Upbuilding Black Durham: Gender, Class, and Black Community Development in the Jim Crow South

By Leslie Brown | Go to book overview

Conclusion

The law of life is the law of cooperation, and unless we
learn thoroughly this fundamental tenet of social organi-
zation I fear that the historian of the future, when he at-
tempts to record the history of the black man in America,
will write [of] “a people possessed of tremendous possibili-
ties, potentialities and resources, mental and physical, but
a people unable to capitalize [on] them because of their
racial non-cohesiveness.”

Mary McLeod Bethune,
NAACP Spingarn Medal recipient, 1935

Charged with depicting local American history and life, scholars and documentarians of the 1930s captured the distressing depths of poverty and despair caused by the Great Depression. An overview of African American life during that era reveals a range of familiar images, especially of the hypocrisies of racial segregation, still-living memories of slavery, and the unevenness of government assistance. Static and disheartening, these portraits depict the misery and anxiety of black poverty. Mary McLeod Bethune’s assessment reflects the range of the different African American constituencies and identified this conflict as an impediment to progress. Even an alternate portrait of the era that highlights the achievements of black professionals and success among the black elite misses the liveliness of intraracial black politics in the New Deal era. None of these representations alone are definitive, of course—they must be considered in relation to each other, just as their subjects lived, together and apart, behind the veil.

It is important to recognize that clashes, or, more gently, disagreements, among African Americans account for the rich and creative forms of resistance and protest that black folk had to use to beat back everyday racism.

-331-

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