The Great Depression was the longest and hardest economic downturn the United States has ever experienced, and Florida was no exception. Many families from all over the country were forced to migrate in search of work (which often meant low-paying, backbreaking labor), and to live in temporary housing or shanties made of whatever they could find. These photos taken by the United States Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information (FSA-OWI) tell the stories of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who lived through these difficult times. Many of these images have to speak for themselves, but where stories were provided we included them below the photographs.
Employment agency, Miami, Florida
Migrant packinghouse workers living quarters.
Migrant packinghouse workers living quarters. Just enough land to set up camp rents for five dollars per month. They have to clear it themselves. No water, lights, or sanitary facilities. Near Canal Point, Palm Beach, Florida, January 1939
Part of migrant agricultural worker's family near Belle Glade, Florida
Scene in the "Negro section," Belle Glade, Florida
Scene in a downtown park. Jacksonville, Florida
Jacksonville, Florida, July 1936
Migrant laborer's wife and child
She is thirty-two years old, has had eleven children, two sets of twins, six are now living. She and her husband lost jobs in packinghouse because they cut down in help or closed after the "freeze-out."
Migrant laborer's children
The older boy said "This little 'uns fell off so since we come here. It was so fat before. It's had colitis so bad. My daddy didn't know we was comin' to the wrong place this time. We've been lots of places. I don't like it here so well but I reckon we'll have to stay a smart while. My daddy had to turn back the car. He'd paid a lot off on it but he didn't git enough work here. Now we can't go nowheres else." Belle Glade, Florida, February 1939
Child of migratory packinghouse workers
Belle Glade, Florida, February 1939
Migrant laborers children living in overcrowded camps with very bad sanitary conditions
Belle Glade, February 1939
Child of migrant citrus worker who lives in a rundown apartment house
The sink at the head of the stairs is the only running water in the house. Winter Haven, Florida, January 1937
Migrant shed worker. Northeast Florida
Suwannee, Florida, July, 1936
Belle Glade, February 1939
A few crowded, dirty, expensive camps, with bad sanitary conditions, no light, insufficient and poor water supply, exist near Belle Glade, Florida, for transient migrant labor. One toilet for 150 people.
Home management supervisor Corinne Williams visits one of the families in Okeechobee migratory labor camp.
Belle Glade, Florida, June 1940
A tourist camp used by migratory workers near Belle Glade, Florida
In a tourist camp for migratory agricultural workers near Belle Glade, Florida
At work in the grapefruit canning plant at Winter Haven, Florida
Eleven year old child from Indiana.
Said "I'm tired and my back hurts, but my mother keeps yellin at me because I'm so slow. We come down here in October, mostly because my father used to be a barber but didn't have any work and I needed the sun because I was undernourished and had lung trouble. The doctor in school told them to take me away." Her mother yelled at her again "Hurry and stop pokin, you can pick faster than that. Your father says to get a move on." Homestead, Florida, January 1939
Son of a migrant family in the doorway of his temporary home near Winter Haven, Florida
Wash day. The daughter of a migrant fruit worker from Tennessee, now encamped near Winter Haven, Florida
The family of a migratory fruit worker from Tennessee now camped in a field near the packinghouse at Winter Haven, Florida
Sectioners at work canning grapefruit. About half of these girls are migrants. Winter Haven, Florida
Son of a citrus worker, Winter Haven, Florida
Migrant laborer's family, packing house workers. Canal Point, Florida
Wife of packinghouse worker, migrant from Missouri said "We have never lived like hogs before but we sure does now, it's no different from hog livvin." Canal Point, Florida, February 1939
Car used by migrant agricultural workers; the rear has been fixed up as a bed, near Winter Haven, Florida
A migrant orange picker, Polk County, Florida
Shopper coming out of grocery store, Lakeland, Florida
Workers in canning plant during change of shift. Many of these are migratory. Polk County, Florida
Migrant laborer's family near Canal Point packinghouse, Florida
Life during the Great Depression was different for different families, with some enduring much worse conditions than others. Amazingly, even in the photographs of the most miserable conditions, you can still find many smiling faces and loving families. Although they can be hard to look at, these images help us remember what’s most important, even when times are hard.
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