The New Deal's Failure to Aid African Americans
President Roosevelt's New Deal program during the 1930's failed to aid impoverished African-American citizens. The New Deal followed a long, historical chronology of American failures in attempts to ensure economic prosperity and racial equality. During the nearly seventy years after the conclusion of the Civil War, the United States faced a series of economic depressions, unmotivated Congress,' and a series of mediocre presidents. With the exception of Teddy Roosevelt, few presidents were able to enact anti-depression mechanisms and minimize unemployment. The America of the 1920's was a country at its lowest economic and social stature facing a terrible depression and increasing racial turmoil. Author and historian Harvey Wish described the situation as follows:
The decade of the 1920's was an era of intolerance. Labor strife, government repression of political radicals, anti-foreign paranoia, intensified by war and legalized in the racial quotas of the 1924 Immigration Act, were only a few examples of this intolerance. For American blacks, it was axiomatic that any measurable shift to the right in social and political opinion, would bring with it increased difficulties for their race. The 20's were no exception.
Lingering and pervasive racism found in FDR's Cabinet, Congress, and New Deal administrators, contributed to a failure of the Administration's grand scheme to raise America's poor, particularly African-Americans, from the depths of despair. Harold Ickes, President Roosevelt's powerful Secretary of the Interior and the Administration's leading advocate for African-American relief, believed that the problems faced by poor blacks were inseparable from the problems facing all Americans. While the New Deal was designed to aid all suffering Americans, in practice, the well-intended programs could not ensure economic and racial fairness in the delivery of relief. Instead, most early New Deal programs specifically sanctioned discrimination against African-Americans. Furthermore, political fortitude to enact civil rights legislation and put an end to racial discrimination did not exist during the New Deal era.
Just prior to the New Deal, unemployment steadily rose, while the Hoover administration paid little attention to the plight of the jobless and poor. President Hoover ran for re-election and tried to assure the voters with the slogan, "prosperity is just around the corner." However, the following unemployment figures, published by the Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, indicated significant national unemployment, particularly for African-Americans:
According to the 1930 census, 37 percent of working African-Americans were employed as agricultural laborers and 29 percent as personal-service and domestic workers. Only 2 percent were classified as professionals (lawyers, doctors, teachers and clergy)…Unemployment increased rapidly in the early...