The New Deal: The National Level

By John Braeman; Robert H. Bremner et al. | Go to book overview

Raymond Wolters


The New Deal and the Negro

"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

DURING THE GRAY YEARS OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION, AMERICA'S twelve million Negroes were the most disadvantaged major group in American society -- "the first fired and the last hired." Government studies indicating the "color or race" of families receiving relief reported that blacks were "added to the relief rolls twice as frequently [in proportion to their number in the total 1930 population] by loss of private employment as whites, and are removed through finding places in private employment only half as frequently." 1 Black people naturally hoped that the programs of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal would be constructed in such a way as to assist their recovery. They were encouraged by the president's 1932 campaign promise that Negroes would be included "absolutely and impartially" in his new deal for the forgotten man. 2

President Roosevelt's program was so diverse and multifaceted that it is difficult to generalize about its impact on Negroes. Some New Deal programs were clearly advantageous, others less so, and some aggravated the condition of black people. Yet on the whole, the New Deal was as notable for its lost and rejected opportunities as for its actual achievements. Its recovery program was limited and cautious, of more benefit to organized workers and to those who had fallen from relative affluence than to those at the very bottom of society. Despite its deficiencies, however, the New Deal offered Negroes more in material benefits and recognition than had any administration since the era of Reconstruction. In gratitude for

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