration of colored people from the farms
of Georgia and Texas amounted to nearly 300,000 during the 1920's,
while the Negro population of Chicago more than doubled.
The market for farm people,
during the seven fat years of the 1920's, was a market that
belonged to the bulls.
1929, the market for farm people vanished. 1) Not only that.
As the hunger of the industrial depression penetrated deeper
and deeper, the answer to the ever more pressing question,
How ya gonna keep 'em?
Down on the farm!