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A personal story about growing through life

Survivors Of The Great Depression Tell Their Stories

Enlarge this image Dusko Condic grew up in Bridgeport, on Chicago's south side, in a family of eight children. His mother was a widow. He says growing up in poverty during the Great Depression made him a stronger person.

Personal growth

Growing up during the Great Depression was hard, she says, but she drew strength from her family, friends and St. If you have family members who lived through it, you may hear their stories at the dinner table this Thanksgiving. It was a period of protests and hunger marches — and unionism spread like wildfire — but many people suffered quietly, ashamed of their poverty.

No matter what their situation, the Great Depression changed those in the generation that survived it.

Personal growth

During those years, Chicago was especially hard-hit. Unemployment was as high as 40 percent in some neighborhoods. The city was more segregated than it is now. Wanda Bridgeforth, who is from the Bronzeville area known as the "Black Metropolis," says she has rich memories of those years. It was a fairly affluent neighborhood — jazz great Louis Armstrong lived there, and so did Ida B. Wells — until hard times came. He fell apart, so her mother took what work she could find as a live-in domestic worker.

Bridgeforth, who was in grade school, was boarded out. Bridgeforth did learn to share and cooperate, she says, but so many years going without left a mark on her.

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Martinez's parents had 13 children, and they lived hand-to-mouth in a flat with shared bathrooms. We had little beds that open and close. When I think about it, it was horrible. And then the sanitation of the community — garbage was just put in the alley — and did that create a condition? I know my sister came down with TB.

Sometimes I like to block that out and just say, 'Thanks God you're here. At 76, Martinez works as a community organizer trying to help his old neighborhood, which is still poor. Orear, 97, is now president emeritus of the Illinois Labor History Society.

But in the 1920s, Orear's father was a newspaperman, and Orear was in college when the stock market crashed. Chicago was a hotbed of union organizing in the 1930s, and Orear dedicated himself to bringing in the union. He says it made him feel useful.

Growing through life

And it's going on all over the country. I'm not a lone warrior. I'm part of a vast machine. We had Christmas off, but it was a day with no pay. That is the difference, kiddos. Many of them were born during the '20s to immigrant parents. Giggi Besic Cortese, 81, has lived in the neighborhood all her life. She lives on a block full of two-story brick and frame houses with narrow sidewalks between them.

She said boarders stayed upstairs, including a man named John Vuk who took her to the show every Sunday.

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Honest to goodness, I couldn't wait till Sunday, and we would sit and wait for John Vuk to say, 'Come, ve go to the show, ve go to the show today.

I can remember to this day — and I become emotional when I think of it — literally being placed on the sidewalk [with] every last possession that my poor mother had because she wasn't able to supposedly pay the mortgage.

And an incredible number of people came to my mothers' aid, literally wheeling wheelbarrows of coal to help warm the house.

They were children glued to the radio every Sunday. So what, I can make more. I won't be opening up the window and jumping out, but I can see you guys doing it. The man who cries about his mother's struggles can boast in the face of today's catastrophe. I really am not.