Religious fundamentalism also gained ground during the Depression. "Fundamentalist Christianity always assumed a close relationship between this world and God's," wrote the Arkansas historian Michael B. Dougan. "The economic disaster overtaking the nation was viewed by some as a punishment for sin." With the "double whammy" of the drought of 1930 and falling farm prices, churchgoers were treated to apocalyptic and Pentecostalist visions of the end of the world. Fundamentalist preachers viewed the Rooseveltian notion of WPA community work to alleviate the ravaging effects of drought, cascading cotton prices, and bankruptcy as northern heresy. Southern Baptists and Methodists remained wedded to prayer, Bible study, and stalwart domestic morality as the answer to all earthly problems.
In this struggle between biblical-minded traditionalists and modernists calling for more responsive government and change, the frontier spirit of Arkansas proved, yet again, to be a dead end. Arkansas became the only U.S. state in the Depression to default on its debts-suspicion of Roosevelt and the federal government remaining endemic despite federal assistance programs. Administration "handouts" would be taken, greedily, but the state itself would do little or nothing to emulate Roosevelt's public works program; indeed, it even refused to pay its own teachers when the education exchequer ran dry, assuming the federal government would pay for such things. Ordinary Arkansans could either starve or leave, state politicians and administrators reckoned.
Many left. "I have traveled over most of Europe and part of Africa," wrote the novelist and educational reformer Naomi Mitchison, "but I have never seen such terrible sights as I saw yesterday among the sharecroppers of Arkansas." Given the poverty sweeping the land-a land in which no more than 1 percent of farms had the benefit of electricity-migration was often the only recourse. As Ashmore wrote, "Hundreds of thousands of white and black Arkansans joined the forced migration that began in the depression years and continued for three decades, taking those called Arkies to California and dumping the others, black and white, in the inner city ghettoes of the East and Midwest. For many of these it was a pilgrimage not much less cruel than the Cherokees' trek across the Trail of Tears."
The Cassidys, however, stayed-and lost their home.
Excerpted from Bill Clinton by Nigel Hamilton Copyright© 2003 by Nigel Hamilton. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.