The Impact of the Great Depression on Black Americans
The stock market crash of October 1929 was the prelude to the Great Depression. It was a time of hardship and sorrow for many people. American morale was low, and money and food were scarce. Poverty and despair, however, were not foreign to the Black Americans; poverty had been common to them since their days of captivity. To many Black Americans who lived in the south, it was the return of old times.
Sharecroppers and farm workers always lived in the midst of strife; they were never able to make a decent living. The boll weevil, soil erosion, and foreign competition had destroyed the cotton crop in the early Twenties. Life was difficult. No profits were being made, and although many southern blacks believed that life in the north was better, it was not much different. Black Americans working in the northern industries were living in poverty even before the stock market crash because they had been laid off; they were often replaced with white workers. When the Depression occurred, "more black workers than white lost their jobs. In 1931, about one out of every three Blacks was jobless, and one out of four whites" (Meltzer 210).
People, especially blacks, were being put out of work everywhere; the wave of depression had hit the entire country. Banks were failing, and the cities, in a desperate attempt to provide relief, were running out of money. Because President Hoover was confident that business conditions would soon improve, federal funds were not used to provide relief; relief was the responsibility of private charities. City allowances soon ran out, and there was no money left. Pennies were used to buy food and fuel. Many people went without food in order to purchase shoes and medicine; the death rate from starvation rose rapidly. The number of evictions increased when no money was available to pay the rent. Americans roamed the streets searching for shelter in municipal lodging houses or Hoovervilles; some lived in railroad boxcars or constructed tents in vacant lots.
When Franklin Roosevelt came to office in 1933, he emphasized relief, recovery, and reform through a program called the New Deal, but he had no plan to combat racial bias in the allotment of federal funds. Many Black Americans were unsure how much government help they would receive through this new program; the amount of relief that blacks received depended heavily upon the bias of the individual who headed each program. The Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) was designed to raise agricultural prices by paying farmers to cut production. Landowners were given this money and expected to distribute it among their tenants and sharecroppers; however, landowners rarely gave this money to their black workers. These black workers did not accuse their landowners of witholding money because they feared losing their jobs. Black Americans were also hurt through the National Recovery dministration (NRA). The...