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The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow A Century of Segregation
Jim Crow Stories
A National Struggle
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Jim Crow Stories

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The great depression (1929-1939)
White men lined up for food

In 1929, the Great Depression devastated the United States. Hard times came to people throughout the country, especially rural blacks. Cotton prices plunged from eighteen to six cents a pound. Two thirds of some two million black farmers earned nothing or went into debt. Hundreds of thousands of sharecroppers left the land for the cities, leaving behind abandoned fields and homes. Even "Negro jobs" -- jobs traditionally held by blacks, such as busboys, elevator operators, garbage men, porters, maids, and cooks -- were sought by desperate unemployed whites. In Atlanta, Georgia, a Klan-like group called the Black Shirts paraded carrying signs that read, "No jobs for niggers until every white man has a job." In other cities, people shouted "Niggers back to the cotton fields. City jobs are for white men." And Man with horsein Mississippi, where blacks traditionally held certain jobs on trains, several unemployed white men, seeking train jobs, ambushed and killed the black workers. The only group in the early years of the Depression that concerned itself with black rights of rural blacks was the Communist Party. The Party successfully fought to save the lives of the "Scottsboro Boys," nine black youths falsely charged with rape in Alabama. Eight were sentenced to death. The Communists also organized interracial unions and demonstrations for relief, jobs, and end to evictions.

Between Roosevelt's election in 1932 and throughout most of his first term, neither the president nor the Congress paid much attention to the suffering of blacks. The President did not want to antagonize the Southern Senators who controlled the Senate and who could block his efforts to end the Depression. By the end of Roosevelt's first term, the president's thinking began to change thanks, in part, to the efforts of his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt. Mrs. Roosevelt became profoundly aware of the injustices suffered by African Americans. She began to speak out publicly on behalf of blacks and against race prejudice. She became a go-between between civil rights activists and the President. As a result, Roosevelt began to publicly In Atlanta, a Klan-like group called the Black Shirts paraded with signs that read, "No jobs for niggers until every white man has a job."speak out against lynching and granted influential black leaders such as Mary McLeod Bethune access to the White House; these advisors were known as the "Black Cabinet." Federal agencies began to open their doors to blacks, providing jobs, relief, farm subsidies, education, training, and participation in a variety of federal programs. The United States Supreme Court began to hand down decisions favoring black challenges to segregation. For the first time since Reconstruction, the federal government actively supported blacks and made a concerted effort to incorporate them into the mainstream of American life. Black voters responded to the change of heart of the Roosevelt administration by switching their political allegiance from the Republican Party to the Democratic. And black civil-rights organizations began to increase their activity and demands for their rights as citizens of the United States.

-- Richard Wormser

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Did you Know ...


In 1933, an estimated 24.9% of the civilian U.S. labor force was out of work or 12,830,000 Americans.
Related Pages
Communist Party

Scottsboro Case

Mary Bethune

Republican Party

Democratic Party

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