Thursday, September 4, 2014

W. P. O'Neal, Small Town Boy and a Big Time Financial Story

The O'Neal Store at Bellevue 1900's-1910's

In her latest column for the Bossier Press Tribune, “The Bossier Parish Boy who More than Made Good,” our Director Ann Middleton excerpted the words of a writer for the June 28, 1928 issue of The Bossier Banner who took pleasure in introducing a friend, former playmate and schoolmate named W. P. O’Neal, known to him as “Pierce:”

“Mr. O’Neal was born and reared at old Bellevue, removed with the members of his father’s family from that place to Benton about the time the town became the parish seat and his employment during the days if his youth, when not a student in the home schools, was to clerk in his father’s general merchandise store, both here and in Bellevue.  He left Benton for New Orleans twenty-eight years ago, and we happen to know that he reached that city with only 75 cents in change in his pocket—and fewer changes of underwear in his weather-beaten suitcase.  But he had the determination to succeed—bulldog tenacity—and did.  Being stranded and in a city, among strangers, did not daunt him in the least, as his rapid rise in commercial life reflects.  Recently he was elected president of the Louisiana Bankers’ Association, which is the highest office the bankers of the state can bestow upon any one of their members."

I would add that “Pierce” ‘made good,’ no doubt, but he was also lucky. Mr. W.P. O'Neal was president of the Louisiana Bankers Association for the year 1928-29 in a "bull market." Imagine the year his successor must have had for 1929-1930, the time of the Great Stock Market Crash of (late) 1929. Ironically, the mass of stories like Mr. W.P. O'Neal's, rural Americans emigrating to cities with hopes of a more prosperous life in the rising industrial sector, is often blamed as a significant factor in the crash. While American cities prospered, major migration from rural areas and the resulting neglect of US agriculture created financial hopelessness among American farmers and instability for the US economy.

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