1940s America – in Colour

Packshot on 22/06/2012

Some excellent material here: photographs – in colour – of the United States during the Depression years of 1939-43.

They are marvellous portraits of American culture and industry. In slide 28 we see an enormous technological project, the construction of a dam in California. Elsewhere, there are roads cut into hills (Idaho), and stockpiles of iron ore and coal for steel contruction in Detroit. Farming, too, plays an important role. Corn and cotton plantations are featured in these photographs, and with these come an inevitable insight into an America which had yet to accommodate its African-American communities into society – either culturally or legally. Slide 9 features a group of cotton workers in the fields, while slide 37 is a particularly insightful photograph – the African-American tenant’s home in Mississippi. It’s a shack, and nothing more, with little space and, you imagine, few amenities. It neatly encapsulates the lack of status or value afforded to African-Americans at that time.

Patriotism features prominently in these photographs, too. There are photographs of Independence Day celebrations, children’s demonstrations and even propaganda
posters in schools (slide 69) – a reminder that this was a society embroiled in World War II.

Fascinating material. America has, of course, changed a great deal across the past seventy years, but the nation depicted in these photographs isn’t quite unrecognisable. Spot the Coca-Cola logo…

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