By Moses Kamuiru.
The already bleak economic situation of African Americans was worsened in the 1930s by the great depression. They suffered two to three times the unemployment rate of whites after they were laid off from their jobs. In early public assistance programs, African Americans often received substantially less aid than whites, and some charitable organizations even excluded blacks from their soup kitchens. This intensified economic plight sparked major political developments among African Americans. Beginning in 1929, the St. Louis Urban League launched a national “jobs for Negroes” movement by boycotting chain stores that had mostly black customers but hired only white employees. Efforts to unify African American organizations and youth groups later led to the founding of the National Negro Congress in 1936 and the Southern Negro Youth Congress in 1937.
Change to Democrats
African American voters switched their loyalties to the Democratic Party in the 1920s after the Republican administrations virtually ignored them. In the presidential election of 1928 African Americans voted in large numbers for the Democrats for the first time. In 1930 Republican Pres. Herbert Hoover nominated John J. Parker, a man of pronounced anti-black views, to the U.S. Supreme Court. The NAACP successfully opposed the nomination. In the 1932 presidential race, African Americans overwhelmingly supported the successful Democratic candidate, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
New Deal programs
Men of color greatly benefited from New Deal programs, though discrimination by local administrators was common. Low-cost public housing was made available to African American families. The National Youth Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps enabled African American youths to continue their education. The Works Progress Administration gave jobs to many African Americans, and its Federal Writers Project supported the work of many black authors, among them Zora Neale Hurston, Arna Bontemps, Waters Turpin, and Melvin B. Tolson. The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), established in the mid-1930s, organized large numbers of black workers into labor unions for the first time. By 1940 there were more than 200,000 African Americans in the CIO, many of them officer of union locals.
The Second World War
In World War II as in World War I, there was a mass migration of blacks from the rural South; collectively, these population shifts were known as the Great Migration. Some 1.5 million African Americans left the South during the 1940s, mainly for the industrial cities of the North. Once again, severe housing shortages and job competition led to increased tension between blacks and whites. Race riots broke out; the worst occurred in Detroit in June 1943. During the war, which the United States had entered in December 1941, a large proportion of African American soldiers overseas were in service units, and combat troops remained segregated.
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Photo credits: Encyclopedia Britannica