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Post-Reconstruction The South – legal status Majority African Americans remained in the South Post-1890 southern state and local govt. controlled by white Democrats

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The South – legal status

  • Majority African Americans remained in the South

  • Post-1890 southern state and local govt. controlled by white Democrats

  • Disenfranchisement devices – poll taxes, literacy tests, white primary elections – removed southern blacks of their political rights

    e.g. Louisiana 130,000 voters 1896, 5,000 1898

  • 1890-1910 segregation by law in almost all public facilities: system named Jim Crow

  • Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896) Supreme Court Case reasoned mandating separate facilities, as long as they were equal, did not violate the 14th Amendment

The South – social status

  • In addition to legal restrictions, African Americans expected to conform to rigid code of racial etiquette

  • Blacks required to enter houses of whites and most public buildings by the side or rear door

  • Encounters with whites required specific greetings (‘Sir’, ‘Mister’, ‘Miz’)

  • Failure to conform to this system could result in lynching:

    • Between 1882 and 1930 at least 3295 blacks were lynched in the US

    • Murder or rape often cited as justification, but occurred for many other reasons: attempting to vote, talking back to white person, economic success

The South - economic status

  • 1st half century most blacks remained in the rural South as sharecroppers and farm laborers, some as renters or owners

  • Scarcely affected by industrialisation: most factory jobs reserved for poor whites

  • Constituted a class of oppressed and impoverish peasantry – denied upward mobility and full rights of citizenship

What caused these changes?

  • Withdrawal Northern troops 1877

  • Decline of Populist Party (political alliance between poor white southerners and blacks)1896

  • Growth of racism in the North (conservative social Darwinism)

The North

  • Retained civil rights, including right to vote and right to hold office

  • However, no adequate defence against extralegal discrimination denying equal access to jobs, housing, education, police protection and public amenities

Black response


  • Opposition to black political rights massive and unyielding therefore…

  • Dominant ideology accommodationist, condoned social segregation, stressed economic self-help, deferred aspirations for full citizenship


  • Protest movement, modeled on pre-Civil War abolitionism, rejected accommodationism and called for end of enforced segregation, disenfranchisement, all publicly sanctioned discrimination

  • 1909 creation of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

The Great War (WWI)

  • Combination economic boom and restriction European immigration provided new employment opportunities for blacks in the North

  • The ‘Great Migration’ – massive shift black popl. from South to North, from country to city

  • 500,000 moved North between 1915 and 1920, 1 million in following decade

  • Established new institutions such as storefront churches

  • Centres of African American culture: black newspapers, jazz and blues night clubs, literary salons

Effects of the Great Migration

  • Profound effect race relations: discrimination housing market and preference to live in ethnic neighborhoods produced urban ghettos

  • North not the promised land: find and keep decent jobs, violence in struggle for living space, racial discrimination + social and cultural adjustment from country to city

  • According to Alain Locke = creation of “a New Negro”

  • Harlem Renaissance – literary and artistic movement development cultural identity

  • Black artists and writers openly embraced their folk culture and African past – raised political consciousness and increased black cultural pride: “In the very process of being transplanted, the Negro is being transformed.”

Garvey movement

  • Marcus Garvey, a black Jamaican, brought his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) to Harlem 1916 = largest African American secular organisation at that time

  • Claimed more than 1,000,000 members, mostly in black communities of urban North

  • Garvey a black nationalist – sought to raise political consciousness, race pride, economic power: pan-African philosophy

  • In 1922, after failure of one UNIA business, the Black Star Line, Garvey convicted of mail fraud, imprisoned, deported = movement declined

  • Garvey’s ideas later influence Nation of Islam and Black Power Movement 1960s

Positive changes

  • Despite racial inequalities, economic and educational opportunities were normally greater

  • Less repressive environment gave blacks political space to air grievances and mount protest movements

  • Regained right to vote in the North = politicians began to appeal to black interests

  • NAACP functioning as legislative lobby, blacks in 1930s able to block confirmation of racist judge to Supreme Court, came close to getting federal antilynching law through Congress

Positive changes

  • Developed first significant ties to organised labour: joined nondiscriminatory unions in auto manufacturing, steel

  • WWII labour shortages, pressures from black organisations and movements, and federal policy encouraging nondiscriminatory hiring brought substantial increase in proportion of blacks in steady, relatively skilled jobs

  • Gap between incomes of whites and black began to close

Race relations

  • Increased membership in 1920s, 30s, including significant white membership

  • Many white Americans felt tension between subordination of the Negro and Jeffersonian ideal

  • American blacks affected by both these strands: lighter skinned blacks looked down on those darker than themselves, but also knew were being treated unjustly

The Great Depression

  • Slowed migration to cities

  • Blacks remained at bottom of economic ladder during 1920s, hit hard by the depression

  • In cities black unemployment reached over 50%, more than twice national average

  • Cotton prices dropped, forcing thousands sharecroppers off land and into greater poverty

  • 1929-32 depression worsened: Herbert Hoover responded slowly, employing a ‘trickle-down’ approach that benefited few working class Americans

Increasing politicisation

  • In face of unrelieved suffering, blacks explored new political solutions

  • Some became Communists or Socialists, some embraced fledgling Congress of Industrial Organizations (newly open to African Americans)

  • In 25 cities organised “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” campaigns to force more equitable hiring practices

  • But, election Franklin Delano Roosevelt meant many looked to government for support

The New Deal

  • Collection of federal programmes (e.g. Social Security) created by FDR to bring relief, recovery, and reform to the economy and the nation

  • Majority blacks moved allegiance from Republican to Democrat

  • Mixed record of New Deal on race

  • Federal restrooms, cafeterias, and secretarial pools were desegregated, increased number African Americans in second-level positions on Capitol Hill (Black Cabinet)

  • FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt invited prominent blacks to the White House

  • Black writers participated in New Deal writing projects: documentation slavery through interviews


  • Critics looked at failure to address Jim Crow (fear of alienating white voters)

  • Declined supporting legislation to make lynching a federal crime, although denounced in speeches

  • Declined advocate banning poll tax and ‘grandfather clause’

  • Did not use relief agencies to challenge local patterns discrimination

  • Nonetheless, 1930s brought new relationship between African Americans and the federal government

Music and sport

  • Billie Holiday (jazz singer)

  • Duke Ellington (jazz and blues singer)

  • Paul Leroy Robeson (played for NFL, acted in films and onstage: outspoken criticism racism and blacklisted 1940s-50s, supported by NAACP)

  • Jesse Owens (Olympic Games gold medalist)

  • While these talents appreciated, outspoken criticism not. These people ‘in-between’ white and black community, and if they became political it could mean the end of their career


  • New Deal stemmed damage of depression, WWII ended it

  • Presented opportunities and new strategies for attacking racial injustice

  • Federal govt. needed social harmony in face of international conflict = govt. more willing to acquiesce to black demands for change

  • March-On Washington Movement 1941 demonstrated effectiveness of new tactic: nonviolent direct action – opened jobs in defense industries for the first time

  • Joining the war, most black agreed with “Double V” campaign = fighting fascism abroad, while continuing to struggle against Jim Crow at home

Internal Unrest

  • New opportunities to work in defense industries meant migration to port and industrial cities

  • Southern whites also moved to these cites, bringing racial attitudes with them

  • Frequent job disturbances over jobs and housing in urban centres during the war

  • 1943 these tensions erupted in full-scale riot in Detroit, while smaller riots occurred in other cities


  • Black soldiers discriminated against

  • Segregation of armed forces

  • Most blacks trained at camps in rural south, increasing likelihood racial tension

  • Many joined the NAACP

Effects on race relations

  • War spawned optimism and rising militancy among blacks

  • In addition to success of MOWM, NAACP continued to challenge the colour line, winning a judicial victory in 1944 against white primary elections

  • Membership of NAACP increased from 50,000 in 1940 to 450,000 in 1946

  • New civil rights organisation, Congress of Rcail Equality (CORE) created in 1942: pioneered sit-ins, picketing, other innovative tactics. Successfully desegregated restaurants, movie theatres etc. in northern cities

  • At end of the war, African Americans ready for full-scale assault on Jim Crow

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