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The Effect Of Changed Economic Conditions Upon The Living Standards Of Negroes
By Forrester B. Washington, Director, Atlanta School of Social Work
A Presentation Given at the 55th Meeting of the National Conference on Social Welfare,
Memphis, TN, May 2-9, 1928 (pp.466-478)
My paper is a continuation of the discussion introduced by Mr. Thomas. He has discussed the changed economic conditions in the South with reference to the replacement of Negroes in industry by white working men and women even in those occupations which have been considered as belonging to the Negro by tradition. He has also discussed two outstanding social problems affected by the changed economic conditions, namely, housing and recreation.
The problems which I will discuss are health, education, delinquency, crime and family disorganization. They follow logically those discussed by Mr. Thomas. In addition, I will attempt to summarize his paper and my own and present our combined recommendations.
It is not an easy task to prove by statistics that the changed economic conditions have affected the Negro’s living standards. The usual sources of statistics for the subject under discussion are social agencies, governmental bureaus such as state and municipal boards of health, the courts, and the like. However, because one cannot obtain a great mass of statistics that will throw light on the situation is no reason why discussion should not be given to as important a subject as this. While we cannot point out definite social changes, we can point out trends.
If we refrain from doing anything about the sociological trends growing out of the changed economic conditions until cases have begun to accumulate in large numbers with family societies, courts, and other remedial and correctional agencies, conditions will necessarily have become acute, and perhaps chronic. The purpose, then, of this paper is to use what data we have to point out tendencies so that we may nip these developing social problems in the bud and thus prevent conditions from becoming acute and chronic. There are a number of organizations and individuals which are not found in the category in which we usually look for social welfare statistics whose recent experiences may be of considerable value in determining just what is happening.
Health: The Negro’s health in the South is not as good today as it has been in recent years. According to figures given by the Georgia State Board of Health to the Atlanta Tuberculosis Association, “The death rate among whites in Fulton County seems to be falling, but there are more deaths being recorded among Negroes.”
A prominent Atlanta doctor who is an official of the National (Negro) Medical Association states that there has been a considerable increase in sickness among Negroes in Georgia during the last six months over the same period last year. He says, however, that Negro doctors are unable to collect pay for treatment. He also states that as a result of this situation a number of colored doctors now in the South are planning to leave that section as soon as possible for the North, where they think the Negro is enjoying a better financial income and the industrial situation of the race is more stable. He further says that he has begun to notice another situation which he believes will have serious consequences. He has noticed that many Negroes are sending for the doctor only as a last resort, because they have not the money to pay him. He cites the case of a woman whose relatives called him in recently at midnight when she was seized with an acute and painful illness. He ordered her to remain in bed for several days and left a prescription to be filled. When he called the next morning he was told that she had gone to work and had left a message to the effect that jobs were so scarce for colored people in Atlanta that she had felt compelled to go to work to hold her job.
The Gray Clinic of Grady Hospital, Atlanta, reports that during the first five months of I927 there were I,IO9 colored bed patients, but during the first four months of I928 these had increased to I,153; that this increase has taken place during the most recent months; and that if the Negro cases increase at the rate of April admissions the situation will be very serious. This situation is not due to the old myth that the Negro is inherently unhealthy, for up to the last three years the Negro mortality and morbidity rate in southern cities had been decreasing. It is safe to conclude that this impairment of Negro health has been due to the changed economic conditions, for they are the only social factors which have not remained stationary. There have been no epidemics, no great changes in the type of Negro population, no decrease in public health facilities and public health education for Negroes. The real trouble is that the forced unemployment of Negroes through their replacement by white men has cut off the Negro’s income, and he is consequently unable properly to nourish his family.
It has been shown by a study made for the University of Georgia that the Negro in Georgia spends io per cent of his income on food. With the high cost of housing, clothing, etc., he cannot afford more. Add to the limited amount of food its inferior quality and lack of variety, and (because the woman must work) the hastily prepared and irregular meals, and you have a fruitful cause of ill health. Washerwomen often begin early in the morning and do not eat breakfast until noon. They often leave home before breakfast without feeding their children, and the latter eat what is left over from the day before. The Negro is unable to pay now for medical and dental care when necessary. He has always been unable to get credit at drug stores, and there is not enough aggregate capital to provide their own drug stores in many communities; therefore the obtaining of medicine during times of illness is always difficult. He is unable to continue to provide from his own pocket in a group way those health facilities denied him because of race, such as private hospitals and the like.
As Mr. Edwin R. Embree, president of the Julius Rosenwald Fund, says in Modern Hospital for April, I928, “The Negroes are still lacking in individual or corporate control of capital.” A small number of Negroes, becoming prosperous are subscribing probably beyond the average in America to various aspects of social welfare, including hospitals; but relatively speaking there is little money in Negro hands. Furthermore, tax funds are still almost exclusively controlled by white groups. With few exceptions small sums indeed have gone from government sources to hospitals. This situation will be corrected as colored people get increasing wealth. A list recently compiled by the National (Negro) Hospital Association reports approximately two hundred institutions throughout the entire country, including regular hospitals, infirmaries, and sanitoriums, taking into account institutions supported by public authorities, by fraternal organizations, and private endowment or subscription or as the personal projects of individual physicians or other groups of physicians. While the total figure is sufficiently small, the picture is not seen at all until the conditions of most of these hospitals are kept in mind. Only nine of these hospitals are on the accredited list of the American Medical Association as proper institutions for the training of internes, and only fifteen are on the list of the American College of Surgeons as having adequate minimum hospital standards. This means that less than twenty hospitals for Negroes exist in the entire country that are of acceptable minimum American standards. Fortunately, several of the acceptable hospitals that are available for Negroes are of excellent quality. They stand out as beacons toward which Negro hospitalization as a whole is struggling. As poor as the Negro hospitals are, yet, according to Mr. Embree, “Most of these have been provided by the Negro’s own effort.” Now, by the taking away of the means of the Negro’s earning a decent wage, the source for the establishment of even these second rate hospitals is destroyed. Nothing that I have said I wish construed to mean that I believe that hospitals provide all of the facilities needed for a well rounded program of health. I am mindful of the value of clinics for mothers and babies, public health facilities, protection of water and food, and war against human and animal carriers of disease. As Mr. Embree points out, the lack of hospital facilities, unfortunately, is simply typical of an equal lack in these very aggressive branches.
Education: The Negro’s educational standards have also been affected by the changed economic conditions. This is rather difficult to show statistically because for some time educational facilities for Negroes in the South, especially in the case of public schools, have been woefully inadequate. Duplicate, triplicate and even quadruplicate sessions are now common in many city schools. However, in spite of the long distance which some Negro children have to travel to attend school, and the necessary carfare involved, and the disagreeable conditions due to overcrowding in the rooms, Negro parents have persisted in sending their children to school. This too, in most cases, is in cities where there are so few attendance officers, in proportion to the number of Negro children, that they might fairly be considered as nonexistent. However, authorities now claim that the changed economic conditions have somewhat dampened the ardor of Negro parents, especially of the low wage earning class, for the education of their children, and that there is an increase in the number of children being withdrawn from school as soon as they reach working age. During the first six months of I928, according to Mrs. M. Agnes Jones, supervisor of Atlanta Negro Public Schools, there has been a marked increase in the number of children being taken out of school to go to work.
Mr. J. F. Lee, head of the Sunday school department of the C.M.E. Church and a prominent minister of Charlotte, North Carolina, reports that a number of his best parishioners have not only been forced to take their children out of high school and college, but have been forced to give up homes they were buying, and in some cases have actually left the community and gone North. Who can measure the effect upon the general level of intelligence of the race when those who would normally finish high school and college are being withdrawn from school.
Negroes are finding it increasingly difficult to provide from their own pockets in a group way these educational facilities which have been denied them through the separate school systems. As is well known, it is becoming the custom for philanthropists to give money to Negro educational institutions only in proportion as Negroes raise money themselves for the support of these institutions. The curtailment of the Negro’s earning power has affected his ability to match money granted in this way. Negro schools suffer not only a loss of money formerly contributed by Negroes but also money contributed from white sources that the Negro’s contribution would release. Morris Brown University and other institutions supported entirely by Negroes find it even more difficult than usual to raise funds. Morris Brown has been unable to pay some of its teachers at all this year, and none of them for all the year. This situation is particularly deplorable as it affects technical schools because it is only through this type of institution that the Negro can overcome the handicap imposed upon him in industry through denial of the opportunity of apprenticeship. If all but a few of the Negro industrial schools must languish and die, and if only a constantly diminishing number of Negroes can afford to attend them, then the Negro will retrogress more than ever in industry because he has no other way of acquiring skill and knowledge of the crafts.
Crime: There has been an increase in Negro crime and delinquency in the South during the past year. This situation is certainly not due to the old myth that Negroes are inherently criminal, because up to the past year statistics show that the Negroes’ crime rate in the South has been decreasing. The chief of police of Atlanta reports that the number of Negroes arraigned in court during the past twelve months from May 1, I927, to April 30, 1928, was 16,912, as compared with 15,596 white people. Here is a situation where more Negroes than whites were arraigned and tried in court in a community where the whites outnumber the Negroes 3 to 1. Moreover, the chief of police reports that while the number of both races being arraigned in court was on the increase, yet the rate of increase among Negroes during the past six months has been greater than that among whites. It can be due to nothing else but changed economic conditions, for there has been no other general disorganizing influence in the Negro communities. This point hardly requires any argument, for it is commonly known that when men and women, irrespective of race, are hungry and cold they will steal and commit other atypical acts to provide food and shelter for themselves and their families.
One of the ways in which people who are cut off from their jobs have been supporting themselves has been in the selling of whiskey. Mr. B. H. Townsely, who handles approximately 350 “rent houses” in Atlanta, reports that Negroes are selling liquor who have never been engaged in such traffic before. He says that one can walk down alleys whose Negro residents were always respectable though poor and smell whiskey from the outside of the houses. There is a Negro bootlegger in Atlanta who specializes in dealing with these poor families. He furnishes poor women out of work with liquor on credit. Once they have gotten started in business they are always able to pay him “spot cash.” It is upon this class of people who have not yet learned the technique of paying for protection, that the police prey, and this has a good deal to do with the increase of Negroes in the police court.
Another proof of the growing amount of crime among colored people is the situation in the juvenile court. The number of colored children tried during the first four months of 1926 was 1,o88, but during the first four months of 1927 the total number was 1,155. This is an increase of 67 colored children. On the other hand, during the first four months of 1926 the total number of white children was 1,097, but during the first four months of I927 it was, 0008. This is a decrease of 89 white children.
Family disorganization: The report of family welfare societies in a number of sections of the South shows an increase in desertion and other domestic relation cases among Negroes. The Family Welfare Society of Atlanta reports an increase in the intake of colored cases this spring of about Io per cent over the same period last year. Ordinarily the work becomes lighter in the spring. Moreover, the ratio of colored cases to white cases, new cases coming in, is 13 to 8 which is also a greater ratio than usual. This situation cannot be traced to low family standards of Negroes because until recently they had been improving. Here again the only social factor that has changed has been the economic situation. The Associated Charities of Memphis reports an increase in cases of family life where the fathers were formerly employed in the saw mills, furniture mills, and other industries and have been succeeded by white men. Family men of the low wage earning classes, white or black, when out of work, become discouraged and frequently desert. In the case of the Negro husband, his replacement by whites was frequently the “last straw.” His ties to his family had been under many previous strains. There had been first the irregular domestic conditions on the plantations from which many had come, and then the sudden movement from a rural to an urban environment which added to the general disturbance, and finally the discouraging struggle after arriving in the city to make a small salary meet the increased cost of living. A number of family societies report that they have had no increase in unemployment cases among Negroes because their increase has been in families where there are no men. Such cases should be considered in the light of the observations made previously. The underlying cause in many cases was really unemployment, for the men had deserted recently and the women were either ashamed to admit it or did not care to admit it because they felt they would be more apt to receive assistance if it was thought they had been deserted over a long period.
Colored women have always been compelled to work in large numbers because of the low wages of colored men. It has been estimated that about 76 per cent of the colored families of the South depend upon an income that is made up of the wages of several members of the family. Less than 24 per cent of the colored fathers of the South support their families without assistance from the mothers or other members. They cannot do it; it is a mathematical impossibility. Yet they are blamed for not supporting their own, and moreover industry is now turning more of them out of work and making the situation even more complicated. The replacement of colored working men by whites means a vast increase in this group of employed colored women. The prolonged absence of the latter from their homes, especially if they are mothers, results in all kinds of family disorganization, including neglected children, which in turn means truancy, juvenile delinquency, and the like.
Another index of the effect upon the Negro family of the replacement of colored working men by whites in industry is the experience of insurance companies. The head of the Conservation Department of the National Benefit Insurance Company, southern division, reports a io per cent increase this year in Negroes who have allowed their policies to lapse. Many letters written to the Conservation Department by policyholders whose premiums have lapsed state that they have lost their jobs to white men and hence cannot keep up their premiums.
Moreover, some of the other social problems caused by the changed economic conditions have a disorganizing effect on the Negro family. A restricted income compels families to live under even worse housing conditions than would have been their lot ordinarily. While there has always been an overcrowding among Negro city dwellers, yet with the increased unemployment two things are happening in regard to hou9ng. In some cases several families are thrown together to save rent. This means a mixing of the sexes, which results in family disorganization. In others single families are breaking up, the members distributing themselves among relatives in different sections of the city. This has proved equally unsatisfactory and the cause of family trouble. This situation is working a terrific hardship on the Negro race. It is bringing all Negroes to the same level, and unfortunately this level is a low one. The better element are leaving bad elements behind them in the country districts. In the present situation the better elements become bad themselves, in the course of time. Thus the process is one of leveling down. The head of the Georgia Baptist Association, who superintends 5,362 churches, claims he sees an increasing number of such families going to pieces, that conditions are much worse this year than they were last year. He claims that a pastor used to be at least one stabilizing influence among the people who came from the rural districts and settled down in semi-isolation. Now, because of the inability of these people to pay the pastors, many of the churches are closing and the people are without any wholesome community leadership whatever. This authority states that there is more desertion now than he has heard of in forty years. He states that these reports come from ministers.
One of the reasons why there were no strong ties on the married colored man during slavery time was that when marriage occurred it was not an economic marriage. Both the husband and wife belonged to the master. The man did not have to support the wife in the ordinary sense of the word. At least he did not have any direct obligation toward her. Even since slavery times a great mass of Negroes have been kept in the South in that relationship whereby they were only half responsible for the support of their families, the wife contributing the other half. They have never felt the entire responsibility of maintaining the home. This was no fault of their own either. They have never been allowed to earn enough to maintain the full support of the home. In recent years they have been gradually emerging from this situation, and part of this emerging has meant more home responsibility and stronger marriage ties. Miss Louisa De B. Fitz Simons, of the Georgia Study of Negro Child Welfare, maintains that one of the stabilizing influences in Negro family life is contact with “fine old white families.” In her study of a number of cases handled by her organization she finds that those Negro families which preserve the strongest family ties between husband and wife are those who have kept up the most permanent connection with the best type of white families. But is this a very sound basis on which to build family standards? Isn’t the matter of perpetuating family ties in such colored families a matter of imitation rather than responsibility?
I have seen whole sections of industrial centers like Detroit taken over by rural Negro laborers from the South and the homes built up and the finest kind of family life established because these men earned enough to allow their wives to stay at home rather than go out to work.
Summary: It would appear from what has been said that although the Negro occupied a very undesirable social status in the South formerly, although he was relegated to the lowest paid jobs and the worst housing conditions, although he was denied access to wholesome recreational facilities and most of the social agencies for the promotion of happiness, decent family living, and adequate educational opportunities, yet, in spite of these handicaps, he was making improvement, and in many cases through his own efforts. Now comes this new economic situation which tends to set the Negro back to a status that is even worse than was his former lot. It not only takes away the few improvements in living standards that he had gained, but also takes away the opportunity and the means by which he had achieved these improvements. The Negro is the one race in America which has never been allowed a stable status. America seems to be continually playing battledore and shuttlecock with him. I realize that unemployment produces social problems in all races, and that unemployment is affecting the white races as well as the Negro in America today. However, it is the apparent hopelessness of the Negro’s situation which makes it differ from the whites. A white man can keep up some sort of morale and refrain from stealing or deserting and what not because he knows that he has a chance at whatever jobs there are. But the Negro soon discovers that in times of depression there are no jobs at all for him. There is a constant bogey of unemployment hanging over the Negro. It looks to me as if the employing class is using the Negro as a sort of reserve army which is only brought in when labor is scarce or to break strikes, but the difference is that a reserve army is paid and fed while this Negro who is used in times of strikes and great prosperity is left to shift for himself at other times.
Will the white people of the South continue to impose greater and greater strain on the social fabric of the Negro until it has been stretched to the breaking point and a rip takes place which will slough off into such pathological conditions as dependency, ill health, delinquency, family disorganization, and the like? Will the white man never be satisfied until he has crushed all that is elevating, all that is noble, all that is really worth while out of the Negro, leaving nothing but the open road to poverty, ill health, and general degradation? If this deterioration takes place, can we blame the Negro? Moreover, will the Negro be the only race which will lose as the result of changed economic conditions? Cannot the whites of the South also lose in several ways by destroying a source of labor which they may need again? Is it not possible that with the return of prosperity and the continued shift of the industrial center of America from the North to the South that the latter section will need the Negro again in industry because all of the available white labor will have been employed? Is it not possible, then, that the South will find that it has driven its Negro labor, or the best of it, out of the South, and that it has rendered that left behind inefficient by enforced idleness? I do not believe you can develop a sound democracy, certainly not an economic democracy, based upon a substratum of folks whom you employ irregularly, allowing them to deteriorate socially at other times.
Cannot the whites lose also in this replacement of Negro labor by the creation of social liabilities which they will have to take care of in one way or the other? Is it not more desirable to care for Negroes in the South by allowing them to work and support their own families, and even contribute something to the wealth and prosperity of the community, than to force them out of employment and oblige the state to support them in the correctional institutions which house thieves, prostitutes, and other delinquents? Is it not better to have the Negro maintain the health of himself and family through honest labor than for the state to support him and his family in hospitals and other health institutions?
Perhaps, as Professor Charles E. Merriam, of the University of Chicago, maintains, “Migration from farms to cities is inevitable and will continue to be tremendous, and cities of the next generation are going to be so large that we will have a change in the form of government, and you will see such new political units as the states of Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and the like. And the United States will be dominantly urban in the next generation; the combination of wealth and prestige will absolutely necessitate the rule of cities rather than of states.” So here is the colored brother caught up again in another maelstrom over which he has no control. Relieved by the war and such legislation as the Johnson Bill of the industrial competition of the foreign born immigrant, he saw a temporary ray of sunshine for a few years after the war in the cities of the North. Now the question arises, Is the Negro in the cities of the South going to meet another form of competition even more to be feared than the foreign born immigrant, namely, that of the native born white man who is shifting from the rural districts to the cities of the South? Over this new type of industrial competitor the Negro has no advantages, such as a knowledge of the language and the like.
This fact must be faced, namely, that the South cannot escape the responsibility of supporting the Negro in one way or the other. Failure to assume this responsibility will injure the white as much as the black. As has been stated many times before, disease cannot be segregated, and the Negro criminals do not prey on their own race alone. If the white people of the South deliberately develop a process that tends to deteriorate another race, the penalty is that at the same time they are creating a social menace to themselves.
Recommendations: I would recommend that the white people of the South refrain from dispossessing Negroes from the field of industry. During the present period of unemployment I do not think any fairminded colored man would object to jobs being allocated to the race according to its proportion in the population. In a number of cities of the South there are large public building operations going on, such as the two viaducts in Atlanta, where large numbers of laborers are employed. I think that social workers would be doing a much better piece of case work if they would direct their efforts at this time toward persuading public officials to employ Negroes in proportion to their numbers in the population on public works rather than to direct their efforts, as I have heard so many of them admit at the present conference, toward supplementing the budget of families of unemployed colored men.
Next, I would recommend that colored people pay more attention than ever to efficiency and regularity in employment; however, I do not agree with a large group of Negro leaders that this is the only solution, for I have talked with a number of employers who have frankly stated that in a number of processes where they had supplanted Negroes with white men they really believed the Negro was just as efficient, but that public opinion in the community, expressed sometimes in threats to raise taxes and at other times physically to interfere with their business, had forced them to employ their own color.
I would recommend to Negroes that they put greater emphasis on developing group economy among themselves. A race that invests as much money in fine churches and fraternal buildings as does the Negro should invest more in business and manufacturing, which would give employment to their own group. I have seen factories manned entirely by Negroes in the South. In Atlanta there is the Pioneer Garment Factory. There are silk textile mills at Fayetteville and Durham, North Carolina, which employ all Negroes, and there are a number of other such plants in the South. The whites who own these plants found they could make money by employing Negroes, who would work for less than white men. It seems to me that if white men can operate a plant manned by Negroes and make money because Negroes work cheaper than Caucasians, then Negroes ought to be able to operate such a plant themselves and make the profit for themselves; and more than that, when times of unemployment, such as we are facing now, develop, Negroes would have jobs for their own kind. Since, as Mr. Thomas has said, white people are taking over even the least desirable of jobs in the South, such as street cleaning and garbage collecting, work which was traditionally supposed to belong to the Negro, it will not be long before they will be willing to work for as little as the Negro in these factories which are now manned entirely by Negroes. If the Negro Baptists can, as has been claimed, raise $3,500,000 in a year in their 37,000 congregations, they ought to be able to spare $1oo,ooo or even $500,000, to furnish the necessary capital for an industrial plant which would give employment to thousands of Negroes. Most of the few businesses that Negroes have gone into on a large scale have been successful. There are many Negro insurance companies which are giving employment to thousands of colored men and women throughout the country. And yet they are not the type of economic organizations I would urge as a final solution of the problem. They are parasitic in nature. In fact, most of the economic enterprises of the Negro are parasitic at the present time. They do not produce, but live off the wages of working Negroes. The thing that I am urging is the entrance of Negroes into manufacturing which is not parasitic but is primary and productive.
I would also recommend that the Negro give more thought to a “back to the farm” movement. Farming in the South is not necessarily a failure in itself. It is ignorant farming that is a failure. Authorities say that there never was a better time for Negroes to buy farms in the South than at present. White farmers have become discouraged at the yields from the farms which they have ignorantly cultivated and are leaving the rural districts for the cities. Negroes can buy farm land at a very low price which was never before available to them at any price. Under intelligent management, diversified crops, and cooperative marketing these farms can be made to produce a yearly profit. The capital needed by these farmers could be supplied by the same type of Negro organizations that I have indicated might finance manufacturing enterprises. I can see no reason why Negro fraternal organizations and the like cannot supply the capital that is necessary to form cooperative marketing organizations for farmers. To acquire ability to manage intelligently, to diversify crops, and to develop cooperation in production and marketing calls for better industrial schools for the Negro. The supervision Negro farmers are getting from the Negro workers under the Smith-Hughes Fund is an excellent service, but there is not enough of these men. Moreover, Negroes returning to the farm would need credit, and some arrangement would have to be made along these lines.
The most important person in the world is he who owns the land which produces the food of society. The Negro has produced a large proportion of the food of the South, but he has not the recognition that goes along with this fact and which would make him important because he has not owned the land on which the food was produced. Now is the time for the Negro to take advantage of the opportunity to attain this kind of power. There is no reason why the Negro could not develop the same type of strong agricultural cooperation as the Italian fruit growers of southern California. On these two points, the matter of business and manufacturing and a “back to the farm” movement, Dr. W. E. B. Dubois says, in an editorial in the Crisis of May, I928:
“There is to my mind only one way out: manufacturing and consumers’ cooperation among the major part of the 12,000,000 people on a wide and ever increasing scale. There must be the slow but carefully planned growth of manufacturing trusts. Beginning with the raising of raw material on Negro farms, extending to its transportation on Negro trucks, its manufacture in Negro factories, its distribution to Negro cooperative stores supported by intelligent and loyal Negro consumers. Such an organization is above and beyond race prejudice and trust competition. Once established on the basis of the English, Scandinavian, German, and Russian cooperatives, it would insure the economic independence of the American Negro for all time.
“Beside this could grow credit systems and cooperative banks which could bring the Negro American group into carefully articulated cooperation with the West Indies and South America, with West Africa and South Africa.
“It is more than idiotic, it is criminal, for American Negroes to stagger blindly on, hugging the fond illusion that white philanthropy through industrial education is going to furnish them with future employment and economic independence. It is equally idiotic to hope that white laborers will become broad enough or wise enough to make the cause of black labor their own. These things will never be done in our day. Our economic future lies in the hands of carefully trained thinkers, technical engineers, and the unswerving will to sacrifice on the part of intelligent masses.”
Conclusion: I believe I can leave an optimistic note with you, and I am not saying this just because I think that it is a pleasant thing to do. Somehow I have great faith in a successful economic society; that is, a society where everyone is making a decent living. Certainly in this sort of society there is hope, and in it there exists the most harmonious race relations. The most harmonious race relations I have seen are where whites and blacks have been working together in industry, as for instance in the auto plants of Detroit or in the Stockyards of Chicago.
The old slave system in the South was an artificial and unnatural relationship. It was an accommodation adjustment. The numerically small aristocracy and the blacks were close together and got along without trouble through the master-slave arrangement. But Uncle Tom has gone to join old Massa. We look back on them reverently as representing a romantic era in American history. But I think every intelligent white person in the South, as well as every black person, realizes today that there is no more place in the program of the progressive advancing South for the slow, humble, servile, uninitiative Uncle Tom than there is for the feudal baron type of Old Massa. Let us hope they are both happy, one with banjo in some Elysian cotton field and the other being served mint julep on the porch of some celestial “big house.”
The great mass of whites of the South in slavery times and for some time after were out of touch with either class. It was inevitable that this arrangement could not exist permanently with the so called “poor whites” industrially expatriated. It was inevitable that they would demand and could obtain expression in industry, politics, and in the life of society in general. This will only be worked out permanently in a situation where the great mass of whites and blacks of the South are gainfully employed together in industry. I firmly believe that this is coming through the industrial development of the South, especially when it has reached that point where the whites coming in from the rural districts cannot supply the needs of southern industry. I believe that this time is coming in the not far distant future. Then the Negro will fit into the industrial structure of the South as he did formerly and as he is at present fitting into the structure of the major industries of the North, except where unemployment has thrown both white and colored men out of work.
Source: National Conference on Social Welfare Proceedings On-Line. The web site for this resource is: http://www.hti.umich.edu/n/ncosw/
The proceedings of annual meetings of the NCSW, 1874-1983, are available on the web thanks to a digitization project undertaken by the University of Michigan Library, with assistance from the Social Welfare History Archives at the University of Minnesota. The web site for this resource is: http://www.hti.umich.edu/n/ncosw/