The white man turned
...... I'm from
up North," he said.... "They need men up there - good men
- all they can get. If Big Mat speaks for this family tell him they
can use him and all the other able menfolks in his house:' . .
The man reached back in his pocket and pulled out a roll of
bills. It was more money than Chinatown had ever thought was in the
world. The permanent grin. almost left his face as the man shucked
off a ten-dollar bill and gave it to him....
"The freight train will stop at Masonville Junction at
midnight. That's tonight. That's where you boys board her for the
Hiding his cheek under one big hand, Mat listened to
them tell about the crazy jackleg. Not one muscle in his body moved,
though Chinatown was waving the bill under his nose....
"What on your mind, Mat?" He took his hand
away from his face. A long purple welt blossomed on his
"Git the stuff packed," Big Mat said.
"We goin' to be at MasonviU6 Junction 'fore midnight.'.' . .
Saturday morning Big Mat went to the mill a changed man. A- borning
in him was a new confidence....
Through the long, hot hours he would do twice as much
work as anybody else. In competition with white men, he would prove
Without slowing between molds, they took tests of the
steel. The sweat ran into Big Mat's wide-mouthed gloves and made
small explosions when it fell on the hot test steel. Big Mat did not
flinch. Alone he held the spoon steady. It took two hunkies to hold
up a spoon. He smiled behind his expressionless face. His muscles
were glad to feel the growing weight of the steel. The work was
nothing. Without labor his body would shrivel and, be a weed. His
body was happy. This was a good place for a big black man to be.
Attaway, Blood on the Forge, 1941.
It is not only the long house, the small pay, and the lack of
privacy - we often have to share a room with the children - that we
maids find hardest to bear. It is being treated most of the time as
though we are completely lacking in human dignity and self- respect.
During my first year at this work I was continually hopeful. But now
I know that when I enter that service elevator I should park my
self-respect along with the garbage that clutters it. Self- respect
is a luxury I cannot retain and still hold my job. My last one was a
good example of this....
and I both met our Waterloo in the following fashion. I had cooked a
huge dinner for many guests - we always had company besides the
ordinary family of five - and it was 9:00 P.M. before we two sat
down to our meal, both too tired to eat.
the bell rang furiously and Lucille came back, flushed with anger.
"She say to put the cake right on the ice!"
the bell rang again. "Is that cake on the ice?" called out
Mrs. B -
sang out. "We've just started our dinner, Mrs. B - Later I said
to Lucille: "Does she think we're horses or dogs that we can
eat in five minutes - either a coltie or a Kiltie?" (Kiltie was
the d6g.) Lucille, who loved such infantile jokes, broke into peals
a second Mrs. B - - was at our side, very angry. She had been
eaves-dropping in the pantry. "I heard every word you
Mrs. B - - we're not horses
or dogs, and we have been e4fing only five minutes!"
been a disturbing influence in this house ever since you've been
here!" Mrs. B - - thundered. "Before you came Lucille
thought I was a wonderful woman to work for - and tonight you may
take your wages and go. Tomorrow, Lucille, your aunt is to come, and
we shall see whether you go too!" . . .
and with only $15 between us and starvation, I still felt a wild
sense of joy. For just a few days I should be free and self-
Ward, "I Am a Domestic," 1940.
people had the opportunity to begin moving out of the South in large
numbers and they did. They moved to the cities of the North and the
South, but particularly important was the move out of the South, and
eventually to the cities of the West. The great migrations occurred during
the two world wars when there was a great demand for unskilled labor in
northern industries. Harold Baron captures the essence of what took place
during this period:
||This new demand for black
workers was to set in motion three key developments: first, the
dispersion of black people out of the South into Northern urban
centers; second, the formation of a distinct black proletariat in
the urban centers at the very heart of the corporate-capitalist
process of production; third, the break-up of tenancy agriculture in
the South. World War II was to repeat the process in a magnified
form and to place the stamp of irreversibility upon it.
This is the basis for the Black community that we know today
URBANIZATION OF BLACKS
1910 and 1940, the proportion of the Black population residing in urban
areas of the United States increased from 28% to 48.2% (side diagrams
below). When the census was first taken in 1790, Black people were found
in large numbers in only four cities: New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia,
and Boston. After Emancipation, Blacks began migrating to northern as well
as southern cities, but it was World War I that witnessed the mass
migrations to northern cities. "Hostilities in Europe," wrote
Baron, "placed limitations on American industry's usual labor supply by
shutting off the flow of [European] immigration at the very time the
demand for labor was increasing sharply due to a war boom and military
mobilization." Blacks thus were drawn into the steel, meat-packing, and
auto industries, of northern cities and into shipbuilding and heavy
industry of southern cities. Though post- war demobilization brought heavy
unemployment for Black people, a strong economic recovery and very
restrictive immigration laws in the early 1920s encouraged a second
migration out of the South. E. Franklin Frazier notes in The Negro in the
and following the War there was a great demand for unskilled labor to fill the gap created
when immigrants returned to Europe and immigration from Europe
ceased. At the same time economic conditions in the South growing
out of the tenancy system tended to "push" the Negro out
of the South. During 1915 and 1916, crop failures, floods, and the
ravages of the boll weevil resulted in the widespread
disorganization of the plantation economy. In a study which was
designed to measure the relative strength of the "pull" of
northern industries and the "push" of southern
agriculture, Lewis concluded that the "pull" of the North
was primarily responsible for the migrations.
War I I gave further impetus to the "pull" of northern
cities (see Figures D and E and Table 9 below). During and following World
War II, Blacks for the first time were drawn in large numbers to the west
coast where defense industries were located.
In 1950, only 40% of the Black population
lived on farms and the number of acres operated declined 37% to 25.7
million acres. Moreover, in 1950 the United States Census Bureau reported
the "nonwhite" population - 95% of which was Black - only 18.4%
were employed as farm workers, with 38% as "blue collar workers"
(mainly industrial) and 34% as "service workers." This
transformation of the social form of the Black community - from a pre dominantly
agricultural laboring class in the rural South to an integral sector of
the industrial proletariat more concentrated in the urban North - is
one of the most significant social tranformations in the history of the
the 1970s Black people had become an urban people. In 1890 whites were
twice as likely to be in cities, passing the 50% mark by 1920. However,
the World War I and World War II migrations to the city by Black people,
as well as other subsequent developments (sub urbanization of whites,
increased fertility/birth rates and lower mortality/death -rate for
Blacks, etc.), have resulted in Black people today being more urbanized
new urban experience, in combination with their experience in World War I,
produced a new response by Black people in the 1920's.
9 CITIES WITH A BLACK POPULATION OF 100,000 OR MORE 1940, 1930, 1920,
1910, and 1900.
E. Franklin Frazier, The Negro in the United States, p. 230.
There was a new confidence and determination, which can be seen in this
editorial W. E. B. DuBois wrote for The Crisis in 1919:
return from the slavery -of uniform which the world's madness
demanded us to don to the freedom of civil garb. We stand again to
look America squarely in the face and call a spade a spade. We sing:
This country of ours, despite all its better souls have done and
dreamed, is yet a shameful land.
And lynching is barbarism of a degree of contemptible
nastiness unparalleled in human history. Yet for fifty years we have
lynched two Negroes a week, and we have kept this up right through
It disfranchises its own citizens.
Disfranchisement is the deliberate theft and robbery of the
only protection of poor against rich and black against white. The
land that disfranchised its citizens and calls itself a democracy
lies and knows it lies.
It encourages ignorance.
It has never really tried to educate the Negro. A dominant
minority does not want Negroes educated. It wants servants, dogs,
whores and monkeys. And when this land allows a reactionary group by
its stolen political power to force as many black folk into these
categories as it possibly can, it cries in contemptible hypocrisy:
"They threaten us with degeneracy; they cannot be
It steals from us.
It organizes industry to cheat us. It cheats us out of our
land; it cheats us out of our labor. It confiscates our savings. It
reduces our wages. It raises our rent' It steals our profit. It
taxes us without representation. It keeps us consistently and
universally poor, and then feeds us on charity and derides our
It insults us.
has organized a nationwide and latterly a worldwide propaganda of
deliberate and continuous insult and defamation of black blood
wherever found. It decrees that it shall not be possible in travel
nor residence, work nor play, education nor instruction for a black
man to exist without tacit or open acknowledgment of his inferiority
to the dirtiest white dog. And it looks upon any attempt to question
or even discuss this dogma as arrogance, unwarranted assumption and
is the country to which we Soldiers of Democracy return. This is the
fatherland for which we fought! ... But by the God of Heaven, we are
cowards and jackasses if now that that war is over, we do not
marshal every ounce of our brain and, brawn to fight a stern",
longer, more unbending battle against the forces of hell in our own
We return from fighting.
We return fighting.
Make way for Democracy!
new term developed for this confident and determined Black - the "New
In 1920, The Messenger outlined
the aims of the "New Negro" so that the general public would
have a "definite and clear portrayal":
politics, the New Negro, unlike the Old Negro, cannot be lulled into
a false sense of security with political spoils and patronage. A job
is not the price of his vote. He will not continue to accept
political provisory notes from a political debtor, who has already
had the power, but who has refused to satisfy his political
obligations. The New Negro demands political equality. He recognizes
the necessity of selective as well as elective representation. He
realizes that so long as the Negro votes for the Republican or
Democratic party, he will have only the right and privilege to elect
but not to select his representatives. And he who selects the
representatives controls the representatives. The New Negro stands
for universal suffrage.
word about the economic aims of the New Negro. Here, as a worker, he
demands the full product of his toll. His immediate aim is more
wages, shorter hours and better working conditions. As a consumer,
he seeks to buy in the market, commodities at the lowest possible
social aims of the New Negro are decidedly different from those of
the Old Negro. Here he stands for absolute and unequivocal "social
equality." He realizes that there cannot be any qualified
equality. He insists that a society which is based upon justice can
only be a society composed of social equals. He insists upon
identity of social treatment.
went on to specify the methods for achieving these goals:
the methods by which the New Negro expects to realize his political
aims are radical. He would repudiate and discard both of the old
parties - Republican and Democratic. His knowledge of political
science enables him to see that a political organization must have
an economic foundation. A party whose money comes from working
people, must and will represent working people. Now, everybody
concedes that the Negro is essentially a worker. There are no big
capitalists among them. There are a few petit bourgeoisie, but the
process of money concentration is destined to weed them out and drop
them down into the ranks of the working class. In fact, the
interests of all Negroes are tied up with the workers. Therefore,
the Negro should support a working class political party. He is a
fool or insane, who opposes his best interests by supporting his
enemy. As workers, Negroes have nothing in common with their
employers. The Negro wants high wages; the employer wants to pay low
wages. The Negro wants to work short hours; the employer wants to
work him long hours. Since this is true, it follows as a logical
corollary that the Negro should not support the party of the
employing class. Now, it is a question of fact that the Republican
and Democratic Parties are parties of the employing or capitalist
the economic field, the New Negro advocates that the Negro join the
labor unions. Wherever white unions discriminate against the Negro
worker, then the only sensible thing to do is to form independent
unions to fight both the white capitalists for more wages and
shorter hours, on the one hand, and white labor unions for justice,
on the other, It is folly for the Negro to fight labor organization
because some white unions ignorantly ignore or oppose him. It is
about as logical and wise as to repudiate and condemn writing on the
ground that it is used by some crooks for forgery.
As a consumer, he would organize cooperative societies to reduce the
high, cost of living.
The social methods are: education and physical action in self
defense. That education must constitute the basis of all action, is
beyond the realm of question. And to fight back in self defense,
should be accepted as a matter of course...
Finally, the New Negro arrived upon the scene at the time of other
forward, progressive, groups and movements - after the great world
war. He is the product of the same world wide forces that have
brought into being the great liberal and radical movements that are
now seizing the reins of political, economic and social power in all
of the civilized countries of the world.
presence is inevitable in these times of economic chaos, political
upheaval and social distress. Yes, there is a New Negro. And it is
he who will pilot the Negro through this terrible hour of storm and
of this energy was generated in and focused on the urban environment -
with mixed results, as will be seen later in the chapter.
PROLETARIANIZATION OF BLACKS
urban experience for Black people was similar to that of any other
formerly rural and poor people. The city was a relatively small place
where large numbers of people lived and therefore social and cultural
activities were intensified. Moreover, the economic basis for all of this
was significantly different from the rural experience.
people were transformed into wage workers with little opportunity to be
self-employed or to own the means of making a living (like a piece of
land) in an independent way. In the city virtually everyone worked for
someone else. Unlike white workers, however, Blacks in the city were the
"last hired and the first fired" so that the vicious pattern of
rural discrimination persisted in a new form in the urban environment.
there continued to be jobs that were occupied by Black people only. As
Harold Baron has pointed out :
||In industry generally the
black worker was almost always deployed in job categories that
effectively became designated as "Negro jobs.". . . The
superintendent of a Kentucky plough factory expressed the Southern
view: "Negroes do work white men won't do, such as common
labor; heavy, hot, and dirty work; pouring crucibles; work in the
grinding room; and so on. Negroes are employed because they are
cheaper. . . . The Negro does a different grade of work and makes
about $.10 an hour less." There was not a lot of contrast in
the words of coke works foremen at a Pennsylvania steel mill:
"They are well fitted for this hot work, and we keep them
because we appreciate this ability in them.". "The door
machines and the jam cutting are the most undesirable; it is
hard to get white men to do this kind of work."
Certainly there was a
limit beyond which black
people couldn’t go, at
least in large numbers. In other words, there was a job ceiling that
existed in both the North and the South, as Baron aptly describes:
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s as Blacks
continued to migrate to the cities, they were forced into "Negro
jobs," which became workplace ghettos. St. Clair Drake and Horace
Cayton described the situation in their 1945 study:
the North there was some blurring of racial distinctions, but they
remained strong enough to get the black labor force off quite
clearly. While the pay for the same job in the same plant was
usually equivalent, when blacks came to predominate in a specific
job classification, the rate on it would tend to lag. White and
black workers were often hired in at the same low job
classification; however for the whites advancement was often
possible, while the blacks soon bumped into a job ceiling. In terms
of day-to-day work, white labor was given a systematic advantage
over black labor and a stake in the racist practices....
the South, where four-fifths of nation's black population still
lived at the end of the 1920s, the situation of black labor was to
all appearances essentially unchanged.... Black workers were
concentrated in stagnant or declining plants, such as sawmills, coal mines,
and cigar and tobacco factories. The increased hiring of blacks in
such places was chiefly a reflection of the fact that the jobs had
no future and the employers were not able to attract white workers.
Black employment in textiles was severely limited, as in South
Carolina, where state law forbade blacks to work in the same room,
use the same stairway, or even share the same factory window as
white textile workers.
bulk of the Negro population became concentrated in the lower- paid,
menial, hazardous, and relatively unpleasant jobs. The employment
policy of individual firms, trade-union restrictions, and racial
discrimination in training and promotion made it exceedingly
difficult for them to secure employment in the skilled trades, in
clerical or sales work, and as foremen and managers. Certain entire
industries had a "lily-white" policy - notably the public
utilities, the electrical manufacturing industry, and the city's
banks and offices.
De A. Reid, who was on the Social Security Board, further detailed
the plight of Black workers:
alley occupations for workers who have latent capacity for other
jobs is, the rule rather than the exception among Negro workers. For
the Negro there is little encouragement and less opportunity for
promotion. Success stories of rises from laborer to superintendent
and manager are few. Opportunities for training are even more
restricted. Apprenticeships are few and other opportunities for
trade training rare. Schools do not see the wisdom of training Negro
pupils in skilled crafts because there is no opportunity for placing
them after they have been trained. Employers will not hire them
because they have no training. The vicious circle continues when a
privileged few do received the training or the required
apprenticeship only to find that white workers refuse to accept them
as fellow workmen. Strikes have been waged on this account. Union
workers have been known to walk off the jobs when a Negro fellow
unionist was employed.
Baron takes us one step further and analyzes the
process by which Black people were proletarianized during this period:
the size of the black population in big cities grew, "Negro jobs"
became roughly institutionalized into an identifiable black sub-labor market
within the larger metropolitan labor market. The culture of control that was
embodied in the regulative systems which managed the black ghettos,
moreover, provided an effective, although less-rigid, variation of the Jim
Crow segregation that continued with hardly any change in the South.
Although the economic base of black tenancy was collapsing, its reciprocal
superstructure of political and social, controls remained the most-powerful
force shaping the place of blacks in society. The propertied and other
groups that had a vested interest in the special exploitation of the black
peasantry were still strong enough to maintain their hegemony over matters
concerning race. At the same time, the variation of Jim Crow that existed
in the North was more than simply a carry-over from the agrarian South.
These ghetto controls served the class function for industrial society of
politically and socially setting off that section of the proletariat that
was consigned to the least desirable employment. This racial walling off not
only was accomplished by direct ruling-class actions, but also was mediated
through an escalating reciprocal process in which the hostility and
competition of the white working class was stimulated by the growth of the
black proletariat and in return operated as an agent in shaping the new
general pattern of restricting Black people to working-class jobs - and the
lowest level of these jobs at that - is known as the proletarianization of
surprisingly, racial tension was quick to emerge in the urban areas, as
employers promoted competition for jobs and used Black workers as
strikebreakers against the white working class. "When the conflict
erupted into mass violence," Baron observes, "the dominant whites
sat back and resolved the crises in a manner that assured their continued
control over both groups."
the depression years, Black people were in dire economic straits in the
industrialized urban areas as millions were thrown out of work:
the first years of the slump, black unemployment rates ran about two- thirds
greater than white unemployment rates. As the depression wore on,
the relative position of the black labor force declined so that by the end
of the decade it had proportionately twice as many on relief or unemployed
in the Mid-Atlantic States, and two and a half times as many in the North
Central States. In the Northern cities only half the black men had regular
full-time employment. In the larger cities, for every four black men in
full- time regular employment there was one engaged in government-sponsored
emergency relief The differential in the South was not as great, for much of
the unemployment there was disguised by marginal occupations on the
as Baron points out, "Two somewhat contradictory results stood out for
this period. First, whites were accorded racial preference as a greatly
disproportionate share of unemployment was placed on Black workers. Second,
despite erosion due to the unemployment differential, the black sub-sectors
of the urban labor markets remained intact." Thus, despite the fact
that Black people suffered disproportionately during the Great Depression,
they continued to adhere as a permanent part of the urban work force, albeit
at the lowest levels.
the country geared up for World War II, initially "the black unemployed
had to stand aside while the whites went to work." However, increased
military mobilization finally swept Blacks back into the industrial work
vast demand for labor in general, that had to turn itself into a
demand for black labor, could only be accomplished by way of a great
expansion of the black sectors of metropolitan labor markets. Training
programs for upgrading to skilled and semiskilled jobs were opened up,
at first in the North and later in the South.... World War I had
established a space for black laborers as unskilled workers in heavy industry
. During World War II this space was enlarged to include a number of
semi-skilled and single-skilled jobs in many industries.
War II marked the most-dramatic improvement in economic status of
black people that has ever taken place in the urban industrial
economy. . , . Occupationally, blacks bettered their positions in all
of the preferred occupations. The biggest improvement was brought
about by the migration from South to North (a net migration of
1,600,000 blacks between 1940 and 1950). However within both sections
the relative proportion of blacks within skilled and semi-skilled
occupations grew. In clerical and lower-level professional work, labor
shortages in the government bureaucracies created a necessity for a
tremendous black upgrading into posts hitherto lily-white.
Blacks continued to face severe discrimination in employment following World
War II, the overall structure of the Black work force had been significantly
altered (see Chapter 7). During the first half of the 20th century, Black
men had been able to move from strictly unskilled labor positions into some
skilled labor jobs, mainly as operatives. Black women, particularly later
during the 1960s and 1970s, moved from domestic positions into service
the whole, the discrimination that Black people confronted in the northern
cities during the first half of the 20th century was less than that of the
rural experience, but in some respects it was greater. There was more
apparent social equality, the work paid more, and there was a great deal
more to do in the course of normal everyday life. However, life was cold and
impersonal, prices were higher, and there was much greater relative
deprivation. In the city a poor Black person was closer to wealth though
without it. It was easier to be without something in the South because Black
people there were quite distant from the general wealth of the middle and
ruling classes (except for the domestic servants, who were similar to the
house slaves), and because of the legacy of slavery.
The main process of life in the cities had to do
with the increased industrialization of Black workers. This process represented:
an increase in the skill level of Black workers;
an increase in the pay of Black people, especially since both world wars
resulted in Black women getting factory jobs too, making a great deal more
money than they had ever made before (though it should be noted that Black
women were pushed out of their jobs immediately following both wars);
an increased association with white workers on a more equal basis, resulting
in positive association in comparison with the more blatant racism and
oppression that had been the common experience in the South.
most important aspect of the urban experience for Black people was their
IN SOCIAL AND CULTURAL LIFE
The northern urban experience also meant that
social and cultural life was quite different. Urbanization brought about the
functional differentiation of social life in which the church ceased to be
the main and central social institution. In the city, each social and
cultural activity had its own institution that was more often than not
divorced from the church. Either the activity was set up by the government
(like public education and public assistance programs), or it was simply the
activity of private enterprise (e.g., recreation - movies, bowling, dance
halls, bars, etc. - and insurance, health care, death benefits, etc.).
cultural life of Black people took a tremendous leap forward in the city,
both in quantity and quality. Immediately after the World War I migrations,
while the automobile and pre-depression prosperity of the U.S.A.
created the "roaring 20's," Black people in Harlem had a cultural
renaissance (rebirth). In every decade since, Black art and culture have
advanced in waves. (See Chapter 9, "Black Culture and the Arts.")
All of this has two tendencies: (1) more and more Black people have
assimilated the dominant culture, become proficient, and in some cases,
expert; and (2) the mass culture of Black people has changed to express the
urban working-class experience (rather than the rural tenant experience) and
has achieved a universal appeal that has continued to make a significant
impact on all U.S. culture and most peoples through- out the world.
the city Black people faced discrimination in housing so that segregated
Black neighborhoods were formed This approximated the rural experience in
the South so closely that in Chicago, for example, the South Side was called
Chicago's Black Belt. In 1919, Walter F. White observed:
has been written and said concerning the housing situation in Chicago and
its effect on the racial situation. The problem is a simple one. Since
1915 the colored population of Chicago has more than doubled,
increasing in four years from a little over 50,000 to what is now
estimated to be between 125,000 and 150,000.... Already overcrowded
this so called "Black Belt" could not possibly hold the
doubled colored population. One cannot put ten gallons of water in
many Negroes had been living in "white" neighborhoods, the
increased exodus from the old areas created an hysterical group of
persons who formed "Property Owners' Associations" for the
purpose of keeping intact white neighborhoods .... Early
in June the writer, while in Chicago, attended a private
meeting ... Various plans were discussed for
keeping the Negroes in "their part of the town," such as
securing the discharge of colored persons from positions they held
when they attempted to move into "white" neighborhoods,
purchasing mortgages of Negroes buying homes and ejecting them when
mortgage notes fell due and were unpaid and many more of the same caliber.
The language of many speakers was vicious and strongly prejudicial and
had the distinct effect of creating race bitterness.
In a number of cases, during the period
from January 1918 to August 1919, there were bombings of colored homes
and houses occupied by Negroes outside of the "Black Belt."
During this period no less than twenty bombings took
place, yet only two persons have been arrested and neither of the two
has been convicted, both cases being continued.
in 1945, St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton described what took place in
Chicago in the intervening years:
Job Ceiling subordinates Negroes but does not segregate them.
Restrictive covenants do both. They confine Negroes to the Black Belt,
and they limit the Black Belt to the most rundown areas of the city.
There is a tendency, too, for the Negro communities to become the
dumping ground for vice, poor-quality merchandise, and inferior white
city officials. Housing is allowed to deteriorate and social services
are generally neglected. Unable to procure homes in other sections of
the city, Negroes congregate in the Black Belt...
went on to analyze how segregated housing led to further social and
conflict over living space is an ever-present source of potential
violence. It involves not only a struggle for houses, but also
competition for school and recreational facilities, and is further
complicated by the fact that Negroes of the lowest socioeconomic
levels are often in competition with middle class whites for an area.
Race prejudice becomes aggravated by class antagonisms, and
class-feeling is often expressed in racial terms.
segregation is not only supported by the attitudes of white people who
object to Negro neighbors - it is also buttressed by the internal
structure of the Negro community. Negro politicians and businessmen,
preachers and civic leaders, all have a vested interest in maintaining
a solid and homogeneous Negro community where their clientele is
easily accessible. Black Metropolis, too, is an object of pride to
Negroes of all social strata. It is their city within a city. It is
something "of our own" It is concrete evidence. of one type of
freedom - freedom to erect a community in their own image. Yet they
remain ambivalent about residential segregation: they see a gain in
political strength and group solidarity, but they resent being
compelled to live in a Black Belt.
Black Belt merely exemplified what was happening to Black people in urban
areas throughout the United States.
on this geographical concentration, new ways were developed to oppress Black
people through city agencies organized on geographical lines. In the areas
of public education, police protection, parks and public recreational
facilities, water and sewage disposal, garbage collection, public health,
and public transportation, Black people were confronted with discrimination
that was not compensated for by the existence of a Black community. By
coming to the city, Black people did not escape oppression; they merely had
to face it in a new form.
people fought against these new attacks against them. While geographic
concentration enabled the ruling class to orchestrate new forms of
oppression more effectively, it also enabled Black people to fight back with
more intensity, more force. Throughout their urban experience, Black people
have combined political pressure with such techniques as boycotts,
picketing, marches, demonstrations, and occasional violence to achieve their
10 provides some examples of the means by which Black people in Chicago
fought and the outcome of their struggles from 1929 to 1944.
STRUGGLE FOR JOBS IN CHICAGO
Your Money Where You Can Work"
Campaign (directed at stores in the Black Belt)
||Sponsored by Negro
Professionals -and Businessmen. (Led by
white Race Radicals, with broad community support)
2,000 jobs in Black Belt
|51st Street Riot (directed at
outburst, by laborers
Skilled Jobs on Construction in Black Belt (directed at AFL building trades unions)
Trades Council - group of Negro artisans
political pressure ; some violence
with advent of New Deal
Branch Managers with Daily Times
Relations League - group of young men
and women; some cooperation from Urban League and Politicians
||Threat of boycott
managers appointed after
Branch Managers, Evening
Relations League - group of young men and women; some cooperation
from Urban League and politicians
implied threat of boycott
|Campaign for Motion
Picture Operators in Black Belt (Directed against AFL Unions)
Relations League - group of young men and women; some cooperation
from Urban League and politicians
threat of boycott
appointed after short campaign
Telephone Operators ( directed against phone company)
||1937 - 39
Relations League - group of young men and women; some cooperation
from Urban League and politicians
||Treat that all Negros
would remove telephones
threat not carried out fully
|Drive for Negro
Milkmen (directed against major dairies and AFL unions )
||1929 - 39
||Fight begun by Whip;
revived in 1937 by Council of Negro Organizations and Negro Labor
boycott; attempt to organize "Milkless Sunday"
due to lack of community support
|Campaign for bus
drivers and motormen on transit lines
||1930 - 44
front with strong leftwing influence; campaign aided by FEPC
threat of boycott; strong political pressure
securing a few positions
Source: St. Clair Drake and Horace R- Cayton, Black Metropolis, p.
|114 - 115
Elsewhere Blacks also took up militant means. The 1935 riot that
broke out in Harlem marked "the first time blacks moved ion and
employed violence on a retaliatory basis against white storeowners," as
Baron observed. It was a technique
that was to be used in later years. Another one of the ways to struggle was
based on the concentration of buying power. Black people used their money to
force merchants to hire Black people by shopping only where Black people
worked. During the 1920s, Black bourgeois leaders organized "Don't Buy
Where You Can't Work" campaigns to gain jobs in white firms operating
in the ghettos. Later, the Doctrine of the Double-Duty Dollar was preached,
often from the pulpit. St' Clair Drake and Horace Cayton described -in
1945 the meaning of this doctrine and its importance to the Black community:
is Sunday morning in the "black belt
" The pastor of one of the largest churches has just
finished his morning prayer. There is an air of quiet expectancy, and
then - a most unusual discourse begins. The minister, in the homely,
humorous style so often affected by Bronzeville's "educated"
leaders when dealing with a mass audience, is describing a business
Business Exposition at the Armory was one of the finest achievements
of our people in the history of Chicago. Are there any members of the
Exposition Committee here? If so, please stand. [A man stands.] Come
right down here where you belong; we've got a seat right here in front
for you. This man is manager of the Apex Shoe Store - the shoes that I
wear.. We can get anything we want to wear or eat from Negroes today.
If you would do that it would not only purchase the necessities of
life for you, but would open positions for your young folks. You can
strut as much as you want to and look like Miss Lizze [an upper-class
white person], but you don't know race respect if you don't buy from
Negroes. As soon as these white folks get rich on the South Side, they
go and live on the Gold Coast, and the only way you can get in is by
washing their cuspidors. Why not go to Jackson's store, even if you
don't want to buy nothing but a gingersnap?
Do that and encourage those girls working in there. Go in
there and come out eating. Why don't you do that?"
is the doctrine of the "Double-Duty Dollar," preached from
many Bronzeville pulpits as a part of the weekly ritual. Church
newspapers, too, carry advertisements of all types of business from
"chicken shacks" to corset shops. Specific businessmen are
often pointed out to the congregations as being worthy of emulation
and support, and occasional mass meetings stress the virtues of buying
from Negroes - of making the dollar do "double-duty": by
both purchasing a commodity and "advancing The Race." The
pastor quoted above had been even more explicit in an address before
the Business Exposition crowd itself:
I want all of YOU people to go to these stores. Have your shoes
repaired at a Negro shop, buy your groceries from a Negro grocer ...
and for God's sake, buy your meats, pork chops, and yes, even your
chitterlings, from a Negro butcher. On behalf of the Negro
ministers of Chicago I wish to commend these Negro businessmen for
promoting such an affair, and urge upon you again to patronize your
own, for that is the only way we as a race will ever get
anywhere."' . . .
endorsement of business by the church simply dramatizes,
and brings the force of sacred, sanctions to bear upon, slogans
that the press, the civic
and even the social clubs repeat incessantly, emphasizing the duty of
Negroes to trade with Negroes and promising ultimate racial "salvation"
if they will support racial business enterprises....
the Negro community, a business is more than a mere enterprise to make
profit for the owner. From the standpoints of both the customer and
the owner it becomes a symbol of racial progress, for better or for
addition to these consumer boycotts, mass protests were organized in many
different ways. For instance, in January of 1941, A. Philip Randolph,
president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, an all-Black union,
called for a massive march on Washington. The March on Washington Movement
received sufficient support to force President Roosevelt to establish a Fair
Employment Practice Committee in exchange for calling off the march.
"Although this movement was not able to establish a firmly-organized
class base or sustain itself for long,"
Harold Baron maintains, "it foreshadowed a new stage of development
for a self-conscious working class with the appeal that an oppressed people
must accept the responsibility and take the initiative to free
The March on Washington Movement triggered off a long history of marches on
Washington that continue to this day.
and most importantly, since Black people were becoming workers, the fight
against discrimination was aimed at racist practices by both industry and
segregated unions. This took its most advanced form in the 1930s with the
development of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (the CIO) and
campaigns in such basic industries as steel and automobile production. In
the next chapter, we will take up in more detail the experiences of Black
people as industrial workers in urban centers.
||Urban Black Belt
Why did Black people migrate to the cities, particularly the northern
industrial cities? How was the agricultural experience of Black people
similar to and different from the industrial experience?
What kinds of jobs did Black people get in the city?
What were the major forms of discrimination and oppression experienced by
Black people in the city?
How did Black people fight back during this period?
Constance McLaughlin Green, The Secret City: A History of Race Relations
in the Nation's Capital. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967.
Theodore Kornweibel, Jr., In Search
of the Promised Land: Essays in Black Urban History. Port Washington:
Kennikat Press, 1981.
Hollis R. Lynch, The Black Urban Condition: A Documentary History,
1866-1971. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1973.,
Gilbert Osofsky, Harlem: The Making of a Ghetto. New York: Harper and
Allen H. Spear, Black Chicago: The Making of a Negro Ghetto 1890-1920.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967.