Monday, December 14, 2009

I have to give a talk on Charlotte in the 1930s early next year. This time I'll be on my own. I would like to tell some of the same types of stories as I brought to the radio interview, but I will also be responsible for advancing an argument. I will have to draw a big picture without simply repeating what Tom Hanchett says.

Herewith some notes towards accomplishing that goal.

The Charlotte Observer noted last Sunday that business leaders and elected officials are looking for someone to lead the city to a more economically diversified future. Growing beyond dependency on a single sector provides a sounder foundation for growth and makes the city more attractive to outsiders. Everyone interviewed agreed that strengthening the school system so that it turned out employable workers was key.

How does this compare to the 1930s? What did people then say about the remaking of the city? In the days shortly after the crash, the News and the Observer were full of hopeful headlines, as if deflation and joblessness would be bumps in the road rather than enduring conditions. They were in denial.

Acceptance came by 1931-32. There were some signs of a lifeboat mentality - cheating and mistrust.

People concerned for Charlotte's future focused first of all on binding up the community's wounds. The damage was so deep and widespread that everyone knew it had to be addressed before the city's human resources could be productively employed again. In Charlotte during the present recession, the damage has been more limited and the social safety net more in place. We have a sense of our neighbors in need, but not of our community in peril. We have been asked to dig deeper in support of existing agencies. They organized from scratch to meet the needs around them.

Monday, December 07, 2009

I have spent countless hours in the last twenty years listening to public radio. I have called in once or twice, but never, until today, appeared as a guest. A local show, "Charlotte Talks", was putting together a show on Charlotte in the 1930s. The principal guest was Tom Hanchett, staff historian at the Levine Museum of the New South. Tom remembered that I was researching this topic too and suggested me as a second guest. It was an honor to play second fiddle to him. Listen to the show here.

What did I learn from this experience? For one thing, that a radio interview is a contest of agendas. The guest has to work within the host's agenda. I held back some observations or anecdotes when they belonged to the previous question, not the current one. Given that ground rule, one can still advance one's own agenda. I hesitated and lost a chance to bring up some points I really wanted to make when I thought that they didn't exactly pertain to the question posed to me. A perfectly worded question never came along, though, so I never got another opportunity. My fault, not his.

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