In this LIFE feature photo from Feb. 15, 1937, a happy white family with matching dog smile from a billboard as dozens of African Americans below line up for food and clothing from a relief depot in Louisville, Kentucky.
Originally captured by Margaret Bourke-White while covering the Great Ohio River Flood of 1937, the photograph transcended the natural disaster which claimed almost 400 lives across 4 states to become an iconic emblem of the Great Depression, sharply summarizing the hardships and tragic ironies encountered by millions of Americans as the 1930's unfolded.
Beginning with the U.S. stock market crash on October 29, 1929 (Black Tuesday), the depression was the biggest of the 20th century, with the global economic downturn lasting well into the late 1930's. Worldwide GDP plummeted by 15% from 1929 to 1932, while international trade dropped by more than 50%. As the economic crisis reached its zenith in 1933, almost 15 million Americans were unemployed, while almost half the nation's banks had failed. It would take the onset of World War II and its industrial requirements to herald economic recovery for many countries.