While going through my mother's old snapshots after her death last month, my son Frank and I came across one of her and two other women dressed in identical colonial costumes. On the back of the photo my mother had written: NRA.
My mother had been in a big parade in Berkeley during the Depression, part of a group of women holding a huge American flag horizontally as they marched down Shattuck Avenue. At the time, she worked for the Olga Wash Frock Shop on Center Street.
The more I studied the picture, the more questions I had, and my mother was no longer around to ask them to. My search to find out about this parade took many hours of squinting at small print.
The National Recovery Act, enacted by Congress in early 1933, was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. It was supposed to energize the economy and put people back to work. One in every four would-be workers lacked a job.
The NRA started with great fanfare. Every commercial enterprise, from automakers to mom-and-pop shops, was urged to sign up, sport the Blue Eagle symbol and pledge support to this effort to reconstruct the failing economy.
Parades were held all over the country, but at different times.
So when was the Berkeley parade, and how big was it?
The Berkeley Daily Gazette provided the answers. Its Oct. 7, 1933, front page reported that 12,000 people marched for two hours in an 8-mile-long parade along Shattuck.
"Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! Thousands of Berkeleyans swung by in even columns, all marching under the hope-inspiring banner of the NRA Blue Eagle.
"Salesmen, clerks, saleswomen, factory workers, business men, bankers, laborers and financiers, city employees, military units, fraternal organizations and even a group of local unemployed, shoulder to shoulder they walked in the greatest demonstration Berkeley has ever known."
People lined up hours early along Shattuck. Motorcycle policemen kept the crowd in check.
An airplane zoomed out of the darkness and was caught in the beam of Army searchlights provided by the Ninth Corps Area of San Francisco. The plane flew the length of the parade route in the beam of the light, then disappeared as a siren atop the American Trust building sounded the beginning of the grand march.
The Gazette described every unit in the parade, including the schoolchildren's animal costumes.
Even the Olga Wash Frock Shop got a mention.
"Then came the float of the Berkeley Downtown Association bearing a huge NRA emblem and white streamers. Behind the float came the Olga Wash Frock Shop marching unit. Girls wearing brightly colored frocks and caps composed the unit."
The NRA didn't work out. It was declared unconstitutional in 1935. But for a short while, it provided hope in a future that looked pretty dismal and the reason for great fun parades.
Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at firstname.lastname@example.org.