African Americans and life during the Great Depression Essay
In 1929, following the stock market crash, the Great Depression began placing millions of people out of work. The basic necessities of life such as food, clothing, shelter were in short supply. Although the Great Depression affected nearly everyone in America, it was the harshest for those already disadvantaged in American economy. While the shock of the Agriculture depression and unemployment affected many poor white farmers, it was even more devastating for vast numbers of African Americans on the southern cotton lands.
In cities, African Americans, who held the least secure jobs, found themselves pushed from little service tasks and unskilled work by desperate white workers. Apart from being replaced by white workers, African Americans were living in shacks and abandoned buildings or “Hoovervilles” which were basically groups of homeless in a city of shacks and all in one place. 1 Children were at segregated schools and mothers were trying to work as maids in order to feed their children. By the end of 1930’s thousands of schools worked minimum hours or had closed down.
Many children from seven to seventeen had left school and wandered on the roads and rails. 2 Some families who had older children would send them to work to earn a few more money for the family. Thousands and thousands of people, mainly adolescents had hopped on trains and found shelter among boxcars. Some African Americans were running away from abusive fathers or violent mothers. 3 Children and adolescents were living in very poor conditions especially African American children and their families.
In Chicago a reporter wandered through the streets and noticed an abandoned building packed of African Americans he described it as “a dingy mess of fire escapes like mattress -springs on a junk heap, hunched up, jammed crammed in its dumbness and darkness with a hundred tenants that cant pay for light and there’s no heating system… and now since it doesn’t work they’ve given it to the Negroes, who get along as best as they can. “4 Therefore living conditions were the poorest for African Americans. To help Americans the state had a relief roll in which you would receive relief funds every month for survival of the family.
As people enlisted the cost grew higher and by 1932 the cost for relief rolls for everyone was close to $75 million due to shortage of money. Some cities simply removed people from relief rolls, most of them African Americans. 5 As a result of shortage of money factories and production lines, like the Ford motor Co. were forced to close due to low sales in 1931. 6 But many African Americans, who had joined the Great migration, had found opportunity for a job in the northeast and Midwest. Boarding trains by the thousands, African Americans headed for Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and New York.
However the Great Migration caused sufficient factories in the north to close because of too many workers and little money. This led to riots and mobs demanding food for their families especially African Americans who were farmers in the south. African American farmers on the Great Plains often had used soil destroying cultivation methods. Such methods combined with droughts produced heavy dust storms called Dust Bowls. These high winds would carry dust and dump it on farms and cities adjacent to Chicago.
The dust ruined many farms for African Americans and Anglos everywhere. The Relief Programs from the New Deal that lasted two years weren’t perfect and especially for colored people. Full control of relief programs by the government wasn’t possible because there was still discrimination and bigotry in some programs. Although African Americans weren’t excluded they were still being ignored and discriminated by Corporations. As mentioned earlier African Americans did not just sit there, they fought back with protests and Riots and marches.
The Trade Union Unity League (TUUL) that started rallying up the people from the textile mills in 1930 did most of the riots. The next year they led a protest with extreme violence in Harlan County, Kentucky earning the county the name of “Bloody Harlan”. 8 The TUUL was a communist organization that helped African Americans and Anglos rally and march and riot. On March 7 the Detroit officials were in action at a march where hundreds of people were being charged with being communists or suspected communism and some with “criminal syndicalism”.
After this last march the TUUL slowly faded. Veterans from thee past war had remembered about the bonus promised for fighting for the country. Soon word was out about the bonus and every veteran got together to see if a bill could be passed. Hoover vetoing the bill did not realize that it would become a problem later on. When African Americans and other veterans, about eight thousand, heard about the veto they set up a parade and marched to the capitol building on June 8, 1932.
While the senate debated the bill the veterans slept on the lawn of the capitol building. 9 Things had gotten worse for every body. During the course of time, after Roosevelt became president, things began to get better. FDR was establishing and making many new jobs, many more programs, acts and corporations. Like the banking act giving the Federal Reserve greater control over the banking system and creating the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Creating these corporations made many more jobs for the American people.
This was decreasing the unemployment rate and at the same time helping people back on their feet and out of those horrible living conditions. To repair overproduction he ordered the slaughter of millions of pigs most of which went to waste, to the outrage of millions of citizens like Claude Thompson of Indiana who telegraphed the president saying “We protest this action as being un-American in principle in view of the fact that we have thousands upon thousands of undernourished men, women and children in this country today who are unable to procure a bit of meat.
In response to the telegraph the federal Surplus Relief Corporation (FSRC) was founded to purchase surplus hogs, chickens, and livestock. Then it would be shipped to each state and given to relief funds to distribute among the needy. Before its end, the FSR would distribute 9. 4 million pounds of fresh apples, 290 million pounds of beef, and 297 million pounds of pork to 60 million people, half of them African Americans.
These systems or corporations that had been created worked with as much speed as most of them usually did which was not much. Nor did these programs ever manage to aid the bulk of the needy; as many as five million unemployed people still remained at the mercy of state relief programs, which in some of the poor states gave out less than ten dollars a month to a family.
With that said there’s something positive to say which is with all their failings the FERA, FDIC, CCC and all the rest changed the shape of life for all Americans in this country permanently. In conclusion American people had suffered the most during the Great Depression and especially those already discriminated against. I will say this white, black, male or female, child or adult, no group of Anglo workers was more thoroughly oppressed than African Americans.