Echoes of the Great Depression
by Nathaniel L. Self      


I wrote this book to provide a keyhole view of the daily life of a coal-mining family struggling for ten years during the Great Depression, beginning in 1929, in and near Dora, Alabama, in eastern Walker County. Millions of Americans grew up during the Great Depression with its punishing torment, hunger, and pain. Many of those hardy Americans are living today with a memory bank of valuable historical knowledge, but their number is rapidly diminishing. I have talked to many of these people who are proud of their childhood days and are eager to discuss them, but very few are inclined to document their stories. Even more rare are eyewitnesses who grew up in coal-mining camps during the Great Depression and are willing to write about their experiences.

Confronted with these unfortunate realities, I considered my alternatives and made an easy decision: I would tell their stories. I have gathered the stories of people from a poor class of coal-mining families whose primary struggle during the 1930s was to grub out a living day by day rather than to create history. But their daily struggles did make history, and perhaps this book, in a small way, will contribute to the preservation of authentic rural Southern culture in the state of Alabama during the Great Depression.

With great pleasure I am sharing this piece of history with you on the following pages. I based several of the events described in this book on stories I have heard repeatedly from members of my family and from friends. Since most of the vignettes are based on my memories from boyhood with their inherent flaws, I neither claim nor imply that the names, times, or dialogue are absolutely accurate. But the names of the people in these stories are genuine with a few exceptions to save embarrassment for certain families.

Memory flaws aside, I made a strong commitment to present the events as they occurred in detail with minimal alterations and fabrications. I was also committed to present authentic traditions, customs, routines, beliefs, and lifestyles of coal-mining families living in this Southern locality during the 1930s. I wrote in simple language utilizing numerous colloquial words and expressions for the purpose of preserving rural style and the dialect of priceless moments. I had no words of my own to credibly describe the depth of hollow-eyed stares and crushed spirits of proud, strong men and women who endured ten years of unfathomable hardships.

I have included several national and state news events that occurred during the ten years covered by this book. Most of them were factual lightning bolts that directly impacted the lives of most people in this country, while others sent shock waves worldwide.