The Charlotte News

Thursday, February 23, 1939


Site Ed. Note: We include the Hugh Johnson piece on the Dust Bowl, demonstrating the consequence to the land and to production of increased mechanization and enriched seed and soil production methods, creating a glut of supply on the one hand, while the midwest continued in parts to blow away on the other.

Whatever the case, originating as the piece does in Kansas, it gives the '36 landslide over Landon a whole new meaning in terms of the potential effect of higher (or lower) collective consciousness, Oz and all.

Report On The Dust Bowl

By Hugh S. Johnson

Kansas City, Mo.--Yesterday, I drove out westward from Kansas City in Kansas. Within a few miles the air was filled with a dirty yellow haze. It thickened as we drove farther until what airmen call visibility was less than a quarter of a mile. It was dust, or the tail end of a dust storm more than a hundred miles away in Oklahoma.

It was nothing like the dense black clouds that filled the air when the cover was being lifted off the Dust Bowl a couple of years ago and the conclusion was being reached that that stricken country was being ruined forever. But it was enough dust to remind one that something is happening to this part of the country. Its soil surface seems to be taking wings and moving about.


On all the uplands the larger and older trees are dead or dying. Their roots must be at or near the groundwater table for them to live and the level, because of repeated dry seasons, has steadily sunk until the trees can no longer reach it. This Winter has been another dry one. Winter wheat shows no life and business as well as agriculture is bad. Yet no prophet of disaster should sell the Great Plains country short. These people will find a way to meet anything. Take this Dust Bowl business. Even experts were saying as late as 1936 that its fertility had been blown away, that people couldn't live or farm there anymore and that it would take many years for it to be restored--or forever.

It is a curious outcome that in all this flat stretch of country the only area that is dealing well just now is the same Dust Bowl, and it is as good as it ever was.

Partly this is a result of a little more moisture than the other land has had, but mostly it is because farmers learned or were taught different methods of tillage and the use of that land to preserve it to get the most out of it.


That is one of the jobs of the Department of Agriculture that no one can criticize--except that if all farmers followed the most advanced methods it has worked out and advocated, crop yields would be multiplied and the troublesome farm surplus would become more troublesome still.

As a result of Mr. Wallace's own personal work with hybrid corn seed, yields of corn per acre have been doubled or even trebled. This kind of thing--better seed and better methods of tillage and cultivation coupled with the rapidly increasing use of power implements discussed here yesterday, make our future problems, both in agriculture and economics generally unpredictable.


It may be possible, as someone has said, that if the state of Kansas alone, for example, were just one big farm, run as a modern corporation is run, it could produce five times as much as it now produces using one-tenth the manpower and at a fraction of the cost. Its croppage would be worked out by a staff of expert agronomists. It would use only power implements of the widest range of action. Work would be planned to keep the whole crew busy all year-round. Its products would probably be processed close to points of production. Wastes would be eliminated and thus you might multiply production and divide cost. Fine. But what would become of the 60 to 70 per cent of the population of the state of Kansas thus displaced?

There is such a thing as being too damned smart. We may not have gotten that way yet but in almost any direction you look--industry, mining, transportation and now agriculture--we seem to be headed in that direction--producing more things with fewer people and not finding anything for the rest to do.

Ominous Resemblance

Paris said there was nothing to it, and so did Rome. But it was exceedingly ominous all the same to read even baseless reports of a clash between French and Italian troops on the Tunisia-Libya border yesterday.

This is remote country, and what takes place may be days reaching the civilized world. Even then the whole tenor of the reports vary with their sponsors. It was such an incident in such desert surroundings that set off the Italo-Abyssinian war in 1934. Exactly what happened may never be clear, but the Italian account was that a force peaceably going about its patrol duties in Italian territory in Ualual (likewise claimed by Selassie to be Abyssinian territory) was wantonly attacked by a force of Ethiopians and compelled to fight its way out. This it did bravely, killing some 100 or more of the enemy with astonishingly slight retaliation in return. At any rate, Mussolini had his provocation and the war was all on.

The disquieting brush reported yesterday had its points of similarity. But it had one obvious dissimilarity which, even before the denials came through, lent unauthenticity to the account. That is, 80 Italian soldiers had been killed as against only four French colonials, which seemed to indicate that the French had taken the aggressive. And the last thing France wants, as everybody knows, is an incident of any sort to strike the spark which will set off the African powder keg.

While the Mood Lasts

It's absolutely astonishing the way the bill to subject Federal salaries to State income taxes (and vice versa) is sailing through Congress. Something has come over the boys. The House passed it along without even swallowing hard, and yesterday the Senate Finance Committee reported it out favorably by the lopsided vote of 14 to 3. All Republicans on the committee voted for it, only Senators Bailey, King and Radcliffe dissenting.

Senator Bailey's adverse vote we think can be explained to clear him of any effort to avoid paying income taxes to A. J. Maxwell. He's a great states' rights man and a strict constitutionalist. And there seems to be a reasonable doubt as to the constitutionality of this legislation in spite of the fact that the Sixteenth Amendment gives Congress the specific right "to lay and collect taxes on income from whatever sources derived."

And as for any petty personal purse-protection, Senator Bailey has already shown his disdain for the traditional padded expense accounts by which Congressmen sop up a little gravy to go on the bread of their $10,000 salaries. Handed a Treasury check for $109.20 to cover his traveling expenses (at 20 cents a mile) from Raleigh to Washington for the special session in December, 1937, he handed it back. The rest of the $220,000 which Congress appropriated for that purpose, however, was pocketed.

Incidentally, there is no question of the constitutionality of reducing the Congressional mileage allowance from 20 cents to, say, 10 or less.

It Was a Great Day*

It was historical and significant, everyone said, so let's not discount that in the least particular. It was the first time the General Assembly of North Carolina ever met west of Hillsboro. Therefore, that was important from West Hillsboro to Tennessee. It was the first time the General Assembly ever met here in formal tribute to the Mecklenburg patriots who led the American parade to freedom, and that means something. It was one of the rare occasions when the Chief Executives of North and South Carolina have met in Charlotte to seal again the traditional affection and esteem between the two commonwealths. It was the first time that the historic occasions of George Washington's Birthday, the Mecklenburg Declaration and the cordial sisterhood of the Carolinas were ever celebrated here all on the same day by such an important and imposing array of Carolina statesmanship. The day was shot through with history and significance.

But what we liked about it more especially was the Carolinians from the coast and from the crags, from the tobacco plantations and from the cotton mills, from Charleston and Columbia and Raleigh and New Bern, gathered in Charlotte and had a sort of Carolina get-together. They had a good time. They said so, over and over. All sections of the state and both states became better acquainted. It was reminiscent of the days when the Carolinians used to band together and march from section to section and from state to state and help each other fight Indians or Red Coats or Yankees. Yep, it was a great day.

Looks Like a First

It would take a slide rule and a couple of CPA's to figure it out for certain, but offhand the evidence seems to point to the fact that in 1938 the city of Charlotte had the worst murder rate in all the land. Certainly it was the 22nd city in number of murders, whereas it comes much farther down the list in point of size. And a comparison with two or three Southern cities having the same racial problem and reputed to be given to violence shows that, relatively, they did not come anywhere near to Charlotte's record.

FBI reports for 1938 accredit the Friendly City with 33 murders and non-negligent homicides. This figures out at 40 per 100,000 population, using (as in the following) 1930 census figures. So, by that measure, the sprawling city of Atlanta, with its hordes of Georgia Negroes, ought to have had 108 murders. It had 81.

Memphis, then--Memphis with its Beale Street and its levees and dock workers, a likely spot for murder if ever there was one. Applying Charlotte's rate to Memphis' population, the result should be 193 murders. Actually there were only 64. And the same test fails to work in the case of New Orleans, which everybody knows is a wicked city with a multiple race problem. Instead of the 101 murders New Orleans should have had at Charlotte's rate, it had 57.

Chicago, gang-infested Chicago, offers one more chance to turn up a peer among murderous cities. With Charlotte's murder rate and its 3,376,438 people, Chicago should have accounted for 1,350 murders. But, or at the rate of five murders per alas! The FBI gives it only 184, 100,000 population as against Charlotte's 40.

Site Ed. Note: That's the way the last sentence is blocked, though it appears as a printer's error making better sense like this: "But, at the rate of five murders per 100,000, alas! the FBI gives it only 184 as against Charlotte's 40." Then again, perhaps the drone of this evidence became so monotonous that it was thought that a piece which caused one to have otherwise to put the out of order together would at least draw a little print to the topic of the commonplace attention.

Site Ed. Note: It is remarkable that a widow of a veteran from the War of 1812 was still living in 1938, presumably marrying when she was rather young someone rather old who had served when rather young.

But considering the Federal Writers Project slave narrative of Sarah Gudger, born 1816, two years after the White House was burned by the British, perhaps not so. Ms. Gudger of Asheville, (or Altamont in Thomas Wolfe's nomenclature), where it would be ordinary to suppose that the stars shone brightly and poetically free of urban neon glare in the 1930's, tells us poignantly otherwise, that the stars were more vivid in her younger years, those before the coming of the Industrial Revolution--even by comparison across time in the relatively bucolic surrounds of the North Carolina mountains. Perhaps a view today only afforded via the Space Shuttle--or extrapolated imagination. Whatever the case, we thank Ms. Gudger for the recollection from long ago and far away on whatever star's porch she might twinkle out there today.

Post-War Brides

Though it has been nearly 74 years since Appomattox, this nation--one and indivisible--still carries some thousands of Civil War pensioners, Yankees all, on its rolls. Only a few genuine veterans are left, naturally. It is the dependents who make up all but a corporal's guard of these beneficiaries.

In a pension sense, the War of 1812 has just about been liquidated. Only one widow remained on the rolls as of July 1, 1938. There are no actual survivors of the Mexican War (1846-48) and only a hundred or so survivors of survivors, which is to say dependents. And Civil War pensioners have been decreasing year by year, as was inevitable considering the time that has passed since that bloody struggle. But if it were left to Representative Cannon of Missouri, their number would now, 74 years after, take an astounding increase.

When the law pensioning widows of Civil War veterans was first passed, 1890 was the deadline on marriages. Congress evidently felt that this gave an ample period to romance and might serve to prevent any gold-digging by zealous females anxious to wed up with an annuity. Later, the sanctioned date was set ahead by fifteen years to 1905, which allowed Yankee soldiers 40 years after Gettysburg to get hitched with the blessings of the Veterans Bureau. This date Mr. Cannon would now extend to 1925.

It may be that no less is due from a grateful Government. And yet, it seems rather an imposition on Uncle Sam, not to mention his Southern cousins, to require him to assume life-long responsibility for widows of soldier boys to whom love came so late. After all, when a young thing takes as her lawful wedded spouse an old fellow of seventy or eighty or more, she also takes the consequences.


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