Eugene Kinckle Jones and the Struggle to Keep the National Urban League Afloat during the Great Depression

Article excerpt

The late 1920s ushered in a new day in national reform policies. Eugene Kinckle Jones (1885-1954), the Executive Secretary to the National Urban League (NUL) 1916-1940 had already proven himself to be a progressive reformer by the arrival of the 1930s. This essay will examine Jones' fund raising activities, his relations with white philanthropists and his position with an important department within the federal government during the New Deal-the Department of Commerce.

As the stock market crash of late 1929 consumed the nation's attention, the efforts of Eugene Kinckle Jones and other trained black social workers intensified. Jones and the NUL had succeeded in developing a cadre of individuals to deal with the dispossessed population of black urban people. Jones had not only worked to secure avenues to train black social workers, but had fought to have them accepted as professionals of equal status to white social workers. Much of the duality in American social work during the early twentieth century was based upon the separate but [not] equal principles of Jim Crow.1.

As the 1930s approached Jones had already began to systematically address the financial concerns of the overworked NUL. Other issues were mounting around the nation for black Americans, particularly the concerns of labor and employment. The labor issue did not appear in black America as a result of the Great Depression. Black Americans were dealing with the lack of employment opportunities long before there were the national concerns triggered by the stock market crash.2. The NUL had dealt with the labor issue from the time it was founded in 1910 at New York City. However, it was Jones' "leadership and character [that] shaped [the] NUL during those crucial years."3. There were a host of field workers, social workers, and local affiliate executives and organizers who aided this national cause. As was customary Jones worked constantly to establish as many local branches of the NUL as was possible.

In 1914 Jones decided to bring on an assistant to aid him in the national office. T. Arnold Hill a native of Richmond, Virginia and graduate of Virginia Union University was hired for the position. Hill had also completed one year of study in economics and sociology at New York University. By December of 1916, after Jones became the permanent Executive Secretary of the NUL, the National Office decided that Hill would best serve the Chicago community by establishing a local affiliate there. Hill headed the Chicago branch of the Urban League until he was summoned back to New York in 1925 as the director of the newly established Department of Industrial Relations. This division of the NUL's programs worked directly with industry to help secure employment for the local black urban populations. Overall it aimed "to standardize and coordinate the local employment agencies of the League to assure applicants for work an efficient and helpful service, and employers efficient workers."4 T. Arnold Hill became the reliable person for this most important component of the NUL's agenda.5 Between 1914-1925, Hill worked diligently to convince the city of Chicago of the urgency to include African Americans for industrial employment. Following the Chicago race riots of 1919, Hill and other black and white leaders of Chicago worked hard to provide the black community with "proper police protection." Historian William A. Tuttle noted, "while the lynchings of the Red Summer were usually confined to the South, practically half of the epidemic of race riots burst forth in Northern and border states."6.

In the meantime Jones was still deep in the trenches of securing financial support for the day-to-day operations of the NUL. Jones remained incessant in his approach for the solicitation of monies to support the NUL's programs. As the decade of the 1920s drew to a close, the NUL financially began to encounter greater difficulty.

Jones kept amongst the files of the NUL a statement entitled, "The Octopus and Its Tentacles. …