White Violence and Black Response: From Reconstruction to Montgomery

By Herbert Shapiro | Go to book overview
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NINE
Turning Left

THE ONSET of the Great Depression generally sharpened tensions in American society and brought them to the surface. Class tensions intensified as notions of mass prosperity through mass production were replaced by the realities of widespread unemployment, breadlines, and Hoovervilles. Racial tensions also came to the fore as blacks found themselves in a staggering economic disaster, and yet the customary rules of racial subordination were maintained in force. Fear of black militancy grew, especially as it was connected with anxieties that those suffering the trauma of Depression, white and black, would unite in common movements for social change. Sharpening tensions were translated into a growth of racial violence. Responses to this violence were shaped in a new context, a deep, pervasive, and seemingly endless general societal crisis, and the result was some new dimensions to those responses. In dealing with racial violence, questions of class and race were more clearly intertwined than ever before, and a segment of black America saw militant radicalism, a radicalism most clearly articulated by the Communist party, as providing a possible solution to its urgent needs.

Obvious evidence of a change in the racial situation was a marked increase in the frequency of lynchings. During 1930 twenty-one persons were lynched in the United States; one Florida victim was a foreign-born white, the others were blacks. The state having the worst record was Georgia, with six lynchings. The resurgence of mob murders led the Commission on Interracial Cooperation to undertake a study of lynching, forming the Southern Commission on the Study of Lynching for this purpose. The director of the project was Arthur F. Raper, a staff member of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation. On-the-spot investigations of each of the episodes were conducted by Walter Chivers, a softspoken and keenly observant professor of sociology at Morehouse College.1

The study that emerged from these investigations, published in 1933,

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