Past Times

Thanksgiving spirit thrived in uncertain times

Thanksgiving baskets filled through the generosity of school children were available at the old Rex building for needy families in the area. Miss Leah James, secretary of the Family Service Society, (center) helped to oversee the distribution.
Thanksgiving baskets filled through the generosity of school children were available at the old Rex building for needy families in the area. Miss Leah James, secretary of the Family Service Society, (center) helped to oversee the distribution. N&O File Photo

In 1939, when President Franklin Roosevelt decided to move Thanksgiving Day from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday, North Carolina was having none of it. Governor Hoey announced that he decided it would be “unwise” to change the date, and so it was determined that North Carolinians would “observe Thanksgiving this year on the same date they have had the holiday for 75 years – the last Thursday in November.”

But the date wasn’t the only nod to tradition that year. As the Great Depression lingered, the citizens of Raleigh pulled together to provide a bountiful Thanksgiving for the city’s needy families.

Three score and 10 Thanksgiving baskets, brimful of substantial edibles contributed by Raleigh school children, were distributed to needy families yesterday through the Family Service Society.

Beneficiaries of the pupils’ generosity called at the surplus commodities warehouse in the Old Rex Hospital basement and carried the food away to their homes for consumption today.

In the baskets, to which the surplus commodities management added a few of their own staples, were a great variety of fresh and canned fruits, vegetables and preserved meats, dessert preparations and cereals.

Pupils of Hayes Barton, Thompson, Murphy, Wiley and Fred A. Olds schools participated in the giving. With a few nickles and dimes of lunch money which some children contributed in lieu of groceries, the Family Service Society purchased leafy heads of cabbage to decorate the top of each basket.

Although Raleigh goes in more for distributing baskets at Christmas, Miss Leah James, secretary of the Family Service Society, said the custom of Thanksgiving baskets was widely practiced.…

While Raleigh’s fortunate, unfortunate and in-between families are eating holiday meals and pursuing holiday pursuits today, the business world will be at a standstill except for essential services such as power and telephone.

Even the Federal agencies, which had their official Thanksgiving holiday a week ago, will be closed for the most part. Exceptions are the Weather Bureau, which works until lunchtime, rural mail carriers and other postoffice employes handling special delivery and perishable matter, and the recruiting offices will also work until noon.

Public schools will remain closed until Monday, and courts will be in recess for the remainder of the week.

Most churches are holding Thanksgiving services.

Today will be a holiday for North Carolina’s 10,000 prisoners and each of them will receive something special in the line of food for Thanksgiving dinner.

The 800 men at Central Prison will have turkey and all the trimmings. The regular prison schedule will be followed, except that there will be no work and the prisoners will be turned into the backyard during the day for recreation.

One of the busiest officials at Central Prison was Carl Owenby, the mailclerk. Owenby has to censor all mail and packages received by prisoners and the large number of Thanksgiving packages mailed to prisoners kept him hard at work.

There will be special Thanksgiving services for the 17 men on Death Row. The Rev. L. A. Watts, religious director for the prison, arranged for a group of young people from Edenton Street Church here to conduct the services. He said they would be the first held on Death Row so far as he knows. The N&O Nov. 30, 1939

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

A history of Thanksgiving

1863: Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November a day of Thanksgiving.

1939: Franklin Roosevelt set the holiday a week earlier to boost business by lengthening the shopping period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Individual states decided whether they wanted to abide by the change.

1941: Congress established Thanksgiving as a legal federal holiday observed on the fourth Thursday of November.

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