We Have No Leaders: African Americans in the Post-Civil Rights Era

By Robert C. Smith; Ronald W. Walters | Go to book overview

7
Blacks in Congressional Decision Making:
The Humphrey-Hawkins Act as Symbolic Politics

Undoubtedly, persistent, widespread unemployment is the central problem confronting the post—civil rights era black community. The causes of this widespread joblessness are still the subject of debate among social scientists, but its debilitating effects on family and community life are not. Nor is its persistence—in good times and bad, in war and peace and in the civil rights and post—civil rights eras. Indeed, blacks are often heard to say, "The only time we have had full employment was during slavery." Thus, it would be virtually impossible for the leadership of a community wracked throughout its post-emancipation sojourn by recession- and depression-level joblessness not to make employment a central concern. One need only recall the cries of alarm and the calls for emergency action by white leaders during the 1982 recession when the unemployment rate reached near 10 percent. What more then for the leaders of the black community, where in the last twenty-five years an unemployment rate at or near 10 percent has been an abiding feature. Thus, the Humphrey-Hawkins full employment act is a natural result of post—civil rights era black politics. Concern with this issue is as old as the post—civil war era quest for forty acres and a mule as a means to provide an economic underpinning for the freedmen. However, until the great depression and the New Deal, blacks, like most Americans, tended not to look to the government for solutions to the employment problem. The New Deal changed this, as the federal government for the first time assumed responsibility for managing the economy so as to assure all citizens employment and economic security. Blacks were not much involved in New Deal economic policy making, except to try to assure nondiscrimination in the implementation of the relief and work programs. This concern with nondiscrimination early on led the NAACP, for example, to focus on race‐ based allocation of jobs. Even then, however, some blacks saw this approach as misguided because it did not address the more fundamental, systemic problem of the failure of the capitalist economy to

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