Dr. Marty Olliff's monthly dig through the Wiregrass Archives focuses on a major parade held in Dothan during the Great Depression.
The Great Depression had ravaged the United States for years when Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated president on March 4, 1933. His New Deal resulted in passage of 16 landmark bills in the first ever “Hundred Days” that ended on June 16.
On that 100th day, Congress passed the National Industrial Recovery Act, one provision of which was that industry would write and operate under Codes of Fair Competition. The NIRA also created an agency, the National Recovery Administration (NRA) to promote cooperation. FDR appointed General Hugh Johnson to run the NRA, and he devised the Blue Eagle emblem and campaign to get Americans to pressure businesses to adhere to their own industry’s Code.
Johnson’s idea was to get local governments and boosters to host hundreds of “loyalty parades” across the country in September and October of 1933. Dothan leaders decided to host an NRA parade and festival based on those of other cities. New York City held its monster parade on Sept. 13, Atlanta held its on Oct. 4, and Montgomery held its on Oct. 19 with a delegation of 50 from Dothan.
Dothan’s Blue Eagle Day took place on Oct. 26. It featured a street dance, football game, political speeches, and “the biggest and most beautiful parade ever staged in Dothan” to that time. (Dothan Eagle, October 27, 1933). Dothan was no stranger to parades and fairs stretching back to at least 1914, but the estimated crowd of 20,000 from all over the tri-state Wiregrass dwarfed them all.
Planning the events took a small army appointed on Oct. 9. They divided the parade into six sections of 20 contingents with each section lining up at a different starting point.
The 29 floats interspersed between brass bands and marching groups took more than 30 minutes to pass the reviewing stand at the Alcazar Theater on North Foster Street.
Floats and marching groups represented the boosters and businesses of Dothan and the Wiregrass. Farmers’ groups, trade associations, civic clubs, Shriners, towns and cities around the area sent representatives and “sponsors,” local young women who in later years were called beauty queens.
The planners made room for industry and commerce, but also for that other group that figured so prominently in the Great Depression, the Unemployed. Located in Section 3, place 19, the Unemployed marching body carried a banner that read “Where’s the Grass?” taunting Herbert Hoover’s campaign prediction that grass would grow in the streets of desolated America if he lost the election. They also carried a banner that read “We Want Work, Not Charity,” and pushed a carriage carrying Uncle Sam under the banner, “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?”
The African American community completed the parade. Led by ambulances from two local companies that served their community, the section was populated by all of Dothan’s black students along with a delegation from what is now Alabama State University. The ASU marching band was supposed to bring up the rear, but its bus broke down enroute and arrived for the band to disembark. The bus fell in line and drove the band at parade’s end.
There was a Best Float competition. Judges awarded first prize to the Agricultural Float, second to the Dothan Garden Club, and third to Panama City’s entry. They also presented a loving cup to Miss Dothan, Marjorie Moody, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. E. F. Moody.
After lunch, the Dothan city auditorium (now the Dothan Opera House) overflowed with an audience eager to hear Alabama Senator John H. Bankhead, II, talk about federal payments to take cotton land out of production and Representative Henry B. Steagall from Ozark discuss federally-guaranteed savings accounts and provisions of the Glass-Steagall Act that regulated banks.
Gridiron action began at 3 pm at Wiregrass Municipal Stadium where the Dothan High Tigers defeated the Anniston High Bulldogs 13-0 before a crowd of 3000. The game was important enough that the coach from Sidney Lanier High in Montgomery attended to learn what he could about his competition (Lanier beat Dothan 19-0 on Nov. 4). At halftime, judges crowned “Miss NRA” – Opp’s sponsor Floye Johnson – by presenting her a loving cup.
The festivities continued into the night with a street dance in the 100 block of N. Oates Street (now U.S. Highway 231). So many people crowded the block that only a few could dance to the music of the 117th Field Artillery Band, and many reportedly made themselves at home on the courthouse steps and even watched the crowd from the courthouse dome, disbursing only after midnight.
Blue Eagle Day in Dothan was meant to stir up enthusiasm for the new NRA and to keep the spirit of renewal that accompanied the inauguration of President Roosevelt going. It seems to have worked, at least for a while. The New Deal didn’t stop the Great Depression but it did offer the people hope. The Supreme Court declared the National Industrial Recovery Act unconstitutional in 1935, but Dothan continued to host fairs and parades, though it took a while for any to be as big and beautiful as that attended by 20,000 on Oct. 26, 1933.
It Came from the Archives is an ongoing series spotlighting the fascinating collections at the Wiregrass Archives. To find out more, visit online at https://www.troy.edu/wiregrassarchives or in person in Everett Hall on the Dothan Campus.