What had been achieved by 1930?
Individuals such as Garvey had helped raise Black consciousness
The NAACP’s anti-lynching campaign had publicised the horrors of lynching and helped decrease their numbers
White supporters claimed that lynchings damaged the South’s image and progress
NAACP won a few court victories against the White domination of primary elections and mob violence.
However, the system remained intact. Little had been achieved in the drive to improve the urban poverty that many Blacks experience in the north. The majority of Black workers were still not unionised and so not represented in the workplace. Many Blacks were apathetic and did not join reform movements. Why? They were too preoccupied earning a living.
Northern Blacks were in a far better position to improve their status. They could vote, participate more in civil affairs and had more economic opportunities. Despite police harassment and the Ku Klux Klan, Northern Blacks lived in a far less violent society. However, most concentrated upon improving their standards of living rather than joining the Black advancement pressure groups.
The 1930s – A fair deal for minority groups?
In the 1920s black people suffered discrimination from the Jim Crow laws and those who had moved to the northern cities were treated as second-class citizens. The Depression hit Blacks harder than Whites. Two million Black farmers left the land as crop prices plummeted. Many went to the cities where Black unemployment was between 30 and 60% and always higher than that of Whites. Desperate Whites moved into jobs formally dominated by Blacks, such as domestic service, street cleaning and garbage collection. Whites organised vigilante groups such as the Black Shirts of Atlanta to stop Blacks getting work. As unskilled labour, Blacks were usually the last hired and the first fired. No effective social security system meant that disease and starvation frequently followed.
The New Deal
Before 1933 the Federal Government had appeared uninterested in Blacks. New Deal programmes designed by the Government to get the USA out of the Depression helped Blacks by providing 1,000,000 jobs, nearly 50,000 houses, financial assistance and skilled occupation training for 500,000 Black youths.
In 1933 white jobless demonstrators in Atlanta chanted: ‘No jobs for Niggers until every white man has a job.’
Times were hard for Black families during the New Deal. By 1933 more than 50% of Black workers in cities were unemployed. Poor Black farmers were hit very hard by the fall in the price of cotton from 18 to 6 cents a pound. This did not bring in enough money to feed a family properly. The National Recovery Administration (NRA) allowed employers to pay Black people less than Whites. Under the Agricultural Adjustment Act thousands of Black farmers were forced to leave their land.
The minimum Wage and Social Security Acts were important changes introduced by Roosevelt, but they did not make life easier for most Black people. Black people were given leading Government jobs. Mary McLeod Bethune, for example, gained a top job in the National Youth Administration (NYA). She helped organise training grants for high school students who were looking for work. The New Deal provided jobs in the world of entertainment and culture, giving some Black scholars the opportunity to increase Black consciousness by getting Black history and contemporary living conditions into New Deal state guide books. Black songs and oral reminiscence of slavery and hardship were recorded for prosperity.
Government sponsorship of Black culture was inevitably controversial, and federal funded bi-racial dramatic productions were criticised by a Congressional committee as encouraging Black and White colleagues to go out on dates.
Black people did not have equal opportunities in education or in employment. 65% of Black workers were employed as farm labourers or servants. These jobs were not protected in the New Deal laws, so most Black people did not benefit. The New Deal protected unionised jobs – Blacks were employed in few of these.
Roosevelt’s Government – to make discrimination against Black employees in the defence industries illegal – passed only one civil rights law. The armed forces were still segregated. Black and white soldiers fought and died for their country – in segregated units.
The New Deal did not guarantee miracles. Aid sometimes did not reach the people for whom it was intended, particularly in the south where Whites distributed aid and there was unfairness. A leading New Dealer dismissed a Black woman investigating Black complaints against New Deal programmes because he felt it ridiculous to entrust a Black person with that particular job.
The New Deal depended upon Southern White Congressional votes, so Roosevelt left it to his wife to take a very public interest in Black affairs. New Deal agencies often discriminated against Blacks, especially in the south, but Blacks were getting more help and attention than ever before. Eleanor Roosevelt gave her husband detailed reports about the suffering of the Black people. She asked him to support a law against lynching. Roosevelt refused because he did not want to upset politicians from the Southern states. He needed their support for other New Deal measures. Most local Jim Crow laws were still in force during the New Deal. The Ku Klux Klan was allowed to continue with its activities.
Federal aid programmes helped many Blacks, inspiring a dramatic change of allegiance amongst Black voters. Previously the Democratic Party had been associated in Black minds with White supremacy, but now Blacks voted for the party of Roosevelt. Increasing numbers of Northern Black Democrats would make Blacks a force to be reckoned with in the party. Voting figures show that Black people voted for Roosevelt and helped him to be re-elected. In 1936 about 75% of Black people who voted are thought to have supported Roosevelt’s Democrat party. Roosevelt introduced no civil rights legislation but he denounced lynching as murder but never fully supported anti-lynching bills of 1934, 1935 and 1938. Not all Democrats were happy. ‘Catering to the Black vote’, said one Southern Democrat, would lead to the ‘depths of degradation’ and ‘mongrelisation of the American race.’
Boom Time – The Age of Excess
Laissez-faire, the Republican governments and prosperity during the 1920s boom
After a brief post-war economic recession from 1920-1921, the USA saw evidence of prosperity and good times ahead. America had become without doubt the richest country in the world and throughout the 1920s there was an almost unchecked boom. The growth in industrial production saw more jobs being created, higher profits, wages and an impressive increase in the standard of living during the years 1920-1929. The USA had sufficient raw materials as well as workers to satisfy demand for new products. The bulk of the population was better off than ever before and American society seemed to enjoy a sudden sense of freedom.
In March 1929 Herbert Hoover succeeded Coolidge as President. A few months earlier, during his election campaign, he expressed great satisfaction in the American economy and the years of Republican Government.
“We have increased in home ownership; we have expanded the investment of the average man. Today there are almost 9 automobiles for every 10 families, where 7 years ago only enough automobiles were running to average less than 4 for every 10 families. The slogan of progress is changing from the full dinner pail to the full garage. Our people have more to eat, better things to wear, and better homes. Wages have increased; the cost of living has decreased. The job of every man and woman has been made more secure. We have in this short period decreased the fear of poverty, the fear of unemployment, the fear of old age. In 7 years we have added 70% to the electric power at the elbow of our workers and further promoted them from carriers of burdens to directors of machines. We have steadily reduced the sweat in human labour. Our hours of labour are lessened; our hours of leisure have increased. In these 7 years the radio has brought laughter, education and political discussion to almost every fireside.”