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Research Paper on Influence of Great Depression on the Civil Rights Movement

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Since the beginning of time people have always found a certain aspect in one another to find a fault in, as an excuse to discriminate and persecute others they don’t deem deserving of human decency. The time period that notably spurred on an ever-growing movement for all-inclusive equality would be the 1930s; while this decade caused progressive thinking for future generations this achievement was a result of many sacrifices and tragedies. While this decade may have propelled the movement for equality, people of color had an especially tough time fighting for this right due to the national economic devastation of the Great Depression. Due to the glorified depiction of the 1930s by different literatures and media, people often romanticize this time period. What they fail to understand from the censored depictions of history is the overwhelming presence of racial inequality and white bigotry in society. These socially accepted acts of injustice against minorities were committed without any proper justification; only with the mindset that people with different skin colors were inferior, and didn’t deserve to be treated humanely. The oppression of different races created even more strife and discord during the toilsome time of the Great Depression, resulting in a much larger conflict, The Civil Rights Movement. This movement became a crusade against racial oppression that would continue to gain traction in future generations to come.

In the 1930s many different forms of racism were instituted against people of color, but the racial group that had been targeted the most would be African Americans. The most common form of discrimination and white bias would be in the Justice System. Injustice in the Judicial Court was the main source of inequality due to the imprisonment and killing of wrongly accused African Americans, of which fell victim to the preconceived notions people held against their race. Other than the failed justice system, African Americans faced many more forms of racism during the Great Depression. During the economic crisis many White Americans were losing their jobs, so “they decided that they shouldn’t be unemployed while African Americans still held jobs. This thought process resulted in African Americans being kicked out of jobs they traditional occupied, jobs that White Americans had previously seen as beneath them, resulting in a higher unemployment rate for African Americans.” (Burrel Kristopher). Not only were African Americans kicked out of their jobs, but they had to face institutionalized discrimination as well. A study by the “National Community Reinvestment Coalition properly shows and explains that the economic segregation of neighborhoods in our current society reflects the prejudice held by the housing markets during the 1930s. Neighborhoods that were marked as hazardous by the HOLC were home to many minorities.” (Meisenhelter Jesse). This discrimination profoundly impacted the structural segregation in many cities, further expanding the gap between the rich white middle class and minorities.

Racism was present in the everyday lifestyle of African Americans; causing them to be endangered any time they left their homes, or in simpler terms, any time they came into contact with a White Americans. Many African Americans were victims of unauthorized acts of “justice” White Americans felt they needed to enact, most commonly known as lynching. These acts of racial violence rose in occurrence during the 1930s, with “twenty- eight documented cases.” (Burrel Kristopher). Being subject to continual racial discrimination as well as being hit the hardest by the effects of the Great Depression, African Americans were in constant fear for their lives. It was much more difficult for this group of people to survive during the economic crisis; not only were their wages “at least thirty percent less than the average person” (Sustar Lee), but white workers would also conspire to have African American workers fired to allow white workers to take their jobs. Being a person of color in the 1930s and striving to live a normal life was an unattainable dream in that decade.

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When any group is being oppressed, there’s bound to be people who are willing to fight in order to make their dreams a reality. As a result of the developing harshness of racist act, the community found a way to retaliate against the injustices being acted upon them. They helped and supported each other when no one else would. Several movements were started and many groups held a helping hand out for those in need. As many African Americans were left unemployed as a result of the Great Depression, black churches widely spread their services to the community. The services included providing “housing, clothing, and food for the needy” (Unit 11 1930s: The Great Depression”). Besides the Church’s help, other groups of African Americans sought to change their grim situation. Political development among African Americans began to change, beginning with the “St Louis Urban League launching a national movement for African Americans that boycotted stores that employed only White Americans.” (Lynch Hollis). Another movement among African Americans led to the founding of the “National Negro Congress as well as the Southern Negro Youth Congress.” (Lynch Hollis). Other than the movements that further escalated the political presence of people of color, the NAACP put into motion a legal campaign against segregation, as well as focusing on inequalities held in the public-school system. The community came together to fight against societal norms, retaliating against the years of persecution they withstood throughout history.

The occurrence of the Great Depression economically as well as socially affected all walks of life in the 1930s. As a result, the government strived to support its people, excluding African Americans. They received considerably “less aid in early government issued assistance programs, as well as being excluded from charitable organizations offering help during the national crisis. Despite African Americans abandoning their allegiance to the Republican party and converting to Democratic supporters, there was no relief offered from the liberal Roosevelt administration.” (Sustar Lee). Although the National Recovery Act was stated to be nondiscriminatory; “its projects hired substantially more White Americans and held racist wage differences, resulting in this act being referred to as the Negro Removal Act.” (Sustar Lee). Being neglected by the government left African Americans at a disadvantage. Society refused to give them the same chances as White Americans had.

In a difficult time when the nation should’ve been united, there was a divide due to a conflict that had been going on for generations. The whole nation discriminated and oppressed its own people due to the preconceived notions held against others with a darker skin-color than white. The inner strife that had been building up for years finally exploded, resulting in a greater conflict that changed society’s social structure forever. The fight for equality is still as strong as ever, leaving masses wondering if this deep-rooted societal issue will ever fully be resolved.

Works Cited

  1. “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow. Jim Crow Stories. The Great Depression: PBS.” The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow. Jim Crow Stories. The Great Depression | PBS, www.thirteen.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories_events_depression.html.
  2. Locke, et al. “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom The Segregation Era (1900–1939).” The Segregation Era (1900–1939) - The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom | Exhibitions - Library of Congress, 10 Oct. 2014, www.loc.gov/exhibits/civil-rights-act/segregation-era.html.
  3. The Civil Rights Movement: 1919-1960s, Freedom's Story, TeacherServe®, National Humanities Center, nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/freedom/1917beyond/essays/crm.htm.
  4. Burrell, Kristopher, and Hostos Community College. “United States History: Reconstruction to the Present.” Lumen, courses.lumenlearning.com/atd-hostos-ushistory/chapter/the-depths-of-the-great-depression/.
  5. Sustar, Lee. “Blacks and the Great Depression.” SocialistWorker.org, socialistworker.org/2012/06/28/blacks-and-the-great-depression.
  6. Lynch, Hollis. “African American Life during the Great Depression and the New Deal.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 26 Feb. 2020, www.britannica.com/topic/African-American/African-American-life-during-the-Great-Depression-and-the-New-Deal.
  7. “Unit 11 1930s: The Great Depression.” New Jersey State Library, 4 Mar. 2020, www.njstatelib.org/research_library/new_jersey_resources/highlights/african_american_history_curriculum/unit_11_great_depression/.
  8. Meisenhelter, Jesse. “How 1930s Discrimination Shaped Inequality in Today's Cities ' NCRC.” NCRC, 28 Mar. 2018, ncrc.org/how-1930s-discrimination-shaped-inequality-in-todays-cities/.
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