We've overcome hard times before
Updated 8:49 AM ET, Thu May 7, 2020
Chat with us in Facebook Messenger. Find out what's happening in the world as it unfolds.
(CNN)A sudden crisis turns the world upside down. Millions are thrown out of work. People despair and dread the future.
That was the grim scenario many Americans faced almost a century ago after the 1929 stock market crash triggered the Great Depression. And many people are experiencing it today as the coronavirus pandemic ravages the US and the rest of the world.
Commentators have drawn parallels between our current time and the 1930s, saying the pandemic could trigger the same type of economic and political upheaval that marked the Depression. But there's another part of that era that can illuminate the present: Lessons from those who somehow managed to emerge from the Depression with their optimism -- and in some cases, their finances -- intact.
These survivor stories are collected in a classic book, "Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression," by Studs Terkel, the late, legendary journalist. It's filled with bruising but inspirational stories from impoverished farmers, businessmen, hustlers, politicians, housewives and others. One reviewer described Terkel's book as "a huge anthem in praise of the American spirit."
As one person recalled in the book, the Great Depression left an "invisible scar" on many survivors. But it also made some people more resilient and grateful. Survivors talked years later about finding hidden blessings -- even when their world seemed to be collapsing.
Here, in their own words, are some of the reasons why they beat hard times.
They learned empathy for the less fortunate
Diana Morgan was a pampered Southern belle in a small North Carolina town who knew nothing about the struggles of the black cooks and maids who served her family. She was forced to scrounge for a job after her family lost their cotton fortune and found one at a government relief agency where she said she became "absolutely hooked" on helping poor families. Morgan realized how much she had changed when she and her husband were invited a fancy hotel ball in Washington.
I'd been picketing it the week before because they paid their workers some ridiculous wage, oh like 75 cents an hour... I wrote a letter and said I couldn't possibly go to a hotel where the wages were so unfair. My husband was very much surprised. He said, 'I never dreamed you would take that kind of stand.' Well, I never dreamed I wouldn't.
I'd like to think that even if we hadn't lost our house, even if I hadn't the job with the Civil Works Administration, I might have waked up someday... I don't know. Maybe I'd never have understood how people feel if I weren't subjected to it. Maybe you do have to experience things personally.
They learned how to get by on very little
Robert Card said he set out for college with one suit, one necktie, one pair of shoes and $30 borrowed from a bank. He called the Depression a "painful" but "glorious" time because it forced America to face longstanding problems of poverty.
What a pleasure it was to get a pound of hamburger, which y