In the 1920s, African American culture had flourished thanks to the Harlem Renaissance and several groups were created to fight against racism and segregation (Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association was one of them). The years of the Great Depression, however, threw back African Americans into poverty and segregation. Because of the general economic depression, African Americans were employed only in the most humble and least well-paid jobs. Unemployment and racism were extremely high in the North too. It was estimated that their life-expectancy was ten years less than for whites. The years of the Hoover Administration did not lead to any progress for African Americans and the President himself demonstrated racial insensitivity rejecting anti-lynching laws and nominating John J. Parker, a supporter of black disfranchisement, to the Supreme Court (his appointment was eventually rejected by the Senate).
The case of the Scottsboro Boys was an example of how racism was still institutionalized. In 1931, nine African Americans were arrested and charged with raping two white women. An all-white jury convicted the boys within two weeks of their arrest and sentenced them to death. Although evidence that the women were lying was soon available the case went on until 1950.
African Americans were an important part of the New Deal coalition and the election of Roosevelt marked an improvement for them. New Deal relief agencies and programs helped African Americans to face their economic hardships. The President appointed a group of African American advisers to the White House, the so-called "Black Cabinet". Yet, because of the widespread racism, the New Deal record in race relations remains mixed. Federal financial aid to white planters who took land out of cultivation were rarely shared with black sharecroppers who were instead evicted out of the land. Roosevelt was also unwilling to alienate white southerners so he refused to support laws against lynching and to allow African Americans to vote.
The massive enrollment of African Americans in the American Army during the Second World War allowed them to achieve important steps toward racial equality. Yet, African Americans still had to serve in segregated units and at several military bases racial riots broke out.