How did African Americans survive during the Great Depression.

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lprono | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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The Great Depression worsened the lives of African Americans, making segregation, disfranchisement and privation of civil rights a recurrent experience in their existences. Hoover's Administration did little to protect African Americans from white violence and to improve their condition. Many sought to leave the South and move North, but even there they had to face prevailing racist views. The migration to the North made African Americans less tied to the land and agriculture in favor of menial jobs in Northern factories.

The early 1930s were also marked by the Scottsboro Trials where nine African Americans were unjustly accused of having raped two white women. In this political context, African Americans turned to their traditional religious institutions, but also to secular political organizations like the Communist Party that fought for their rights. Historians are still debating the extent to which the CPUSA really fought for the rights of African Americans or used equality to attract more members. An interesting study of the relationship between the CPUSA and African Americans is New Negro, Old Left (1999) by William Maxwell who revises the standard thesis of Communist manipulation put forth by Harold Cruse in his classic book The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (1967).

With the election of F. D. Roosevelt to the presidency, African Americans became an important part of the New Deal coalition, switching to the Democratic Party. The WPA and other New Deal relief agencies helped African Americans in their economic struggles. In addition, Roosevelt appointed several African American advisers. An important symbolic event was the First Lady's invitation to African American contralto Marian Anderson to sing at the Lincoln Memorial on 1939 Easter Sunday after the Daughters of the American Revolution had prohibited her to sing in Washington's Constitution Hall. Yet, although this gave the impression that New Dealers were committed to civil rights, the administration never suggested laws against lynchings or to abolish the poll tax. The New Deal thus has a mixed record as far as African Americans are concerned.

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