By Karen Ferguson
Black reformers, often working within federal agencies as social workers and administrators, saw the inclusion ...
Black reformers, often working within federal agencies as social workers and administrators, saw the inclusion of African Americans in New Deal social welfare programs as a chance to prepare black Atlantans to take their rightful place in the political and social mainstream. They also worked to build a constituency they could mobilize for civil rights, in the process facilitating a shift from elite reform to the mass mobilization that marked the postwar black freedom struggle.
Although these reformers' efforts were an essential prelude to civil rights activism, Ferguson argues that they also had lasting negative repercussions, embedded as they were in the politics of respectability. By attempting to impose bourgeois behavioral standards on the black community, elite reformers stratified it into those they determined deserving to participate in federal social welfare programs and those they consigned to remain at the margins of civic life.