Why were African Americans hit so hard by the Depression? What did Eleanor Roosevelt do to help them?

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In rural areas where African-Americans were a large part of the workforce, poverty was common among both black and white laborers.  Credit was tight and cash was in short supply, so large farmers couldn't hire as many workers and many hired whites before blacks.  The general decline in money mattered less in some ways than in cities, as rural communities were used to hard times and there was more food available locally and cheaply than in the cities.  But less money available in credit to large farms and a depressed market meant both less work and less money for laborers.

In the cities, unemployment among African-Americans averaged 40 to 50 percent by 1930.  Available jobs usually went to whites.  In Chicago, both blacks and Mexicans were offered free train fare "home" if they would leave town.

Eleanor Roosevelt, although associated with several charities, was not involved in civil rights until after her husband's election as president.  She is probably most known for her advocacy of a federal law against lynching, although the most important of her influences was in education.  She strongly campaigned for the states to address inequities in education between white and black schools, although she did support segregation.  Mrs. Roosevelt was also involved in investigation of race-based wage discrimination, especially in Southern industries, and in pressuring the Navy about racial policies.

Although Eleanor Roosevelt supported the Costigon-Wagner anti-lynching bill, FDR never publicly supported the bill and it never passed.  In a letter in March 1936 to NAACP executive secretary W. F. White, she stated her husband's reasons for not supporting the bill.  Despite his personal agreement with the aims of the bill, he believed it was unconstitutional for the federal government to step in.  The letter points out that kidnapping had only recently become a federal crime because of its interstate aspect, which was not applicable.  Mrs. Roosevelt writes that her husband feels "lynching is a question of education in the states, rallying good citizens, and creating public opinion so that the localities themselves will wipe it out."  She added that he thought public announcement of support from him would have an "antagonistic effect" as he was "a Northerner."

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