The 1930s and 1940s were tough decades for the United States. The Great Depression crippled the economy, and World War II tested the nation’s resolve. It was also a golden age for documentary photography. Under the direction of Roy Stryker, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and Office of War Information (OWI) created a remarkable pictorial record of American life with the help of top-notch photographers like Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Berenice Abbott. While shots such as Lange’s Migrant Mother and Evans’s portraits from impoverished Alabama relay the generation’s haunting desperation, images from Fourth of July celebrations show how even the harshest times did not obliterate the country’s spirit.
The FSA hired Illinois-born photographer Russell Lee in 1939 and he worked for the government until 1944. During his tenure he shot all manner of everyday subjects, including the local parades in the slide show above. The FSA and OWI images, thousands of which are digitized, are part of the Library of Congress’s archives and can be viewed here.