Dr. Quintard Taylor, Jr.
Scott and Dorothy Bullitt
Professor of American History
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African American History | African American History in the West (Now available at www.blackpast.org)  

History 322:
From Timbuktu to Katrina
Manual - Chapter 3
Prosperity and Depression

Introduction | Chap. 1 | Chap. 2 | Chap. 3 | Chap. 4 | Chap. 5 | Chap. 6 | Chap. 7 | Chap. 8

This chapter focuses on black life in the years between the World Wars a period marked by continued migration and urbanization and particularly by the outpouring of art, literature and music in Harlem and across the rest of urban America. The migration of African American to New York, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and other industrial and cultural centers in search of work also increased their national visibility and influence. The power of jazz, for example, is one manifestation of this new influence.

The first two vignettes however focus on the West. Central Avenue: The “Pulse” of Black Los Angeles reminds us of the growth of an African American community on the Pacific coast while Racial Violence on the Southern Plains: Tulsa, 1921, illustrates the migration of racial violence and tensions west along with the general population. African American urban women are profiled in two related vignettes, Harlem Women: Race, Class and Gender and Betterment Organizations Among Harlem Women. The growing influence of African Americans in professional sports is illustrated in A League of Their Own: Founding the Negro Baseball League and Jack Johnson is a Dandy. The problem of continuing Southern educational discrimination is highlighted in the table White and Black Education in 1924: A Comparison.

A number of vignettes depict the Harlem Renaissance beginning with Alain Locke Describes the “New Negro” in 1925. Langston Hughes Recalls Harlem During the Renaissance, Langston Hughes’s “America,” Harlem Renaissance Poetry: “If We Must Die” and Harlem Renaissance Poetry: “I Want to Die While You Love Me,” provide glimpses into the literature of the period. The Debate Over “Racial Art” reminds us that the Renaissance had its African American critics. Finally, Zora on “Being Colored” gives one woman’s view of racial dynamics during the Renaissance.

The interwar years were also marked by the rise of two radically different movements that promised full freedom and equality for African Americans. The first movement, led by Marcus Garvey is illustrated in two vignettes. The first, Marcus Garvey’s Views on Race and Nation provides a brief introduction to Garveyism, the political national¬ism which proved exceedingly popular among the people of Afri¬can ancestry throughout the world. The cartoon, At the Crossroads from The Negro World, the newspaper of Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association offers one view of the reasons for the popularity of “Garveyism.” Marcus Garvey: A Seattle Woman Remembers, de¬scribe the reaction to Garveyism through the recollections of a child during that period. In A Lunatic or a Traitor we see W. E. B. DuBois’s critique of the Garvey Movement.

The other movement that proved appealing for some African Americans, particularly in the 1930s, was Marxism. The first vignette, The Messenger: A Blacks Socialist Newspaper offers a "left" alternative to the Communist Party. James Weldon Johnson on Communism describes an NAACP leader's reaction to the movement that forged an uneasy alliance with many African Americans in the 1930s. Black Pilgrims in the Soviet Union discusses the visits of black leaders to that country and the response of its political leadership.

The vignette Negro Women in Steel illustrates the growing support of organized labor in the 1930s while Franklin Roosevelt, Two Views shows the responses to Presidential leadership during the Great Depression. Charles Hamilton Houston Outlines the Campaign Against School Segregation traces the 1935 roots of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Decision. The final vignettes Segregated Baseball, 1939 and Kenny Washington at UCLA, 1937, describe both the continuing barriers in sports and the role of gifted athletes in undermining those barriers.


In the account below historian Lonnie Bunch, III, describes Central Avenue, the center of black life in Los Angeles between World Wars I and II.

Central Avenue was in its heyday as the center of both the black business and residential communities. By 1920 the black population of Los Angeles had doubled from the 1910 level to 15,579. Unlike earlier migrations...black neighborhoods were unable to accommodate the influx. "Keep the neighborhood white" drives...eventually led to the overpopulation of the Central Avenue community by forcing all new arrivals into the area. Any discussion of the 1920s should begin with "The Avenue." The story of Central Avenue with its elegant neighborhoods, jazz clubs, business districts and trolley cars full of black faces has grown to mythic proportions. Some remember the "Avenue" as a miniature Harlem where musicians and literati gauged the community's pulse by day and transformed that energy into rhyme and music by night. Others recall with pride the offices of the black physicians and dentists, the storefronts of black businesses, and the fabled Dunbar Hotel. Many, however, have memories only of overcrowded homes and apartments, the underside of the Avenue...

By 1910 Central Avenue was the main thoroughfare of black Los Angeles, with the nucleus at 9th and Central, later moving south to 12th and Central. Soon "The Avenue" became an eclectic mix of stately homes representing the cream of black society, rentals and apartments that housed the new southern migrants, and the business and professional offices of the black middle class. In essence, poverty and prosperity existed side by side on Central Avenue.

The black businesses in the Central Avenue corridor were a continuing source of pride for black Angelenos. As one walked from 12th Street a myriad of businesses appeared...the offices of the California Eagle, the Lincoln Theater, the Kentucky Club, Blodgett Motors (with advertisements claiming "you can't go wrong with an Essex"), the Elks Auditorium...and the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company were just a few of the many enterprises that graced the street. Just off the avenue was the 28th Street YMCA, the site of political meetings, social gatherings, as well as the leading organization working with Negro youth in the city. Nearby...between Hooper and Central Avenues, the Dunbar Hospital...ministered to the needs of the community until World War II. Liberty Savings and Loan [was] located near 25th and Central from its inception in 1924 until it ceased operation in 1961... The Hudson-Liddell Building at 41st and Central…was designed by Paul Williams... Williams, the preeminent black architect, had already designed...the 28th Street YMCA, the Hollywood YMCA and the Second Baptist Church.

But the jewel of Central Avenue was the Hotel Somerville, later renamed the Dunbar Hotel. One of the most important landmarks in Los Angeles, it was more than just a resort for weary travelers of color. The lobby, restaurant and conference room became the central meeting place of black Angelenos, hosting a wide range of social and community events. It was truly the symbol of black achievement in the city. The hotel was the creation of John Somerville, a dentist in Los Angeles... Somerville and his wife, Vada were both graduates of the School of Dentistry of the University of Southern California and active participants in the affairs of the black community for over fifty years.

Central Avenue was also home to a musical and literary movement that followed the patterns of the Harlem Renaissance, though on a much smaller scale... Literati from Langston Hughes to native son Arna Bontemps periodically spent time in the ever enlarging artist colony. Poetry readings by local and nationally known writers became standard Sunday fare at the 28th Street YMCA...
The plethora of musical establishments, jazz dens and nightclubs...made Central Avenue the entertainment center of the city... Nightclubs such as the Kentucky Club, the Club Alabam, the Savoy at 55th and Central...the Apex at 4015 Central...all provided opportunity for black musicians to develop a following... Central Avenue was the home to many dreams...the hub of black life.

Source: Lonnie Bunch, III, Black Angelenos: The African American in Los Angeles, 1850-1950 (Los Angeles, 1989), pp. 29-34.


On June 1, 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma exploded in black white violence following the arrest of Dick Rowland, a 19 year old elevator operator for rape. In the following account published in The Nation NAACP official Walter F. White described the carnage and provides his assessment of the reasons behind it.

A hysterical white girl related that a nineteen-year¬ old colored boy attempted to assault her in the public elevator of a public office building of a thriving town of 100,000 in open daylight. Without pausing to find whether or not the story was true, without bothering with the slight detail of investigating the character of the woman who made the outcry (as a matter of fact, she was of exceed¬ingly doubtful reputation), a mob of 100-per-cent Ameri¬cans set forth on a wild rampage that cost the lives of fifty white men; of between 150 and 200 colored men, women and children; the destruction by fire of $1,500,000 worth of property; the looting of many homes; and everlasting damage to the reputation of the city of Tulsa and the State of Oklahoma. . .

This, in brief, is the story of the eruption of Tulsa on the night of May 31 and the morning of June 1. One could travel far and find few cities where the likelihood of trouble between the races was as little thought of as in Tulsa…a thriving, bustling, enormously wealthy town of between 90,000 and 100,000. In 1910 it was the home of 18,182 souls, a dead and hopeless outlook ahead. Then oil was discovered. The town grew amazingly. On De¬cember 29, 1920, it had bank deposits, totaling $65,449,985.90; almost $1,000 per capita when compared with the Federal Census figures of 1920, which gave Tulsa 72,075. The town lies in the center of the oil region and many are the stories told of the making of fabulous fortunes by men who were operating on a shoe-string. Some of the stories rival those of the "forty-niners" in California. The town has a number of modern office buildings, many beautiful homes, miles of clean, well-paved streets, and aggressive and progressive business men who well exemplify Tulsa’s motto of "The City with a Personality."

So much for the setting. What are the causes of the race riot that occurred in such a place? First, the Negro in Oklahoma has shared in the sudden prosperity that has come to many of his white brothers, and there are some colored men there who are wealthy. This fact has caused a bitter resentment on the part of the lower order of whites, who feel that these colored men, members of an "inferior race," are exceedingly presump¬tuous in achieving greater economic prosperity than…members of a divinely ordered superior race. There are at least three colored persons in Oklahoma who are worth a million dollars each; J. W. Thompson of Clear¬view is worth $500,000; there are a number of men and women worth $100,000; and many whose possessions are valued at $25,000 and $50,000 each. This was particularly true of Tulsa, where there were two colored men worth $150,000 each; two worth $100,000; three $50,000; and four who were assessed at $25,000. In one case where a colored man owned and operated a printing plant with $25,000 worth of printing machinery in it, the leader of the mob that set fire to and destroyed the plant was a linotype operator employed for years by the colored owner at $48 per week. The white man was killed while attack¬ing the plant. Oklahoma is largely populated by pioneers from other States. Some of the white pioneers are former residents of Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, and other States more typically southern than Oklahoma. These have brought with them their anti-Negro prejudices, Lethargic and unprogressive by nature, it sorely irks them to see Negroes making greater progress than they themselves are achieving.

One of the charges made against the colored men in Tulsa is that they were "radical." Questioning the whites more closely regarding the nature of this radicalism, I found it means that Negroes were uncompromisingly de¬nouncing "Jim-Crow" cars, lynching" peonage;) in short, were asking that the Federal constitutional guaranties, of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" be given regard¬less of color. The Negroes of Tulsa and other Okla¬homa cities are pioneers; men and women who have dared, men, and women who have had the initiative and the courage to pull up stakes in other less-favored States and face hardship in a newer one for the sake of greater even¬tual progress. That type is less ready to submit to insult. Those of the whites who seek to maintain the white group control naturally do not relish seeing Negroes emancipating themselves from the old system…

So much for the general causes. What was the spark that set off the blaze? On Monday; May 30, a white girl by the name of Sarah Page, operating an elevator in the Drexel Building, stated that Dick Rowland, a nineteen-year-old colored boy, had attempted criminally to assault, her. Her second story was that the boy had seized her arm as he entered the elevator. She screamed. He ran. It was found afterwards that the boy had stepped by accident on her foot. It seems never to have occurred to the Citizens of Tulsa that any sane person attempting crimi¬nally to assault a woman would have picked any place in the in the world rather than an open elevator in a public building with scores of people within calling distance. The story of the alleged assault was published, Tuesday afternoon by the Tulsa Tribune, one of the two local newspapers. At four o’clock Commissioner of Police J. M. Adkison reported to Sheriff McCullough that there was talk of lynching Rowland that night. Chief of Police John A. Gustafson, Captain Wilkerson of the Police Department, Edwin F. Barnett, managing editor of the Tulsa Tribune, and numerous other citizens all stated that there was talk Tuesday of lynching the boy.

In the meantime the news of the threatened lynching reached the colored settlement where Tulsa’s 15,000 colored citizens lived. Remembering how a white man, [Roy Belton] had been lynched after being taken from the same jail where the colored boy was now confined, they feared that Rowland was in danger. A group of colored men telephoned the sheriff and proffered their services in protecting the jail from attack. The sheriff told them that they would be called upon if needed. About nine o’clock that night a crowd of white men gathered around the jail, numbering about 400, according to Sheriff McCullough. At 9:15 the report reached "Little Africa" that the mob had stormed the jail. A crowd of twenty-five armed Negroes set out immediately, but on reaching the jail found the report untrue. The sheriff talked with them, assured them that the boy would not be harmed, and urged them to return to their homes. They left, later returning, 75 strong. The sheriff persuaded them to leave. As they complied, a white man at¬tempted to disarm one of the colored men. A shot was fired, and then--in the wards of the sheriff--"all hell broke loose." There was a fusillade of shots, from both sides and twelve men fell dead—two of them colored, ten white. The fighting continued until midnight when the colored men, greatly outnumbered, were forced back to their section of the town.

Around five o’clock Wednesday morning, the mob, now numbering more than 10,000, made a mass attack on Little Africa. Machine guns were brought into use; eight aeroplanes were employed to spy on the movements of the Negroes and according to some were used in bombing the colored section... The colored men and women fought gamely in defense of their homes; but the odds were too great. According to the statements of onlookers, men in uniform, either home guards or ex-service men or both, carried cans of oil into Little Africa and, after looting the homes, set fire to them. Many are the stories of horror told to me, not by colored people, but by white residents. One was that of an aged colored couple saying their evening prayers before retiring in their little home on Greenwood Avenue. A mob broke into the house, shot both of the old people in the backs of their heads, blowing their brains out and spattering them over the bed, pillaged the home, and then set fire to it.

Another was that of the death of Dr. A. C. Jackson, a colored physician. Dr. Jackson was worth $100,000; had been described by the Mayo brothers "the most able Negro surgeon in America"; was respected by white and colored people alike, and was in every sense a good citizen. A mob attacked Dr. Jackson’s home. He fought in defense of it, his wife and children and himself. An officer of the home guards who knew Dr. Jackson came up at that time and assured him that if he would surrender he would be protected. This Dr. Jackson did. The officer sent him under guard to Convention Hall, where colored people were being placed for protection. En route to the hall, dis¬armed, Dr. Jackson was shot and killed in cold blood. The officer who had assured Dr. Jackson of protection stated to me, "Dr. Jackson was an able, clean-cut man. He did only what any red-blooded man would have done under similar circumstances in defending his home. Dr. Jackson was mur¬dered by white ruffians.

It is highly doubtful if the exact number of casualties will ever be known. The figures originally given in the press estimate the number at 100. The number buried by local undertakers and given out by city officials is ten white and twenty-one colored. For obvious reasons these offi¬cials wish to keep the number published as low as possible, but the figures obtained in Tulsa are far higher. Fifty whites and between 150 and 200 Negroes is much nearer the actual number of deaths. Ten whites were killed dur¬ing the first hour of fighting on Tuesday night. Six white men drove into the colored section in a car on Wednesday morning and never came out. Thirteen whites were killed between 5:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. Wednesday. O. T. John¬son, commandant, of the Tulsa Citadel of the Salvation Army, stated that on Wednesday and Thursday the Salvation Army fed thirty-seven Negroes employed as grave diggers and twenty, on Friday and Saturday. During the first two days these men dug 120 graves in each of which a dead Negro was buried. No coffins were used. The bodies were dumped into the holes and covered over with dirt. Added to the number accounted far were numbers of others--men, women, and children--who were incinerated in the burning houses in the Negro settlement. One story was told me by an eye-witness of five colored men trapped in a burning house. Four burned to death. A fifth attempted to flee, was shot to death as he emerged from the burning structure, and his body was thrown back into the flames. There was an unconfirmed rumor afloat in Tulsa of two truck loads of dead Negroes being dumped into the Arkansas River, but that story could not be con¬firmed.

What is America going to do after such a horrible carnage—one that for sheer brutality and murderous anarchy cannot be surpassed, by any of the crimes now being charged to the Bolsheviki in Russia? How much longer will America allow, these pogroms to continue unchecked? There is a lesson in the Tulsa affair for every American who fatuously believes that Negroes will always be the meek and submissive creatures that circumstances have forced them to be during the past three hundred years. Dick Rowland was only an ordinary bootblack with no standing in the community. But when his life was threatened by a mob of whites, every one of the 15,000 Negroes of Tulsa, rich, and poor, educated and illiterate, was willing to die to protect Dick Rowland. Perhaps America is waiting for a nationwide Tulsa to wake her. Who knows?

Source: Walter F. White, “The Eruption of Tulsa,” The Nation 112 (29 June 1921), pp. 909-910.


Harlem writer Elise Johnson McDougald in a 1925 article for the Survey Graphic titled “The Double Task: The Struggle of Negro Women for Sex and Race Emancipation,” explores the world of Harlem women. This first of three excerpts from her article describes the major socio-economic classes among black women in the then largest African American urban community in the nation.

Throughout the long years of history, woman has been the weather-vane, the indicator, showing in which direction the wind of destiny blows. Her status and development have augured now calm and stability, now swift currents of progress. What then is to be said of the Negro woman today?

In Harlem, more than anywhere else, the Negro woman is free from the cruder handicaps of primitive household hardships and the grosser forms of sex and race subjugation. Here she has considerable opportunity to measure her powers in the intellectual and industrial fields of the great city. Here the questions naturally arise: "What are her problems?" and "How is she solving them?"

To answer these questions, one must have in mind not any one Negro woman, but rather a colorful pageant of individuals, each differently endowed… Because only a few have caught this vision, the attitude of mind of most New Yorkers causes the Negro woman serious difficulty. She is conscious that what is left of chivalry is not directed toward her. She realizes that the ideals of beauty, built up in the fine arts, exclude her almost entirely. Instead, the grotesque Aunt Jemimas of the street-car advertisements proclaim only an ability to serve, without grace or loveliness…. She is most often used to provoke the mirth laugh of ridicule; or to portray feminine viciousness or vulgarity not peculiar to Negroes. This is the shadow over her. To a race naturally sunny comes the twilight self-doubt and a sense of personal inferiority. It cannot be denied that these are potent and detrimental influences, though not generally recognized because they are in the realm of the mental and. spiritual. More apparent are the economic handicaps which follow her recent entrance into industry. It is conceded that she has special difficulties because of the poor working conditions and low wages of her men. It is not surprising that only the determined women forge ahead to results other than mere survival. The few do prove their mettle stimulate one to a closer study of this achievement is won in Harlem.

Better to visualize the Negro woman at her job… First, comes a very small leisure group-the wives and daughters of men who are in business, in the professions and in a few well-paid personal service occupations. Second, a most active and progressive group, the women in business and the professions. Third, the many women in the trades and industry. Fourth, a group weighty in numbers struggling on in domestic service, with an even less fortunate fringe of casual workers, fluctuating with the economic temper of the times.

The first is a pleasing group to see. It is picked for outward beauty by Negro men with much the same feeling as other Americans of the same economic class. Keeping their women free to preside over the family, these women are affected by the problems of every wife and mother, but touched only faintly by their race's hardships. They do share acutely in the prevailing difficulty of finding competent household help. Negro wives find Negro maids unwilling generally to work in their own neighborhoods, for various reasons. They do not wish to work where there is a possibility of acquaintances coming into contact with them while they serve and they still harbor the misconception that Negroes of any station are unable to pay as much as persons of the other race. It is in these homes of comparative ease that we find the polite activities of social exclusiveness. The luxuries of well-appointed homes, modest motors, tennis, golf and country clubs, trips to Europe and California, make for social standing…

A spirit of stress and struggle characterizes the second two groups. These women of business, profession and trade are the hub of the wheel of progress. Their burden is twofold. Many are wives and mothers whose husbands are insufficiently paid, or who have succumbed to social maladjustment and have abandoned-their families. An appalling number are widows. They face the great problem of leaving home each day and at the same time trying to rear children in their spare time-this too in neighborhoods where rents are large, standards of dress and recreation high and costly, and social danger on the increase.

The great commercial life of New York City is only slightly touched by the Negro woman of our second group. Negro business men offer her most of their work, but their number is limited. Outside of this field, custom is once more against her and competition is keen for all. However, Negro girls are training and some are holding exceptional jobs. One of the professors in a New York college has had a young colored woman as secretary for the past three years. Another holds the head clerical position in an organization where reliable handling of detail and a sense of business ethics are essential. For four years she has steadily advanced. Quietly these women prove their worth, so that when a vacancy exists and there is a call, it is difficult to find even one competent colored secretary who is not employed…

In other departments the civil service in New York City is no longer free from discrimination. The casual personal interview, that tenacious and retrogressive practice introduced in the Federal administration during the World War has spread and often nullifies the Negro woman's success in written tests. The successful young woman just cited above was three times "turned down" as undesirable on the basis of the personal interview. In the great mercantile houses, the many young Negro girls who might be well suited to salesmanship are barred from all but the menial positions..

In the less crowded professional vocations, the outlook is more cheerful. In these fields, the Negro woman is dependent largely upon herself and her own race for work. In the legal, dental, medical and nursing professions, successful women practitioners have usually worked their way through college and are "managing" on the small fees that can be received from an underpaid public. Social conditions in America are hardest upon the Negro because he is lowest in the economic scale. This gives rise to a demand for trained college women in the profession of social work. It has met with a response from young college women, anxious to devote their education and lives to the needs of the submerged classes. In New York City, some fifty-odd women are engaged in social work, other than nursing. In the latter profession there are over two hundred and fifty. Much of the social work has been pioneer in nature: the pay has been small with little possibility of advancement. For even in work among Negroes, the better paying positions are reserved for whites. The Negro college woman is doing her bit in this field at a sacrifice, along such lines as these: in the correctional departments of the city, as probation officers, investigators, and police women; as Big Sisters attached to the Children’s' Court; as field workers and visitors for relief organizations and missions; as secretaries for travelers-aid and mission societies; as visiting teachers and vocational guides for the schools of the city; and, in the many branches of public health nursing, in schools, organizations devoted to preventive and educational medicine, in hospitals and in private nursing.

In New York City, nearly three hundred Negro women share the good conditions in the teaching profession. They measure up to the high pedagogical requirements of the city and state law and are increasingly, leaders in the community. Here too the Negro woman finds evidence of the white workers' fear of competition. The need for teachers is still so strong that little friction exists. When it does seem to be imminent, it is smoothed away, as it recently was at a meeting of school principals. From the floor, a discussion began with: "What are we going to do about this problem of the increasing number of Negro teachers coming into our schools?" It ended promptly through the suggestion of another principal: "Send all you get and don't want over to my school. I have two now and I'll match their work to any two of your best whom you name." One might go on to such interesting and more unusual professions as journalism, chiropody, bacteriology, pharmacy, etc., and find that, though the number in any one may be small, the Negro woman is creditably represented in practically every one. According to individual ability she is meeting with success.

…The woman engaged in trades and in industry faces equally serious difficulty in competition in the open working field. Custom is against her in all but a few trade and industrial occupations. She has, however been established long in the dressmaking trade among the helpers and finishers, and more recently among the 'drapers and fitters in' some of the best establishments. Several Negro women are themselves proprietors of shops in the country's greatest fashion district. Each of them has, against great odds, convinced skeptical employers of her business value; and, at the same time, has educated fellow workers of other races, doing much to show the oneness of interest of all workers…

In trade cookery, the Negro woman's talent and pail experience is recognized. Her problem here is to find employers who will let her work her way to managerial positions, in tea-rooms, candy shops and institutions. One such employer became convinced that the managing cook, a colored graduate of Pratt Institute, would continue to build up a business that had been failing. She offered her a partnership. As in the cases of a number of such women, her barrier was lack of capital. No matter how highly trained, nor how much speed and business acumen has been acquired, the Negro's credit is held in doubt. An exception in this matter of capital will serve to prove the rule. Thirty years ago, a young Negro girl began learning all branches of the fur trade. She is now in business for herself, employing three women of her race and one Jewish man. She has made fur experts of still another half-dozen colored girls. Such instances as these justify the prediction that the hold gained in the trade world will, year by year, become more secure.

Because of the limited fields for workers in this group, many of the unsuccessful drift into the fourth social grade, the domestic and casual workers. These drifters increased the difficulties of the Negro woman suited to housework. New standards of household management are forming and the problem of the Negro woman is to meet these new business-like ideals. The constant influx of workers unfamiliar with household conditions in New York keeps the situation one of turmoil. The Negro woman, moreover, is revolting against residential domestic service. It is a last stand her fight to maintain a semblance of family life. For this reason, principally, the number of day or casual worker is on the increase. Happiness is almost impossible under the strain of these conditions. Health and morale suffer, how else can her children, loose all afternoon, be gathered together at night-fall? Through it all she manages to give satisfactory service and the Negro woman is sought after for this unpopular work largely because her honesty, loyalty and cleanliness have stood the test of time. Through her drudgery, the women of other groups find leisure time for progress. This is one of her contributions to America.

Source: Elise Johnson McDougald, “The Double Task: The Struggle of Negro Women for Sex and Race Emancipation,” The Survey Graphic LIII (March 1925): 689-691.


The final section of Elise Johnson McDougald’s Survey Graphic article briefly discusses the various organizations middle class Harlem women crafted to address problems and improve conditions among the masses of African Americans in that section of New York.

Obsessed with difficulties that might well compel individualism, the Negro woman has engaged in a considerable amount of organized action to meet group needs. She has evolved a federation of her clubs, embracing between eight and ten thousand women, throughout the state of New York. Its chief function is to crystallize programs, prevent duplication of effort, and to sustain a member organization whose cause might otherwise fail. It is now firmly established, and is about to strive for conspicuous goals. In New York City, one association makes child welfare its name and special concern. Others, like the Utility Club, Utopia Neighborhood, Debutante's League, Sempre Fidelius, etc., raise money for old folks' homes, a shelter for delinquent girls and fresh air camps for children. The Colored Branch of the Y. W. C. A. and the women’s' organizations in the many churches, as well as in the beneficial lodges and associations, care for the needs of their members.

On the other hand, the educational welfare of the coming generation, has become the chief concern of the national sororities of Negro college women. The first to be organized in the country, Alpha Kappa Alpha, has a systematized and continuous program of educational and vocational guidance for students of the high schools and colleges. The work of Lambda Chapter, which covers New York City and its suburbs, is outstanding. Its recent campaign gathered together nearly one hundred and fifty such students at a meeting to gain inspiration from the life-stories of successful Negro women in eight fields of endeavor. From the trained nurse, who began in the same schools as they, these girls drank in the tale of her rise to the executive position in the Harlem Health Information Bureau. A commercial artist showed how real talent had overcome the color line. The graduate physician was a living example of the modern opportunities in the newer fields of medicine open to women. The vocations as outlets for the creative instinct became attractive under the persuasion of the musician, the dressmaker and the decorator. Similarly, Alpha Beta Chapter of the national Delta Sigma Theta Sorority recently devoted a week to work along similar lines. In such ways as these are the progressive and privileged groups of Negro women expressing, their community and race consciousness.

We find the Negro woman, figuratively, struck in the face daily by contempt from the world about her. Within her soul, she knows little of peace and happiness. Through it all, she is courageously standing erect, developing within herself the moral strength to rise above and conquer false attitudes. She is maintaining her natural beauty and charm and improving her mind and opportunity. She is measuring up to the needs and demands of her family, community and race, and radiating from Harlem a hope that is cherished by her sisters in less propitious circumstances throughout the land. The wind of the race's destiny stirs more briskly because of her striving.

Source: Elise Johnson McDougald, “The Double Task: The Struggle of Negro Women for Sex and Race Emancipation,” The Survey Graphic LIII (March 1925): 691.


In the following account Edwin Bancroft Henderson describes the origin of the Negro Baseball League.

The first Negro team composed of paid members is recorded as a playing aggregation that at first was a team of waiters of the Argyle Hotel at Babylon, New York. This club of hotel waiters and bellhops was organized in 1885 by Frank Thompson, head waiter of the hotel. During that summer the team played nine games with the best of the white semi-pro clubs around New York and Long Island, winning six and losing four. In September, Thompson called them the “Cuban Giants,” and started them on a professional career.

Knowing the growing prejudices that had infiltrated into the social structure of the North and East, the management realized that to pass off the boys as Cubans or Spaniards would enable them to play in places where as native Negro boys they would not have been able to make business contacts. On the playing field, a few of the Negro players would put on an act and talk a “gibberish” to each other. Because the New York Giants were a popular team of players, the Cubans added the name “Giants.” The name “Giants” became attached to nearly every prominent colored team for a quarter of a century. One still remembers the Brooklyn Royal Giants, the Bacharach Giants, the Mohawk Giants, the Chicago American Giants, and others.

Several efforts were made to form leagues of Negro baseball teams. All the early attempts were doomed to failure. In the spring of 1887, a Negro League was formed on paper, but did not reach the field. In 1889, a league of six white and two Nero clubs was organized in the East but folded up in a few weeks. About 1906 several of the prominent teams in the East, including the Cuban Giants, the Cuban X-Giants, the Washington Giants, the Royal Giants of Newark, endeavored to form the International League, but before midsummer it collapsed.

Leaving the East, one finds that on February 13, 1920, in Kansas City, Missouri, the western circuit of the National Negro Baseball League was organized. Seated in that meeting were Tenny Blount of Detroit, L. S. Cobb of the St. Louis Giants, W. A. Kelley of Washington, John Matthews of the Dayton-Monarchs, Joe Greene of the Chicago Giants, C. J. Taylor of the Indianapolis A.B.C.’s, Elwood Knox of Indianapolis, Andrew “Rube” Foster, J. L. Williamson of Kansas City, Missouri, and Charles Marshall, an Indianapolis newspaperman.

The League upon organizing was chartered in the states of Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland. Those signing the constitution of the newly formed league were Rube Foster, Tenny Blount, J. L. Wilkerson, C. I. Taylor, Joe Greene, and Lorenzo Cobb. Each paid $500 to bind them to the league and constitution. Those who helped with the constitution were Dave Wright of Chicago, Ellwood Knox of Indianapolis, Carey B. Lewis of Chicago, and Elisha Scott of Leavenworth. Rube Foster was named president and secretary. The clubs to represent the League during this first year were the American Giants (Chicago), Chicago Giants, Kansas City Monarchs, St. Louis Giants, Detroit Stars, and the Indianapolis A.B.C’s. The next meeting was on December 4, 1920, in Indianapolis. Foster was re-elected president and secretary for the ensuing year. The association now became the National Association of Colored Professional Baseball and the Negro National League. The following teams were added:
the Hilldale Club, Columbus Club, the New York Bacharach Giants, and the Cuban Stars.

In 1921—22, the Eastern League came into being. Ed Bolden of the Hilldale Club organized the Eastern League and was president. It consisted of the Harrisburg Giants, the Hilldales, Lincoln Giants, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Bacharach Giants, Baltimore Black Sox, with the Washington Potomacs as an associate club. There was much shifting of teams due to the lack of organized control. Sometime about 1932, the Negro National League and the Eastern League went down. Subsequent to this dissolution “Cum” Posey brought about the East-West organization. This East-West League consisted of Hilldale, Baltimore Black Sox, Detroit Stars, Columbus, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Homestead Grays, Washington Pilots, and Black Yankees. The first world series between Negro teams was held in 1924 and 1925 between the Negro National and Negro Eastern League champion teams. The first teams in 1924 and 1925 were the Hilldale (Eastern), Kansas City (Western). Contenders in 1926 and 1927 were the Chicago American Giants and the Bacharach Giants.

The 1939 Negro American League located in the West started the following teams with franchises in the cities indicated: Kansas City Monarchs in St. Louis, Atlanta Black Crackers in Louisville, Jacksonville Red Caps in Cleveland, Memphis Giants in Memphis, A.B.C.’s in Indianapolis, and the Chicago American Giants in Chicago.
A Negro National League consisted that year of the following: The Elite Giants in Baltimore, Newark Eagles, Toledo, Homestead Grays, the Philadelphia Stars, the New York Black Yankees, and the New York Cuban Stars team managed by Alexander Pompez. This later day Negro National League contrived to function during subsequent years apparently on firmer ground. The dubs carried from fifteen to twenty salaried players and business associates. In the beginning many of the games were staged for exhibition only. Tom Wilson of the Baltimore Elites was elected president to succeed “Gus” Greenlee, retired.

Another Association existing in the late thirties known as the American Association included the following teams: Baltimore, Hilldale, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Philadelphia and High Point.

Source: Edwin Bancroft Henderson, The Negro In Sports (Washington, D. C.: The Associated Publishers, Inc., 1949), Ch. IX, pp. 168-171.


In his 1926 autobiography republished in 1969, Jack Johnson is a Dandy, the first black heavyweight champion describes his life inside and outside the ring. What follows is an excerpt from that autobiography.

My name is familiar to a great many people chiefly because I have held the heavyweight boxing championship of the world, and because for more than a quarter of a century I have figured prominently in the making of world ring history. On more than one occa¬sion I have been the central character in sensational episodes which stirred the interest and curiosity of the public.

But I am not writing this history of my life—¬full of experiences and adventures as it is—because of these facts. On the contrary, in looking back over the years of my tumultuous career, I am astounded when I realize that there are few men in any period of the world's history, who have led a more varied or intense existence than I. My life, almost from its very start, has been filled with tragedy and romance, failure and success, poverty and wealth, misery and happiness. All these conflicting conditions that have crowded in upon me and plunged me into struggles with warring forces have made me somewhat of a unique character in the world of today, and the story of the life I have led may therefore not only contain some interest if told for its own sake, but may also shed some light on the life of our times.

Quick changes have come into my life on numerous occasions. I have been tossed from one extreme to the other within a few hours. Sometimes I found myself in the midst of disaster and often I arose to unexpected heights of affluence, power and prominence. Many, many times fortune has virtually dropped into my hands and as many times it has slipped magically from my grasp. I have attained the peaks of victory in grueling fights with men as eager, as ambitious, as alert and as strong as I. With these victories generally came great sums of money, sometimes almost more than I ever dreamed of possessing. I was surrounded by countless admiring friends all…eager to shout my praises; all striving for my esteem and for my bounty. By a sudden flip of fortune I have seen these friends melt away. But there have been many who have proved staunch throughout the years; who have shared with me in my successes and victories and who have suffered with me in the moments of failure, disappointment and bitterness…

I have traveled in nearly every country of the world and wherever I have gone I have had adventures that men of my race and nation have never had. I have mingled with notable people of every land. I have been with kings and queens; mon¬archs and rulers of nations have been my associates. In all the great gathering places of the world where the elite of every nation have met and are meeting, I have enjoyed the distinction of being a celebrity pointed out over all others.

In my life there have been many women, and with women there has come great happiness and also grief and tragedy. Women have come into my life and gone out of it leaving memories, many of which I treasure and many of which I would forget if I could. However, these women whom I have known and loved have been salient factors in my life. They have been the inspiration that urged me to strive for the uppermost places; they have been the cause of situations which turned the eyes of the world upon me, some merely gleaming with morbidness, others flashing condemnation and hate.

I have had my innings with the law. I know the bit¬terness of being accused and harassed by prosecutors. I know the horror of being hunted and haunted. I have dashed across continents and oceans as a fugitive, and I have matched my wits with the police and secret agents seeking to deprive me of one of the greatest blessings man can have—liberty. And after I had eluded them, after I had spent months in fighting for my cherished freedom and enjoying it at a dearly purchased price, I voluntarily relinquished it and surrendered myself, know¬ing that I should have to enter prison.

In my fight for my freedom I felt that whatever my conduct had been which led to accusations against me and conviction, it had been no worse than that of thou¬sands of others. I felt that I had committed no heinous crime and that because of my color, perhaps, and because of prejudices and jealousies I was being persecuted and prosecuted. However, after months abroad, always alert lest I should be led into some trap that would mean loss of my freedom, I decided that I would return to my native country, submit to the demands of the law, and clear my "debt to society…

…I am not attempting this enter¬prise to explain and excuse my faults and mistakes, nor to win sympathy and smooth over the rough places in my life. On the contrary, I feel that the story of my life is one that will prove interesting and entertaining to my readers as the story of a man, and that it will not be without good results. I am not pointing out any morals, yet when one suffers the inevitable consequences that ensue when the wrong course is chosen or mistakes are made and frankly admits and describes these mis¬takes and their results, surely it will prove of some bene¬fit if it aids others to avoid similar mistakes and the attending unhappiness and disappointments.

I, have no quarrel with fate, nor do I cling to the ab¬surd belief that fate has set any special mark upon me. Yet fate must have intended me for adventures and ex¬periences that do not fall to the lot of the average man…Of course I had the dreams and desires that are com¬mon to youth, but never in the wildest moments of my boyhood imagination did I vision myself the champion fighter of the world, and the first man of my race ever to attain that distinction…How incongruous to think that I, a little Galveston colored boy should ever become an acquaint¬ance of kings and rulers of the old world, or that I should number among my friends some of the most notable persons of America and the world in general! What a vast stretch of the imagination to picture myself a fugi¬tive from my own country, yet sought and acclaimed by thousands in nearly every nation of the world! What an unusual circumstance that while I feared to return to my own country and was a voluntary exile, one of the most notorious revolutionary leaders of Mexico, [Francisco] Villa, was making frantic efforts to finance my return to the Western hemisphere and was attempting to stage in Mexico the championship fight between myself and [Jess] Willard. How utterly fantastic would have been the thought that I should some day be plunged into romances and love with white women in defiance of a treasured and guarded custom. How far removed from my thought was the possibility that tragedy would creep into my life—the tragedy of a prison term in one instance and the death by suicide of one whom I greatly loved in the other.

Source: Jack Johnson, Jack Johnson is a Dandy: An Autobiography (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1969), p.21-26.

Table: White and Black Education in 1924: A Comparison

W.E.B. DuBois in 1924 was provided graphic evidence of the disparity in white and black educational appropriations from an unlikely source, the Charleston News and Courier, when it published figures committed by the state legislature for various institutions.

The appropriation for public education in South Carolina for 1924 were, according to the Charleston News and Courier as follows:

For White People: [35,000 students]
The University of South Carolina $ 476,025
The Citadel 161,143
Clemson College 91,813
Winthrop College 468,108
[South Carolina] Medical College 120,775
Confederate Home College 5,000
Howe School 48,206
School for Deaf and Blind 125,700
Training School for Feeble Minded 150,310
Industrial School for Boys 129,548
Industrial School for Girls 27,170
For Colored People [32,000 students]
Colored College $101,150
Reformatory for Negro Boys 52,287
$ 153,437

Source: The Crisis, Vol. 28, No. 3 (July 1924) pp. 104-105.


Intersecting the recent northward migration of African Americans with the cultural outpouring that would be called the Harlem Renaissance, Howard University professor and literary critic Alain Locke describes the ongoing psychological transformation of African America. The excerpt below is from his introduction to the first major anthology that attempts to capture that mood.

In the last decade something beyond the watch and guard of statistics has happened in the life of the American Negro, and the three norms who have traditionally presided over the Negro problem have a changeling in their laps. The Sociologist, the Philanthropist, the Race leader are not unaware of the New Negro, but they are at a loss to account for him. He simply cannot be swathed in their formulae. For the younger generation is vibrant with a new psychology; the new spirit is awake in the masses; and under the very eyes of the professional observers is transforming what has been a perennial problem into the progressive phases of contemporary Negro life.

Could such a metamorphosis have taken place as suddenly as it has appeared to? The answer is no; not only because the New Negro is not here, but because the Old Negro had long become more of a myth than a man. The Old Negro, we must member, was a creature of moral debate and historical controversy. His has been a stock figure perpetuated as an historical fiction partly in innocent sentimentalism, partly in deliberate reactionism. The Negro himself has contributed his share to this through a sort of protective social mimicry forced upon him by the adverse circumstances of dependence. So for generations in the mind of America, the Negro has been more of a formula than a human being—a something to be argued about, condemned or defended, to be "kept down," or "in his place," or "helped up," to be worried with or worried over, harassed or patronized, a social bogey or a social burden...

But while the minds of most of us, black and white, have thus burrowed in the trenches of the Civil War and Reconstruction, the actual march of development has simply flanked these positions, necessitating a sudden reorientation of view... The mind of the Negro seems suddenly to have slipped from under the tyranny of social intimidation and to be shaking off the psychology of imitation and implied inferiority. By shedding the old chrysalis of the Negro problem we are achieving something like a spiritual emancipation. Until recently, lacking self-understanding, we have been almost as much of a problem to ourselves as we still are to others. But the decade that found us with a problem has left us with only a task...

With this renewed self respect and self-dependence, the life of the Negro community is bound to enter a new dynamic phase, the buoyancy from within compensating for whatever pressure there may be of conditions from without. The migrant masses, shifting from countryside to city, hurdle several generations of experience at a leap, but more important, the same thing happens spiritually in the attitudes and self expression of the Young Negro, in his poetry, his art, his education and his new outlook, with the additional advantage, of course, of the poise and greater certainty of knowing what it is all about. From this comes the promise and warrant of a new leadership…

...The day of "aunties," "uncles" and "mammies" is equally gone. Uncle Tom and Sambo have passed on, and even the "Colonel" and "George" play barnstorm from which they escape with relief when the public spotlight is off. The popular melodrama has about played itself out, and it is time to scrap the fictions, garret the bogeys and settle down to a realistic facing of facts...A main change has been, of course, that shifting of the Negro population which has made the Negro problem no longer exclusively or predominantly Southern. Why should our minds remain sectionalized when the problem no longer is? Then the trend of migration has not only been toward the North and the Central Midwest, but cityward and to the great centers of industry—the problems of adjustment are new, practical, local and not particularly racial. Rather they are an integral part of the large industrial and social problems of our present day democracy...

In the very process of being transplanted, the Negro is being transformed... With each successive wave [of migration] the movement of the Negro become more and more a mass movement...a deliberate flight not only from countryside to city, but from medieval America to modern.

Take Harlem as an instance of this. Here is Manhattan is not merely the largest Negro community in the world, but the first concentration in history of so many diverse elements of Negro life. It has attracted the African, the West Indian, the Negro American; has brought together the Negro of the North and the Negro of the South; the man from the city and the man from the town and village; the peasant, the student, the business man, the professional man, artist poet, musician, adventurer and worker, preacher and criminal, exploiter and social outcast. Each group has come with its own separate motives and for its own special ends, but their greatest experience has been the finding of one another. Proscription and prejudice have thrown these dissimilar elements into a common area of contact and interaction. Within this area, race sympathy and unity have determined a further fusing of sentiment and experience. So what began in terms of segregation becomes more and more, as its elements mix and react, the laboratory of a great race welding. Hitherto, it must be admitted that American Negroes have been a race more in name than in fact, or to be exact, more in sentiment than in experience. The chief bond between them has been that of a common condition rather than a common consciousness; a problem in common rather than a life in common. In Harlem, Negro life is seizing upon its first chances for group expression and self-determination. It is—or promises at least to be—a race capital... That is why our comparison is taken with those nascent centers of folk expression and self determination which are playing a creative part in the world to day. Without pretense to their political significance, Harlem has the same role to play for the New Negro as Dublin has had for the New Ireland or Prague for the New Czechoslovakia.

When the race leaders of twenty years ago spoke of developing race-pride and stimulating race-consciousness, and of the desirability of race-solidarity, they could not in any accurate degree have anticipated the abrupt feeling that has surged up and now pervades the awakened centers. Some of the recognized Negro leaders and a powerful section of white opinion identified with “race work” of the older order have indeed attempted to discount this feeling as a “passing phase,” an attack of “race nerves” so to speak, an “aftermath of the war,” and the like. It has not abated, however, if we are to gauge the present tone and temper of the Negro press, or by the shift in popular support from the officially recognized and orthodox spokesmen to those of the independent, popular, and often radical type who are unmistakable symptoms of a new order. It is a social disservice to blunt the fact that the Negro of the Northern centers has reached a stage where tutelage, even of the most interested and well-intentioned sort, must give place to new relationships, where positive self-direction must be reckoned with in ever increasing measure. The American mind must reckon with a fundamentally changed Negro...

Source: Alain Locke, ed., The New Negro: An Interpretation (New York: Macmillan, 1925), 3-8.


Langston Hughes in his autobiography, The Big Sea, offers this description of Harlem during the 1920s.

White people began to come to Harlem in droves. For several years they packed the Cotton Club on Lenox Avenue. But I was never there, because the Cotton Club was a Jim Crow club for gangsters and monied whites. They were not cordial to Negro patronage unless you were a celebrity like Bojangles [Robinson]¬ So Harlem Negroes did not like the Cotton Club and never appreciated its Jim Crow policy in the very heart of their dark community. Nor did ordinary Negroes like the growing influx of whites toward Harlem after sundown, flooding the little cabarets and bars where formerly only colored people laughed and sang, and where now strangers were given the best ringside tables to sit and stare at the Negro customers—like amusing animals in a zoo.

The Negroes said: "We can't go downtown and sit and stare at you in your clubs. You won’t even let us in your clubs." But they didn't say it loud--for Negroes are practically never rude to white people. So thousands of whites came to Harlem night after night, thinking Negroes loved to have them there, and firmly believing that all Harlemites left their houses at sundown to sing and dance in cabarets, because most of the whites saw nothing but the cabarets, not the houses…

Some of the small clubs, however had people like Gladys Bentley who was something worth discovering in those days, before she got famous, acquired an accompanist, specially written material, and conscious vulgarity. But for two or three amazing years, Miss Bentley sat and played a big piano all night long, literally all night, without stopping--singing songs like "St. James Infirmary," from ten in the evening until dawn, with scarcely a break between the notes, sliding from one song to another, with a powerful and continuous under beat of jungle rhythm. Miss Bentley was an amazing exhibition of musical energy--a large, dark, masculine lady, whose feet pounded the floor while her fingers pounded the keyboard--a perfect piece of African sculpture, animated by her own rhythm…

The ordinary Negroes hadn't heard of the Negro Renaissance. And if they had, it hadn't raised their wages any. As for all of those white folks in the speakeasies and night clubs of Harlem—well maybe a colored man could find some place to have a drink that the tourist hadn’t yet discovered.

Then it was that house-rent parties began to flourish—and not always to raise the rent either… The Saturday night rent parties were often more amusing than any night club, in small apartments where God knows who lived--because the guests seldom did--but where the piano would often be augmented by a guitar, or an odd cornet, or somebody with a pair of drums walking in off the street. And where awful bootleg whiskey and good fried fish or steaming chitterlings were sold at low prices. And the dancing and singing and impromptu entertaining went on until dawn came in at the windows…

Almost every Saturday night when I was in Harlem I went to a house-rent party. I wrote lots of poems about house-rent parties, and ate…many a fired fish and pig’s foot—with liquid refreshments on the side. I met ladies’ maids and truck drivers, laundry workers and shoe shine boys, seamstresses and porters. I can still hear their laugher in my ears, hear the soft slow music and feel the floor shaking as the dancers danced…

Source: Langston Hughes, The Big Sea, (New York, 1940), pp. 224-226, 228-233.


In 1919 Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts entered "If We Must Die," the poem of young Claude McKay into the Congressional Record. The poem, inspired by the spirited defense blacks mounted in the Chicago race riot of 1919, symbolized the militancy of the New Negro. However Georgia Douglas Johnson's poignant poem captures the beauty and passion of renaissance writing as well. Both poems appear below.

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.

If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!

O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!

What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying but fighting back!

Source: Claude McKay, “If We Must Die,” The Liberator 2 (July 1919), 21


The following selection by Renaissance Poet Georgia Douglas Johnson suggests that not all of the literature of that era represented racial protest.

I want to die while you love me,
While yet you hold me fair,
While laughter lies upon my lips
And lights are in my hair.

I want to die while you love me.
I could not bear to see,
The glory of this perfect day,
Grow dim--or cease to be.

I want to die while you love me.
Oh! who would care to live
Till love has nothing more to ask,
And nothing more to give.

I want to die while you love me,
And bear to that still bed
Your kisses, turbulent, unspent,
To warm me when I'm dead

Source: James Weldon Johnson, The Book of American Negro Poetry (New

York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1922), p. 183.


Not all black intellectuals supported the Harlem Renaissance. In the account below we see the exchange of letters in 1926 between Renaissance artist Langston Hughes and black conservative George S. Schuyler in the magazine, The Nation, over the existence of racially-based art.


SIR: Langston Hughes, defending racial art in America, forgets that the Negro masses he describes are no different from the white masses we are all familiar with. Both ‘watch the lazy world go round’ and ‘have their nip of gin on Saturday nights’ (love of strong liquors is supposed to be a Nordic characteristic). If there is anything ‘racial’ about the spirituals and the blues, then there should be immediate ability to catch the intricate rhythm on the part of Negroes from Jamaica, Zanzibar, and Sierra Leone. Such is not the case, and we must conclude that they are the products of a certain American environment: the South. They are American folk-songs, built around Anglo-Saxon religious concepts.

An artist, if seems, to me, is one who, able to see life about him, and struck by its quick interchange of comedy, drama, tragedy, attempts to portray it or interpret it in music, poetry, or prose, on canvas or in stone. He can only use the equipment furnished him by education and environment. Consequently his creation will be French; British, German, Russian, Zulu, or Chinese, depending on where he lives. The work of the artist raised and educated in this country must necessarily be American.

It is the Afroamericans masses, who consume several millions’ worth of hair-straightener and skin-whitener per anum in an effort to reach the American standard in pigmentation and hair-texture. This does not look as if they did not care whether they were like white folks or not. Negro propaganda-art, is hardly more than a protest against a feeling of inferiority, and such a psychology seldom produces art.



Sir: For Mr. Schuyler to say that "the Negro masses . . . are no different from the white masses" in America seems to me obviously absurd. Fundamentally, perhaps, all peoples are the same. But as long as the Negro remains a segregated group in this country he must reflect certain racial and environmental differences which are his own. The very fact that Negroes do straighten their hair and try to forget their racial back¬ground makes them different from white people. If they were exactly like the dominant class they would not have to try so hard to imitate them. Again it seems quite as absurd to say that spirituals and blues are not Negro as it is to say that cow¬boy songs are not cowboy songs or that the folk-ballads of Scotland do not belong to Scotland. The spirituals and blues are American, certainly, but they are also very much American Negro. And if one can say that some of my poems have no racial distinctiveness about them or that "Cane" is not Negro one can say with equal truth that "Nize Baby" is purely American."

From an economic and sociological viewpoint it may, be entirely desirable that the Negro become as much like his white American brother as possible. Surely colored people want all the opportunities and advantages that anyone else possesses here in our country. But until America has completely absorbed the Negro and until segregation and racial self-consciousness have entirely disappeared, the true work of art from the Negro artist is bound, if it have any color arid distinctiveness at all, to reflect his racial background and his racial environment.


Source: George S. Schuyler, “Negroes and Artists,” The Nation 123 (14 July 1926), p. 36; Langston Hughes, “American Art or Negro Art?” The Nation 123 (18 August 1926), p. 151.


Zora Neale Hurston's "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," written in 1928 was a declaration of faith and a refreshing reproach of the "racial burden" thesis that informed much of the writing of the Harlem Renaissance. Here is part of her autobiographical essay.

I am colored but I offer nothing in the way of extenuating circumstances except the fact that I am the only Negro in the United States whose grandfather on the mother's side was not an Indian chief.... But I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negroland who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it... I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world--I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.

Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves. It fails to register depression with me. Slavery is sixty years in the past. The operation was successful and the patient is doing well, thank you. The terrible struggle that made me an American out of a potential slave said "On the line!" The Reconstruction said "Get set!"; and the generation before said "Go!" I am off to a flying start and I must not halt in the stretch to look behind and weep. Slavery is the price I paid for civilization, and the choice was not with me. It is a bully adventure and worth all that I have paid through my ancestors for it. No one on earth ever had a greater chance for glory. The world to be won and nothing to be lost. It is thrilling to think--to know that for any act of mine, I shall get twice as much praise or twice as much blame. It is quite exciting to hold the center of the national stage, with the spectators not knowing whether to laugh or weep.

I do not always feel colored....I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.... Sometimes it is the other way around. A white person is set down in our midst, but the contrast is just a sharp for me. For instance, when I sit in the drafty basement that is the New World Cabaret with a white person, my color comes. We enter chatting about any little nothing that we have in common and are seated by the jazz waiters. In the abrupt way that jazz orchestras have, this one plunges into a number. It loses no time in circumlocutions, but gets right down to business. It constructs the thorax and splits the heart with its tempo and narcotic harmonies. This orchestra grows rambunctious, rears on its hind legs and attacks the tonal veil with primitive fury, rending it, clawing it until it breaks through to the jungle beyond. I follow those heathen--follow them exultingly. I dance wildly inside myself; I yell within, I whoop; I shake my assegai above my head, I hurl it true to the mark yeeeeooww! I am in the jungle and living in the jungle way. My face is painted red and yellow and my body is painted blue. My pulse is throbbing like a war drum. But the piece ends. The men of the orchestra wipe their lips and rest their fingers. I creep back slowly to the veneer we call civilization with the last tone and find the white friend sitting motionless in his seat, smoking calmly.

"Good music they have here," he remarks, drumming the table with his fingertips. Music. The great blobs of purple and red emotion have not touched him. He has only heard what I felt. He is far away and I see him but dimly across the ocean and the continent that have fallen between us. He is so pale with his whiteness then and I am so colored.

At certain time I have no race, I am me. When I set my hat at a certain angle and saunter down Seventh Avenue, Harlem City, feeling as snooty as the lions in front of the Forty-second Street Library...the cosmic Zora emerges... Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It's beyond me...

Source: Zora Neale Hurston, The World Tomorrow XI (May 1928), 215-216.


In the following article from the Negro World, the newspaper of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, Marcus Garvey lays out his beliefs on race and nation.

The time has come for the Negro to forget and cast behind him his hero worship and adoration of other races, and to start out immediately, to create and emulate heroes of his own.

We must canonize our own saints, create our own martyrs, and elevate to positions of fame and honor black men and women who have made their distinct contributions to our racial history. Sojourner Truth is worthy of the place of sainthood alongside of Joan of Arc; Crispus Attacks and George William Gordon are entitled to the halo of martyrdom with no less glory than that of the martyrs of any other race. Toussaint L'Ouverture's brilliancy as a soldier and statesman outshone that of a Cromwell, Napoleon and Washington; hence, he is entitled to the highest place as a hero among men. Africa has produced countless numbers of men and women, in war and in peace, whose lustre and bravery outshine that of any other people. Then why not see good and perfection in ourselves?

We must inspire a literature and promulgate a doctrine of our own without any apologies to the powers that be. The right is ours and God's. Let contrary sentiment and cross opinions go to the winds. Opposition to race independence is the weapon of the enemy to defeat the hopes of an unfortunate people. We are entitled to our own opinions and not obligated to or bound by the opinions of others.

If others laugh at you, return the laughter to them; if they mimic you, return the compliment with equal force. They have no more right to dishonor, disrespect and disregard your feeling and manhood than you have in dealing with them. Honor them when they honor you; disrespect and disregard them when they vilely treat you. Their arrogance is but skin deep and an assumption that has no foundation in morals or in law. They have sprung from the same family tree of obscurity as we have; their history is as rude in its primitiveness as ours; their ancestors ran wild and naked, lived in caves and in the branches of trees, like monkeys, as ours…for centuries even as they accuse us of doing; their cannibalism was more prolonged than ours; when we were embracing the arts and sciences on the banks of the Nile their ancestors were still drinking human blood and eating out of the skulls of their conquered dead; when our civilization had reached the noonday of progress they were still running naked and sleeping in holes and caves with rats, bats…and animals. After we had already fathomed the mysteries of the stars and reduced the heavenly constellations to minute and regular calculus they were still backwoodsmen, living in ignorance and blatant darkness.

The world today is indebted to us for the benefits of civilization... Then why should we be ashamed of ourselves? Their MODERN IMPROVEMENTS are but DUPLICATES of a grander civilization that we reflected thousands of years ago, without the advantage of what is buried and still hidden, to be resurrected and reintroduced by the intelligence of our generation and our prosperity. Why should we be discouraged because somebody laughs at us today? Who [is] to tell what tomorrow will bring forth? Did they not laugh at Moses, Christ and Mohammed…? We see and have changes every day, so pray, work, be steadfast and be not dismayed.

As the Jew is held together by his RELIGION, the white races by the assumption and the unwritten law of SUPERIORITY, and the Mongolian by the precious tie of BLOOD, so likewise the Negro must be united in one GRAND RACIAL HIERARCHY. Our UNION MUST KNOW NO CLIME, BOUNDARY, or NATIONALITY. Like the great Church of Rome, Negroes the world over MUST PRACTICE ONE FAITH, that of Confidence in themselves, with One God! One Aim! One Destiny! Let no religious scruples, no political machination divide us, but let us hold together under all climes and in every country, making among ourselves a Racial Empire upon which "the sun shall never set."

There is no humanity before that which starts with yourself….God and Nature first made us what we are, and then out of our own creative genius we make ourselves what we want to be. Follow always that great law… There is no height to which we cannot climb by using the active intelligence of our minds… Being at present the scientifically weaker race, you shall treat others only as they treat you; but in your homes and everywhere possible you must teach the higher development of science to your children; and be sure to develop a race of scientists par excellence, for in science and religion lies our only hope to withstand the evil designs of modern materialism. Never forget your God. Remember, we live, work and pray for the establishing of a great…RACIAL EMPIRE whose only natural, spiritual and political limits shall be God and "Africa, home and abroad."

Source: Marcus Garvey, "African Fundamentalism," Negro World (New York), 6 June 1925.

Source: Negro World, “At the Crossroads,” April 14, 1928, p. 4.


In September 1976 Juanita Warfield Porter was interviewed as part of an oral history project sponsored by the state of Washington. Mrs. Proctor, a Seattle native who at that time was 64 years old, discussed her parents as members of the UNIA in that city. Mrs. Proctor was 10 years old when Marcus Garvey visited Seattle in 1922. In the passage below she describes that visit and the activities of the Seattle division.

On Sunday morning after Sunday School at First AME Church we Warfield children walked down 14th Avenue to the UNIA Hall where they'd have meetings for the kids.....Sometimes we kids wouldn't want to stay. 'Course, we'd have to stay until my parents came to the meeting. After they came my mother and the other ladies used to fix a big dinner for us kids and then they'd have their meeting. I can remember the large dining room, they had this long table.

My mother was one of the Black Cross Nurses. There were about 50 to 100 women that belonged to the Black Cross Nurses. They practiced first aid and stuff like that. They used to march in the parades, like the Memorial Day Parade, and Fourth of July Parade. And they'd dress in their beautiful white uniforms with the black cross on the forehead, and on the arm a red, black and green sash. And my dad, and the men wore the red, black and green sash across their chest.

INTERVIEWER: Where your mother and father officers in the UNIA?

Well no, they were more of working members, you know, mostly they were very faithful members, because they went every Sunday and they would practice marching. They had march sessions, you know, on Wednesday evenings. I remember sometimes they would take us kids to them and they would practice their march. And then on Fridays they had choir rehearsal. See, they even had choirs too.

I remember Marcus Garvey coming here. We met [him] at the Union Station, and all the Black Cross Nurses and the men were all there [in uniform] to greet him. And I was the little girl that they gave the flowers to give to him. I though he was going to be a big tall man. He looked big in the pictures, and when I went to give him the flowers he was almost as short as I was.

He spoke at the Washington Hall on 14th and Fir. As for his speech, you know, with kids, when we're kids we don't pay any attention to what they were talking about. They were trying to teach us about Africa, that we should know more about Africa. I remember that, and they were working to... free.... Liberia. And I remember my mother and father talking about Marcus Garvey was getting this ship up to send black people back to Africa, the ones that wanted to go.

Source: Juanita Warfield Proctor Interview, September 22, 1975. Transcript at the Manuscripts and Archives Division, University of Washington Library, Seattle, Washington.


In a May 1924 editorial in the Crisis, W.E.B. DuBois made one of his harshest attacks on Marcus Garvey and his program.

Marcus Garvey is, without doubt, the most dangerous enemy of the Negro race in America and in the world. He is either a lunatic or a traitor. He is sending all over this country tons of letters and pamphlets appealing to Congressmen, business men, philanthropists and educators to join him on a platform whose half concealed planks may be interpreted as follows:

That no person of Negro descent can ever hope to become an American citizen.

That forcible separation of the races and the banishment of Negroes to Africa is the only solution of the Negro problem.

That race war is sure to follow any attempt to realize the program of the N.A.A.C.P.

We would have refused to believe that any man of Negro descent could have fathered such a propaganda if the evidence did not lie before us in black and white signed by this man….

Everybody, including the writer, who has dared to make the slightest criticism of Garvey has been intimidated by threats and threatened with libel suits. Over fifty court cases have been brought by Garvey in ten years. After my first unfavorable article on Garvey, I was not only threatened with death by men declaring themselves his followers, but received letters of such unbelievable filth that they were absolutely unprintable. When I landed in this country from my trip to Africa I learned with disgust that my friends stirred by Garvey’s threats had actually compelled to have secret police protection for me on the dock!

Friends have even begged me not to publish this editorial lest I be assassinated. To such depths have we dropped in free black America! I have been exposing white traitors for a quarter century. If the day has come when I cannot tell the truth about black traitors it is nigh time that I died.

The American Negroes have endured this wretch all too long with fine restraint and every effort at cooperation and understanding. But the end has come. Every man who apologizes for or defends Marcus Garvey from this day forth writes himself down as unworthy of the countenance of decent Americans. As for Garvey himself, this open ally of the Ku Klux Klan should be locked up or sent home.

Source: W.E.B. DuBois, Crisis, May 1924, pp. 8-9.


In the first editorial of the Messenger titled "Our Reason for Being," co-editors Chandler Owen and A Philip Randolph describe their approach to the black situation in the United States.

First, as workers, black and white, we all have one common interest, viz., the getting of more wages, shorter hours, and better working conditions. Black and white workers should combine for no other reason than that for which individual workers should combine, viz., to increase their bargaining power. The combination of black and white workers will be a powerful lesson to the capitalists of the solidarity of labor. It will show that labor, black and white, is conscious of its interests and power. This will prove that unions are not based upon race lines, but upon class lines. This will serve to convert a class of workers, which has been used by the capitalist class to defeat organized labor, into an ardent, class conscious, intelligent, militant group.

Sixth, The Industrial Workers of the World commonly termed the I. W. W. draw no race, creed, color or sex line in their organization. They are making a desperate effort to get the colored men into the One Big Union. The Negroes are at least giving them an ear, and the prospects point to their soon giving them a hand. With the Industrial Workers Organization already numbering 800,000, to augment it with a million and a half or two million Negroes, would make it fairly rival the American Federation of Labor. This may still be done anyhow and the reactionaries of this country, together with Samuel Gompers, the reactionary President of the American Federation of Labor, desire to hold back this trend of Negro labor radicalism....

The New York World, the mouth piece of the present administration, and also a plutocratic mouth piece, says in its issue of June 4, 1919, "The radical forces in New York City have recently embarked on a great new field of revolutionary endeavor, the education through agitation of the southern Negro into the mysteries and desirability of revolutionary Bolshevism. There are several different powerful forces in N.Y. City behind this move. The chief established propaganda is being distributed through The Messenger, which styles itself-"The only magazine of scientific radicalism in the world, published by Negroes." With the exception of The Liberator, it is the most radical journal printed in the U.S."...

There is a new leadership for Negro workers. It is a leadership of uncompromising manhood. It is not asking for a half loaf but for the whole loaf. It is insistent upon the Negro workers exacting justice, both from the white labor unions and from the capitalists or employers.

The Negroes who will benefit from this decision are indebted first to themselves and their organized power, which made them dangerous. Second, to the radical agitation carried on by The Messenger; and third, to the fine spirit of welcome shown by the Industrial Workers of the World, whose rapid growth and increasing power the American Federation of Labor fears. These old line Negro political fossils know nothing of the Labor Movement, do not believe in labor unions at all, and have never taken any active steps to encourage such organizations. We make this statement calmly, coolly and with a reasonable reserve. The very thing which they are fighting is one of the chief factors in securing for Negroes their rights. That is Bolshevism. The capitalists of this country are so afraid that Negroes will become Bolshevists that they are willing to offer them almost anything to hold them away from the radical movement. Nobody buys pebbles which may be picked up on the beach, but diamonds sell high. The old line Negro leaders have no power to bargain, because it is known that they are Republicans politically and job-hunting me-too-boss-hat-in-hand-Negroes, industrially. Booker Washington and all of them have simply advocated that Negroes get more work. The editors of The Messenger are not interested in Negroes getting more work. Negroes have too much work already. What we want Negroes to get is less work and more wages, with more leisure for study and recreation....In organization there is strength; and whenever Negroes or anybody else make organized demands, their call will be heeded.

Source: The Messenger (August 1919), 11-12.


The appeal of Communism influenced even the most moderate black leaders, as it influenced thousands of American whites grappling with the Depression. In 1934 James Weldon Johnson, former Executive Secretary of the NAACP, described why Communism was attractive to blacks but nevertheless concluded that it would fail as a force for social change in America. Part of his explanation is provided below.

Communism is coming to be regarded as the infallible solution by an increasing number of us. Those who look to the coming revolution....seem to think it will work some instantaneous and magical transformation of our condition. It appears to me that this infinite faith in Communism indicates extreme naiveté. ....In considering Communism with respect to the Negro, the question before us, of course, is not how it works in Russia, but how it would probably work in the United States. If the United States goes Communistic, where will the Communists come from? They certainly will not be imported from Russia. They will be made from the Americans here on hand. We might well pause and consider what variations Communism in the United States might undergo.

I hold no brief against Communism as a theory of government. I hope that the Soviet experiment will be completely successful. I know that it is having a strong influence on the principal nations of the world, including our own. I think it is a high sign of progress that Negro Americans have reached the point of holding independent opinions on political and social questions. What I am trying to do is sound a warning against childlike trust in the miraculous efficacy on our racial situation of any economic or social theory of government -Communism or Socialism or Fascism or Nazism or New Deals. The solving of our situation depends principally upon an evolutionary process along two parallel lines: our own development and the bringing about of a change in the national attitude toward us. That outcome will require our persevering effort under whatever form the government might take on.

I grant that if America should turn truly Communistic (by which I mean-if it should adopt and practice Communism without reservations, and not adapt it as it has adapted democracy and Christianity so as to allow every degree of inequality and cruelty to be practiced under them); that if the capitalistic system should be abolished and the dictatorship of the proletariat established, with the Negro aligned, as he naturally ought to be, with the proletariat, race discriminations would be officially banned and the reasons and feelings back of them would finally disappear.

But except to a visionary there are no indications that the present or prospective strength of Communism is able or will be able to work such a change, either by persuasion or by military coup. In the situation as it now exists it would be positively foolhardy for us, as a group, to take up the cause of Communistic revolution and thereby bring upon ourselves all of the antagonisms that are directed against it in addition to those we already have to bear. It seems to me that the wholesale allegiance of the Negro to Communistic revolution would be second in futility only to his individual resort to physical force...

Source: James Weldon Johnson, Negro American, What Now?, (New York, 1934), pp. 35-40, 98-103.


In the following account historian Allison Blakely describes the migration of a small group of African Americans to the Soviet Union to participate in its "new society." Part of his description appears below.

If some Negroes viewed Russia as a land of promise in the nineteenth century, in the 1920s and 1930s other Negroes, especially from the Americas, saw the Soviet Union, and its idea of the "new society," as "the promised land" itself.... The bright humanitarian ideals of the Soviet Union represented one more alluring option to Negroes seeking a society where they would not be persecuted because of their color.... One observer estimated that by the early 1930s several hundred Negroes had visited the Soviet Union. As least a small segment of that number remained for several years or permanently; others followed them in subsequent decades--politicos, technicians, and artists.

There were...Negroes who fought in the Red Army during the Russian Civil War. A memoirist recalled that a man named George fought on the Ural front in 1918 as a signal corpsman in an international communist detachment assigned to the division commanded by Vasili Chapaev.... Another Negro, this one a cavalry officer who died leading a charge near Voronezh, inspired Boris Kornilov's poem, Moia Afrika [My Africa], published in 1935. In fact, the Soviets claimed to have won over an entire African regiment from the forces the French employed to aid the Whites [White Russian forces] during the Civil War.

In the 1920s several Negroes were among the first foreigners invited to attend special schools established to train Communist Party leaders for various parts of the world. As part of Comintern's training program, in 1921 it founded the Communist University for the Toilers of the East (sometimes called the Far East University). It was intended primarily for students from the Soviet East and from colonial countries. However, it soon admitted four American Negroes and one African then residing in the United States...

The communist students represented only a small minority of negroes who have been so fascinated by...Soviet society that they paid a visit. Most were neither pro- nor anti-communist; their only definite objective was to find a society where a person's worth was not defined by his skin color. The most interesting and well-documented visit of the type was that of the writer Claude McKay in 1922... He was originally invited to Russia in 1920 by John Reed, after Lenin had raised the issue of the Negro question at the Second Comintern Congress, but at the time McKay felt unqualified for the mission. Having missed that opportunity, in 1922 he raised the fare for what he call his "magic pilgrimage to Russia."

Another American Negro, Otto Huiswood, had come to the Soviet Union as part of the American delegation to the Comintern Congress. However, it soon became obvious that the Soviet leaders preferred McKay as a representative Negro. Huiswood was light-skinned whereas McKay was dark-skinned and therefore better fit the Russian preconception of a Negro. This was highly ironic considering Huiswood's credentials. A native of Dutch Guiana whose father had been born a slave, Huiswood would eventually become one of the most prominent Americans in the Comintern. As a delegate from New York....he was the only Negro among the ninety-four founders of the American Communist Party. McKay later claimed that the American delegation tried to have him deported because he had arrived with a British group and not with them. However the prominent Japanese communist Sen Katayama interceded on McKay's behalf and he was allowed to stay. The Soviet leaders apparently had a specific objective in mind; for McKay soon found himself being photographed with Zinoviev, Bukharin, Radek, Katayama, and other Party luminaries. At the opening of the Congress, McKay, and not Huiswood, was seated on the platform as representing the symbolic presence of the black American worker.

Source: Allison Blakely, Russia and the Negro: Blacks in Russian History and Thought (Washington, D.C., 1986), pp. 81-84.


By the late 1930s African American workers in major Northern cities had finally become part of organized labor, usually joining “industrial” unions such as the United Steelworkers. Mollie V. Lewis’s 1938 article in Crisis titled “Negro Women in Steel,” however wrote of the growing support of the wives of these black unionized steelworkers in Gary, Indiana, suggesting that the incorporation of African American workers and their families into the labor movement also furthered the cause of societal racial integration. Part of her article appears below.

Perhaps you are a Negro woman, driven to the worst part of town but paying the same high rent,” writes Jenny Elizabeth Johnstone in her challenging little pamphlet Women in Steel. “You are strong. There is nothing new in suffering to you,” she continues. “Your man is driven even harder than the white workers, but your man gets lower pay— hired the last and fired the first,” I know these women of the steel towns of which Miss Johnstone writes—these women living dreary lives under the domination of powerful and impersonal corporations. I have been one of them. The conditions under which they live, the excessive rents demanded for cramped and inadequate shelter, the uncertainty of employment for their men folk and the disruptive inconvenience of the mill shifts all combine to make life a hard and uneven road for them. It is because of such conditions, faced by the women of every mill worker’s family, that the Steel Workers’ Organizing Committee, of the Committee for Industrial Organization has sponsored the formation of women’s auxiliaries in the campaign for the unionization of the industry.

Last summer I revisited Gary, that hard and unbeautiful metropolis of steel upon the banks of Lake Michigan. In the mills which line the lake shore, furnaces were going full blast, twenty four hours a day. Steel was pouring from them in molten streams. Thou sands of men of both races and many nationalities, sweaty and grimy, were tending the furnaces and conducting the ore through its processes to the finished product.

Something new had come into the lives of these men. Thousands of them had joined the union. For the first time it was possible for them openly to be union men in the mills of the United States Steel Corporation. For the first time this vast corporation for which they worked had recognized their union and entered into an agreement with it.

Only a few miles distant, however, in Indiana Harbor and South Chicago, Little Steel had taken a bitter stand against the union and against the spirit of the New Deal and had engaged in a costly fight which was climaxed by the Memorial Day Massacre. The strike was now over and the men were returning to work without the recognition which had been negotiated with Big Steel.

Hand in hand with the campaign to organize the mill workers went the drive to bring the women folk of these men into active participation in the labor movement. The agency for organizing the women was the Women’s Auxiliary of the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers of North America. The objectives of the campaign were to organize the women “to lend aid to the union in all possible ways,” to help them to maintain the morale of the steel workers, to educate them in the principles of trade unionism, and to weld them into a force for social betterment.

Bringing Races Together

In the matter of race relations, Gary and the adjacent steel towns are by no means utopian. From time to time bitter racial animosities have flared, not only between Negroes and whites, but also between native citizens and the foreign born, In addition many of the foreign born brought with them to this country nationalistic enmities rooted in Old World conflicts. To induce the women of such diverse groups to join the same organization, even for their own benefit, has been no easy task. In Gary I talked with Mrs. Minneola Ingersoll who was in charge of the organization of women’s auxiliaries in the Chicago-Calumet district, Mrs. Ingersoll is a young southern white woman and a graduate of the University of Alabama. Together we visited the homes of members of the auxiliary of both races and various nationalities.

“Our policy in the auxiliary, as in the union,” Mrs. Ingersoll said, “is to organize all regardless of their race, color, creed or nationality. When it comes to exploitation, the mill owners draw no color line. They exploit the native white workers just as they do the Mexican, Polish and Negro workers.”

In Indiana Harbor where Inland Steel had forced its workers into a long and bitter strike rather than grant their demand for recognition, a num her of Negro women had been drawn into the auxiliary In Gary, however, Negro women seemed more reluctant to join and the campaign had been less successful among them, Along with the women of other groups, Negro women were represented on the picket lines of the struck plants.

During the strike they cooperated with others behind the lines in the preparation and serving of hot meals to the strikers. They were members of the various committees which sought contributions of money and food to keep the strike going.

Negroes Aided in Strike

…The organizing of white and Negro women in the same units has naturally had its by-product in the field of race relations, While the auxiliaries have by no means eliminated racial barriers in a district where jim crowism flourishes, they have for the first time made it possible for the women of both races to get to know one another on friendly terms.

While the municipal government of Gary continues to keep the children apart in a system of separate schools, their parents are getting together in the union and in the auxiliary. And after school hours, the children meet jointly in a junior lodge under guidance of an instructor. It is noteworthy that the only public eating place in Gary where both races may be freely served is a cooperative restaurant largely patronized by members of the union and. auxiliary.

These, it may be true, are of minor importance. But they represent steps toward inter-racial cooperation on a mass basis. When the black and white workers and members of their families are convinced that their basic economic interests are the same, they may be expected to make common cause for the advancement of these interests. Women of both races have, for traditional reasons, been inclined to be more stand-offish than men when it comes to organizing a common body. The efforts of the auxiliary to bring the women together may ultimately prove to be a significant factor in overcoming racial barriers which still retard the advance of the labor movement in this country.

Source: Mollie V. Lewis, Negro Women in Steel, The Crisis 45 (February 1938), 54.


The accounts below by Mary McLeod Bethune, the most prominent African American appointee of FDR and Roy Wilkins, an NAACP officer suggest the diversity of opinion about the President concerning his commitment to full equality for African American citizens.

Bethune: I knew Franklin D. Roosevelt as a friend and as a political leader…There are those who criticize FDR's slowness to move against basic evils in our midst and his obvious dislike of extreme methods of achieving his objectives. But it is important to understand that his methods were those of a man of great experience and insight. He was a man of great depth of mind and seldom made rash moves. I had many opportunities to study the man at work and in the midst of a crisis, and I was struck by the calm, exact, almost mathematical way in which he thought and moved.

I often expressed to him my impatience with the slowness of the democratic process. I remember going to see him one evening .... I was feeling particularly distressed that day over reports I had received on flagrant bias shown against Negroes seeking to enter the National Youth Administration in certain parts of the South. I told him about the situation in NYA in the South, about the lack of training facilities for Negroes in certain Southern states and of the refusal of state governments to allocate funds for Negro NYA activities. Negroes could not enter the technical training schools established under NYA. I was visibly disturbed and made the President aware of how I felt. I caught his arm and clung to him. "The Negro people need all of the strength that you can give, Mr. President, in opening up opportunities for them," I told him.

He looked at me seriously for a few seconds, and then said, "Mrs. Bethune, I shall fail you. I'll see [that] everything that can be done to open up these sections of the South to NYA training for Negroes will be done. Your people and all minorities shall have their chance…"

That was not the last time that I felt impelled to speak out strongly to the President on conditions confronting Negroes in the South. More than once I proposed pretty drastic steps to end the hideous discriminations and second class citizenship which make the South a blot upon our democracy. But FDR usually demurred, pointing out that a New Reconstruction would have to keep pace with democratic progress on a national scale. He strove to bring the whole country into a unified understanding of freedom....Frequently I would ask him with some impatience why this couldn't be done at once or that done immediately. He would think awhile, and then say very carefully patiently, "Mrs. Bethune, if we do that now, we'll hurt our program over there. We do this thing stride by stride, but leaving no stone unturned."

FDR taught me much about practical politics and how important it is that we understand their meaning if we are to make progress in the political arena… One day…at a reception in 1940, he beckoned to me and opened up a conversation I shall always remember. "You know, Mrs. Bethune," he said, looking out of the window and yet speaking directly to me, "people like you and me are fighting, and must continue to fight, for the day when a man will be regarded as a man regardless of his race or faith or country. That day will come, but we must pass through perilous times before we realize it, and that's why it's so difficult today because that new idea is being born and many of us flinch from the thought of it. Justice must and will prevail."

That is why I believed so deeply in Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Wilkins: On the subject of the Negro, the Roosevelt record is spotty, as might be expected in an administration where so much power is in the hands of the southern wing of the Democratic Party. And yet Mr. Roosevelt, hobbled as he has been by the Dixie die hards, has managed to include Negro citizens in practically every phase of the administration program. In this respect, no matter how far behind the ideal he may be, he is far ahead of any other Democratic president, and of recent Republican ones.

The best proof that Mr. Roosevelt has not catered always to the South and has insisted on carrying the Negro along with his program is to be found in the smearing, race hating propaganda used against him in the 1936 campaign by southern white groups. Both he and Mrs. Roosevelt were targets of filthy mud slinging simply because they did not see eye to eye with the South on the Negro.

This does not mean that the Roosevelt administration has done all that it could have done for the race. Its policies in many instances have done Negroes great injustice and have helped to build more secure walls of segregation. On the anti lynching bill Mr. Roosevelt has said not a mumbling word. His failure to endorse this legislation, to bring pressure to break the filibuster, is a black mark against him. It does no good to say that the White House could not pass down some word on this bill. The White House spoke on many bills. Mr. Roosevelt might have pressed the anti-lynching bill to a vote, especially during January and February 1938, when there was tremendous public opinion supporting the bill. His failure to act, or even speak, on the anti lynching bill was the more glaring because, while mobs in America were visiting inhumanities upon Negroes, Mr. Roosevelt periodically was rebuking some foreign government for inhumanity, and enunciating high sentiments of liberty, tolerance, justice, etc…

Full credit must go to the administration for its program of low cost housing, so sorely needed by low income families. No one pretends that the American housing program is more than a beginning, but Negroes have shared in it in the most equitable manner. However, there were, outside the slum clearance program, some damaging practices. The FHA, which insures mortgages for home buyers, has enforced a regulation which puts the power and approval of the government on ghetto life. No Negro family which sought a home outside the so called "Negro" neighborhood could get a FHA-insured loan...

The farm program has not been ideally administered, but colored people have shared in the benefits. More than 50,000 families have been assisted by the Farm Security Administration.
Mr. Roosevelt had the courage to appoint a Negro to a federal judgeship, the first in the history of the country. His nominee was confirmed by a Democratic Senate without a murmur.

Heavily on the debit side is Mr. Roosevelt's approval of the War Department's notorious Jim Crow in the armed services.

[The] most important contribution of the Roosevelt administration to the age-old color line problem in America has been its doctrine that Negroes are a part of the country and must be considered in any program for the country as a whole…. For the first time in their lives, government has taken on meaning and substance for the Negro masses.

Sources: Mary McLeod Bethune, "My Secret Talks with FDR," Ebony 4 (April 1949, [Roy Wilkins], "The Roosevelt Record," Crisis 47 (November 1940).


In 1935 Charles Hamilton Houston, the chief legal strategist for the NAACP announces the organization’s campaign against race discrimination in public education and the strategy it would follow. Unfortunately Houston died before the Brown Decision was rendered by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is launching an active campaign against race discrimination in public education. The campaign will reach all levels of public education from the nursery school through the university. The ultimate objective of the association is the abolition of all forms of segregation in public education, whether in the admission of students, the appointment or advancement of teachers, or administrative control. The association will resist any attempt to extend segregated schools. Where possible it will attack segregation in schools. Where segregation is so firmly entrenched by law that a frontal attack cannot be made, the association will throw its immediate force toward bringing Negro schools up to an absolute equality with white schools. If the white South insists upon its separate schools, it must not squeeze the Negro schools to pay for them.

It is not the purpose or the function of the national office of the N.A.A.C.P. to force a school fight upon any community. Its function is primarily to expose the rotten conditions of segregation to point out the evil consequences of discrimination and injustice to both Negroes and whites, and to map out ways and means by which these evils may be corrected. The decision for action rests with the local community itself. If the local community decides to act and asks the N.A.A.C.P. for aid, the N.A.A.C.P. stands ready with advice and assistance.

The N.A.A.C.P. proposes to use every legitimate means at its disposal to accomplish actual equality of educational opportunity for Negroes. A legislative program is being formulated. Court action has already begun in Maryland to compel the University of Maryland to admit a qualified Negro boy to the law school of the university. Court action is imminent in Virginia to compel the University of Virginia to admit a qualified Negro girl in the graduate department of that university. Activity in politics will be fostered due to the political set up of and control over public school systems. The press and the public forum will be enlisted to explain to the public the issues involved and to make both whites and Negroes realize the blight which inferior education throws over them, their children and their communities.

Source: Charles Houston, "Educational Inequalities Must Go!," Crisis 42 (October 1935).


In the article reprinted below Washington Post Sports Writer Shirley Povich describes the loss of talented players because of Major League Baseball’s color bar. Povich joins a growing chorus of white sports writers who demand the integration of baseball and other professional sports.

Orlando, Fla., April 6. There's a couple of million dollars worth of baseball talent on the loose, ready for the big leagues yet unsigned, by any major league clubs. There are pitchers who would win 20 games this season for any big league club that offered them contracts, and there are outfielders who could hit .350, in¬fielders who could win quick recognition as stars, and there is at least one catcher who at this writ¬ing is probably superior to Bill Dickey.

Only one thing is keeping them out of the big leagues--the pigmentation of their skin. They hap¬pen to be colored. That's their crime in the eyes of many club owners and fans.

Their talents are being wasted in the rickety parks in the Negro sections of Pittsburgh, Philadel¬phia, New York, Chicago and four other cities that comprise the major league of Negro baseball. They haven't got a chance to get into the big leagues of
the white folks. It's a tight little boycott that the majors have set up against colored players.

It's a sort of gentleman's agreement among the club owners that is keeping Negroes out of big league baseball. There's nothing in the rules that forbids a club from signing a colored player. It's not down in black and white, so to speak. But it's definitely understood that no club will attempt to sign a colored player. And, in fact, no club could do that, because the elasticity of Judge Landis' authority would for¬bid it. And the judge can rule out of baseball any character whose presence he may deem ‘detrimental’ to the game.

Just how a colored player would be detrimental to the game has never been fully explained, but that seems to be the light in which they are regarded by the baseball brass hats. Perhaps it is because there is such an overwhelming majority of Southern boys in big league baseball who would not take kindly to the presence of colored athletes and would flash a menacing spike, or so. Perhaps it's because base¬ball has done well enough without colored players. It's a smug, con¬servative business not given to very great enterprise and the intro¬duction of new and novel features.

There have been campaigns aimed at smashing the boycott. One New York newspaper openly advocated the signing of Negro players, and Heywood Broun has often berated the baseball magnates for drawing the color line. But despite the presence of thousands of colored customers in the stands, the club owners have blithely hewed to the color line. They are content, seemingly, to leave well enough alone and make no concerted play for Negro patronage.

A $200,000 Catcher

But in its restricted localities, Negro baseball has flowered. There are Negro teams which now might do very well in big league com¬petition even if they played as a Negro entity. The Homesteads of Pittsburgh are probably the best colored team. They train here in Florida each spring, even as do the American and National League first teams. The other evening at Tinker Field, the Homesteads met the Newark Eagles of the same colored league. Curious Washington players flocked to the game, went away with a deep respect for colored baseball

Walter Johnson sat in a box at the game, profoundly impressed with growing the talents of the colored players. ‘There,’ he said, ‘is a catcher that any big league club would like to buy for $200,000. I've heard of him before. His name is Gibson. They call him ‘Hoot’ Gibson, and he can do everything. He hits that ball a mile. And he catches so easy, he might just as well be in a rocking chair. Throws like a rifle. Bill Jim Dickey isn't as good a catcher. Too bad the Gibson is a colored fellow.’

Until last season there was a colored pitcher around named ‘Satchel’ Page. The colored folks have a penchant for picturesque names for their idols and ‘Satchel’ Page was so-called because of the size of his feet. He was 6 feet 3, a left-hander and a whale of a pitcher. ‘He re-tired last year at the age of 44,’ said Jimmy Wasdell, ‘and he was still a great pitcher. I've been on clubs that barnstormed against Negro teams and in a dozen games against this Page we never beat him. He beat Paul and Dizzy Dean one night, 1-0, and we got only one hit off him. I was the only minor leaguer on our club...’

Source: “This Morning with Shirley Povich,” Washington Post, 7 April 1939, Section III, p. 21.


Many people recall Woody Strode as one of the first African Americans to obtain major dramatic roles in Hollywood feature films of the 1950s and 1960s. However, like other actors of the day, or later, his career had its roots in both college and professional football. In the late 1930s Strode played on football at UCLA and where he was teammate to a young junior college transfer, Jackie Robinson (who choose the Bruins over the University of Oregon despite an overzealous UO booster's gift of a new car). However the most famous Bruins teammate at the time was Strode's friend, Kenny Washington, the first black quarterback in UCLA history and one of only a half dozen African American to have ever played in that position at a major university. Washington, Robinson, and Strode, were examples of some of the first black college athletes who became generally admired beyond the African American community. The account below is Strode's recollection of Washington's greatest game, the 1937 USC-UCLA meeting at the Coliseum.

Our biggest game of the 1937 season was our finale against USC. The first USC-UCLA game was played in 1929; UCLA lost 76-0. The next year we lost 52-0. Bill Ackerman decided it wasn't healthy for us to play them. They were just too good. The schools decided not to play again until UCLA had a chance to build up the program.

UCLA didn't play USC again until Kenny and I got there. So we never had beaten USC; we just ate their leftovers. And I swear the people at those two schools hated each other. "Goddamn USC, those rich sons of bitches!" I can imagine the betting that went down it was like a war.

We always met at the Wilshire Country Club before the game: Willis O. Hunter, the director of athletics at USC, all the officials from UCLA, the president of the student body, the coaches, yell leaders, song girls, dean of students, and anybody else connected with the game. They'd go over anything that might lead to a problem. See, things would happen. Like we stole Tire Biter once; that was their dog. Or one time somebody from the USC band was walking by and someone from our school poured a whole bucket of blue paint on his uniform. Well, I had to buy that kid a new uniform. So they had this big meeting to try and keep everything on an even keel.

My biggest concern going into that first game against USC was whether or not Kenny could play. At eighteen years of age, in his first year of major college football, Kenny handled the ball 90 percent of the time and then backed me up behind the line on defense. He'd play sixty minutes of a sixty-minute ballgame. Kenny got so beat up he'd spend his weekends at the Hollywood Hospital getting glucose dripped into his arm. We were all jealous, "Look at that Kenny Washington lying up there with all those pretty nurses."

USC hit pretty hard, and if you're hurt internally, it's just going to be that much harder on you. Of course the press didn't know Kenny was injured; they went ahead and promoted the game based on his ability to play. Maxwell Stiles wrote this for the Los Angeles Examiner:

If one man can lick a football team, Kenny Washington looks like the man to do it. But if you are going to stick to the theory that a TEAM should beat a MAN, they you have to take Howard Jones' Trojans.

We played on a cool, crisp December 4th at 2:00 p.m. and 80,000 fans showed up... I was coming in through the players' entrance, ready to play in the biggest game of my life. I don't know how we thought we could beat USC; they'd rotate three tackles on me so I was always trying to block a fresh guy. But we were tough because we played from our hearts. I was so keyed up I must have bounced off three lockers and four doors trying to find the tunnel to the field.

We were down 13-0 in the third quarter when [Coach] Spaulding pulled Kenny out of the game. He was taking a terrible beating. As soon as Don Ferguson came in to replace him, USC scored again... It was the fourth quarter when the wheels started falling off the Trojan's horse... We recovered [a fumble] on their 44-yard line. That's when Spaulding put Kenny back in the game.

The ball was snapped to Kenny and he faded back. Our right halfback, Hal Hirshon, took off around my end. I stayed in to block... Hal caught the ball and scored; 19-7 USC. In those days the team scored upon had the option to kick off or receive. USC figured the pass to Hal Hirshon was just a lucky break for us. They figured they'd kick off, pin us down on our end of the field and run the clock out, after all, they 'd been stopping us all day. They figured wrong.

They kicked off, and we took over on our own 28-yard line. We got into our huddle and Hal said, "Kenny, I can beat their safety!" Kenny said, "Okay, run as fast as you can, as far as you can and I'll hit you."

Hal went deep. A couple of Trojans leaked through but Kenny shucked them off. He ran to his right and set to throw on the 15-yard line. Hal and [the safety] raced stride for stride until they crossed mid-field. Then [the safety] started pulling up. He must have thought, "Screw it. Nobody can throw this far!"

Hal kept running, flat-out towards the goal. Kenny cranked it up and unloaded. Hal caught it on their 20 yard-line and took it for the score; 19-13 USC... Well, no one ever, even in the pros, had thrown a pass as far as Kenny Washington did that day. That was the longest officially documented pass in the history of American football: 72 yards all together, 53 yards in the air from the line of scrimmage. But Kenny received the snap 10 yards behind the line, and he backpedaled and sidestepped until he was boxed into a corner on the 15. Well, from our own 15 to the other guys' 23, that's 65 yards in the air, not counting the diagonal. Nobody had ever seen throwing like that.

This time USC decide they would let us kick off. They knew if Kenny got the ball back he might throw it the entire length of the field. They received the kick, but we were so fired up they couldn't move the ball. They punted and we took over around midfield; there were three minutes left on the clock.

Kenny ran and passed us down to their 14-yard line. On third down we tried to trick them. This time Hal Hirshon got the ball and tried a pass to Kenny in the end zone. But Hal was completely exhausted from running downfield time after time. Hal threw the ball way short and as Kenny turned back for it he slipped and fell flat on his face.

It was fourth down and 13 to go on their 14-yard line. The final seconds were ticking off the clock. A touchdown meant a sure tie with a chance to win on the conversion. Kenny received the snap and faded back. I ran a hook pattern to the 1-yard line; I was wide open. Kenny passed and as I turned, I saw the ball coming at me like a bullet. And like a bullet it went right through me.

We could have won if I held on to that pass. I didn't miss many. But when Kenny threw the ball, he threw it hard. He didn't throw many interceptions; if I couldn't get it nobody could. I've often thought about that pass; I don't know how I missed it. I guess it just wasn't meant to be.

Source: Woody Strode, Goal Dust: An Autobiography (New York, 1990), pp. 66-70.