The Effects Of The Great Depression On Black People Research Paper Samples

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: America, Depression, Religion, People, United States, Social Issues, White, Music

Pages: 8

Words: 2200

Published: 2021/01/02

It would seem strange to start here with To Kill a Mockingbird. However, it is necessary to refer to it as it indicates the historical context of how Black people were treated before, during, and after the Great Depression. A special reference here could be made to the Jim Crow Laws. Before the start of the Great Depression in the USA, the Civil War was always equated to the setting free of the slaves. Even though it was a part of the reason for the war, it was more for economic reasons, and the States versus Federal rights. Black people continued to be discriminated against, even though they were set free from two hundred years of slavery. “The trauma of being officially defined by the U. S. Constitution as “three fifths” human, and being treated in terms of that understanding” (Lincoln et al) is a continuing struggle to this day.
The Great Depression happened in 1929 with the crash of the stock market under Herbert Hoover's Presidency. This was straight out of the roaring 1920s that carried with it more than sufficient for many citizens, but more so for the Whites than for the Blacks. Throughout the many years through slavery, the Blacks were already at a greater disadvantage than the Whites when the crash happened. By the year 1933 nearly “16 million Americans were unemployed” (, and many others had to take pay cuts, which was devastating for the Black community as they were already living below the bread line, that is, below average wages. According to the New Jersey State Library, “unemployment rates were considerably higher for Blacks than for Whites” (See Table 1). In 1933, the general unemployment rate was twenty-five per cent, while the Black Male Worker unemployment rate was fifty per cent. It is interesting to see how the Blacks were affected in 1931 with fifty-two per cent of unemployment against the White 13.1 per cent.
Source: New Jersey State Library (
During the years of the Depression, people had to queue for food just to survive. Most of these people were White. Added to these woes, there was also the drought that hit the heartland of America and caused devastation for farmers, mostly the agricultural farmers. The heartland was known as the Dust Bowel because of the drought and the massive dust storms. People fled from it in droves, and they were called Dust Bowel refugees. Besides these refugees, there was also mass migration from the rural areas for Whites, but less so for Blacks, especially during this period. The drought led to the Agricultural Assistance Agency’s crop subsidy program. Blacks were part of the sharecroppers to reduce the planting of cotton, yet it led to the displacement of 192,000 Black farmers. The reason for this was that they were not included in the portion, with which the federal funds supplied the Whites ( This inequality is the continued saga the Black population in the USA has to face.
The “no-employment of Black persons policy” led to the fact that many Blacks did become urbanized as well, especially those from the South. Blacks migrated from the South to the North, not only for economical reasons, but because the South was more segregated than the North. The North also offered better opportunities to Blacks, but even this slowed down during the great Depression. The migration Black worker did have more opportunities as they were already migrating to farms to find work before the Depression. However, the drought and farming dilemma did not do these workers any good either.
Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the USA Work Program (the Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided jobs for many in order to improve living standards as well as the economy. In light of all that was said here, most of the White people benefitted from the WPA, and the feeding schemes as well. Most of the twenty million Americans, who turned up for relief, were Whites. Long before the Depression in 1929, African Americans had already suffered the lack of any sort of decent income. By 1933, when employment was at its lowest, no African American could find any employment ( The Depression just deepened this situation for them because Blacks were the first to be fired, and added to that, they received substantially less or no aid at all. “Some charitable organizations even excluded Blacks from their soup kitchens.” (Hardman). Thus, Blacks were not only poor. They had no jobs, went hungry, and could not feed their families.
The New Deal (the USA Work Program) that was devised by Roosevelt was, under certain administrators, prejudiced and skewed to benefit the White population. This was simply because the New Deal were left in the hands of administrators who could not care less for the African American population. The only interest was in giving African Americans a “raw deal.” ( The “raw deal” just worsened the plight of an already bleak economical situation the Black Americans had to face since slavery. Poverty was part of the nightmare almost every growing Black child had to face. However, the deal did benefit some of the Blacks, but again there were many, who were most in need that received the brunt of discrimination by administrators of the USA Work Program. Many do say that the Blacks benefitted greatly, but if one compares it to what was done for the Whites, it certainly was not enough. There are huge discrepancies in the percentages of Whites that were given assistance, and the Blacks who were left out in the cold. Blacks are still suffering from the immense inequality existing in the USA from the days of slavery right up to this day.
The aspects of the 1929 Crash led to the first involvement of Blacks with politics. “The St. Louis Urban League launched a national "jobs for Negroes" movement by boycotting chain stores that had mostly Black customers but hired only white employees.” (Hardman). All stores that hired Whites only, were boycotted. The first riot was recorded during the Depression, in 1935, when two hundred White stores were smashed and one Black person was killed. ( The National Negro Congress in 1936 and the Southern Negro Youth Congress in 1937 sought to unify the various Black organizations and youth groups in order to mobilize Blacks into protest and actions against the discrimination that was rife. Roosevelt even went as far as instituting his so-called “Black Cabinet.” (Hardman). It was definitely a ploy to gain support for the Democratic Party, which to this day enjoy much support from the Black fraternity, even in light of many “betrayals.” By Roosevelt reneging on his promises to have jobs made available to Blacks too, he betrayed the very people who supported him and the Democratic Party.
Many Black artists and writers benefitted from the New Deal, as the Federal Writers' Project (FWP), which was part of the WPA compiled the “memories of African Americans who had been born slaves, a collection published in 1947 as Lay My Burden Down” (Morse). Some of these writers were Melvin B. Tolson, Arna Bontemps, Zora Neale Hurston, and Waters Turpin. It might seem that these people were given preferential treatment for a reason. What this means is that, they were few and far between, and gives the impression that the New deal did in fact support a large number of Blacks. The reality exists that there were very few who benefitted. Those who benefitted were given support with ulterior motives. That is, they were to become entertainers to the White fraternity. These were especially the Black musicians.
Thus, the Federal Music Project funded an index of American folk music and composers. The funding of several organizations also helped to expose specific oppression in certain areas, through the making of documentaries (Morse). Music was especially the hub of African American life since the days of slavery, but it benefitted Whites more to have the FWP. The Federal Music Project (FMP) kept the music tradition going, and growing, and out of this came the great musicians such as: the folk music that emanated from the Southern regions and ethnicity. Some of these blues groups were musicians such as Alan Lomax and Howard Odum. The jazz musicians included Duke Ellington and Count Basie, with vocalists such as “Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Ethel Waters, Louis Armstrong, the Mills Brothers, Cab Calloway, and the Nicholas Brothers who were also dancers” (Morse). If one goes on the video (or filmed) evidence of this time, these endorsements and monetary support, were very much still in favor of the White persons. These Black musicians were employed to entertain White folk gigs most of the time.
Segregation reared its ugly head and continued to grow during this period. To Kill a Mockingbird showed the inequality clearly, as no black man could marry or even look at a White woman in any way. Everything became segregated – restaurants, churches, transport, and anywhere where groups could not be together in one room or space. Jim Crow (the character in To Kill a Mockingbird) clearly showed the injustices that Black people had to endure. Lynching could happen just for back chatting a White person. Laws of all sorts were instated to separate race groups from one another. The anti-lynching law was one of the laws Roosevelt refused to let through. Lynching was not just a matter of killing a Black person, but it was also about getting one less Black person to find employment. Roosevelt was clearly on the side of the White people, even though he had support form the Black population. As per usual, they supported him in the hope that things would improve for them (, but found that they were worse off than before – “betrayed.”
Even through such hardships, from slavery to the twenty-first century, Black people have found ways to overcome, but it is not always enough to pull them out of the dungeons. They have had their churches (religion), music, and education to keep their hearts and minds afloat, and these elements have given them some reprieve from poverty. Nevertheless, such successes were and are always in the minority. Still today (2015) the hardships of discrimination continue. The current age resorts to “murder in the first degree” without retribution – where police execute Black youngsters without trial. The churches, however, have played a large role in the political sphere of the Black Americans (African Americans). This resulted in the Civil Rights Movement where Martin Luther King Junior played a huge part. By the end of 1939, the Great Depression ended with the onset of World War II. Many Blacks were included in segregated army regiments. This has given some of them a lifeline, but even here, segregation and discrimination has had its toll. World War II and Vietnam were wars where Black people were useful, but expendable. The tragedy about these wars, though, is that both Black and White war veterans are still suffering. The reason for mentioning it here is that the woes of Blacks have no end whatsoever. The Great Depression was probably the biggest setback that they have ever had to endure, and it is still having its effect today – in the twenty-first century.
Coming back to the church situation during the Great Depression, the Black churches fond themselves in the midst of dwindling support to their flock. This was especially with regard outreaches that were sponsored by the church. If people did not work, how would they be able to give to the church? Most churches also took on a more conservative stance, and withdrew from social and political involvement. This gave Black religious sects a more popular place in the communities, because of what they provided to the people. The popularity of these churches grew because they gave some respite to the otherwise gloominess of the situation faced by many. The Northern churches were still active in politics though, as can be seen up until the 1960s and even today. The migration of earlier also affected both sides of the line. The urban churches grew, and the rural churches became empty. When migrants did not feel at home in the larger urban church, they would start their own smaller church (Lincoln et al). The politics were also different, as the northern churches were much more inclined to support Black mobilization. Such was he case when, in 1935, Martin Luther King Junior led the Ebenezer Baptist Church members in an attempt to register to vote (Lincoln et al).
It is hard to think of a way in which to look through the eyes of a Black person and find anything positive in the outcome of a great many of the events that beset them in the USA – from slavery to the current twenty-first century discrimination. This is regardless of the Obama presidency in place. It would be interesting to see whether the section of the US Constitution, where Black people are given the official definition as being “‘three fifths’ human, and being treated in terms of that understanding” (Lincoln et al) still exists. Perhaps that is the reason why the African American people cannot get to the point of changing their status from the disenfranchised to the truly free citizens they ought to be. Most setbacks that happen to the Black community is disastrous as they are the first to suffer in any economic disaster because of already being the disadvantaged. They are the ones that are fired first if anything happens, such as the Great Depression, and all other discriminatory events.
The Great Depression had severe consequences on the existence of the African American population. Added to the economic disaster, they were treated with disdain, left out of services provided (to White people), and were not given the jobs that they needed (as much as the Whites did). The WPA administrators made sure of the latter. The services that were provided for Whites was, for example, the Agricultural Assistance Agency’s crop subsidy program whereby Black farmers had to benefit as well, but this did not happen. The churches were also in no position to give assistance, as they were either emptied from the migration (especially from the South), or they took a middle ground regarding the politics of the day. The churches that were regarded as sectarian mostly helped the Black population during the Depression. Music and film were also greatly helped by the FWP, but this help was for the few that made it big in the nation.

Works Cited

Deutch, Sarah. “Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family from Slavery to the Present by Jacqueline Jones.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History. Vol. 18, No. 1, Summer, (1987): 189-191.
Hardman, John. “The Great Depression and the New Deal.” EDGE.
Kelly, Martin. Top Five Causes of the Civil War. About Education.
Lincoln, C. Eric, Mamiya, H. Lawrence. The Black Church in the African American Experience. USA: Duke University Press, 2003
Lynch, Hollis. “African Americans.” Encyclopedia Britannica.
Morse, Kay. “What impact did the conditions of the 1930s have on the arts? What were the significant art movements and contributions of this decade?”
“Unit 11 1930s: The Great Depression.” New Jersey State Library (online).
“African Americans, Impact of the Great Depression.” Encyclopedia of the Great Depression, 2004.
End Notes

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