The Great Depression: Black Americans


Figure 1.--Eleanor was the first First Lady to be photographed with Black children. She made a poihnt of it. She worked to make sure that Blacks were included in New Deal programs. This was a special problem in the South.

No group in America were more adversely affected by the Depression than Blacks. Few Blacks had any financial savings to coution them from the full affect of the Depression. Blacks who had difficulty getting jobs in prosperous times had ever more problems as competition for a dwindling number of jobs intensified. As a result, while the New Deal did not address lynching and other issues of great concern to Black-Americans, many Blacks bnefitted from the the overall New Deal relief programs. Mrs. Roosevelt in particular was concerned about the special difficulties encountered by racism. She worked to make sure that Black Americans were included in and benefitted by New Deal programs. For the first time since Reconstruction, Black Americans began to feel they had friends in the White House. As a result, Blacks in the North began voting strongly Democratic for the first time. Blacks in the South were still largely prevented from voting by a variety of legal subterfuces (such as the "grandfather clause" and poll taxes) an extralegal terror.

The Depression

No group in America were more adversely affected by the Depression than Blacks. Few Blacks had any financial savings to coution them from the full affect of the Depression. Blacks who had difficulty getting jobs in prosperous times had ever more problems as competition for a dwindling number of jobs intensified.

The New Deal

While the New Deal did not address lynching and other issues of great concern to Black-Americans, many Blacks bnefitted from the the overall New Deal relief programs. Mrs. Roosevelt in particular was concerned about the special difficulties encountered by racism. There are numerous photographs of Mrs. Roosevelt with black children as seen here (figure 1). And it was not just children. At one 1938 Birmingham meeting. Eleanor fameously insisted in sitting in the isle between the Black and White sections. [Goodwin, p. 163.] While this did not seem like much, it must be remebered that Theodore Roosevelt was the last President to invite a Black man into the White House and he was severely criticised for it. Some First Ladies insisted that the Black staff in the White House jump into closets so that they would not be seen if visitors came down the halls. This all stopped with Eleanor. As First Lady, many converstations with her husband began with, "Franklin, I think you should ...." President Roosevelt often used Eleanor to test the waters. And he was not beyond using Eleanor to put a progressive face on the New Deal while remaining non-commital to pacify the Southern Democrats he needed to pass his New Deal legislation. In such matters Eleanor sometimes won. She worked to make sure that Black Americans were included in and bebefitted by New Deal programs. When Eleanor learned that Southern officials were preventing Blacks from participating in New Deal programs, she convinced her husband to work to stop such actions. Here they did not always succeed, such as with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), but often they did. Eleanor's most famous action was resigning from the Daughter's of the American Revolution (DAR) when they refused to allow the gifted contr-alto Marian Anderson sing in Constitution Hall. Instead Eleanor arranged for Anderson to give an emotional performance in front of the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall. Her efforts for the downtrodden earned the grattitide of countless Americans as well as the derission of others. Perhaps most important of all was the executive order barring racial descrimination in defense plants.

Political Impact

For the first time since Reconstruction, Black Americans began to feel they had friends in the White House. As a result, Blacks in the North began voting strongly Democratic for the first time. Since Reconstruction, Blacks had usually voted strongly Republican. Blacks in the South were still largely prevented from voting by a variety of legal subterfuces (such as the "grandfather clause" and poll taxes) an extralegal terror.

Sources

Goodwin, Doris Kearns. No Ordinary Time: Franlkin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II (Simon &Schuster: New York, 1994), 759p






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Created: October 30, 2003
Last updated: November 10, 2003