Dear Mrs. Roosevelt: Letters from Children of the Great Depression

By Robert Cohen | Go to book overview

chapter 4
Minorities

Despite the egalitarianism embedded in the Declaration of Independence—and Jefferson's lofty phrase “that all men are created equal” —more than a century and a half after that document was written America remained a nation riven by social inequality. Indeed, America entered and left the Depression decade an inequitable society, favoring whites over blacks, Native Americans, and all other people of color, Anglo-Protestants over ethnics as well as new immigrants, and men over women. Depression America was also a society that often shunned the disabled, treating them with scorn and disgust rather than respect or compassion—a tendency so pronounced that it led even the president to hide the physical disability that polio had visited upon him. These inequities must be borne in mind if we are to understand how Americans experienced the Great Depression; they caused the burdens of the economic crisis to fall unevenly on the American people. Those who entered the 1930s at or near the bottom of the American social order or faced discrimination in such critical areas as employment and education were especially vulnerable to the Depression's ravages and at the greatest disadvantage in struggling to overcome them, for they had to battle both a horrendous economic crisis and American prejudice, a double burden whose weight was especially oppressive. The letters in this chapter from African Americans, a Native American, feminist-minded teens, immigrants, and the disabled document both this oppression and the determination of minority youths to free themselves from it.

Most of the letters that Eleanor Roosevelt received from African American youths came from the South, where some three-fourths of blacks lived. Conditions were grim with regard to both civil rights and economic opportunity. Between 1933 and 1935 racist mobs lynched sixty-three black southerners. Blacks were denied the right to vote (and could not serve on juries) in most southern states, and so lacked the political power to insure equal treatment in the federal aid and relief programs administered by local white officials, who were often bigoted. The majority of southern

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Dear Mrs. Roosevelt: Letters from Children of the Great Depression
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction 3
  • Chapter 1 - Ill-Clothes Ill-Hiused Ill-Ted 35
  • Chapter 2 - Education 91
  • Chapter 3 - Social Life 145
  • Chapter 4 - Minorities 195
  • Epilogue - Responses to the Letter 237
  • Notes and Sources 245
  • Index 261
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