By Helene Margaret
A BLACK man works uptown for a big corporation, wrapping packages all day,
sending off mail bags,
and washing the limousine of the big boss.
“Howard’s a good nigger,” they say,
because he smiles at their bad humor,
because he bows when they blame him,
and is polite even to their profanity.
His face is a brown mask . . .
a mechanical smile and a row of white teeth,
His face is a lie . . . a treason to his people,
and a curse upon his country.
An old clerk, forty years at a bookkeeper’s desk,
kicked him, and he smiled back
a mechanical, white-toothed smile.
“Howard’s a good nigger,” they say.
If the dark blood frozen in his veins were to melt,
if the pent-up sorrow of his people were to cry out
in one burst of righteous wrath,
how they would laugh at him,
with the sneering superiority of white men!
“Damned nigger! Dog!” they would shout.
He would go home at dusk
with a crumpled check in his pocket,
a piece of blue paper singing to him,
“You cannot come back tomorrow.
You cannot come back tomorrow.”
His blood would be burned to ashes,
his anger broken with despair,
and his body would even shrink from the half-white blood
of his mulatto woman.
He might haul coal for a while, or dig ditches . . .
But, “Howard’s a good nigger,” they say,
and as long as his face is a frozen mask,
a mechanical smile . . .
he may wrap packages all day,
send off mail bags
and wash the limousine of the big boss.
Opportunity, 7 (May, 1929): 156·
By W. E. Burghardt Du Bois1
American industry is slowly beginning to awake to the fact that there is in this country a great reservoir of labor which has been only partially tapped. The South has nine million black folk of whom five million are productive workers. As a mass they are ignorant and unskilled, but they are ambitious, willing to learn, and for the most part at present wretchedly underpaid. Lynching, lawlessness, lack of schools, and disfranchisement have slowly but surely made them ripe for change.
What is America doing with these black laborers? We may envisage four hosts who must deal with them—the planter, the manufacturer, the union laborer, and the Northern Negro. The planter inherits a tradition from which he seldom escapes. This tradition regards the Negro laborer as a serf, without a vote, with little education, low wages, and medieval conditions of work. The manufacturer, North and South, has as his ideal a surplus of common labor, whether black or white, which will keep wages low by severe competition and periodic unemployment. The union laborer proposes so to restrict and monopolize skilled labor as to compel the employer to grant a living wage. These three hosts are pretty well known; but there is a fourth who is not so often thought of. He is the Northern Negro, the representative of the 1,725,141 Negroes established in the North either a generation or more ago or by more recent migration, who have, except in the case of the newest comers, found an industrial place and a racial philosophy and who are the first to be affected by a widespread migration from the South.
These, then are the four hosts waiting to welcome or repel the Southern black laborer. What has been the result of their and his interactions? We can perhaps best trace it by noticing the gyrations of a little black dot on the map of the United States. This little black dot represents the center of gravity of the Negro population in the United States. This little dot was near Petersburg, Virginina, in 1790. It moved south and then west until 1910, when suddenly and for the first time in American history it struck eastward, and in 1920 was nine and one half miles farther east and nineteen and one half miles farther north than ten years before.
What does this mean? It means that between 1870 and 1910 the Negroes sought economic salvation in the free land of the West and Southwest and that the migration in this direction offset the considerable migration north and east; but that with the beginning of the World War there occurred the greatest revolution in migration which the Negro has known for a century; and that by actual census figures, the net gain of the North and West and loss of the South between 1910 and 1920 was 334,526 black folk.
This northward movement of the Negro population was renewed in the fall of 1922. The great Northern industrial plants sent out a call for semiskilled and unskilled labor. Just as the cutting down of immigration during the war made a scarcity of common labor, so the new immigration laws together with expanding business are having the same effect at present. The result can be felt all through the South; not as a sudden movement, but as a gradual and expanding tremor.
It is emphasized by the attitude of the white South. There is still the slave-holding psychology. The Commissioner of Labor in Georgia openly declares that his department is going to stop the “enticing” of Negroes away by arresting “labor agent parasites” and “heavily fining” them; and by other methods of law and force. Can he keep Negroes in the South by these methods? A colored spokesman for five families talked last December to a reporter of the Memphis Commercial Appeal: “They claimed to have been kept in debt year in and out by landowners. One man, who refused to give his name, said he had worked ten years on one plantation, and this year in settling up he had only $50 coming to him. He claimed this would not pay for clothing for his family, let alone buying provisions. What live stock they had in the year 1921 was sold to help them through the crisis when cotton was at its lowest price.” To this debt-peonage have been added in recent years the ravages of the boll-weevil. The secretary of the American Cotton Association notes the depopulation of cotton plantations by both white and black farmers on this account and notes that no young mules have been shipped to the cotton belt since the spring of 1920.
The result of all this may be easily conjectured. A colored minister of the Methodist Episcopal church writes: “As district superintendent for seven years, touching twenty-five counties in Mississippi, the State which had, according to the census of 1910, almost one-tenth of the Negro population of the United States of America, my observation and experience lead me to state that the exodus is still on and will no doubt continue gradually toward the North and West for some years. In many places hundreds have gone within the last few months. Many churches have depleted memberships because of the exodus. Seventy-five were counted that left one community within twenty-four hours.” The Memphis Commercial Appeal of December 24 declared that within ninety days more than 12,000 Negroes had left the cotton fields of Mississippi and Arkansas for the industrial plants of Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit. It stated that on an average 200 Negroes leave every night from Memphis northward on the Illinois Central, taking with them not only their household goods, but often several months’ provisions.
The Columbia, S.C., State notes the departure of Negroes from South Carolina, and W. P. Conyers, a white citizen of South Carolina and former member of the State Board of Pardons, said in a recent speech: “We have educated many Negroes, and it is from this class of educated, intelligent, industrious, thinking Negroes that the emigrants are coming. It is from the very class of Negro that the South can least afford to lose. But the thinking Negro, the Negro with some education, some ambition, a desire to better care for his family and educate his children, is going North in large numbers. And he doesn’t come back.”
From Georgia we learn that some “13 per cent or 32,000 of the total number of Negro farmhands in Georgia is estimated to have moved North during the last twelve months.” South Carolina and Florida offer figures almost as startling, while the migration during one recent week of more than 5,000 unskilled Negro laborers from North Carolina has resulted in the shutting down of some fifty highway construction projects. From Arkansas, one gentleman writes us, “there is a certain alarm in all circles over the large outflow exodus and there seems to be no means of stopping this migration.”
This is the crux of the matter. To be sure it is reported that thousands of the newcomers are finding employment at relatively high wages, but this does not settle the matter. First of all there is no sign that even this continued migration of its labor force is really impressing the South. There is no real diminution of Southern lynchings; there is some improvement in schools, but this is usually in cities and seldom in the country districts; and above all there is the sinister growth of the Ku Klux Klan. Despite this, little Southern papers continue to declare fatuously—we take the words from the Gaffney, South Carolina Ledger: “The South is the home of the Negro and nowhere on earth can he receive the consideration he does at the hands of Southern white men!”2
These statements are not true and Negroes know they are not true. They know too that in the long run the South cannot keep them from migrating in spite of offensive measures of various sorts. And the Negro is increasingly determined not to submit to Southern caste rule.
This does not minimize his difficulties in the North. First he must find a job, and between him and the better jobs stand the labor unions. Undoubtedly in the North the attitude of the labor union has reflected the attitude of the white public. There has been a determined effort to keep the black laborers out of the skilled unions, and while the unions have had to give in here and there, there has been little real change in this policy of exclusion. No Negro today can belong to any of the railroad unions and the various “full crew” laws were simply methods of driving out Negro competition. Whenever there is an attempt to unionize labor beyond the highly skilled field immediately the race problem comes to the fore as in East St. Louis and in the late steel strike. In the South in the same way the unionized white laborer is willing to furnish mobs to keep the black field hand “in his place.”3
But with common labor scarce and semi-skilled labor unorganized the Negro can gain a foothold, although often this involves “scabbing” and increased hatred and prejudice. He accepts low wages and long hours because even these are better than Southern peonage. And with this situation the Northern industrial barons are perfectly content and congratulate themselves.4
In addition to this the new Negro laborer is immediately forced upon the established Northern Negro group. Now the position of this group is not strong economically nor socially. Its security depends largely upon the non-agitation of the race problem. If racial differences are not emphasized by newspapers or by new facts the Northern Negro becomes gradually a citizen judged by his individual deserts and abilities. If, however, there comes a sudden new migration, the level of intelligence and efficiency in these newcomers is almost inevitably below that of the Negro already established in the North. Public opinion lumps the new with the old without discrimination. New racial irritation, hatreds, and segregations arise. The problem of new dwelling-places becomes severe and it is a double problem, for not only must the new black men have homes to shelter them, but the white home owners must, as far as possible, protect the beauty, moral level, and value of their homes.
The Northern Negro, therefore, faces a peculiar dilemma. He knows that his Southern brother will and must migrate just as he himself migrated either in this generation or the last. He feels more or less acutely his own duty to help the newcomer, and the Negro churches and charities of great cities like Chicago and New York have done a marvelous work in this direction even though it has fallen far below the need. But on the other hand the black Northerner knows what this migration costs. In the years from 1900 to 1922 there has been an average of a race riot in the United States every year, half of them in the South and half in the North. Serious encounters have been threatened in a half dozen other Northern and several Southern centers. In these same years, 1,563 Negroes have been lynched; since the war thirty-four Negroes have been burned alive at the stake. In other words the race war is not simply a future possibility—it is here.
From this turmoil and interaction of interests and human passions has come one very great result and that is the pushing of the American Negro by sheer necessity to a higher point of courage, intelligence, and determination, of economic stability and clear thinking than ever before in his history or in the modern history of any Negro group. He easily leads the black folk of the world. And if there has lingered any conviction that the Negro is going to be satisfied with a permanent position of caste inferiority it is high time that that thought was dispelled from the minds of thinking Americans.
Here then is the critical time. What shall the public say? It is tempted to say: Bring the South north. Discourage Negro migration by reproducing “Jim Crow” conditions of Alabama and Texas in Ohio and New York. Such a policy is suicidal. The Northern Negro has a vote and is learning how to use it. A national caste movement would weld into unity a powerful mass of desperate men, led by intelligence and property, filled with resentment, armed with the ballot, and determined to fight to the bitter end in alliance with any group or element that promised success. Such a mass might be clubbed to death by mobs, but remember that it cost Chicago thirty-eight deaths, 537 injured, and millions of dollars in money to make an unsuccessful and bitterly regretted attempt at this method of race adjustment.
The public, therefore, in the end must say: There is but one way out. The South must reform its attitude toward the Negro. The North must reform its attitude toward common labor. The unions must give up monopoly and aristocracy as methods of social uplift. The Negro must develop democracy within as well as without the race.
The Nation, 116 (May 9, 1923): 539-41.
The migration of colored workers, to which the Secretary of Labor called attention toward the end of January, has continued in increasing volume. The movement began during the fall, largely in sections which had suffered from the boll weevil, and in which, as a consequence of its ravages, the tenant farmers found themselves in actual destitution (MONTHLY LABOR REVIEW, February, 1923, p. 269), but as the spring opened it has spread pretty generally throughout the Southern States.
The Department of Agriculture, under date of April 23, sent out a release stating that a survey of southern farming districts showed a marked movement of negroes from the farms to northern industrial centers. According to this, 32,000 negro farm hands or laborers have left Georgia within the past 12 months, Alabama reports that approximately 3-1/2 per cent of the whole body of negro farm workers have moved North since the last crop season, and Arkansas shows a movement of about 15,000 negro farmers. About 22,750 negro farmers have left South Carolina since September 15, 1922. Referring to this last State, the New York Journal of Commerce declares that “owing to the migration whites now outnumber negroes in South Carolina, a condition which has not existed before within the memory of the living.
Under date of April 25, an Associated Press dispatch says that the migration of negro laborers from North Carolina has been so heavy since the spring opened that the State highway commission officials have found it necessary to shut down more than 50 highway construction projects. In this case the laborers are supposed to have gone to Richmond and Baltimore, attracted by the offer of better wages.
The iron and steel industries are said to be turning to the South as a recruiting field for their labor. The Iron Age (May 3, 1923, p. 1273) reports that the Youngstown companies are bringing in negro workers.
Employment conditions still continue to attract interest among independents, for the reason that the supply of common labor is dwindling. One of the corporation subsidiaries has recently imported large numbers of negro workmen from Virginia, paying their fare to Youngstown. An independent has likewise secured common labor from the South in large numbers.
The extent of the migration is arousing uneasiness in parts of the South. Some of the States have laws requiring heavy fees from anyone acting as an agent to secure labor for migration, and they are trying to enforce these strictly. Mississippi, according to a dispatch from Jackson, dated May 3, is trying to work out a more constructive plan.
A committee composed of eight white men and five negroes to study the critical labor situation in agricultural and industrial sections of Mississippi brought about by the migration of the negroes from this State to northern manufacturing centers has been appointed by business men and plantation owners here.
The reasons for the negro’s response to the demand from the North for his services seem to be somewhat complex. Higher wages than he has any prospect of getting in the South offer an inducement, but the general opinion to be that these alone would not be sufficient to make him leave his home. The Department of Agriculture gives high wages as the chief cause, but adds others.
Boll weevil conditions last year, which made cotton growing unprofitable for a number of negro farmers; unrest among returning negro troops who experienced more attractive living conditions away from farms during and after the war; and breakdown of the contract labor system are given as contributory causes.
At the first meeting of the Mississippi committee, mentioned above, both white and colored speakers stressed other than economic causes. The negroes had lost confidence in the fairness of the white population, they said, and they objected to the violation of their civic rights. They preferred the South, but were unwilling to put up with their treatment there. “The masses of the Negro race want to stay here, but they are not going to do it under present conditions.”
Monthly Labor Review, 16 (June, 1923): 34–35.
INTERSTATE EMPLOYMENT AGENCY
(Licensed and Bonded)
LABOR ADJUSTERS AND INTERPRETERS
Pioneer Employment Specialists
|M. Preskin, Proprietor Formerly Employment Manager Rockwood & Company||All kinds of help furnished for railroads, mines, stone quarries, bridges, water works, foundations, brick yards, dams, highways, plants, etc.|
|Over 75,000 applicants are interviewed by us yearly.|
We beg to call your attention to our exceptional facilities for furnishing you with any number of good able-bodied Foreign Laborers or skilled Mechanics (not of the floating type, but good foreign workingmen) consisting of such nationalities as Russians, Poles, Slavs, Hungarians, Swedes, Danes, Spaniards, Italians or any other preferred nationality on very short notice.
Our office in this city is the headquarters for this class of help, and inasmuch as we have many years experience recruiting and transporting Foreign Labor, particularly for your line of work, we believe that our service would be well worthy of your investigation.
We are listing below a few of our many clients whom we have served in the past to their entire satisfaction, and to whom we respectfully beg to refer you as to our reliability, etc.
Assuring you of our utmost attention at all times, and hoping this offer will have your early consideration, we beg to remain,
Yours very truly,
INTERSTATE EMPLOYMENT AGENCY
Ass’t. to Manager
|References:||United States Steel Corp. New York City.|
|Pittsburg Steel Co. Pittsburg, Pa.|
|American Smelting & Refining Co. Maurer, N.J.|
|Aluminum Co. of America, Massena, N.Y.|
|Lehigh & Wilkesbarre Coal Co. Wilkesbarre, Pa.|
|Atlantic Utilities Corp. New York City|
STRIKE ORDERS ACCEPTED
John Fitzpatrick Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
Interstate Employment Agency
73 West Street
New York, N.Y.
We are in receipt of your favor by your Mr. Kiefhaber, relative to laborers.
This Company is a comparatively small one and we do not employ labor in any quantity.
We do have places at the present time for about six (6) Italian laborers (Northern Italians preferred) for whom we can provide boarding places. We also have a vacant house in which we should like to install a married Slav who would take care of three or four boarders.
We should like to have you advise as to the terms on which you supply labor and any other details which may be of interest to us.
Very truly yours,
Supt. Robesonia Iron Co.
John Fitzpatrick Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
Mr. A. F. Woodward
1407 East Watauga Avenue
Johnson City, Tenn.
I am in receipt of your note saying that you are in position to supply blast furnace help.
We can use eight or ten blast furnace laborers.
I assume that the men you will furnish will all be colored men and would advise that we have a boarding house in which we can place about ten men, provided one of them will undertake to run the boarding house and handle the crew.
We are paying 35₵ an hour for common labor.
Kindly advise what your terms are and whether you can send men under the conditions outlined.
Very truly yours,
John Gocher, Supt.
Robesonia Iron Co.
John Fitzpatrick Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
By Joseph A. Hill
In 1880, a little more than forty years ago, the center of the Negro population of the United States as determined by the census was located in the northwestern corner of the state of Georgia. It had traveled far since the early days of the Republic, when as shown by the census of 1790, it was near the southern boundary of the state of Virginia. It was now, in 1880, 163.1 miles farther south than it was then and 413.5 miles farther west, and the total distance it had covered in a direct line was 443 miles, representing an average advance of about 50 miles per decade. It was following the general movement of population in the Southern States. Its rate of advance was slowing down towards the close of the century but was still southwestward. In 1890 it had gone 20 miles further in that direction, in 1900 nearly 10 miles, in 1910 another 10 miles. It was then in northeastern Alabama. That proved to be the turning point—the end, at least for the time being, of the movement southwestward, for the next census, that of 1920, revealed a complete reversal of direction. The center of Negro population was found to have moved not westward but eastward, not southward, but northward, being, in fact, 9.4 miles farther east and 19.4 miles farther north than it was in 1910. It had gone back to the northwestern corner of Georgia but was farther north than it had been in 1880, though not quite so far east.
This reversal in the movement of this sensitive index of changes in the distribution of population was by no means unexpected. It was well known before the census was taken that the Negroes had been going north in large numbers, and the movement of the center of Negro population simply registered that fact.
The immediate cause of the northward migration was the labor shortage in northern industries produced by conditions arising out of the World War. There are doubtless other contributory causes, but a discussion of them lies outside the scope of this paper, the purpose of which is simply to present some of the more significant census statistics regarding the volume and characteristics of this movement of the Negro population.
Migration After the Civil War
For a time after the Civil War there were two diverging currents of Negro migration. One was northward from the more northern of the southern states—Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina. The other was a migration southward and westward on the part of the Negroes in the lower Atlantic and Gulf States.
The northward migration from Virginia after the war was notably large, and was a direct reversal of the current of migration that prevailed under the regime of slavery, when Negroes were being taken south in large numbers. Set free, the Virginia Negro turned towards the North and has been facing in that direction ever since. This northward current of migration was mostly to the states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. The number of Negro natives of Virginia living in these states when the war closed must have been less than 10,000, for it was only 13,050 in 1870. But after the war it increased rapidly, as shown by each successive census, and in 1920 was 125,104. The southward migration practically ceased, as is shown by the fact that the number of Virginia Negroes living in the states of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas decreased from 107,934 in 1870 to 10,844 in 1920. Thus the Virginia-born Negro in the cotton states of the South has almost disappeared, although no doubt his descendants there are numerous.
From the states far south there was no considerable northward migration in this period. The North seemed too far away, and the Negro showed no disposition to turn his back upon the cotton fields and seek new fortunes in strange lands. He lacked the knowledge, the means, and the initiative for such an unwise venture. Therefore the drift of the Negro population, following the development of cotton cultivation, continued to be towards the southwest as it had been before the war. There was no reversal of migration here such as there had been in the case of the Virginia Negro. The voluntary migration was in the same direction as the earlier compulsory migration had been.
Mississippi As An Illustration
The effect of Negro migration upon the population of the southern states may, perhaps, be best indicated by featuring the figures of immigration to and emigration from a single southern state, selecting for this purpose the state of Mississippi, which apparently has been affected to a greater degree than most other states by the recent northward migration of the colored race.
In 1870 the Negro or colored population of Mississippi included 124,377 Negroes who were born in other states. They were immigrants, and they constituted more than one-fourth of the total Negro population of the state. It is practically certain as regards most of them that their migration had not been of their own free will. Of the total number, 27,713 were natives of Virginia, 13,284 were born in Tennessee, 16,604 in South Carolina, 14,511 in North Carolina, 12,713 in Georgia, and 22,192 in Alabama.
There had been also a certain amount of Negro emigration from Mississippi as evidenced by the fact that 73,802 Negroes born in that state were living in other states, a majority of them in Louisiana (17,831) and Texas (28,639). Thus when the census of 1870 was taken, the number of Negroes who were natives of other states and had come or been brought to Mississippi exceeded the number who had been born in that state and had gone to other states by 66,944. That represented the net gain to the population of the state through the interstate migration of Negroes. In 1880 this excess, surplus, or gain had increased slightly to 68,245. It fell off to 33,764 in 1890, to 7,228 in 1900, became converted into a deficit of 26,439 in 1910, which deficit increased to 139,178 in 1920. Starting with a surplus of 67,000 we end with a deficit of 139,000. Consider what this deficit means. It means that if all the Negroes who were born in Mississippi and have gone to other states were to return and at the same time all Negroes who have come into Mississippi from other states were to leave, the number returning would exceed the number departing by 139,178, and the result would be an increase of 15 per cent in the total Negro population of the state and an increase of nearly 8 per cent in the total population, white and Negro.
There is a similar history for nearly all southern states, in that the recent censuses show either a growing deficit or a diminishing surplus in the interstate exchange of native Negroes. For another illustration take the state of Texas, which for a time seems to have been the goal of Negro migration in the lower South. In 1870 the number of Negroes in Texas who were natives of other states was 118,114, which exceeded the small number of natives of Texas who had emigrated from the state by 112,348. At the last census, 1920, the excess of Negro immigrants to the state over Negro emigrants from the state was only 3,501. In Oklahoma and in Florida the excess in 1920 was less than it was in 1910 although greater than it was at earlier censuses. In Arkansas there has been little change in the situation since 1890, the excess remaining nearly constant at about 100,000. In West Virginia alone of the southern states has the gain through Negro migration steadily increased at each successive census.
South Loses Population Through Negro Migration
The total number of southern-born Negroes in the North at the date of the last census was 727,423. There were also 43,371 in the West. Against this total of 770,794 Negroes who, as shown by the census of 1920, had left the South and gone North or West, there was a small number of northern or western born Negroes who had gone South, the number being, in fact, 47,223, so that the net direct loss to the South by Negro migration was 680,200, which is equivalent to 7.6 per cent of the total Negro population of the South, and to a little more than 2 per cent of the total population of the South, white and colored.
The loss to any state, section, or country resulting from emigration is, however, not adequately measured either by the number emigrating within a given period or by the number of living emigrants in other states or countries on a given date. For it includes also the descendants of emigrants living in other states or countries, that is, if we may assume that the emigrants, if they had remained in their native land, would have had as many children and descendants as they have had in the states or countries to which they have gone. In the case of the Negro emigrants who have gone North there is reason to believe that they would have had larger families and more descendants if they had remained in the South than they have had in the North. So probably it is not an exaggeration, but rather the contrary, to say that the entire increase in the Negro population of the North since 1870 represents a loss in population growth to the South. In the 50 years between 1870 and 1920 the number of Negroes in the North increased by a little more than 1,000,000 i.e., from 452,818 in 1870 to 1,472,309 in 1920. One million is equivalent to about 3 per cent of the total population of the South and to about 11 per cent of the Negro population.
Percentage Negro Declining in the South
In 1870, the population of the South was more than one third Negro. Now it is not much more than one fourth Negro, the percentage Negro having declined from 36 in 1870 to 27 in 1920. It is safe to say that this decrease has not been wholly due to the emigration of Negroes. For had there been no emigration the growth of Negro population in the South would apparently not have kept pace with that of the white. But the difference would not have been as great as it is now. If there had been no emigration the Negro population of the South, as I have just pointed out, would probably be at least a million larger than it is at present, and the percentage Negro would in that case be about 30 instead of 27. The difference probably represents approximately the effect which emigration has had in reducing the proportion of Negroes in the population of the southern states.
If, therefore, there had been no northward migration of Negroes in the last 50 years the total population of the South would presumably be at least 3 per cent greater than it now is, the Negro population 11 per cent greater and the percentage Negro in the total would be about 30 instead of 27.
Increase in the Northward Migration
While, as already noted, there has been a constant northward migration of Negroes since the close of the Civil War, the recent migration, that of the last census decade (1910 to 1920), differs from the previous migration in several important respects and first of all in volume or amount. Thus in the period of 40 years from 1870 to 1910 the number of southern-born Negroes in the North increased from 146,490 to 415,533, an average decennial increase of 54,000. But in the decade 1910 to 1920 there was an increase of 311,910, which was more than the aggregate increase of the preceding 40 years and six times the previous average decennial increase.
Migration From the Far South
The northward migration of Negroes in the last decade has been to a much larger extent than ever before a migration from the far South. The earlier northward migration was, as already noted, mostly from the more northern states of the South. Even as recently as 1910, 56.2 per cent, more than half, of the southern born Negroes living in northern states came from two states—Virginia and Kentucky. The migration between 1910 and 1920 reduced the proportion who were born in these two states to 37 per cent. On the other hand the proportion of northern Negroes coming from the states farther south, or from what we may term the cotton belt states, including in this class, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, increased from 18.2 per cent of the total number of southern-born Negroes living in the North in 1910 to 40.2 per cent of the total in 1920. The absolute number of Negroes in the North who were natives of these states increased from 75,517 in 1910 to 298,739 in 1920, so there were nearly four times as many in 1920 as there were in 1910.
James Bryce, speculating in regard to the future of the American Negro in the revised edition of his “American Commonwealth,” published in 1911, considered the possibility that the Negro might “more and more draw southwards into the lower and hotter regions along the coasts of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico,” and might thus become “a relatively smaller and probably much smaller element than at present in the whole population north of latitude 36° and a relatively larger one south of latitude 33° and east of longitude 99° W.” (II, p. 536.) Bryce did not consider or suggest the possibility that the Negro might migrate northward in increasing numbers or that there might be a dispersion of the Negro race rather than a concentration of it. Yet this is precisely what has been taking place since his book was published. The region which he defines by geographic degrees as that in which the Negroes might concentrate includes the states of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and the proportion which the Negroes living in those states form of the total Negro population of the United States is at present decreasing, being 50.2 per cent in 1910 and 47.2 per cent in 1920. Within these states the percentage Negro decreased from 47.3 in 1910 to 43.0 in 1920. It decreased also in the other southern states, or the rest of the South, but the decrease was not so marked, being a decrease from 20.1 per cent Negro in 1910 to 18.4 in 1920. The North is the only section in which the percentage Negro has increased in recent years.5
Negroes in the North
In 1870 the total number of Negroes living in the North was 452,818, but of these 118,071 were in the state of Missouri, which had been a slave state. The northern state with the next largest number of Negroes was Pennsylvania with 65,294; next Ohio with 63,213; then New York with 52,081; New Jersey, 30,658; Illinois, 28,762; and Indiana, 24,560. No other northern state had as many as 15,000.
In 1920 there were 1,472,309 Negroes in the North as compared with 452,818 in 1870; and the northern state having the largest number of Negroes was Pennsylvania with 284,568. New York came next with 198,483, Ohio had 186,187, and Illinois 182,274. Then came Missouri with 178,241. Indiana had 80,810, Michigan 60,082, and Kansas 57,925. No other northern state had as many as 50,000. These 8 states account for four-fifths of the total Negro population in the North. They contain only about two-fifths of the total population of the North. With the exception of Michigan and New York they are states bordering the South.
Migration to Northern Cities
In the North outside the large cities there is only a small though a rather widely distributed Negro population. Out of a total of 1,272 northern counties there are, in fact, only 83 in which there are no Negroes. But there are 671 other northern counties in which the number of Negroes is less than 100, making 754 counties—about 60 per cent of the total number—in which there are either no Negroes or less than 100 Negroes; and there are only 183 counties in which there are more than 1,000 Negroes. If for purposes of comparison we make a similar classification of counties for the preceding census, we obtain no indication that any dispersion of the Negroes in the North is in progress. They go to the large cities mostly and remain there.
Of the 182,274 Negroes in the state of Illinois 60 per cent are in the city of Chicago, which city includes only 42 per cent of the total population of the state.
Detroit, in which there are 40,858 Negroes, accounts for 66 per cent or two-thirds of the total Negro population of Michigan.
Of the 198,483 Negroes in New York state 152,467 or 75 per cent are in New York City.
Three cities in Ohio, Cleveland (34,451), Cincinnati (30,079), and Columbus (22,181) account for 46 per cent of the Negro population of that state although these cities comprise only about 22 per cent of the total population of the state.
Philadelphia contains 47 per cent of the total number of Negroes in Pennsylvania as compared with 21 of the total population of the state. Add Pittsburgh and we have accounted for 60 per cent of the Negro population of that state and 28 per cent of the total population.
The above 10 cities contain 45.8 per cent of the total Negro population of the North. The same cities contain 22.5 per cent of the total population of the North. Three of these cities—New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia—contain 26.9 per cent of the total Negro population, as compared with 15.9 per cent of the total population.
Percentage Negro in the Population of the North
The total population of the North is now a little more than 2 per cent Negro, or to be more exact it was 2.3 per cent Negro in 1920. From 1870 to 1910 the percentage had been nearly constant, being either 1.8 or 1.9; but the last census, 1920, showed a slight but significant increase. The percentage, is still small, equivalent to about one-fiftieth of the total population. So only one person in fifty in the northern states is a Negro. If, therefore, the Negroes were evenly distributed over the northern states, to correspond with the distribution of the white population, their numbers would not be large enough to constitute a disturbing factor in the social organism or arouse racial antagonism or introduce a race problem. But as already pointed out they are concentrated largely in certain cities, where they form a considerable and an increasing proportion of the total population. Over 4 per cent of the population of Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, New Bedford, and Newark is Negro; about 5 per cent of the population of Youngstown and of Cambridge, Mass.; over 6 per cent of the population of Pittsburgh; over 7 per cent of the population of Cincinnati and Philadelphia; not less than 9 per cent of the population of Columbus, St. Louis, and Kansas City, Mo.; 11 per cent of the population of Indianapolis; and 14.2 per cent of the population of Kansas City, Kans. These are all cities of over 100,000 population. Some of the smaller northern cities have still larger percentages of Negroes. Atlantic City is 21.6 per cent Negro.
Within each city there is usually a local segregation, or concentration of Negroes in certain sections or localities—a Negro quarter. In New York City 42.3 per cent of the total Negro population are located in two assembly districts and within these districts Negroes form, respectively, 35 per cent and 49 per cent of the total population. In Chicago there is one ward which contains 44 per cent of the total Negro population of the city and within which Negroes form 69 per cent of the total population. In Detroit the concentration is not so marked, although there is one war in which Negroes constitute about 25 per cent of the total population, and another in which the percentage is nearly 20.
Per Cent Negro Decreasing in Southern Cities, Increasing in Northern
In almost every southern city the percentage Negro, as indicated by the last census, is decreasing. Thus in Atlanta it decreased from 33.5 in 1910 to 31.3 in 1920; in Savannah from 51.1 to 47.1; in Charleston from 52.8 to 47.6; in Columbia from 43.9 to 38.5; in Memphis from 40.0 to 37.7; in Nashville from 33.1 to 30.1; in Dallas from 19.6 to 15.1; in Fort Worth from 18.1 to 14.1; in Houston from 30.4 to 24.6; in San Antonio from 11.1 to 8.9; in Richmond from 36.6 to 31.5; in Washington from 28.5 to 25.1. There are, however, three important cities of the South in which the decrease is hardly appreciable, namely Birmingham (39.4–39.3), Baltimore (15.2 to 14.8), and New Orleans (26.3 to 26.1).
In northern cities, on the other hand, the percentage Negro is increasing. In Chicago it increased from 2.0 to 4.1; in Philadelphia from 5.5 to 7.4; in Pittsburgh from 4.8 to 6.4; in New York City from 1.9 to 2.7; in Cincinnati from 5.4 to 7.5; in Cleveland from 1.5 to 4.3; in Detroit from 1.2 to 4.1; in St. Louis from 6.4 to 9.0; and so in many other northern cities.
Occupations of Negroes in the North
What are the Negroes doing in the North? In the South a majority of them —57.7 per cent of the total number of Negro male workers—are employed in growing cotton or other farm crops either as laborers or tenants or owners. In 1920 there were 628,029 Negro farm laborers in the southern states and 834,686 Negro farmers of whom probably about 200,000 were farm owners, the others being tenants or croppers. Leaving out West Virginia, in which only 5.1 per cent of the male Negro workers are engaged in agriculture, the percentage in the other southern states ranges from 29.9 in Maryland to 78.2 in Mississippi.
The fact that most of the Negroes in the North have gone to the cities indicates at once that not many of them are on farms. As a matter of fact less than 6 per cent (5.7) of Negro male workers in the North were reported in the census of 1920 as engaged in agricultural pursuits.
In Chicago Negroes are represented by larger or smaller numbers in nearly all the principal occupations or occupational groups. There is one notable exception. No Negroes are employed as motormen or as street car conductors. But these appear to be the only numerically important occupations from which they are entirely excluded.
They are represented also in the skilled trades. There were in 1920, 126 brick and stone masons who were Negroes; 275 carpenters; 113 compositors and typesetters; 148 coopers; 431 machinists; 286 house painters; 105 plumbers; and 371 tailors.
But the great majority of Negro workers in the cities of the North are employed in domestic or personal service or as unskilled or semi-skilled laborers. In the stockyards of Chicago, there were 5,300 Negro laborers in 1920 and in the iron and steel industries, 3,201. In the slaughter and packing houses 1,242 Negroes were returned as laborers and 1,490 as semiskilled operatives. There were 1,835 Negroes returned as building or general laborers, 1,210 as laborers, porters, and helpers in stores, 2,139 as porters in domestic or personal service, besides 2,540 railway porters, which means doubtless Pullman porters. There were 1,822 Negro janitors, 2,315 Negro waiters and 1,942 Negro male servants. Then there were 1,659 Negro male clerks outside of clerks in stores. These occupations include 55 per cent of the total number of male Negro workers in the City of Chicago, as compared with less than 10 per cent of the white male breadwinners.
That the extensive employment of Negroes as laborers or semi-skilled operatives in the stockyards, slaughter houses, steel mills, and building trades, and as general laborers is a recent development, is shown by the fact that the percentage of Negroes in the total number of males employed in these occupations in Chicago increased from 3.5 in 1910 to 20.7 in 1920. Of the laborers in the automobile plants of Detroit, 13.5 per cent were Negroes in 1920, as compared with less than one-half of 1 per cent in 1910. The proportion of Negroes among building and general laborers in that city increased from 3.2 per cent in 1910 to 19.4 per cent in 1920, the number of Negroes so employed increasing from 149 to 1,261.
In New York the percentage of Negroes in the total number of longshoremen and stevedores increased from 6.4 in 1910 to 14.5 in 1920; and in Philadelphia it increased from 44.7 per cent in 1910 to 59.2 in 1920. It is of interest to note that while in each of these cities there was a large increase in the number of Negroes employed as chauffeurs, the increase no more than kept pace with the growth of the occupation, so that the percentage of Negroes was no larger in 1920 than it was in 1910. But the absolute number of Negro chauffeurs in New York increased from 490 to 2,373, and in Philadelphia from 312 to 2,195.
In contrast to the increasing extent to which Negroes are being employed as laborers in the manufacturing plants or industries of the North is the very slight increase in the employment of male Negroes in domestic and personal service. Of the total number of janitors, porters, male servants, and waiters in Chicago 33.9 per cent were Negroes in 1910, and in 1920 this percentage had increased only to 34.8.
All this goes to show that the male Negroes who have recently been migrating northward in such large numbers have most of them become industrial laborers, finding employment in mills, factories, and stockyards, rather than in hotels, restaurants, office buildings, and dwelling houses. I am sure that if we could distinguish in the census occupational statistics those who have emigrated recently from the earlier emigrants, this fact would be brought out very strikingly. It is another distinctive feature of the new immigration.
Negro Women in Domestic Service
The statistics relating to male Negro workers indicate that new fields of employment have been opened to them in the North, which doubtless invite immigration by the lure of high money wages. This does not appear to be true to the same extent of the female Negro workers. Their field of employment in the North continues to be largely restricted to personal and domestic service.
In the case of the Negro male workers in Chicago, the percentage employed in personal and domestic service fell off from 52.5 per cent to 28.1, and in the case of female workers from 84.5 to 64.2
Of the Negro women who have migrated to northern cities a large proportion are domestic servants. About 30 per cent of the Negro female breadwinners in Chicago were reported as servants and 47 per cent of those in New York, For Philadelphia the percentage is 54, for Detroit 35, and for Pittsburgh 50. In general from one-third to one-half of the total number of Negro women workers in northern cities are servants.
It may be noted in this connection that the total number of female servants of all classes, white and colored, as reported by the census decreased materially in the last decade, the number being 1,012,133 in 1920 as compared with 1,309,549 in 1910, a decrease of about 23 per cent or nearly one-fourth. In New York City the number of female servants fell off from 113,409 in 1910 to 84,615 in 1920; in Chicago the decrease was from 34,472 in 1910 to 26,184 in 1920; in Philadelphia it was nearly the same—from 37,050 to 28,290. Evidently people are learning to do without domestic servants. I shall not stop to inquire how. But doubtless the increasing resort to the simplified housekeeping of the apartment furnishes a partial explanation of this phenomenon. In the meantime, white female servants in northern cities are to a large extent being supplanted or replaced by Negroes. For while the number of white female servants, foreign born as well as native, has decreased, the number of Negro female servants has materially increased, so that they form an increasing proportion or percentage of the diminishing total. Thus in Chicago in 1920, 24 per cent or about one-fourth of the female servants were Negroes as compared with 10 per cent in 1910. In New York the percentage Negro in the total number of female servants increased from 12.4 in 1910 to 22.4 in 1920; in Detroit from 6.1 to 23.1; in Cleveland from 8.7 to 30.1; in Philadelphia from 38.5 to 53.8 per cent. And there are similar increases in the percentages for all the northern cities to which Negroes have migrated in considerable numbers.
Thus it becomes evident that in the North the southern Negro is to a certain extent supplying the places of the foreign-born immigrant as a source of labor supply for both industrial plants and domestic kitchens, but only to a limited extent. The falling off in the flow of foreign immigration caused by restrictive laws can never be offset or made good by immigration from the South. For consider: In the last 10 years of unrestricted immigration, by which I mean the years 1905 to 1914, inclusive, more than 10,000,000 foreign immigrants came to these shores. That exceeds the entire Negro population of the South by about 1,000,000. At present the restriction law limits the annual immigration to 357,000. So the maximum possible immigration of the foreign born in a decade is 3,570,000. The difference between this number and the 10,000,000 that came in when immigration was unrestricted would absorb 72 per cent of the entire Negro population of the southern states (8,912,231).
Natural Increase of Negro Population in the North
Will the colored people in the North multiply by natural increase or are they dependent upon continuous immigration from the South? In other words, if immigration were to cease would the Negro race in the North gradually die out? This is a very fundamental question. If the race can not maintain itself in the North save by continuous recruiting from the South, then immigration acts as a drain upon the Negro population and if it were to continue in large volume it might in the distant future even prove to be the destruction of the Negro race. I do not suggest this, however, as a catastrophe that is likely to be realized. It may be a possibility, but if so it lies beyond the range of any predictable future.
Whether the Negro race can maintain itself in the North by natural increase remains to be seen. We can inquire only as to present tendencies. Professor Willcox in a recently published article on the “Increase and Distribution of Negroes in the United States” pointed out that in those states in the North for which statistics were available there had been within a period of five years 114 deaths of Negroes to 100 births. The area included the New England states, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, and the period covered the years 1914 to 1919 inclusive. Conditions within that period could hardly be called normal. It was the period of the World War, of the influenza epidemic, and the period within which the first northward rush of Negroes took place.
The statistics of more recent years show a different relationship. For within these same states, the number of deaths of Negroes to 100 births in the three years, 1920 to 1922, inclusive, was 83. The birth rate for the Negro, however, remains lower in the North than it is in the South and the death rate continues to be higher in the North, and that means, of course, that the natural increase in the North is less than it is in the South; and it seems fairly evident that the northward migration of the Negroes has retarded the increase of the Negro population and constitutes one reason, and perhaps the main reason, why the increase recorded at the last census was smaller than ever before, being, in fact, only 6.5 per cent as compared with 11.2 per cent in the preceding decade and with 13.8 per cent (corrected figure) in the decade before that. But these conditions may be only temporary. The death rate in the North may decline with improvement in living conditions, sanitation, and personal hygiene—and with adaptation to climate. The birth rate might increase if conditions among Negroes in the North become more settled and family life better established. And the northward migration itself may be only temporary. These are questions the answer to which the future alone will reveal.
I am aware that the statistics presented within the brief limits of this paper can serve only as an introduction to the subject of Negro migration. They indicate the recent great increase of migration, the fact that this recent migration comes largely from the cotton states of the far South, that it is a migration to the cities of the North and to the industrial plants in these cities, that it is replacing to a limited extent the immigration from Europe, and that it is probably retarding the growth of the Negro population. But as to what the effects of this movement are going to be upon the Negro, or upon the North or upon the South—these are profoundly interesting and more or less speculative questions which I could not undertake to discuss within the limits of this paper, whatever my qualifications for that task might be.
Opportunity, 2 (April, 1924): 100–105.
J. W. Knapp
Personnel Director, Bethlehem Steel Corporation
The Employment Manager is one of the most important factors in successful Industrial Relations. He must be a man of wide experience, good judgment, and infinite patience, and must surround himself with Assistants of as near the same qualities as possible, since it is manifestly impossible for the Manager, except in the smaller plants, to come in personal contact with all the applicants.
It is of great importance further that those assistants who come in close contact with the applicant once he has become an employee, be specially picked for personality or “mixability,” or whatever name we care to call it, in addition to the special qualifications required for their calling, whether Community Workers, Instructors or nurses.
Illustrating what is most undesirable in a Welfare Worker of any kind, I shall draw upon an incident coming within my experiences:
In the early days of Negro employees in the department with which I am connected, a matter of only some six years ago, we, in our ignorance and inexperience, picked a “go-getter” out of a gang, and made him a pusher or “straw-boss,” so called, thinking that the men would rather work under one of their own race. Things went along all right for a short time, and we were congratulating ourselves on our good judgment, when we noticed that the gang was decreasing in size, invariably by the quit route. Anxious to find the trouble I questioned the next man appearing with a quit slip, and elicted the information they could not get along with the “pusher.”
That we at the Duquesne Steel Works have been successful in this phase of Industrial Relations, may be gathered from the following brief resumé of our efforts along these lines.
Prior to 1916, we were able to recruit our labor supply from the American white and several foreign groups. However, in the early part of 1916, it developed that white labor was diminishing rapidly as immigration from foreign countries had practically ceased.
This condition was met in part by the migration of the Southern Negro into Northern Industry.
Many of these new workers were entirely unfitted to meet the new demands of Northern Industry. Coming as they did from rural agricultural sections of the South, bringing with them their old traditions and superstitions, they presented to us many new community problems. Owing to this condition, we felt it necessary in the early part of 1918 to put on a colored Welfare Worker, as we were of the opinion that through him, in conjunction with the Employment Manager, we could gain better results from our colored workmen, which has proven true beyond any doubt.
The Company’s policy relative to the colored welfare work is to have it conducted through the office of the Employment Manager. With this arrangement, it can be easily seen that the success or failure of this work depends largely on the team work between the Employment Manager and the Welfare Worker. No program worked out would be of any value unless there were confidence, understanding and general interest on the part of the Employment Manager.
This has been one of the gratifying results of our work, and if we have done anything at all, it has been through this perfect understanding, and it has been through this relationship that we have been able to get over to the worker, very often, many of the policies of the Company.
The Welfare Worker has given us insight into what we term the peculiarities of their race, that perhaps otherwise, could never have been understood. We seek information regarding the employees that will be to their benefit both on and off the job. We, therefore, want the worker to feel free to come to us whenever he so desires.
One of the many succesful efforts has been the investigating of our men off duty, through the Welfare Worker. By this means we are able to catch up the loafer, thus ridding the community of undesirables, as well as to render aid many times to our workmen who are detained home on account of sickness of self or family. It has been our policy since the introduction of colored labor, to encourage married men to bring their families to Duquesne, rendering such financial aid as necessary to accomplish this end. Through our Welfare Worker, we were able also to trace out disorderly houses and close them up promptly.
Fortunately we secured the services of a very efficient nurse, and through her aid discovered several cases of men and women who were living together as man and wife when in reality they were not married. Upon being notified of these discoveries we succeeded in rectifying these cases by insisting that the parties be legally married. I might add that this nurse and another secured at the time, did yoeman service during the “Flu” epidemic and won the gratitude of the community at large.
Two years ago we organized day and night classes for our colored employees in our Welfare Community House. The work of these classes has been successful beyond all expectations, and is due largely to the untiring efforts to Mr. Macon Lennon, our supervisor of the Community House.
In the late fall we arranged weekly meetings in the Community House with the assistant Department Superintendents as speakers. These meetings were mostly get-together meetings that the speakers might explain more fully to the employees, the various conditions of his department, as well as to impress on the worker that the loafer or drone must go. It was surprising how largely these meetings were attended, and the results accomplished. We feel our responsibility to the men who come here, and are ready to help them to help themselves in a practical way. It is this idea that we are striving to drive home to our employees through the co-operative efforts of the welfare workers and the employment manager.
Another important factor, and I might call it a vital factor in successful Industrial Relations, is the Foreman, and his attitude towards the colored workman. At the start it was not at all uncommon to hear a Foreman say, “I got a couple more of those niggers in my gang today.” This is a far cry indeed from the remark of a Foreman only the other day: “I wish I had about a dozen more in my crew like that colored fellow, John Rivers.”
Another incident—A colored man named Thompson, working in a semi-skilled position, left us during the hard times to go to his home in the South. Recently the furnace man with whom he worked, a white man, told our General Foreman that he had a letter from Thompson asking if he could get his job back if he came up. The General Foreman said: “Tell him yes, and if he knows any more like himself bring them along.” He, by the way, started to work last Friday night and he brought three men along with him.
It must of course be understood that these men are good sober conscientious workmen, and we have many more like them. This class is accepted by the foremen and white workmen without prejudice, and it is from them that we have developed skilled and semi-skilled workmen.
The department with which I am connected, the Open Hearth, employs approximately 20 per cent of the total plant employees; but mark this, that 20 per cent includes between 45 and 50 per cent of the colored employees of the entire plant, so that our experience has been as great as all of the other departments combined.
Color alone has been and is no bar to advancement—probably not over 20 per cent of the colored men in our department are laborers, the rest having advanced to the position of second and third helpers on furnaces, gas makers, and ash hoppermen in the Gas Producer Plant, narrow gauge railroad switchmen, ladle liners, etc., and will continue to advance as long as they merit advancement.
This type of man presents no problem. He is ambitious, works steadily, saves some money, and is in general a credit to the community, and I want to say right here that his loyalty to the company for which he works is second to none.
Our problem is with the other fellow, of whom there are numerous varieties. The one who can’t get along with his foreman. A shift to another foreman sometimes satisfies him, or to another kind of work; then again it takes a shift to another department to do it. If that does not work, there is something wrong with the man and we usually have to let him go. We have in some cases tried as many as eight different lines of work where the man showed a willingness to work but lacked adaptability, before landing on a job that the man could handle.
Then there is the one who seemingly has no cares in the world, the least being his work. Once in awhile, a heart to heart talk does a world of good, but in most cases it is hopeless and he soon drifts away if not discharged.
Another is the fellow who works well, but has the lay off habit—particularly around pay day. This is usually a hard case to combat. He promises not to do it again, but as a rule soon lapses as the money starts to burn a hole in his pocket. He always wonders why he is passed up when a better job is open.
Another type is the fellow who is a good worker but has to go down home every so often, “To see about some business,” said business usually consisting of showing off his good clothes and air of prosperity to the folks around home. In my experience with this type, I cannot recall a single one who did not find it necessary to draw all his pay and have his employment record terminated before going. He also wonders why advancement does not come to him. Of course the man who has a legitimate reason, has no trouble in getting a leave of absence: it in no way mitigates against his advancement, and he usually has the money to go with.
We have several off on leave at the present time. One bringing a bride back with him. Another whose wife is dangerously ill after an operation. Another who, although his own family is here, is now bringing his father and mother up. Another, a fine old character who went to Birmingham to dispose of some property, as both he and his wife want to spend the rest of their days in the North.
Another type, the vicious bad actor. We have fortunately had very little experience with him. The few we have had were disposed of summarily as soon as they showed their real character. We are not attempting to operate a reform school.
As you will have noticed, I have covered the good, the bad and the indifferent, generally speaking, and while unfortunately the majority of those with whom we have come in contact have belonged to the last two classes, this is not as discouraging to the careful observer as it seems.
All things are comparative, including majorities, and this majority at the present time is small compared to the past, and we can feel assured that in the years to come the positions will be reversed. Now what is, and will be responsible for this? Call it increased efficiency, for want of a better name—a change in the state of mind,—a dawning of the day of opportunity, and recognition of it and its possibilities—a determination to have a real share in the world’s work, and the feeling that there are commensurate rewards for personal effort. All these may be brought about by the work of intelligently functioning organizations, coupled with the efforts of our industrial leaders to assure to all a square deal regardless of race, color or creed.
Opportunity, 1 (February, 1923): 19–20.
By William L. Evans
Industrial Secretary, Chicago Urban League
Since the disastrous industrial depression, there has been much conjecture about the Negro’s place in industry. Has he maintained the places held by him prior to 1920? Was his place in northern industry only a war measure? Did employers take advantage of the recent period of depression to eliminate him, or has he taken advantage of his opportunities in the north?
We want to answer these questions only as they apply to Chicago, leaving it to those better informed than we are to speak for other places.
The Chicago Urban League may speak perhaps with some degree of authority on these questions because its industrial department is the largest placement agency of colored workers in the city. In the month of September, 1922, on a short labor market it placed in Chicago nearly 1,300 men and women job seekers and interviewed 2,745. In twelve months ending October 31, it has had 38,207 applicants for work and placed 10,720 people in profitable employment. It has contact with practically all the principal industries employing colored people through its field worker. It investigates complaints of working people and seeks opportunities in industry not previously open to colored people. During the period of unemployment, the League dealt with problems growing out of the enforced idleness of 20,000 colored people, and at the same time used its influence to see that colored workers were “laid off” only in proportion to white employes. This contact should, at least, qualify the Urban League to respond with some degree of intelligence to the above queries.
The problem of the colored worker in Chicago is a complex one. His industrial background would hardly permit automatic adjustment to a situation so new and so different from anything in his previous experience. His adjustment to plant and shop, then, was attended with difficulty requiring patience and intelligence. He had the barrier of race prejudice to overcome which sometimes resulted in his undoing. Wartime production gave him a place—did he keep it? In most instances, yes, there can be no doubt that he lost positions of skill in one place only to gain them in others. For instance skilled positions were lost to colored men in the steel mills in the period of depression following the armistice, but were recovered during the steel strike of a year later. In the Stock Yards colored men also lost positions of skill, only to recover them during the strike of 1920-21 and gain others they had never had. The great strike of 1919 and 1920 headed by John Kilkuski was lost by Polish workers, but resulted in promotions from unskilled to skilled positions in the plants of the International Harvester Company, Corn Products & Refining Company, and many other industries which are still held by colored men.
Today the grey iron industry insofar as molding is concerned, is practically all in the hands of colored men. Foundry after foundry has introduced the colored molder and when the white molder objects and leaves, the colored man gets control and keeps it. Colored foremen over men of their own race are not uncommon.
The strike of the Stock Yards Union offered a chance for occupational advancement to colored men which was accepted. Carpenters, electricians, and steam fitters positions were given colored men, but were soon lost, in most instances, to returning strikers. Employers gave reason for this as lack of experience on the part of the colored men. A few, however, have held on so that the result is not a complete loss to the colored worker. The Landis Award Committee sought him wherever he could be found. Bricklayers, carpenters, hoisting engineers, cement workers, and other tradesmen were placed with the committee. Colored tradesmen may now be seen working side by side with whites in all sections of Chicago—in some cases as union workers, in others, on the open-shop plan, while previously he worked only as a member of the Building Laborers and Hod Carriers Union.
The recent strike of the railroad shop employees has, like all the others, brought advantages to colored workmen. Skilled positions formerly closed to him are now his. While no figures are available, it is known that many are working as boiler-makers, steamfitters, carpenters and painters, in shops of Chicago.
Similar advantages to the colored workman may be shown from every industrial dispute where colored persons are not members of the striking unions. There is no reason to conclude that the Negro is by choice a strikebreaker any more than other men, but the fact is that in most instances where he has risen above the ranks of a common laborer, the strike has furnished the medium thru which his advancement is accomplished. To our notion, the policy of white unionists is more to blame than all else. White unionists must sooner or later realize that their own security consists in the acceptance on equal terms of the colored workman. When he is a member of the union, the colored man is as loyal as any other, but like others he must be shown that his best interest is in the union rather than out.
The writer recently heard a colored stock yards union workman bitterly denouncing the Urban League and the Y.M.C.A. for what he thought was their interference in the stock yards strike. His denunciation was as bitter and typically union as any the writer has ever heard, but the writer knew that with 20,000 Negroes unemployed over a period of a year in a great city like Chicago where at all times the struggle for existence is keen, that the calling of a strike was pure folly and that no force, social or otherwise, could have saved the situation to the union. If the statements of stock yards officials may be accepted, the strike-breakers were about equally divided between white and colored men who preferred the danger of a strike-breaker’s position to the suffering incident to unemployment.
Employers did not take the recent depression period as an opportunity to drive the colored men out of industry. When it became necessary to reduce working forces, colored men suffered only a proportionate “lay off.” A few instances were recorded on the other hand which showed an increase of colored employees. Early in 1922 officials of the stock yards reported from 25 to 30 per cent increase in colored employees, while recent reports show this proportion remaining about the same.
In September, a conference was held in the office of one of the large steel plants on the subject of increasing its colored working force. Here the increase was from less than 100 in 1914 to 900 in 1922. A large cement factory has increased its force from a few in 1916 to 800 in 1922. There are several others which will register similar increases. On the other hand, we know of not a single instance in which an industry has been lost to colored workers, with the exception of Sears Roebuck and Company and Montgomery Ward & Company where 2,000 colored girls were employed as clerks typists and operators. These two firms have not recovered from the depression period. One promises to reemploy its colored force if business justifies the re-opening of its branch office. As neither company has re-opened its branch office, it cannot be said that these companies have been lost. At least, the colored workers have not been replaced, which leaves the decision to some future day.
Colored women have gained even more than the men. They have not only held all gains they made during the past four years in industry, but have successfully invaded and held new territory. Today they are a real factor in the needle trades and must be counted by the thousand. Though segregated, they are working in every branch of the trade from overalls to costly silk gowns. They have proven competent in the arts of beading and embroidering. They are decorators of parchment shades. Three hundred and fifty may be found in a single plant, while many plants have more than a hundred in skilled occupations. They are both union and non-union. Hundreds of others are in the packing industry on skilled and unskilled jobs. One large foundry employs 50 as core makers where they work without friction with twice as many white women.
The garment workers unions accept colored women without discrimination and have even made feeble attempts to unionize them. Most of the interracial shops are union. Colored women are generally non-union. They have not as yet, learned the value of collective bargaining and are generally underpaid. Often their apprentice weekly wage is $7.00 to $9.00, at which they are unfairly held for unreasonable periods by unscrupulous employers. There is not much doubt that colored women, in most cases, represent “cheap” labor. Whenever they are well-paid, they are cheerful and dependable, when working for less than a living wage, they are restless and unreliable. In a certain factory in which the management had declared their colored girls unreliable, it was found that if a girl ever reached the earning power of $15.00 per week, she usually became a satisfactory worker. Fifteen-dollars a week is the minimum upon which a woman living in Chicago may be self-supporting. Thus their unreliability is easily explained. Those falling below fifteen dollars produce a high and expensive turn-over. The dependability then of colored girl workers depends at least in some measure, on her chance to earn a living wage. Is this not true of all workers regardless of sex or race?
Many employers are beginning to see that industrial efficiency is not confined to the white race. Proof of this is shown in the thousands of colored workers and the demand for more which cannot be met. Even while writing this article there comes a call for 75 young colored women to work as merchandise inspectors in one of Chicago’s largest department stores. Another company manufacturing spring cushions has increased its colored women employees from 25 to 350 in four years and has recently engaged a well-trained colored woman as welfare secretary with supervisory power over all its colored workers and announces its intention of increasing its present force from 350 to 600 in the near future. These instances serve to demonstrate the colored woman’s possibilities in industry. In Chicago she has but taken her place in the cycle of nationalities which have been assigned to drudgery of industry. The Irish had their day, then the Greek, the Pole and the Jew each in their turn. Each has passed on to the better tasks in industry but not without an encounter with race prejudice. Anti-race sentiment has not been directed to the Negro alone. The colored woman is slowly but surely beating down color prejudice and taking her place as a factor in industry. Her future, if judged by her present status in industry, would seem to indicate her permanency as a factor in the producing forces of Chicago.
Finally, we would say that Negroes have taken advantage of their opportunities in industry, at least in Chicago. They have retained successfully most of the gains made during war times, steadily advancing from unskilled to skilled positions in spite of handicaps which are not known to white workers. Most of them are still common laborers, just as all the late-comers in industry have been. The last to arrive in northern territory, they, like others, must begin at the bottom. The Irish, the Greek, the Italian, the Croation and the Pole and finally the Negro has followed in succession as the man farthest down in industry. The payrolls of a local industry showed 40 nationalities which conveys some idea of the polyglot man-power of Chicago industries. We wonder if the Mexican will be the next? There is some reason to think so.
Opportunity, 1 (February, 1923): 15–16.
(A Summary of the Report on the Industrial Survey of the Negro Population)
By Charles S. Johnson6
Director, Research and Investigations
Maryland is one of the border states, neither north nor south. In any consideration of questions involving Baltimore Negroes or inter-racial relations this is important. In its industrial development Baltimore is northern; in its social customs it is more southern than Virginia, for example. Because of its geographical location, its industrial dependence upon the south, its attachment to southern customs, a peculiar situation has developed. There are to be found strange mixtures of sentiments, methods and customs. This geographical position it would seem, has tended to exaggerate differences and keep racial issues more prominently in the foreground. These relations are perhaps, more tedious than they are either in the north or in the south, because they are less fixed.
This situation was observed by Mr. Allison Muir, personnel executive of the General Electric Company of the city and an adviser to the Government on labor questions. Mr. Muir said:
“The nearer you get to the Mason and Dixon Line the harder you find it to mix whites and Negroes on the job. Both further North and further South it is different. In Richmond, Virginia, for example, Negroes are doing skilled work in the locomotive works, in Newport News in the shipyards and in Birmingham they are preferred to the ‘poor white trash.’ But in Baltimore the white workers demand separation in everything.”
It will be remembered that it is principally in border states like Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland that the necessity has been felt for being explicit on absolute segregation in residential areas, enforcing the issue with an ordinance. It is perhaps because the question of contact is so frequently in the foreground that there has been built up a wall of defense against the idea. This is most strikingly apparent throughout the entire field of industry, and it was considered best to mention it at this point in order that the results of the inquiry may be more intelligible.
The same reticence about inter-racial contact expressed in the pronounced demand for separation has retarded contacts of acknowledged value to both races even further south. Until very recently the occasions on which whites and Negroes came together for a discussion of mutual problems have been rare and outside the popular estimate of good taste. The sentiments of the far south have been there, but without the sympathy frequently manifested by certain of the influential white leaders of that section. White persons as a rule, do not attend the meetings of Negroes, even to hear them sing,—one never failing resource of the Negroes further south. Similarly, it is extremely rare that Negroes get an opportunity to attend the meetings of the whites, hear their deliberations and profit from them. The backwardness of the Negro group in social welfare programs may be in large measure attributed to this isolation.
Early Occupations of Negroes
As in the more southern states just before and for a period after the Civil War, there were occupations, which prevailing custom decreed belonged to the Negroes’ status. In Baltimore these occupations were principally brick making in Summer, oyster shucking in Winter, caulking, loading and unloading ships, personal and domestic service. Some of the best known caterers were Negroes and there were other owners of fair sized produce stores patronized by whites. They also did the jobbing and independent trucking and controlled the junk business. A few were skilled workers in carpentry, masonry, and blacksmithing. But rather profound changes came shortly after the Civil War, and the most important of these were a result of the competition of white workers.
In northern cities the chief supply of labor for unskilled work are the foreigners who as late as 1914 were coming to this country at the rate of over a million a year. These crude laborers in large centers usually pushed up the native born American workers into more select grades of work. In southern cities like Birmingham, Richmond, Virginia, Atlanta, Georgia, and Charleston, S.C., the influence of the slave caste work has not yet worn off and Negroes still to a very large degree do the hard work much of which is skilled. Their competition has been with the “poor whites” and in this they have had a relative advantage by virtue of the same caste lines dividing the poor whites from the “landed gentry.” As anyone familiar with the history of the south knows, this social demarcation was of sufficient strength to encourage “poor whites” in avoiding positions that classed them with Negroes. Again, the preponderant Negro laboring population in these southern cities made them in large measure an indispensable labor supply, strengthening their position against the “poor white” through an implied association of manual labor with Negroes and even with slavery.
In Maryland no such preponderance has obtained. Since 1810, the per cent of Negroes to whites has steadily and rapidly decreased without a single fluctuation by decades. Compared with the southern states in question this decline in ratio is most remarkable. Neither this state nor its principal city, Baltimore, was as deeply impressed with the occupational distinctions further south. Being a border state these relations were not as definitely isolated. Besides, Maryland, as well as Baltimore, has always had a large native white immobile laboring class in need of work.
Population and Competition
Baltimore has a population of 733,836, more than half the population of Maryland, and is its only large city. It ranks eighth among the country’s largest cities, seventh in the major group of leading American cities in the number of its manufacturies, and is naturally endowed for commercial and industrial development. In local commercial circles it is referred to as “The Gateway to the South.”
One of the chief attractions, according to the local Board of Trade, is the fact that labor is plentiful and cheap. During the war, for example, one plant was able to expand its force from 600 to 2,200. This is most significant from the point of view of competition for jobs. Its population is more stable than perhaps any other industrial city. Forty-six and three-tenths per cent of the entire population are home owners. This is the second highest percentage of home owners in the country. There is a preponderance of women which means that more women are in the labor market in competition with men for work.
In Baltimore’s Negro population there is something peculiarly significant. It ranks fifth among cities with a Negro population of more than 75,000, but the proportion to the total is smaller than any northern city. The 1920 census reports 108,390 Negroes in a total of 733,826, or 14.8 per cent. The per cent of the Negro population in Richmond, Virginia, is 31.5; in Birmingham, Alabama, 39.31; in Atlanta, 31.3, and in Memphis, 37.7. Of northern cities: in Chicago it is 4.1; in New York City, 2.7; in Pittsburgh, 6.4, and in Philadelphia, 7.4. The Baltimore Negro population therefore, is just large enough to be a factor in the social structure of the city, but not quite large enough to constitute an independent support for the city’s industrial structure as they do further south.
The struggle for existence in the Negro group registers first and most prominently in the number of Negroes at work. They represent the largest element of the population gainfully employed.
In two principal lines of work it will be observed that Negroes are practically in control. These are (1) Domestic and Personal Service in which field they furnish 65.6 per cent of the workers, and (2) “Unskilled Labor,” where in spite of their 14.8 per cent in the total population they contribute 47.0 per cent of all the unskilled laborers. This differentation is still more clearly apparent in certain specific positions. Seventy per cent of all the building and repair laborers; 64 per cent of all the unskilled laborers in blast furnaces and steel rolling mills; 71.8 per cent of all the porters in stores; and 92.5 per cent of all other porters; 78 per cent of the waiters; and 73 per cent of the stevedores are Negroes.
A comparison of these figures with those of 1910, show rather significant fluctuations when their relation to the total Negro working force is considered. Sixty-four per cent of all Negro workers were engaged in domestic and personal service in 1910, but in 1920, the per cent dropped to 50. On the other hand, in 1910 the total of all Negro skilled workers was 3.8 per cent of all Negroes working. In 1920, they had increased to 5.3 per cent indicating a gradual but perceptible drift from domestic and personal service to the industries.
Where certain industries, for any reason whatever, do not employ Negroes in their manufacturing processes almost invariably Negro porters and janitors are to be found. Employers with the most pronounced objections to Negro workers in plants employing whites because of the contact involved, do not object to these Negro porters, cleaners and janitors. It is an established custom that seems never to have been seriously questioned.
The situation is similar in domestic service in which field, 33,436 Negroes out of a total of 50,446 are employed.
The Intensive Survey
The intensive survey limited itself to one special field—that of industry. This, it was felt, was a subject about which least was known and in the improvement of which there was most likelihood of inter-racial cooperation. There was available no complete list of the industries of Baltimore; there were partial lists of industries and rather complete lists of business enterprises which included many industries. These were provided for the purpose of the Survey by the Industrial Bureau of the Baltimore Board of Trade and the Merchants and Manufacturers Association together with a letter to the managers of the establishments in question commending the purposes of the Survey and requesting their cooperation in providing the information sought.
There are, according to the 1920 Census, 2,787 manufacturers, large and small, in Baltimore employing 97,814 wage earners. It was found, however, that there were numbers of establishments not classed as manufacturing (public utilities, railroads, etc.) which employed large numbers of men, white and Negro. There was further no means of determining which plants employed Negroes. This made necessary the visiting of a sufficiently large number to include the bulk of Negro workers engaged in the industries of the city. A selection of 300 of the most important plants was made with the assistance of the two organizations above. The returns indicate that these were representative. Employed in the establishments from which reports were obtained were 51,016 persons, of whom 6,525 were Negroes. If the Census figures of persons engaged in manufacturing industries are used as a guide, the number of workers included in this study is 52 per cent of all industrial workers. The overlapping mentioned above, however, must be discounted.
There are 120 labor organizations in the city. All of these were reached, but information on the subject secured from but 40.
Those, however, include all the trades in which Negroes are engaged to any extent and may be thus deemed fairly representative and sufficient.
In further analysis of the occupations of Negroes these selected industries were divided first into their most natural classification, i.e., those employing Negroes and those not employing them. The plants included in the Survey divided thus are as follows:
The establishments represent a wide diversity of product and demand a range of technique equally wide. There were plants employing Negroes for certain grades of work and others refusing to employ them on the similar processes for reasons adequate and sufficient to each respectively. Some of the plants have what they call “labor policies” which summarily exclude all Negroes as below the standard for workers; other with the identical processes regard them as best fitted for their work. No standard appears to be observed; no objective basis for selecting a labor supply seems to exist. Generally speaking the following factors are important in influencing the use of Negroes:
1. Tradition, or the fixed custom of using Negroes in certain portions because they are supposed to be by nature better equipped for it; or because they are popularly regarded as “Negro jobs.”
2. The unavilability of white labor.
3. The relatively cheaper cost of Negro labor.
4. The nature of the work which because of its general disagreeableness attracts only the worst class of white labor, and those only temporarily.
5. The nature of the industry making necessary a large proportion of unskilled labor capable of sustained physical exertion.
6. The seasonal character of the industry requiring a ready, fluid labor supply available in need.
Throughout the city the plants that employ Negroes, with a very few exceptions, may readily be pointed out by holding in mind one or more of the considerations listed above. The Baltimore industries, it will be recalled, are highly diversified. This fact militates strongly against any uniformity in proportions of persons, especially Negroes, employed. Again, its industries in many instances are developed and frequently controlled by outsiders who seek this locality for certain outstanding advantages. This fact further militates against uniformity of policy. Each of the principal types of industries in which Negroes are employed therefore, are briefly and separately treated.
Industries Employing Negroes Principally
Of these industries the most important group is composed of these predominantly Negro. These include the fertilizer industry, which is the largest in the country, the docks, construction labor, tanning, and brick making.
The outstanding features of the fertilizer industry are as follows:
1. It is seasonal and thus must depend upon a large drifting labor supply.
2. It is disagreeable work because of its strong, offensive odors and dust.
3. Most of the manufacturing processes call for unskilled labor.
The preponderance of labor in all of the plants is Negro. Eight fertilizer plants and one chemical plant were visited. In the eight plants there were employed 367 whites and 1108 Negroes. With few exceptions all the processes except that of supervision are done by Negroes. The work is easy to learn, but requires considerable physical strength. On these jobs they are preferred to white men.
Seasonal Character of the Fertilizer Industry
The heaviest demand for fertilizers comes around the Spring of the year. Accordingly, from February 1st to June 1st, and from July 15th to October 15th, the working force is at its height. At other times the number is reduced to about 25 per cent of all full strength. The men kept are the older employes, some of whom have been with the establishments from ten to twenty-five years. The “rush season” workers, knowing the instability of the industry and the disagreeable features of the work, are usually men who have accepted the work as a last resort, intending to leave it at the first opportunity. The labor turnover thus is extremely high. Significantly the turnover rates fluctuate according to wages paid and conditions of employment. The highest turnover rate appeared in plants paying 25 cents an hour for all branches of common labor and the lowest in the plant paying 30 cents an hour for the same work. This scale of wages, is somewhat less than the rate paid for work less onerous, less disagreeable and less inconvenient.
The second group, the longshoremen, have a most interesting history in the city. Before the Civil War practically all the longshoremen were Negroes. With the entrance of many white laborers into this field immediately following the war there was serious competition which at first threatened to drive out Negroes entirely. At one time this competition was marked by strikes and boycotts. An outstanding example of this period was the strike of white workers because the dock superintendent persisted in employing Negroes. Temporarily the Negroes were ousted and in a desperate effort to insure regular employment bought a shipyard and marine railway with the hard earned money of these ousted longshoremen and other Negroes and went to work. They were duped in this, for whereas they supposed they were buying the property in fee, a cleverly inserted clause specified that it was merely being leased for 20 years. At the end of the 20 years most of which time was required to pay for it, the shipyard was taken away.
However, the very natural adaptability of Negroes to this work soon brought up their numbers again at first to an equal proportion with the whites and later to a majority which they have since held. At present there are 4,290 men employed in the city as longshoremen and stevedores, of which number 3,151 or 73 per cent, are Negroes. Employers agree that, considered as a group, they are superior to any other class of workers available for the type of labor. They have the physical strength, agility and dexterity of the larger muscles necessary for the work, and familiarity with longshoremen work acquired over a long period of employment in this field.
Their ready adaptability and selection for this kind of work, however, suggests an outstanding feature of their general industrial status. Dock work is extremely irregular and uncertain. It demands a large body of casual labor and casual employment is for the ordinary work demoralizing. The work depends upon the arrival and departure of ships. In the case of very heavy cargo ships this is determined first by the season.
Even in normal shipping times there is a considerable element of uncertainty. First may come a long period of idleness, then an exhausting stretch of continuous exertion. Irregularity and uncertainty of work mean irregularity and uncertainty of income and consequent ill-organization of family life. The excessively large per cent of Negro women employed is a reflection of this abnormality. Thrift is impossible. Further, the excessively long continuous hours of feverish work when it is available and the enforced idleness which inevitably follows result in chronic ailments and aid in bringing about early disabilities. The average of the most regular workers is three days a week for the year around.
Third in this group are the brick-yard laborers. The Census reports but 369 persons engaged in this work in 1920 of which number 265 were Negroes. The intensive survey located 450 brick-yard laborers, 75 per cent of whom were Negroes.
Fourth in the list are construction laborers. This includes street paving, excavation, and general building contract work. Practically all of this work is unskilled. There are 2,204 such laborers in the city, of which number 1,412 or over 50 per cent are Negroes.
The fifth is tanning. There is but one tannery in the city, but over 90 per cent of its employes are Negroes.
Of the 5 types of industries these factors are common:
1. The work is seasonal and requires a large, mobile labor supply.
2. Over 90 per cent of the processes are unskilled.
3. The basic wage paid for unskilled work was 25 cents per hour.
4. Opportunities for advancement are limited first by the predominantly unskilled character of the work, second by the racial division which with but few exceptions, decrees that the skilled work and supervisory positions including that of foreman, shall be performed by white workers.
5. The labor turnover is high.
6. The work generally demands a cheap class of labor and is not attractive to white laborers.
Of these plants all found Negro labor satisfactory for the work on which they were engaged, and in most instances preferred them to white laborers, since as between the two races the chances for good workers were greater among the Negroes whom they were able to employ.
Industrial Employing Negroes for Special Processes
The next group of industries are those employing Negroes on special processes. The proportions of Negroes used depend in large measure on the nature of work to be done, and the proportions increased usually with the amount of unskilled work connected with the industry. Included in this group are the metal industries, food products industries, clothing, glass manufacture, coal and wood, and light manufacturing.
In the metal industries Negroes have the highest percentage of semiskilled workers, averaging about 10 per cent of the semi-skilled workers. Most of these are at Sparrows Point. Included in the intensive study were 12 plants with a total of 16,416 workers of whom 3,194 or 20 per cent were Negroes. Although there are both white and Negro skilled and semi-skilled workers in these plants, there is frequently a racial division of jobs. For example, in one of the shipbuilding plants it is understood that Negroes should do the ground riveting, while white workers did the riveting on the ship’s hull.
Of the Negro workers employed in the metal trades, 2,715 are unskilled and 588 are skilled or semi-skilled. Fortunately for them, the opportunities provided in this work in Baltimore as well as other parts, particularly Newport News, Virginia, have made possible the acquirement of a considerable degree of skill and experience. It will be recalled that the world’s record for speed and accuracy in riveting was won by Charles Knight, a Negro employed in a Baltimore plant. Mr. Allison Muir confirmed the view generally held that Negro workers were well adapted to hard metal work; “in steel and shipbuilding,” he said, “they make out exceptionally well.”
That good workers were found in these trades is frequently explained as the result of the “exclusion policy” of certain of the unions which have succeeded in pushing Negroes out of “practically everything but construction and stevedore work.” Those with any aptitude in skilled work thus find themselves in these trades, the only ones in which their capacity for skill may find an outlet.
Types of Work for Which Negroes Are Employed
In the steel mills and shipbuilding plants where they are employed, their range of work is wider, perhaps, than in any other forms of employment in the city. Proportionately, there are more skilled Negroes employed than in any other line of work. Aside from furnishing from 15 to 20 per cent of the general labor supply and approximately 40 per cent of the unskilled labor, they are semi-skilled workers in fairly large numbers, riggers, crane operators, riveters, reamers and drillers. In one plant a Negro is foreman of the erectors, a highly responsible position. They also perform semi-skilled and skilled work connected with the coke and blast furnaces, coke ovens and open hearths.
In the principal food industries of the city there are employed 4,322 workers of whom 575 or about 13 per cent are Negroes. Included in the more intensive inquiry were 18 establishments employing a total of 3,529, of whom 543 were Negroes. These establishments included bakeries, wholesale packing houses, canning, preserving, meat packing plants and candy manufacturers. The duties of the Negroes employed fall generally into three classes: (1) ordinary cleaners, (2) laborers and (3) workers engaged in manufacturing processes. The distribution of these workers among these classes of work, however, discloses an interesting situation. Strictly speaking, though classed as workers in the food products industries, only a small proportion are actually doing work that could not as well be performed in any industry. The distribution is as follows:
The work classed as unskilled labor is variously described by the employers as “bull labor,” “heavy work,” “dirty work.” In these plants it means that they load and unload, truck, handle hides, do the construction work about the plant, pack goods, shuck oysters, and perform other duties requiring purely manual labor. The 130 semi-skilled and 11 skilled workers are those engaged in the manufacturing processes proper and constitute about 26 per cent of the Negroes employed. Their operations consist of peeling and cutting fruits, operating machines, smoking meat and serving as helpers to white butchers. Of the skilled Negro workers one is a machinist’s helper and ten are skilled process workers in the meat packing industry.
In the clothing industry Negroes are used to manufacture cheap shirts and overalls, as pressers, stitchers and power machine operators. In the manufacture of suits, hats, shoes and fine ladies’ wear they are excluded entirely. There is a racial division of jobs with fixed wages, which, though operating without discrimination in actual wages paid for certain work, in effect yields a difference of from 2 to 4 dollars weekly more for white workers on piece work which Negroes are not permitted to do.
There are 13,792 persons engaged in this industry of which number 1,371 are Negroes and most of these Negroes women.
In the manufacture of glass 850 employes were listed, of whom 220 were Negroes. The employers have definite reasons for their use of Negroes and have found them suitable for the positions in which they are employed. In the two principal plants Negroes are used as mold shutters and carriers. The peculiar “adaptability” of Negroes for this type of the work was explained by the manager of one of the plants as follows:
“We found that Negroes were best adapted to the work of carrying and mold shutting, because there is no incentive on the job, nothing to look forward to, and the white boys won’t stay on it. The Negroes learn quickly and stay.”
In the other plant it was explained that they were found satisfactory for all processes excepting the skilled work and because this was a closed shop, certain kinds of work could not be done by non-union men and Negroes could not be union men.
In other groups of industries not included in this summary, Negroes are employed in small numbers on the manufacturing processes, but almost exclusively as porters, janitors and cleaners.
Industries Not Employing Negroes
The survey, it will be recalled, did not propose to cover all of the industries of Baltimore because of their very wide diversity. Emphasis was placed upon those industries where it was probable that Negroes were employed in some capacity or where the industry was an important one in the structure of the city’s business life, whether it employed Negroes or not. All of the larger ones, therefore, were covered, but many of the smaller ones omitted. In the 175 plants included in this study, 62 employing a total of 20,735 persons did not employ Negroes. The exclusion of Negroes was prompted by a diversity of causes as wide indeed as the variety in the types of these industries. Where the processes require many skilled and semi-skilled workers and only a small proportion of common labor, Negroes are most frequently excluded even from the common labor. This is done to avoid “mixing their workers.” There were other plants of the same industrial type which employed an occasional Negro for some form of personal service, but in the main these also may be regarded as closed industries for Negroes. This latter group includes the oil refineries of the city and the chemical establishments not engaged in the manufacture of fertilizers.
There is another type of plant excluding Negroes whose manufacturing processes are identical with those of plants that do employ them. The exclusion of Negro workers is practiced with no reference to the ability of Negroes for performing the work.
With few exceptions, therefore, it appears that those establishments barring Negroes are no different in kind from those which employed them. The reasons, therefore, for their actions must be found in other circumstances.
They are excluded from several of the iron and steel industries because of the policy of plants inherited usually from a former management; from practically all of the light manufacturing plants which employ large numbers of white women; from plants manufacturing food products such as macaroni, flour, cakes and crackers, and from some of the meat packers; from practically all of the oil refineries; from all of the electrical manufacturing companies; from plants manufacturing rubber tires; from all plants manufacturing men’s and women’s suits, straw hats and shoes, because these require apprenticeship; and from many of the plants manufacturing light clothing. There are other miscellaneous industries represented by one or two establishments which do not employ them, and to the list given above are added the independent skilled trades, such as carpentry, bricklaying, plumbing and steam-fitting, plastering, horse-shoeing, operating motion picture machines, stationary and portable engineering. The exclusion in the independent trades from general work opportunities is largely due to the restrictive policies of the unions. The exclusion, however, is not absolute, for occasionally there are to be found Negro carpenters and bricklayers who work for other Negroes, or who establish themselves as independent contractors, and there are a few independent builders who in desperation over what they regard as the autocratic demands of the unions, defy their wrath and place Negroes on jobs. The number of such builders, however, as yet is small. On the other hand, for barbers, motion picture operators, horse-shoers, public accountants, stationary and portable engineers, there are State Examining Boards which exercise a very rigid selection and by this means have been known to hold down the number of Negroes’ licenses.
Why Negroes Are Excluded
There seems to be little consistency in the reasons given for the exclusion of Negroes. They are excluded from the same types of industries for widely different reasons and from one concern for the same reason that they are employed in another. Some plants are restrained from employing them through fear of difficulties resulting from “mixing the races,” although no unfavorable experience is registered by other plants that have been employing them for as long as forty years; some bar them because of a variety of beliefs concerning the ability of Negroes, which in most cases has not been tested. These beliefs are frequently inconsistent with themselves. For example, there are several plants that continued Negroes in their employment largely because of their loyalty, while others do not employ them because of their suspected lack of loyalty; some bar them on the belief that they never acquire the skill necessary, even though the Negroes are known to be doing precisely the same thing in other industries of the same type.
The causes of the exclusion of Negroes may be listed as follows:
1. Traditional policy of the plant not to employ Negroes.
2. Fear of racial difficulties if whites and Negroes are introduced into the same plant.
3. Fear of the objection of white workers and resultant labor difficulties.
4. Traditional beliefs about the Negro which concern their mentality and character, and general inability to perform the work required.
5. Fear of bringing Negroes into contact with white women workers.
6. Lack of training of Negroes for certain jobs.
7. Unsatisfactory experience with Negro workers in the past.
8. Advocacy of certain jobs as belonging exclusively to the white race.
9. Expense that would be involved in making alterations in the building to accommodate white and Negro workers separately.
10. Objection of labor unions.
Labor Unions and the Negro
The history of the Negro laborer and the Trade Union Movement is but another aspect of his struggle for status in the industries of Baltimore. Essentially he is a buffer between the employers and the unions. This is an unfortunate position, for there is no security in either stronghold. His relation to his job takes on the nature of a vicious circle. In the unionized crafts he may not work unless he belongs to a union, and the most frequent, specious argument advanced by the unions is that he cannot become a member unless he is already employed. The result is frequently that he neither gets a job nor joins a union. The labor union movement, although recognizing the necessity for removing the menace of strikebreakers through unionization, with most astonishing inconsistency (a few instances excepted) deliberately opposes the organization of Negroes as a menace to the trade.
On the other hand, employers recognize in Negroes a most powerful weapon of opposition to the excessive demands of the unions. The impending shadow of Negroes as strike-breakers has staved off many strikes and lost for the strikers many others. As a further complication of an already bad situation, the most common procedure of the employers is to dismiss their Negro workers as soon as their purposes have been served. Bitterness of feeling between the white and Negro workers as a result of these tactics is inevitable.
The situation at present is one that admits little light. Employers may with generous grace pass the responsibility for exclusion to the unions, while the unions with equal grace pass it back to employers. However, it is a fact that in the “open” shops there is an almost complete exclusion of Negroes from the skilled positions and many of the semi-skilled ones for which the unions are in no sense responsible; and in practically all of the independent crafts, such as carpentry, brick masonry, plumbing and steam-fitting, there is an almost total exclusion for which the employers are not responsible. For in the former case union organizations are not tolerated, and in the latter employers willing to use Negroes have been definitely prohitibed by the unions.
The Baltimore Federation of Labor lists 114 locals in the city affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. This list divides itself into three parts: (a) those crafts in which Negroes are not employed; (b) those crafts in which Negroes are employed but are not admitted into the unions, and (c) those lines of work in which Negroes are employed and are permitted to organize separate locals.
Fifty-four unions fall into this first group. The second is made up largely of independent crafts unions—carpentry, brick masonry, plumbing and steam-fitting, painting and decorating, paper-hanging and mechanics—all of which exclude Negroes from membership.
These are affiliated with the American Federation of Labor.
There are other independent labor organizations as follows:
The Consolidated Hod Carriers No. 1;
The International Building Laborers Protective Association No. 3;
The National Hod Carriers and Common Laborers No. 124;
The Railway Men’s Benevolent and Protective Association.
The independent labor organizations, although figures on membership were not available, have a combined membership estimated at 1900. This totals about 3880.
The range of wages for Negroes at the time of the survey during March, April and May of 1922, averaged $14.50 per week for fifty-eight hours in the fertilizer works. Overtime, however, was permitted, and as much as $17.50 per week can be earned in this manner. A much higher range of pay is obtained in the metal trades. Although this rate varied widely between plants, the most common rate for unskilled work was twenty-five cents an hour; thirty-four cents an hour for semi-skilled, and from fifty to sixty-five cents an hour for skilled work. Although there was observed no important instances of discriminatory rates for whites and Negroes working on the same jobs and performing the same processes, it rarely occurs that the two races are mixed, and over 75% of all the Negroes working were confined to the branches of work yielding the lowest pay.
Despite the comparatively low range of income, the Negro population pays relatively the highest rents of any group in the city. Over 100% more Negro women are forced to work away from home than native white of mixed parentage or foreign born whites.
The experiences of employers of Negro labor indicate that in a majority of instances, satisfactory results have been obtained. There is, however, a disposition to avoid breaking with the tradition of using Negroes only for certain grades of work. The Negro population on the other hand, while chaffing under these restrictions, is immersed in the community’s policy of conservatism and their protests weak and scattered, as a result, have little effect.
Opportunity, 1 (June, 1923): 12–19.
Office of the Secretary Washington
September 20, 1924
Negro Workers on Steam Railway Lines of the United States
Figures showing the number and classification of Negro employees of steam railway lines, as summarized by this office, conclusively show the entrance, advancement, and permanency of employment of Negro workers in one of the most important industries of the country. In all, there are 136,065 Negro rail hands who are directly engaged in handling or safeguarding the transportation of persons or property over the lines of the various steam railway carriers of the United States.
Negro railway employees are usually thought of as porters, and the 136,065 total contains train and Pullman porters in the number of 20,224, of whom twenty-three are colored women. The other classified railway occupations, however, show that rail transportation workers of the Negro race are in no wise confined to providing traveling comforts and performing domestic service for passengers. In fact, the summary shows that there are two Negro officials and superintendents of rail lines, located in Ohio and Florida. Ninety-seven Negro telegraphers, well distributed over the country, are actually engaged in safeguarding passengers and property. There are 111 engineers and 6,478 firemen, 202 inspectors of way and structures, 202 telegraph and telephone linemen, 33 conductors, 111 baggagemen and freight agents, 2,874 switchmen and flagmen, 1,195 foremen and overseers, 2,377 boiler washers and engine hostlers, 4,485 brakemen, 95,713 laborers, and 1,961 workers employed at miscellaneous occupations, such as ticket agents and station hands, who are not classified in official listings. The total includes an appreciable number of female employees who work as porters, laborers, telegraph operators, etc. The New York State rail lines, in fact, boast of four female Negro telegraphers. Illinois, with the veteran J. H. Kelley, who for more than forty years has been a telegrapher for the Illinois Central Railroad Company, takes first place in the period of employment service.
Geographically, these 136,065 Negro rail hands are well distributed throughout every State in the Union. Georgia leads with 10,865 and is followed by Louisiana with 9,141; Virginia, 9,010; Alabama, 8,844; Texas, 8,381; Tennessee, 8,100; Mississippi, 7,744; North Carolina, 5,321; Florida, 5,091; Illinois, 4,544; Arkansas, 4,184; Kentucky, 3,916; South Carolina, 3,858; Missouri, 3,706; Pennsylvania, 3,569; Ohio, 3,219; Maryland, 2,221; West Virginia, 2,052; Oklahoma, 1,807; Indiana, 1,167; New York, 1,127. Each of the remaining States has less than 1,000 Negro rail workers, New Hampshire, with its one brakeman, two laborers and one switchman, completing the list.
The summary plainly shows that avenues of employment in the transportation industry are rapidly being opened to the colored worker and that his future in this phase of employment has a particularly bright aspect.
The Messenger, 6 (October, 1924): 314.
Two studies of the industrial employment of the negro in Pennsylvania have recently appeared, one made by the Department of Labor and Industry of Pennsylvania, and the other by the executive secretary of the Pittsburgh Urban League. The results of the first are given in the January issue of the department’s official publication, Labor and Industry. Questionnaires relating to the period from January 1, 1923, to September 1, 1925, were sent to 1,478 employers, including manufacturers, railroad companies, coal-mining companies, and general construction companies or contractors. Hotels, restaurants, dining cars, and other places in which colored workers are customarily and frequently employed were omitted. Replies were received from 1,075 employers, of whom 559 reported that they did not employ negroes, 55 had formerly employed them but did not do so during the period covered, and 461 were employing them in numbers varying from 5 or fewer in the case of 157 employers to 50 and over in the case of 97. The general reason assigned for not employing them was that they were scarce in the employer’s particular neighborhood or not to be found there at all. “In only a few instances, so few as to be practically negligible, does there appear to be any racial prejudice or antagonism.” Colored women were practically not found in these industrial employments, but the number of colored men was large. “During this period the railroads report a gross employment of over 1,700; the coal-mining companies, a gross employment of over 3,400; contractors, a gross employment of over 5,400; and general industries, a gross employment of nearly 24,000.”
In general the employers stated that the greatest increase in the employment of colored workers had occurred in 1923, being caused by a period of business prosperity coupled with a shortage of white labor, either native or foreign. In 1924 there was a marked falling off, due to industrial depression. In building construction the variations in the employment of colored labor were seasonal, the lowest point being reached in the winter of 1925. The employment of colored labor followed closely the movement of other employment.
Questions as to the dependability and adaptability of colored workers brought varying replies, ranging from the statement that “they require constant supervision to keep them active,” to “their dependability compares favorably with that of other groups.” No tabulation is given of opinions on this point, but replies quoted, which are said to be typical, give rather a favorable impression of both the dependability and the adaptability of the group. Questions as to their health and their aptitude brought much the same kind of answers. Employers for the most part thought either that there was no noticeable difference between the colored and other workers or that the balance inclined slightly in favor of the colored.
To a question as to how colored workers are secured, the replies, in order of frequency, are as follows:
One, at the gate; 2, through our own employment office; 3, through employees who inform their friends and acquaintances of openings; 4 through advertising; 5, through State employment offices; 6, through private employment agencies; 7, through foremen.
A number of large employers report that in emergencies they import negro labor from the Southern States. Many contractors and construction companies state that they secure their negro help through commisary managers, private employment agencies, and gang bosses.
The general results of the inquiry are thus summed up:
The composite impression from a comprehensive examination of all the replies to the questionnaire concerning negro employment in Pennsylvania may fairly be summarized as follows:
1. General ignorance of negroes as workmen by those employers who have never used them.
2. No serious or extreme racial prejudice against negro workmen.
3. General willingness by employers to employ negroes upon their merits and upon a competitive basis with white men doing the same kind of work.
4. Increasing demand for negro workmen for construction work, especially for foundation, concrete, and excavation work where they may eventually become indispensable.
5. The tendency of negro employment to follow closely the trend of general employment curves.
6. Restriction of foreign immigration widens the demand and opportunity for negro workers.
7. The general good health of negro workmen.
8. The low liability to accident of negro workmen.
Employment of Negroes in the Steel Industry of Pennsylvania
The second study referred to appears in the March, 1926, issue of Opportunity, the journal of the National Urban League. This survey, made by John T. Clark, deals with the employment of negroes in the steel industry in the vicinity of Pittsburgh, and covers approximately the same period as the more general inquiry made by the department of labor and industry. Negroes have entered this field in large numbers. The ease with which they made their entry here is attributed by the writer to two facts: The cutting off of the almost unlimited stream of immigrants upon which the industry had depended for certain types of workers, and the open-shop character of the steel industry, which had prevented the development of established customs or conventions interfering with the employment of workers of any race, creed, or color.
As in the wider study, so also in the steel industry, it was found that the highest point of negro employment occurred in 1923, that there was a falling off in 1924, and a gradual increase in 1925, this movement being due to the general industrial situation rather than to local causes. In 1923 it was reported that 23 steel mills in the Pittsburgh district employed 16,000 colored workers—21 per cent of their entire working force. A period of industrial depression set in at the close of 1923, and by December, 1924, the mills had reduced their output to from 30 to 60 per cent of their normal capacity. At this time a check-up was made to see how the colored workers were faring in the general reduction of forces, and rather unexpectedly it was found that they had been retained more generally than the white workers.
The terse reply of one employer that “we are responsible for output, not color,” sums up the general attitude of employers throughout the mills in this district during this period, while depleting their labor forces. In one plant, the A. M. Byers Co., the entire force of negroes was retained, although the plant’s output was reduced to 60 per cent by letting out white workmen. The assistant superintendent stated that “they had retained the men upon whom they could rely the most.” In the Clark Mills of the Carnegie Steel Co., the percentage of negroes during peak times in 1923 was 42 per cent and at the lowest point in 1924 they were 50 per cent of the total working force.
It is suggested that several causes besides the quality of their work may have contributed to this greater retention of colored workers. It is easier for white men to find other work, and so when the mills began working short time, they would be more likely than colored employees to leave in order to get jobs elsewhere. Again, numbers of the colored workers are single men living in boarding houses and bunks, and these, if laid off, would be likely to leave the district. Therefore to lay them off would mean losing them completely, and when business improved the managers would have the expensive task of building up their colored force again from outside districts. And again, “there are evidences that employers have felt some responsibility toward these newcomers who have not quite had a sufficient opportunity to entrench themselves in the communities.”
In December, 1925, after the industrial revival had begun, another check-up showed 9 of the largest mills in the district “averaging 82 per cent output and employing 22 per cent negroes of their total working force of 29,560 men.”
It appears that in the larger mills which employ and retain men more on a basis of the workman’s actual efficiency than the smaller mills, more negroes in proportion are found at work, which leads us to believe that negro steel workers have “made good,” notwithstanding any reports to the contrary.
Another reason for reaching the same conclusion is found in the gradual increase in the number of colored workers in minor supervisory positions.
In 1923 the largest number of straw-bosses found in any mill was 35. We found in December, 1925, in one mill employing 1,500 negroes, 53 straw-bosses. These men are gang foremen, who determine the personnel of their gangs. These negro leaders of gangs composed largely of negroes eliminate some of the causes for such heavy negro labor turnovers, which has been the greatest complaint against negro. . . . Foremen naturally are appearing out from the ranks of straw-bosses. In 7 out of the 9 mills investigated, from 2 to 10 negro foremen each were found in complete control of certain processes.
There are admittedly difficulties about the coming in of colored workers. Landlords and business men are inclined to raise prices when they appear, and as these increases are carried over to the whole community the workers already on the spot object to the influx of newcomers. Housing is a serious difficulty. The sections in which negroes may find homes are unsightly and very far from satisfying to the colored workers. “In a steel town of 19,000 inhabitants, employing about 1,400 negroes, only three negroes have bought property during the last 5 years.” The steel companies have talked of building homes for the colored workers, but practically none have done anything for the last seven years, and housing conditions grow worse instead of better. On the other hand, the Ku Klux Klan movement seems in these communities to have died down, and it is to the interest of the mill concerns who find the colored workers practically indispensable to see that no such movement becomes effective. The general conclusion reached is that the negro is in the steel industry to stay and that conditions in the mill communities are being gradually adjusted to his presence.
Monthly Labor Review, 22 (June, 1926): 48–51.
By George S. Schuyler7
How the Negro worker, who as consumer, pays huge sums yearly for street carfare, telephone, telegrams, gas and electric service and expressage, is jim-crowed into menial positions by these public utilities.
How the System Works in “Liberal” New York
There are almost a quarter million Negroes in the city of Greater New York. All of them use the various transit utilities, most of them daily. A vast number of them also use the telephone daily, either in their homes or in booths. They also liberally patronize the telegraph offices of both companies while all of them are consumers of gas and electric power and light, to say nothing of the Services of the American Express Company.
These public utilities enjoy a monopoly. One must use their service or do without, yet, although a considerable percentage of their revenue is derived from Negroes, the Negro worker, male and female, seeking employment with them is subjected to the familiar jim-crow methods: i.e., generally given only menial employment, if any, regardless of his or her capacity to hold other positions.
In order to ascertain to what extent the Negro worker is subjected to industrial discrimination. The MESSENGER has inquired of these companies the extent to which they employ Negroes. The results are printed below.
New York Telephone Company
T. P. Sylvan, vice-president of this monopolistic public utility, replied as follows:
“As to the question of employment by this Company of persons of known Negro descent, we might say that we do employ such persons, having some on our payrolls at the present time assisting us in the conduct of our restaurant and lounge facilities.”
In other words, the only work Negroes can get with this huge public utility is employment as lackeys and menials. Being curious to ascertain what sort of excuse the New York Telephone Company would give for this discrimination, we wrote again asking why no operators of known Negro descent were employed. The answer we received appears below.
Answering your inquiry of the 15th; this Company has repeatedly met with very fine and distinguished members of your race who have raised the question that you propound, and we have taken the pains to show them through our operations and, I believe, in the main, satisfied them that the position which we have taken with reference to their employment has been a proper and necessary one. I am sure that if you will take the time to make inquiry or look into the matter yourself, you will come to the same conclusion that we have and I trust may arrive at the place where you will feel any considerable attention given by you in the way of agitation or publication will result in still further increasing any heartburning or disappointment now extant.
Very truly yours,
T. P. SYLVAN,
It is interesting to note that while Negroes may work in the same room with whites, they can only be employed in the lounges and restaurants. Lastly, what kind of Negroes were those Mr. Sylvan mentions in his first sentence?
Consolidated Gas Company
This is one of the most powerful public utilities in New York City, and has among its directors such well-known magnates as George F. Baker, B. Cortelyou, John D. Ryan and Percy A. Rockefeller. To THE MESSENGER’S letter of inquiry, Mr. H. M. Bundage, vice-president, replied in part, as follows:
“We employ Negroes and have done so for many years. At the present time we have 72 in our employ (68 male and 4 female) many of whom have rendered long years of faithful service. Our oldest Negro employee has thirty-nine years to his credit.”
Upon our further inquiry as to the positions in which Negroes were allowed to “render long years of faithful service,” Mr. Bundage kindly informed us:
“Replying to your favor of November 23rd, have to advise that Negroes employed by us render ‘common labor, maid service, janitorial service and the like.’ We do not assign Negroes as stenographers, clerks or inspectors.”
Standard Gas Light Company
This powerful public utility also has its board of directors honored by the presence of Messrs. Cortelyou and Rockefeller. W. Greely Hoyt, the president, promptly replied:
“Answering your second question, our employees in this respect (referring to Negroes) cover laborers, coal handlers and porters.”
So the dear reader can readily conclude what chance the Negro boy or girl seeking a bright future will have at the Standard Gas Light Company.
Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation
This is the firm that operates surface cars, elevated trains and subways in the Borough of Kings, and a subway connecting Manhattan and thence to the Borough of Queens. No employees of ascertainable Negro descent have ever been observed doing any, work other than common labor, elevator operation, janitor and porter service. It is possible but not probable that the company employs Negro car washers.
However, Mr. W. S. Menden, the president of this huge corporation, writes us:
“The companies of B. M. T. System employ some Negroes in practically all of their departments. The porter service of the Transportation Department of rapid transit lines consists of practically all Negroes.”
The nickels of Negro citizens are welcome, of course, but when it comes to getting a job as conductor, motorman, ticket agent, train dispatcher or in any of the jobs that are worth-while, there is “nothing doing.”
Mr. Menden, the president, confirmed this in a subsequent letter in which he blandly replies:
“Our companies employ comparatively few Negroes in our general office, and we employ none as motormen or conductors.”
The Interborough Rapid Transit Company
“The World’s Safest Railroad,” as it calls itself, can point, doubtless with pride, to its three or four great subways and three or four elevated systems connecting the boroughs of Manhattan, The Bronx, Queens and Kings. It is the Grand Old Man of public utilities. Its exploited workers, sick of the Company Union, recently went on strike, but the Company, by the usual well-known method, won out. Things are now pursuing the even tenor of their way. The underpaid white workers fill the more desirable positions while all the base of the industrial triangle are the Negro porters and laborers. A Negro has about as much chance of getting a job as motorman, conductor, ticket agent, money changer, stenographer, train dispatcher, guard or such positions as an icicle has in the crater of Vesuvius.
“The World’s Safest Railroad” did not answer our letter. Probably they didn’t get it, despite the acknowledged efficiency of the New York Post Office, which, by the way, employs hundreds of Negroes as clerks, carriers and even superintendent.
The Street Railways
A Negro can about as easily get a job as conductor or motorman on one of the numerous street railways in New York City as a mosquito can live in a blast furnace. To the query of THE MESSENGER the New York Railways Corporation through its secretary, J. B. Gordon, replied that:
“We have a few Negroes in our employ, who are used mostly in the capacity of messengers.”
Later on, in answer to further inquiry, Mr. Gordon answered:
“In reply to your letter of November 23rd, I give the various classifications in which Negroes are employed by us, and the number in each class.”
“1 Controllerman, 3 Machinists, 2 Machinist’s Helpers, 3 Chauffeurs, 1 Storetender, 1 Blacksmith’s Helper, 1 Messenger (office).”
While there seems a contradiction between the statement in the first reply and that in the second, it is encouraging to note the various positions open to Negroes in this company. Of course there is doubtless little hope there for the Negro stenographer, bookkeeper or accountant.
We heard also from Mr. Garrow T. Geer, secretary of the Third Avenue Railway system, a corporation controlling several street railways. Mr. Geer admitted that the companies of the system employed Negroes but—as the song goes “He didn’t say how; he didn’t say where.” To our further inquiry, however, Mr. Geer sent the following illuminating reply:
“I am advised by our Employment Department that we have a number of Negro porters; none among our office employees and none on the cars.”
The New York Edison Company
If you use electricity in New York City, its dollars to doughnuts that you buy it from the New York Edison Company, whose board of directors include such well-known capitalists as George T. Baker, George B. Cortelyou and Percy A. Rockefeller. Negroes buy it also in large quantities.
To our query, Mr. Frederick Smith, the treasurer, cautiously replied:
“It is the Company’s policy to employ those applicants best fitter for the general and individual requirements of positions available, without regard to race, creed, color or politics.”
This was, however, no answer to our query as to what positions Negroes occupied. One can best judge a company’s policy by what it does rather than by what it says. Consequently we again inquired relative to the positions held by, or available to, citizens of Negro descent, to which one Mr. J. P. Jackson replied:
“You will have as complete a reply as I believe we can give if you will refer to the last paragraph of Mr. Smith’s letter to you, dated October 26th. . . .
“We have colored people in a variety of positions in this Company as our selection of new employees is based strictly on their capacity for holding the positions to be filled.”
Still we do not know what positions Negro citizens hold with huge public utility. It is certain that we have never seen a Negro as clerk in one of their offices, as inspector of meters or as a worker outside.
American Railway Express Company
Our people move to and fro. Every time they move a trunk, this almost monopolistic express company handles it. Well, what chance has the Negro worker for employment with this Company?
“This Company employs throughout the United States and especially in the South a very large number of Negroes. Their employment is in a great variety and number of positions having to do with the handling of our express matter.”
From the New York City office, however, we learn that:
“In New York City Negroes are employed as elevator operators, cleaners, janitors and doormen. Majority of employees is (sic) Irish.”
“In the Southland, Negroes are employed as drivers, porters, clerks as well as other positions similar to those in New York City.”
We have visited hundreds of cities and towns in the Southland and have observed clerks of Negro descent at but two of the company’s offices, and they were in all-Negro towns, but then the company knows best.
Needless to say, the two telegraph companies are “white only” as concerns employment.
We believe our readers have gathered from the foregoing survey just how the Negro workers stand with the public utilities doing business in the world’s greatest city.
In subsequent numbers we shall publish the results of our inquiries on this subject in other large centers of Negro population.
The Messenger, 9 (January, 1927): 4, 9.
By George S. Schuyler
Well, folks, here we are again. Last month you saw what kind of a break the dark brother is given by some of the big public utilities in the real capitol of the United States: New York City. Now, brethren, let us wander around the country and see what we can pick up on our three-tube set, or what have you?
THE WESTERN UNION TELEGRAPH COMPANY, INC.
Doubtless our readers will recall how many telegrams they sent last year when they get the reports from the following stations:
Mr. E. W. Grob, the City Superintendent, broadcasts as follows: “We employ one Negro as a stock clerk, and others as janitors at this office.”
Kansas City, Mo.
The W. U. folks send us this soothing bedtime story: “We do not employ Negroes in positions of a skilled, clerical or managerial nature. The only Negroes we employ are janitors and maids.”
From that dear old Dixie, Mr. W. B. Long, the manager of the local W. U., announces: “We have only two Negro employees at this office. Neither of them are employed in a clerical capacity. They are both janitors. If Negroes are employed by this company in any other capacity except messengers and janitors I am not aware of the fact.” So that’s that. Well, close in, children, and hear the good news from
The message of the City Superintendent of the W. U. is short and snappy, i.e.: “We have four colored employees in our service in the capacity of janitors.” This despite the fact that the burg is known as “The Smoky City.” . . . Well, let’s not get discouraged until we hear from
A similar report comes from this prosperous village: “At this office we employ only two Negroes, both being janitors.” Here is a wonderful town to be from.
The City Superintendent of the W. U. in this great democratic city replies that no Negroes are employed in clerical, skilled or managerial positions. The positions held by Negroes are: “Matron in rest room, messengers, porters, pressers, tailor bushelman, stock room attendant, and janitors.” Which is by no means a deplorable record compared to other places, not even, for instance,
Where the W. U. folks tell us that they only have Negroes as janitors and porters.
POSTAL TELEGRAPH-CABLE COMPANY
Well, let’s get away from that dear Western Union for a while and take a swift glance at its colleague. This company, you recall, is headed by the haughty gentleman who was so upset when Irving Berlin married his daughter. However, that is neither here nor there. Let us first stop at
Mr. R. L. Massey, the City Superintendent, replies at some length: “We employ a Negro in the dual capacity of storekeeper and janitor at our main office. In his duties as storekeeper he renders requisitions to our general headquarters for all supplies used in our service, which includes all the various forms of message blanks and necessary records. This work requires careful consideration as to the approximate number of the various forms required. We also employ a Negro to supervise the cleaning of approximately twenty-five branches throughout the city.” If this janitor is so capable why doesn’t Mr. Massey give him a better job? And the echo answers, “Why?”
The kindness and liberality of the white people of Cleveland is proverbial. There is no lack of opportunity here, as shown by the following serenade from G. G. Vetter, the manager of the Postal’s local office: “We have a Negro janitor and janitress in our employ at the local office.” Requiescat in pace!
Kansas City, Mo.
Well! Well! Here we are back in old KaySee, where men are presumably He. The Postal Telegraph broadcast from this burg is shorter than a flapper’s skirt. “No” is their answer to questions anent the employment of Negroes in skilled positions. “Janitor” is the reply regarding positions held by Negroes.
From the headquarters of the K.K.K., the home of Marcus Garvey and the Stone Mountain Memorial, comes the reassuring message from J. O. Young, the Postal’s manager: “We do not employ Negroes in positions of a skilled, clerical or managerial nature. We employ a good many as messengers and janitors.” That “signs off” the telegraph companies until next month, and we shall take a short journey among the telephone companies who collect so much money from Negroes in all parts of these so obviously United States.
The first station we pick up is
Raleigh, N. C.
where the Negroes are doing big things in common with the other folks of the town. It is reported that there is a good Negro school system and evidently the Southeastern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Co. is aware of the fact, since it replies that Negroes are “employed only as laborers and janitors.”
Ft. Worth, Tex.
Whew! Took a long jump that time, didn’t we, people? Right into the old home town of the Rt. Rev. J. Frank Norris, the celebrated Hound of Heaven, who recently added murder to his list of accomplishments. The Southwestern Bell Telephone Company here encourages its numerous Negro subscribers by hiring members of that race only as “janitors and cooks.”
Equally liberal in opportunities offered to bright young Negroes is the Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. in the great, free city of Galveston. It tells us: “We only use one Negro for porter and two Negro women in cafeteria.”
This closes the session for the telephone companies this month. We shall now consider the marvelous opportunities offered Negro labor by the
ELECTRIC GAS AND STREET RAILWAY COMPANIES
Yo’all know how much our folks spend for electricity and gas and street car fare, so I’m sure you’ll be interested in seeing how much of what we spend in this way gets back into our pockets in the form of wages or salaries (which are only wages with a white collar on). We shall now visit the thriving city of
Mr. D. W. Henderson, General Superintendent of the Street Railway Division of the Department of Public Utilities, replies: “We do not employ any Negroes in skilled, clerical or managerial work.”
Mr. J. D. Ross, Superintendent of the Lighting Department of the big Washington metropolis, replies at greater length than his colleague. Says he: “All the employees of the City of Seattle are obtained from competitive examinations held for all positions in the employ of the city, covering clerical, engineering, mechanical engineering, mechanics, and all classes of labor.”
“The City Charter does not prohibit the Negro, if he a citizen of the city, taking the examination along with the others. Therefore, they have equal opportunity if they are qualified to pass the examination. Our experience in the City Lighting Deparment has been that very few enter the clerical service and there are quite a number in the labor service.”
Well, that’s what I call putting it up to the Negroes of Seattle. Let them write in now and tell us how many have taken the examiniations.
Back to dear old Cleveland, that proud city by the shores of Lake Erie, across which so many barges of Canadian liquor skim southwards. Incline thine ear, then, and hear what Mr. Paul E. Wilson, Vice-President and Secretary of The Cleveland Railway Company, has to say: “We have Negroes in our employ in positions of skilled, clerical and managerial nature. The majority of Negro employees are, however, employed as laborers and for work of semiskilled nature.” All of which isn’t so bad, but one wonders how many motormen, conductors, stenographers, bookkeepers, etc., are taken from the ranks of the Negro workers.
Well, it’s time to drop back down South again.
01’ Dallas! Lawd toh-day! Who says ol’ Dixie ain’t gittin’ bettah? Mr. W. L. Byrd of the Dallas Power & Light Company sends us the glad news that “we do not employ Negroes in positions of a skilled, clerical or managerial nature and only employ them in the capacity of laborers and chauffeurs.” Which may or may not have something to do with that song called “The Dallas Blues.”
Well, while we’re so far West, children, we might as well drop in to the City of Angels, where climate is climate.
Los Angeles, Calif.
This town, which is well known for its moonshine as well as its sunshine, to say nothing of its large colonies of such freaks as Spiritualists, Klansmen, Naturopaths, Christian Scientists, and cultists of all sorts, has the reputation of being very fair to the darker brother. Mr. C. A. Dykstra, Director of Personnel and Efficiency, Department of Water and Power, informs us: “The Negro is employed in the following positions with our department: Auto truck driver, elevator operator, mechanics (Kitchen or otherwise?—Editor) and janitors.” This isn’t so terrible, everything considered.
So we finally got back here eh? Good town, Dayton! Nothing like living in the North where you have opportunities for advancement! For instance, Mr. Wm. L. Smith, General Manager of the Dayton Street Railway Company, says in reply to our query concerning Negroes employed in clerical or skilled positions: “It does not.” The positions held by Negroes are, we are told: “Car-washers and janitors ONLY.” Note the capitalization of the word “only.”
But if we don’t do so well in that dear old Dayton, on the street cars, how about our chances with a public utility in the glorious state of Pat Harrison and Vardaman, where chivalry is always Southern and white women are always pure and in need of protection?
Mr. S. W. Fordyce of the Mississippi Power and Light Company, which furnishes electricity and gas and street railway service, sends in a reply as brief as a bootlegger’s conscience. “Laborers,” says he, referring to the employment of Negroes.
You’ve heard of the Mitten Management, of course! Yes! Well, the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company is under that management. They have a publication called “Service Talks” which is doubtless one of the narcotics for workingmen usually used by open shop concerns. Mr. J. M. Shaw, the Editor of “Service Talks,” writes: “P. R. T. employs Negroes in unskilled, semi-skilled (welders and grinders in Roadway Department) and supervisory positions (foremen in Roadway Department).” So much for the City of Brotherly Love. Now back to Dixie.
In the old tobacco state! Mr. Wm. L. Yoder, Carolina Power & Light Company, steps right up and speaks his piece: “We have a colored foreman in charge of street railway track work, two colored patrolmen, and one colored chauffeur.” Hip! Hip! Hooray!
From “Chicago! Chicago! That Wonderful Town!”—according to the popular song—comes a letter from the Assistant Employment Manager of the Chicago Rapid Transit Company, who says: “We do not employ Negroes in positions of a skilled, clerical or managerial nature. . . . We employ about 110 Negroes in the capacity of porters at our stations and 10 as lampmen.”
Memories of the old Cincinnati waterfront where heads were often bloodied though unbowed in the old days before the honky tonks became known as cabarets and the “rats” cast aside their overalls for dinner suits. So we come, in the course of our journey, to the Union Gas & Electric Company. The Assistant General Manager “gets us told” in the following manner: “We do not employ Negroes in positions of skilled, clerical or managerial nature. Negroes are employed in positions which do not require the foregoing qualifications. In our power stations several Negroes are employed as semi-skilled workmen performing jobs such as pipe covering.” This will doubtless be welcome news to the graduates of Cincinnati’s excellent jim-crow high school.
AMERICAN EXPRESS COMPANY
Without hesitation let us rush again to the Smoky City and see how the dark brother in search of a job stands with this big corporation.
Mr. T. J. Worthman, Resident Manager, hastens to reply. Says he: “This company does not employ Negroes in positions of a skilled, clerical or managerial nature, in this city. We have one Negro in our office, employed as janitor.”
Having received this inspiring news, let us again enter the dear old land of cotton—or should one say tobacco?
Raleigh, N. C.
Mr. Johnson, the agent, sends us the glad news that: “We are employing Negroes at this office as drivers and deliverymen.” This is pretty good for little old Raleigh.
Camden, N. J.
Visions of Walt Whitman, Victor Talking Machines and Campbell’s Pork and Beans! Ballads, Blues and Beans! Well, E. E. Stalit, the local agent, breaks sad news to us: “This is to advise that no Negroes are employed at this office.”
Back to Cleveland, the city of tolerance by the lake, where “a man’s a man for a’ that,” a sentiment which doubtless applies to Negroes also. And what sayeth the Resident Manager, Mr. J. G. Kehoe? Hist! the dark secret is about to be divulged! “There are no Negroes employed in this office,” he says.
In our despair we flee to the booming shores of the broad Atlantic; to glorious Atlantic City where our dear dark brethren have the blessings of jim crow schools and a bathing beach ditto. And what murmureth the agent there? Why, the very same thing the agent in Cleveland said.
SOUTHEASTERN EXPRESS COMPANY
This is a public utility not affiliated with the American Express Co. It is said to be a subsidiary of the Southern Railroad. We heard recently from Mr. L. V. Allred, the agent at
Raleigh, N. C.
And what did the agent say? Well, it is quite favorable compared to the reports from many other places. Says he: “We only use Negroes as delivery men in positions other than laborers.”
Further the deponent sayeth not until the blustery month of March.
The Messenger, 9 (February, 1927): 45-6.
By George S. Schuyler
(Black citizens are forced to purchase the services of the various public utilities throughout the nation, just as other citizens are. There is no alternative. When, however, the Negro consumer as worker applies for a job at the telegraph office the express office or the offices of the companies selling street railway service, gas and electric light and power, he meets with a far from democratic reception. Here and there of course, you will find a dark brother or sister getting by, but such cases are few and far between. In previous numbers of the The Messenger we presented part of the facts gathered in a nation-wide survey. Over sixty cities, each with a Negro population of over 10,000, were covered. Below you will find the remainder of the glad news. Glance down and get an eyeful.)
WESTERN UNION TELEGRAPH COMPANY
Note, dear readers, the following reply from Mr. W. H. Spry, City Superintendent at Newark, N. J. (16,977 Negroes), who very nicely avoids in his explanation a lot of things we dark folks might be interested in knowing.
“We employ no Negroes in Newark, probably in larger cities with more diversified requirements Negroes are employed in other than technical lines. The telegraph business is made up largely of the technical, as in cities where there is but one telegraph operator, such a person would be a manager and Morse operator and messenger combined, and as the cities are largely recruited from all sources including the messenger forces; progression takes place through the initiative of the individual.” Yes, yes! Go on!
Then we jump down to dear old Knoxville, Tenn. (11,302 Negroes), where the local management sends us the reassuring news that Negroes are hired as janitors.
Further South we move, and finally we get to New Orleans where William A. Porteous, the City Superintendent, megaphones that the company only employs Negroes as “porters, elevator attendants and maids.” This news will be received with enthusiasm by the young blacks in New Orleans who are anxious to carve out a career for themselves in this field.
Mr. S. S. Scothorn, the City Superintendent at San Antonio, Texas, (14,341 Negroes) sends us an equally encouraging radio from the shadow of the Alamo: “We have only two Negroes in our employ and they act in the capacity of janitors.”
In Wilmington, Del., (10,746 Negroes) an even greater opportunity is given the ambitious Negro to improve himself, for Mr. C. J. Radman, the Manager, writes us: “Our company does not employ Negroes in the city of Wilmington.”
As a sort of a joker, let me end this survey of the attitude of the Western Union Telegraph Company toward Negro labor by quoting from a letter sent in by Andrew F. Burleigh, Vice President and Secretary of the company located at the general offices, 105 Broadway, New York City. Says he: “We do employ Negroes without discrimination as far as I know, in positions which they appear at the time of employment to be competent to fill. (How about Messengers?—Ed.) As to just what positions they occupy I am not advised, as our operations are very widely extended and we have upwards of sixty thousand employees.”
POSTAL TELEGRAPH-CABLE COMPANY
The first station we get on our trusty old three-tube set is Mobile, Ala., (23,906 Negroes). The manager tells us “Our two linemen here, at this writing, are Negroes,” and says further that Negroes are employed “as linemen, porters and at one time as telegraph messengers.”
Following which comes the stimulating report from Mr. J. T. Logue, Superintendent of the Fifth District, Southern Division, Jacksonville, Florida. “We employ Negroes in the district under my jurisdiction,” says he, “which comprises the State of Florida, only as porters and messengers.” So ends the investigation of the telegraph companies. It can be readily seen what splendid opportunities they offer the citizens of color.
There is no doubt but that the Negroes pay huge sums to the telephone trusts every month. Well, what chance have they when it comes to getting a job? Read on, Brother, read on!
Our first stop is Lexington, Ky., (12,450 Negroes). The Fayette Home Telephone Company sent in a nice snappy reply: “We employ four Negroes as follows—3 janitors and 1 maid.”
Then Mr. W. S. Henley, the District Manager of the Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company at Savannah, Ga., (39,179 Negroes) reports: “We do not employ Negroes in positions of a skilled, clerical or managerial nature. We do employ Negroes as janitors, elevator men, maids and yardmen.”
From the Cumberland Telephone and Telegraph Co. Inc., at Meridian, Miss., (8,343 Negroes) we gather in the stimulating message that the descendants of Ham are employed only as common labor.
But do not despair, Oh, Children of the Sun! We are about to take a long trip to the liberal North, the land of opportunity. We drop our anchor at Gary, Ind., (16,460 Negroes). Mr. J. J. Carfoil, Commercial Manager of the Illinois Bell Telephone Co., greets us with the following:
“The Telephone Company at Gary (for whom I am the Local Business Manager), does not employ Negroes in positions of skilled, clerical and managerial nature. We do, however, occasionally employ them as janitors. At the present time there are in our employ at Gary, Ind., 162 Telephone men and women, all of whom are white.” Hooray for the North!
The plot, or rather, the jobs thicken when we go back to Macon, Ga., (23,093 Negroes), where the District Manager of the Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company, says: “Negroes are employed as groundmen, janitors, elevator operators, maids and cooks.” It will be noted, however, that the way to higher positions is barred as elsewhere.
A similar report comes from the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company at Oklahoma City, Okla., (8,241 Negroes), where we learn from R. J. Benzel, the General Manager, that “We employ Negroes in positions of janitors, elevator operators, and assistants in the cafeteria.” It will be observed that while we can wait on the white help, we cannot work with the white help.
AMERICAN EXPRESS COMPANY
We have, ladies and gentlemen, reports from just two more cities on the employment of Negroes by this big trust. Our first message comes from dear old, tolerant Miami, Fla. (9,270 Negroes), and the General Agent says, “At Miami we do not employ any Negroes in positions of a skilled, clerical or managerial nature. We employ Negroes in the capacity of laborers.” So that’s that!
The other radio reaches us from the good city of Winston-Salem, N. C., and here is what was said: “Employed as truck drivers and porters.”
This concludes our survey of the big express trust. Like all of the companies, it practices jim crowism everywhere.
STREET CARS, GAS AND ELECTRIC POWER AND LIGHT COMPANIES
Dayton, 0. (7,029 Negroes), is the first to claim our attention. The City Railway Company, which doubtless has many Negro passengers, tells us that it employs six Negroes: 5 car washers and 1 janitor.
Then comes the Dayton Street Railway Company saying, “Janitors and Car Washers.” Fine town, Dayton!
But the Roanoke Gas Light Company gives the dark brother a much better break than that, for they report that they have one gas house foreman “37 years’ experience with this company, salary $180 per.” Besides it has employed “2 firemen, 1 ass’t. foreman, 2 water gas makers, 2 gas main caulkers, 20 laborers and gas makers.”
Moving to the westward, we hear from the Nashville Railway and Light Company, doing business in the capital city of Tennessee (35,633). “Laborers only,” is the sad refrain from the Athens of Aframerica.
Back to Ole Virginny. We stop at Richmond (54,041 Negroes), and get an earful from Mr. Geo. H. Whitfield, Director, Department of Public Utilities. That worthy tells us, “The City of Richmond does not employ Negroes directly. However, it lets out to contract considerable street work and the contractors employ Negroes for excavation and common labor.” All the Negro employes need then, is a strong back and a weak brain.
Cultured Boston (16,350 Negroes), now enters the discussion with a short contribution from the General Manager of the Boston Elevated Railway. Says he: “We make no discrimination whatever in the employment of labor. Practically all of the Negroes in our employ are porters. We have one Negro employe in car service.” Wonder does this company employ black clerks, bookkeepers, motormen, etc? Now don’t laugh!
A rather unusual radio comes our way from Baltimore (108,322 Negroes), in the celebrated Maryland Free State, where the mention of Prohibition is taboo. Says Mr. Geo. D. Penniman, Jr., Assistant Manager of the Consolidated Gas Electric Light and Power Company of Baltimore, “We have no Negro employes on clerical work but have a large number on work requiring semi-skilled men in connection with the manufacture and distribution of gas. Also, in the distribution work we have in the past used to advantage a few capable Negroes in the capacity of Foreman. . . . I will list below some of the occupations on which we have Negroes working: Porters, Laborers, Foreman, Tapper, Chauffeur, Caulker, Pipe Layer, Cement Finisher, Boiler Operator, Fire Cleaner.”
The Chief Engineer of the Indianapolis (34,678 Negroes) Light and Heat Company, says, in reply to our query, “We do not employ Negroes for positions of skilled, clerical or managerial nature. They are employed only for ordinary labor work.” So!
But the Secretary of the Indianapolis Street Railway Company somewhat cheers us by the following message (I said “somewhat”): “This company employs a large number of Negroes in various positions, to one of whom is intrusted the conveying of cash from the different car stations to the Terminal Station Counting Room. Some of the Assistant Foremen in the Track Department are also of the colored race. A large number fill janitor and assistant janitor positions.” But suppose a Negro wants something better than a laboring, janitor or messenger job. Will he get it? That, as Hamlet said, is the question.
From Washington (109,966 Negroes), the place where all the run-down lawyers go, Mr. A. G. Neal, Vice President and Comptroller of the Washington Railway and Electric Company, writes: “They are not employed in clerical positions or in a managerial capacity. Our records indicate they serve us in the following capacities: Curve greasers and switchmen, Pitmen, Truck operators, Watchmen and Lampmen, Pavers, Compressor operators, Power Saw, Concrete mixer operators, 1st Class Trackmen, 2nd Class Trackmen, Laborers, Storeroom helper.” Some day this company may have openings for Howard graduates. I said some day!
The Potomac Electric Power Company, which is the same as the above named concern and of whom the same gentleman occupies the same position, reports: “There are four Negroes employed as Foremen of Overhead Line groups and Conduit Construction groups, composed of Negro employes. There are other Negro employes employed as Linemen and Laborers, and a few as Messengers.” Probably Kelly Miller was right when he said that Washington is “Negro Heaven.”
The following sweet note arrived from Mr. S. E. Linton, General Manager, Nashville Gas and Heating Company: “We have about 175 Negro employees, who are loyal, faithful and intelligent, and of a high class of laborers, many of whom have been with the company for many years. Most of them are unskilled laborers, some are semi-skilled and some are mechanics. These employees are all good citizens. Many own their homes, or are buying them, and they find and fill a most needed place in the economic life of this community.”
From the Mobile Gas Company, however, we get the sad news that Negroes are only employed as laborers.
Going North a bit we stop in Augusta, Ga. (22,582 Negroes), and hear a heartening message from the General Manager of the Augusta-Aiken Railway and Electric Corporation. He tells us, “We have some six or eight skilled Negro linemen, working under a white foreman. We employ linemen, helpers, pitmen in car shops, car cleaner and track and roadway forces.”
Then comes a radio from the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company telling us that Negroes are employed there as “common laborers, brick masons, unskilled class of power plant work, garage helpers, washers, drivers of passenger cars, mail distributors and reception room clerks.” All of which isn’t bad for Cleveland.
Back down South again to Macon, Ga. (23,093 Negroes), and the Macon Railway and Light Co., the Macon Gas Co., and the Central Georgia Power Company, all report that they employ no Negroes. Dear old Georgia!
Thence west to the land of sunshine, fakirs and movies—California. Mr. R. B. Hill, the superintendent of operation of the Los Angeles Railway, tells us: “The Los Angeles Railway employs Negroes only as janitors, scrubbers, and car cleaners.” That’s good advertising for California, yes?
But the Gulf States Utilities Company at Beaumont, Texas (13,210 Negroes) doesn’t do as well as the City of Angels, for we received the laconic reply: “Laborers.”
And then we go to Florida (as all good Americans eventually do) and we land in Miami. There Mr. A. L. Reynolds of The Miami Beach Railway Company, says: “We do not employ Negroes in positions of a skilled, clerical or managerial nature. However, the Negroes are employed for labor on track work, car cleaners and porters.” So much for beautiful Miami!
But the Oklahoma Railway Company of Oklahoma City, Okla. (8,241 Negroes), sends in a reply even less encouraging: “We have some Negroes employed as laborers.”
From the shadow of Lookout Mountain we receive this heartening note, sent in by the Chattanooga (18,000 Negroes) Gas Company: “Trench and ditch diggers.” What may we ask, could be shorter, if not sweeter?
We return to the Alamo again and get a word from Mr. Wm. W. Holden, Mgr. of the Traction Department of the San Antonio, Texas Public Service Company. He says: “The San Antonio Public Service Company employs Negroes as car cleaners, building porters and as helpers to skilled mechanics. Two of the Negroes are sub-foremen over groups of Negro car cleaners.” From the other branches of the company furnishing gas and electricity to the 15,000 Negroes, we learn that Negroes are only employed as “porters, laborers, etc.”
The South Carolina Power Company at Charleston, S.C., sends in this brief answer to our query: “We employ Negroes as power house firemen, helpers, porters and common laborers.” Which isn’t the worst record imaginable.
Last, but surely not least, we publish the reply of Mr. Neil Callahan, President of the Vicksburg Gas Company in Vicksburg, Miss. (9,148 Negroes): “We have four Negroes in our employ in skilled positions; two as operators, one as fireman and one as pipe fitter, and all four of these are good steady men.
“In addition to this we have five Negroes in our employ as assistants to white mechanics and they are all good steady men.
“When laying mains and such like work during every summer period, we employ quite a number of Negroes as common laborers at good wages.” Suppose the public utilities did as much elsewhere.
So here endeth our first survey. Our readers may not know it, but the vast majority of these companies are in reality owned and controlled by a mere handful of people, although the companies all have different names. How is it done, you ask? Interlocking directorates is the answer. The Big Boys who own the large hunks of stock in these companies are all hot for the Tuskegee-Hampton type of education and swear by all the Gods that education will solve the race problem. But the real race problem is the problem of wages, labor and promotion, and these Big Boys make no effort to break down the color discrimination in industry that relegates the Negro generally to the lowest places in the industrial hierarchy. Many of these Big Utilities Men are on the Boards of Trustees of little Negro colleges and get off a swarm of wisecracks at meetings of the Interracial Commission and at Commencements, but you can see what hope they hold out generally to our young men and women.
The Messenger, 9 (April, 1927): 116-17.
(In an effort to stimulate constructive thinking, on vital problems affecting the Race today, The Courier is asking various leaders in their respective fields for expressions on the peculiar problems which they meet in their own work. For this reason we present in full an address delivered by Mr. Ira De Augustine Reid, Industrial Secretary of the New York Urban League, before the National Urban League Conference in St. Louis recently. The subject of the address is “Advertising Negro Labor,” and represents the avenue of approach to get better and higher trained colored workers in better and higher positions among white employers. Mr. Reid was born in Clifton Forge, Va., took an A.B. degree from Morehouse College, Atlanta, and M.A. from the University of Pittsburgh. He has taught school at the Douglas High at Huntington, W. Va., and at Texas College, Tyler, Tex. He did industrial research work for one year with the Pittsburgh Urban League and has been head of the industrial department of the New York Urban League two years. He recently won praise on Broadway for his acting in “The Fool’s Errand,” a play presented in the National Little Theatre tournament by the Negro Little Theatre of Harlem.)
By IRA DE A. REID8
NEW YORK, May 26.—The industrial work of the Urban League is a true embodiment of the organization’s slogan: “Not Alms, But Opportunity.” Thus our policy becomes that of securing jobs for Negroes which they have not been able to secure because of racial discriminations, and on securing the better types of position which admit to advancement, that have been denied them, because of their failure to qualify, or because of the policy—or lack of policy —of employers regarding the advancement of Negroes.
Many other problems align themselves with this one cause, such as those concerning organized labor double standards of wages, improvement in working conditions, adjustment, housing vocational guidance and matters of similar ilk. Therefore, we find ourselves meeting the employee and the trade unions on their own planes since the problems have much in common. Our problem is not alone that of taking the end out of blind alleys for Negro workers, nor is it providing new opportunities for them. There remains the more deep-seated opinions of employers regarding Negro workers. For these persons there must be an informational and educational program, regarding the group. The workers are not over alert—they likewise must be encouraged and taught. Moreover, they must be provided with reasonable channels of growth into other and bigger jobs, if they develop the ability; they must have a feeling of security and permanence in the job and the chance to grow; they must be made to feel a part of their organization, this being more than a matter of good intentions, which when weakly acted upon are scarcely better than intentions deliberately bad. These situations are the problems of Negro workers and tend to make them victims in the waste of a good labor supply. This is the field of Urban League’s industrial work. For the colored group it is doing what immigrant groups have long since regarded as essential and have established. Likewise, governments, state and municipal have worked for the disabled, minors and handicapped.
Acting upon these bases the advertising of Negro labor may include every conscious manifestation of the effort which is likely to influence the will of the public toward securing a better understanding of the Negro worker. This would include education, propaganda in its favorable sense, promotion, advertising and even salesmanship.
Of paramount importance is the status of the agency that is advertising Negro labor. It is very necessary that the attention of the public should constantly be attracted to its service—to make known its purpose, policy, program, and needs in order that the best work may be done. And not this alone, for the same agency must enlist confidence in itself, possess a certain amount of prestige, and create an active good-will. Publicity and educational work on Negro labor per se will not achieve these benefits; i.e., efficient service is essential, but not sufficient. The slogan: “The right goods will sell themselves”—is only partially true in respect to our problem. The inherited attitude of the public toward the Negro, rearranged prejudices, the complexities of modern life, etc., make a well-formed system of advertising absolutely necessary.
Every Urban League has as its fundamental part of the industrial leg of the problem, the securing of better types of jobs for the better types of Negro workers. Aside from the needs that arise from day to day as that of the laborer, domestic worker, porter, and errand boys, there is need for work with a more advanced group, and even for improving the less advanced. No Industrial Department can afford to sit idly by and believe that the mere placement of large numbers of individuals is sufficient to endorse its program, as there are certain types of work for which Negroes are accepted without question. This we admit, and seek to secure the right type for the situation. But above all, our efforts should be to improve and not merely sanction. The use of Negro labor is governed by the non-economic law of “Supply and Demand and Race.” For this reason, the placement of Negro labor becomes a highly technical business if done correctly. It likewise demands secretaries who have the closest contacts with employers and workers alike. Hence, the publicity attached to our efforts to place the use of Negro labor before the employing public does play a very large part in our program.
One of the most useful methods in advertising Negro labor is through canvassing or soliciting. The interviewing of employers to impress upon them personally the worth of Negro labor—especially the skilled type—is a very important function. In our New York office, it is called “Field Work.” Others may know it by “Salesmanship,” “Job Soliciting,” or “Procurement Work.” It is our experience that when such employers are interviewed, it is advisable to see the man at the top, or such persons as will have a determining voice in the selection of employees. Usually the employment of Negro workers is such a reversal of the existing order, that only his sanction is worthwhile. To such an employer, the field worker must make himself an asset and not a liability to the cause which he is representing. He must not beg for jobs, nor must he leave the impression that his organization is a relief one, dealing entirely with the less fortunate ones of our group. The employer is to be convinced of the value of a group of employees as a necessary part of his industrial or commercial agency. After all, the major requirement is that the representative know his product. Any person seeking to make openings for Negro workers should have either a mental or physical memorandum of the outstanding situations regarding Negro labor, both local and national. What are the chief occupations of Negro workers in your city and throughout the country? What has been the increase and decrease in industry within the last ten years? What are the outstanding industries in your city? How are Negroes distributed in these industries and other places? More than 10,000 colored women are being employed as stenographers and bookkeepers. How many of these work in Milwaukee, Boston, Atlanta, etc? If you are asking an employer to use Negro clerks, mechanics, bookkeepers, cite to him other institutions similar to their appeal that employ such persons—or show him the advantage of being the one to prove that Negro workers are capable of performing functions similar to those in which white persons are employed, and as efficiently.
In the second place, it should be the aim of every office to secure as much news space as possible regarding their work. How much cooperation have you secured through the local and daily papers in your city? Has there been any unique situation arising in connection with your work that would make a good news article? Do reporters from the Negro papers call at your office for information? Such publicity must have indirect value toward attracting attention to the work you are trying to do. May I cite a few things that the New York press deemed worthy of publication? We interviewed a large employer relative to the employment of colored help and secured jobs for fifteen men. This is in itself news. But it was necessary that we send down to these jobs at least thirty-five individuals before the required quota was filled. Why? Because they failed to pass the health examination. One of the local papers carried an additional article the following week entitled: “Physically Unfit Denied Good Jobs.” At another time we were interested in finding out the number of economic misfits in New York, i.e., individuals who were unable to secure jobs for which they were trained and were employed in less skilled capacities. Through the courtesy of one of our papers we published an Opportunity Blank which we asked to be returned to this office. This blank asked the occupation of the person, and if such person was working on the job for which he was trained. If not, why not? It created quite a sensation. Many replies were received. When they were collected, they furnished an additional news article which was printed by the Negro paper and in turn mentioned in an article in one of the dailies. It is also possible for your office to be the outstanding agency for the release of current information on the labor market. New openings that have been made, lay-offs, or placements during the week, general industrial information.
It would be impossible to deal at length with the many other methods of putting over our product, but I shall mention a few more. The use of want-ad columns of newspapers is sometimes very feasible procedure. I am of the opinion that Negro workers do not use the want-ad columns as much as they could. These pages are read to a great extent by employers. An insertion in these papers at irregular intervals throughout the year would be worth the slight expense incurred. One call from an employer who is interested in fostering the Negro enterprise and securing additional labor would be worth the amount expended.
Urban Leagues are in a very unique situation in the majority of cities in which they are located. They have the constant advantage of being able to voice the sentiments and needs of the people they represent. What is your approach industrially to these groups? Is your approach a positive or a negative one? Do you speak of the disadvantage that they suffer or the advantages that could be had by its being used to a greater extent? How much advantage do you take of the meetings you attend to speak on Negro labor? The medium of public address forms one of the best possible avenues toward affecting some solution to our problems. This can be done through the organized clubs of the city, as well as through special meetings that are called at your instance.
Printed matter may also be of value if it makes a presentable appearance. Flimsy advertising appears to be of no value, and worse than that, to be a liability. Our office has used form letters to a small extent within the last year, but has relied chiefly upon an employment bulletin at regular intervals which we send out to employers with a list of the available applicants at our office, stating their qualifications and amount of experience. Through this method we have been able to put before the employer in concise form, the type and number of persons we have available for his line of work. We have also issued pamphlets—one for the employer and one for the employee—samples of which are available here.
Campaigns are usually sporadic efforts at attacking the same problem. If, however, the campaign may be followed by intensive efforts in the same channels, the result may be far better than that expected. Aside from the efforts conducted by the Department of Industrial Relations in other cities, our office undertook an employment campaign for Harlem. You probably know that the 175,000 Negroes in Harlem have very little opportunity to work in the stores of that immediate neighborhood. For a long time it has been the cry of persons that something should be done. Seventy-five per cent of the money that Negroes in Harlem earn, is said to be spent with Harlem merchants. For this, they were given no opportunity to work in these stores in which they spent. With the assistance of representatives of other social and fraternal organizations in the community, we launched a campaign for the employment of Negro workers in these stores. In the beginning a survey was made of all the stores in the immediate neighborhood employing three or more workers. We found that 10 of the larger commercial enterprises employing three or more workers had only 163 Negroes, or less than 1–20 of the total number of employees. To them we appealed first through individual letters in which we enclosed literature on what the employer should know about Negro labor. These were followed by interviews. Memoranda were made of the replies of each employer and from time to time some representative of the Department called upon these employers with the view of having him employ colored help. Publicity in this connection played a very important part. Colored newspapers rallied to our support and featured the effort with headlines. One of the dailies with a section devoted to Harlem carried an article on the effort Ministers organized for the effort and announced it from their pulpits. The whole community was urged to join in the campaign to provide employment for Negro workers. From the publicity point of view its success is not to be doubted. Many valuable insights gained regarding employers attitudes toward Negro workers gave as a more complete understanding of the problems we faced. Large numbers of employers took the matter quite seriously. At the first meeting of the Harlem Board of Trade and Commerce, to which body we had addressed a request for a hearing, many of the members brought their letters. It was discussed, pro and con, though tabled at two subsequent meetings. In this effort members of the Urban League Board co-operated in an effort to secure the privilege of speaking to this body. Though this campaign was held four months ago, it still brings results. Many have thought our approach wrong. Others did not agree with us, but nevertheless, we started a line of thinking which would not have been possible under ordinary conditions.
In conclusion, we feel that there is needed an intelligent work among employers as to the suitability of colored workers for certain kinds of work, many more kinds than have heretofore been acknowledged. If a Negro with a high school or college training is held down to the common laborer or porter job because of prejudices when he otherwise might be employed as an executive or in other more productive labor, both he and industry suffer as unnecessary economic loss. The educational work however, should not be limited to the employer. It is important to show workers that with the proper diligence in industry, they can fit themselves for places which will mean personal advancement and will help them to reach spheres of greater usefulness and responsibility.
Pittsburgh Courier, May 28, 1927.
CHARLESTON, N.C., June 2—“Teach the mass of the Negroes the dignity and distinction of productive labor.”
This is the advice of Thomas E. Posey, professor of economics at West Virginia Collegiate Institute. It was given in a public statement prepared by him last week in which he discussed the economic problems of his race.
“This is an age of industrialism and materialism,” he says. “Money talks. The Negro, if he intends to keep pace with the present age must prepare himself for those lines of productive activities which yield him the greatest return.”
“At the present time all of the skilled workers in the building trades are making from eight to fifteen dollars a day. Skilled workmen in all other lines of work rarely earn below six dollars a day. The average yearly wage of a skilled workman is $1,800 according to the report of the Department of Labor. The average yearly wage of unskilled and semi-skilled workers, accoring to the study made by the national industrial conference, was $1,200. This study was made in 1923. In other words, approximately three-fourths of the Negroes are earning around one thousand to twelve hundred a year. In 1923, according to the Monthly Labor Review, it required at least $1,400 to maintain a family of five on the bare subsistence level.
“The problem which confronts the Negro is that of raising his economic status. The Negro, if he is to make any great progress in the future, must develop a strong middle class. He must enter in greater numbers into the skilled works. He must prepare himself to share more in the fruits of this industrial age. The attention of the young Negro must be focused more on the trade and less on the profession. Doctors, lawyers, teachers and ministers, among our group, are living too near the bare subsistence level themselves, not because there are too many but because most Negroes are not earning enough to pay them.”
“Most young Negroes who have an opportunity to go to school select a profession as their vocation. There is a stigma attached to manual labor for the colored boy. It is one of his slave heritages. In order to be a gentleman, he must have a soft hands and wear a white collar. A pair of overalls is degrading; it should be a badge of distinction. This attitude is fostered and maintained by the parents, by the ministers, by our fraternities and our leading professional men. Young men should be guided into the technical fields. Parents should say: ‘Son, be an auto-mechanic, radio expert, scientific farmer,’ instead of ‘Get an A.B. degree.’” An A.B. degree gives one culture, but it is of no practical advantage.
“The writer does not contend that the development of a middle class would be a panacea of all the evils reflected in the Negro race. But surely if you raise his economic level he will be much better off. One way to raise this level is to enter the skilled trades. The question then arises, how can this be done. We must start in the home, parents must encourage their children to take a trade. Ministers, teachers and leaders of our people must preach about the dignity of productive labor. Most Negroes have the idea that when industrial education is presented to them, you are suggesting that they are inferior, that students are supposed to take trades who don’t have the mental capacity to get the arts and sciences. This is a very vicious and erroneous impression. Parents tell their children, “I want you to go to school.” Let us offer scholarships to leading trade schools and agricultural colleges, let us have a better plumber, carpenter and skilled mechanic week. Let us give prizes for the best method of raising potatoes and designing and building beautiful homes.”
“Restricted immigration, greater opportunities in the industries in the north makes it imperative that the colored man turn his attention to technical training. Colored boys should be encouraged to become scientific farmers, architects, landscape gardeners, radio experts, chemical engineers. The problem of economic betterment should be of vital import to all Negroes. At the present time we have in our race two classes of Negroes. One group, which constitutes the masses in the lowest strata of our Socio-economic system. The other group which is very small is to the white collar and professional class. The upper class has no sympathy with this lower class. He is so busy imitating and proving to the white man that he is mentally and physically his equal, that he has no time for the masses. Leisure time activities presupposes a surplus accumulation of wealth, and productive economic activities to maintain that surplus. We must encourage and produce industrial education for the masses and as one educator has very wisely said, ‘Edcuation for the man lowest down.’ Teach the masses of Negroes the dignity and distinction of productive labor.”
Pittsburgh Courier, June 4, 1927.
Harlem Industrial Expert Points Remedy After Analyzing Problem of “Too Few Jobs” In Community
(Industrial Secretary of the New York Urban League)
NEW YORK, Aug. 18.—Aside from the fact that many employers state that Negro workers do not have the necessary experience, they also maintain that they do not have the time to teach anybody while they are in need of help. If some of them do decide to take on a Negro person, they are willing to do so only at a salary far below that which would have been offered a white person. In such a situation, it is unwise to so affect the wage scale by underbidding another race group. With what other reasons do employers defend their attitude of not employing colored persons. Often they say that colored are not reliable. A caterer who had employed from 20 to 30 colored waiters found that he could do far better with white waiters because his colored waiters seldom showed up on time and often when they did, they were not in position to serve a respectable party. Many a time have employees been sent from our office as well as other offices in the city on particular jobs on which they promised to report immediately. Fully 40% of them never go. Sometime ago we interviewed managers of several employment agencies as to the difficulties they have faced in placing Negro help. Some of their answers follow: “The characteristic faults of the Negro workers are attending to somebody elses business, tardiness, and lack of conscientiousness,” “Not intelligent enough,” “Not reliable,” “Inability to maintain a consistently high level of work,” “Tendency to disregard time,” “Tendency to ‘lay off’ on the slightest pretext,” “Not inclined to work steadily,” “Lack of concerted action to initiate better relations among themselves,” “Will not take time to study and prepare himself for his chance when it does come,” “Haughtiness,” “Wasteful!” “The more he gets, the more he lavishes,” “He does not wait until he has a firm step on the uphill road to success.”
Many employment workers in the city have noted the changes that are taking place in the employment of Negro workers. New apartment houses are employing white help almost entirely. No longer does one see the Negro doorman or footman. Negro chauffeurs in the better private families are seldom found. It is said that the better shops on Fifth avenue now prefer a “white front,” that is, white employees as doormen and footmen instead of colored as heretofore. It has been rumored that a movement was being started to prevent the employment of colored men as elevator operators in certain sections of the city. Many high class dress shops and millinery shops that formerly employed colored girls are now using white only. The same situation is true in the leather trade. In the personal service jobs such as office maid, maid in a beauty parlor, etc., there seems to be a tendency to make the colored girls not so much assistants, as cleaners and porters. In many occupations which are open for which white girls would not be employed at a salary less than $16, agencies are forced to accept an offer of $10 and $12 for colored girls. But there have been some advances. The manager of a large dress shop which was formerly located in the heart of Harlem wrote: “I have had colored employees in my store in the capacity of saleswomen since 1925. At that time it was impossible to obtain anyone who had previous experience. A few who were trained here found no difficulty in obtaining similar employment elsewhere. At present, colored saleswomen are employed here exclusively.” Another concern to which we sent a colored man as clerk wrote: “We are pleased to advise you that Mr. X sent to our employ by your League is still in our employ, and his services are satisfactory in every way. During his association with us, he has proved himself worthy of our highest esteem, and we feel that he is a credit to the Negro people of the community.”
Among the concerns in Harlem who are employing colored at present in other capacities than that of porter or cleaner are: Wonder Store, Inc., 2595 Eighth avenue—Saleswomen; George Hiatt, 126 West 125th street—Saleswomen; Gordon Grocery Store, 2444 Seventh avenue—Clerk; Hy-Grade Market, 551 Lenox avenue—Clerk; Walter Piano Store, 164 West 125th street—Collector; Biddle Piano Company, 24 West 125th street—3 Collectors; Singer Sewing Machine Company, 10 East 125th street—5 Salesmen; Manufacturing Chemists and Perfumers, 26 West 125th street—Assistant Laboratory man and Receiving Clerk; Dreyer’s Furniture Company, 660 Lenox avenue—Cabinet Maker; Frank Meyer’s Hardware Company, 468 Lenox avenue—Clerk.
There is much more work that can be done, but it only can be done if the Negro population is willing to start any active move to inaugurate a movement of Negroes in jobs which are closed to them. Despite the fact that Harlem is a closely-knit racial community, it has very little of the race consciousness that expresses itself in a constructive way. There is no doubt but that if a riot occurred in New York, Harlem would be a well defended section, but for the gross injustices that are practiced in this section of the city, the community has not awakened to the fact that they can be combated—and successfully. They have not yet realized that Negro business can be more highly developed through their patronage. Not yet do they believe that a high class colored business man can be just as reliable as one of another race. Harlem must awaken to its needs.
Pittsburgh Courier, August 20, 1927.
Calvin Continues Examination of “The Negro In Industry”
By Floyd J. Calvin
NEW YORK, Apr. 12.—Continuing my examination of the booklet, “The Negro in Industry,” which is the official publication of the American Management Association, 20 Vesey street, and which represents what Big Business thinks of the Negro, I find under “The Character of the Negro” this:
“Some people seem to believe that the Negro is entirely inferior to the white man and that no discussion is necessary. ‘The Negro is different physically, temperamentally and psychologically.’ Yet he has a heart and a stomach which react to medicine and food in exactly the same way as with whites. What distinguishes the Negro from others is his history, his color and his environment. The Negro has been a slave for generations; he has been the underdog since his emancipation. He is thereby ignorant, and industrially inefficient since he has a rural rather than an industrial training. Given the same treatment, the same environment and the same opportunity he might not be so very different from the white man except in color. The fact remains, however, we have to consider him as we find him.
“The Negro is a slow thinker; his mind has not been trained and thus he often misunderstands simple directions. Being a slow thinker he is slow in action and hence dubbed stupid. If he grasps a situation, however, he may be relied on to do his share. His history has made him suspicious, but this condition may be overcome by plain, square dealing. The Negro is unsteady from the factory point of view; he is unaccustomed to the discipline of industry; he has not been used to the daily grind, but training and persistence gradually brings him in line. He likes intermittent rather than monotonous work, we all do. He prefers indoor to outdoor work in Winter simply because he is unaccustomed to cold and, besides he is subject to pulmonary disease. Likewise, he prefers outdoor work in Summer and can stand more heat than would be good for others.
“Responsibility is not readily accepted by people who recognize their limitations and the Negro has been made to see this. This does not imply that no Negro should be given a responsible position because it is good practice to give every worker responsibility to the limit of his capacity. The Negro is credited with small regard for the truth, low cunning and so forth, but these are the relics of slavery and subsequent events. We talk of the idle, rather than the lazy, colored worker, but laziness sometimes aids him to find out the easiest way to work and his vice becomes a virtue; he uses his head to save his brawn. Some employers find the Negro irregular in attendance while the majority find him no worse than others.”
Concerning “The Negro as an Industrial Worker” the report says: “ . . . The evidence as is, establishes the general fact that the Negro is capable and there is the further confirmation that he is being found, in ever increasing numbers, in coal, iron and steel, stockyards, building and transportation.
“Some well marked mental and physical differences exist between white and colored workers that demand attention. Even if the Negro is handicapped by slow thinking, he, at least, has a knowledge of English which, in almost every occupation, gives him an advantage over the foreign born white worker. But, a little patience will overcome slow thinking whereas no amount of patience can overcome the language barrier between the foreigner and the foreman and neither is the least likely to acquire the language of the other. . . . The advantage the Negro has in a knowledge of English is likely to hold for a long time in spite of adult Americanization. Consequently, in semi-skilled jobs where there is a possibility of vestibule training, or where verbal directions are necessary, the Negro may be employed to advantage. In jobs where neither language, reading nor writing is a factor the choice between Negro and foreign-born white is a question of physical skill and experience. Julian Carr, of the Durham Hosiery Company, is credited with the statement that net receipts from the colored mills were greater than those from the white mills and the obvious inference is that the result was due to the relative production of each.”
Big Business compares Negro and white workers physically as follows: “Physically speaking, the Negro is inferior to the white if we are to judge by mortality statistics, and this lowers the value of Negro labor from the industrial standpoint. . . . As regards Negro health, one factor has been the poor dwelling and living conditions to which he has been accustomed in the South and which he has not altogether escaped by his change of residence. It is hence inadvisable for an employer to take on Negro labor extensively without considering housing.”
Of “The Negro and Organized Labor,” the report says: “The directing heads of organized labor have frequently declared against discrimination, yet the individual national and international unions have excluded the Negro in spite of their general desire to increase their numbers. The American Federation of Labor, however, cannot compel its constituents to adopt any given policy—it can only make recommendations. The reason for exclusion is commonly believed to be founded in race prejudice, but a far more likely explanation is that, as in the limitation of apprentices, a large influx of Negroes would spoil the market and lower wages thereby.”
On “Relations With Other Workers” the report says: “Usually the relations between white and colored workers are amicable enough. . . . The attitude of the management is generally the determining factor. If the Negro is hired with the actual or supposed idea of displacement, and effecting thereby a reduction in wages, there is sure to be trouble.”
Big Business says further: “The efficiency of the Negro is an open question. Some employers find him capable because they make him so. They instruct the foreman how to handle him, give him the necessary training, select him carefully and provide adequate supervision. In other cases the Negro is found to be shiftless, unstable and generally worthless.
“The Negro is willing and content to do the hard, dirty, disagreeable jobs at low pay as a means of ultimately improving his position. He prefers intermittent rather than continuous, repetitive work. His nature conforms to the rhythm of work and he likes occasional spectacular exhibitions of his strength. In jobs that demand complex movements he fails until he has been subjected to rigorous training. Employers of long experience claim that Negroes always give a fair day’s work if they are treated right. . . . Rub a cat the wrong way and you find he spits and scratches; stroke him, and everything is all right.”
Pittsburgh Courier, April 14, 1928.
The year 1928 with employment conditions improved and industry on the upgrade. Labor admits it and capital advertises it. William Butterworth, President of the United States Chamber of Commerce, reminds, in the January Nation’s Business that “production has been brought to a state of amazing proficiency” and assures that “there is no reason to believe that the rapid pace we have attained during the past decade will lag in the next.” Taking advantage of this situation and the heralded industrial potentialities of the South, the American Federation of Labor launches a goal for a double membership in 1929. “This goal,” says the American Federationist, “is a spur to union activity and places an obligation upon each union to go into the unorganized field and make new converts to unionism.”9
Negroes are neither manufacturers nor trade unionists to any considerable degree. All three labor for a common purpose, that of advancing personal and collective well-being, but the eternal struggle for advantage goes on among them, with the Negro at the bottom and fartherest removed from economic possibilities. The labor movement and the employing group state their goals for 1929—what does the Negro hope to attain? His handicap is at once apparent. Whc is there to state it? What organized force represents Negro economic thought? The system under which this race lives in the United States leaves no room for divisive aims as regards workers and owners. The few owners are dependent upon white relationships and in reality are workers for others. The Negro is thus a homogeneous economic group and as such should set out to realize certain definite objectives.
As fundamental as the economic causation of life is, it has been almost entirely by Negroes in their quest for recognition in art, music, literature, religion and politics. The time to emphasize this relationship is now, when industry is having a rebirth and when a new governmental administration, which will seek to make good its prophecies of prosperity, so soon to take over the direction of the nation. New industries are adding capital. Mechanical changes affecting all workers, particularly those that are unskilled, are being installed daily and the Negro workers’ overwhelming strength in the South where ninety per cent of the population still lives, is in danger of serious impairment by the coming of Northern industrialists who are pledged all the Caucasian labor they wish.
If the A.F. of L. is “to go into the unorganized field and make new converts to unionism,” geographically it must enter the South where it has relatively few adherents and where Negroes do a large share of the manual work; and occupationally they must organize within the steel, iron, automobile, meatpacking and coal industries which are those in which the largest number of colored wage-earners are engaged. In Detroit there are 15,000 Negroes in one automobile factory alone; in Pittsburgh one coal company employs 3,000; while the steel mills of Gary, Youngstown and Chicago, the foundries in Birmingham, St. Louis and throughout Ohio and the stockyards in Chicago and Omaha teem with Negro workers whose future, judging from the bias of the labor movement, is uncertain in a program of union organization.
There is much to guide our understanding of the Negro’s present occupational status. He can always find work when work is to be had; that is when employment is normal. It is under-employment that he suffers from—the failure to find opportunities commensurate with capacity and the fixity of a status that permits of no chance for personal development and promotion. And this at the time when he is in the best physical and mental state he has yet possessed. To be certain he has made progress in many directions and especially in the building trades, garment making, the basic industries, automobile repairing and manufacturing, and transportation. As yet Negro girls have little other than menial work and liberally schooled young men are without outlet for their training. Chain stores, insurance companies, public utilities and commercial houses that are patronized freely by Negroes and which in many cases use workers of a given nationality to attract customers of that nationality, refuse employment to Negroes. Apartment houses exclude them from service occupations they once filled and many traditional employments have been taken away.
Opportunity, 7 (February, 1929): 57.
By T. Arnold Hill10
The popular notion that Negro workers are being forced to recede from the favorable position they acquired during and after the war has called forth extravagant estimates as to the extent of the loss and from all directions solutions and panaceas have come. I hope only to point out that Negro workers are shifting or being shifted from occupation to occupation—sometimes to their detriment and at other times to their advantage; that this shifting is the result of economic factors and not racial proscription; that the substitution of white workers for Negro workers is compensated for in part, if not in whole, by the measureable advance in varied vocations observable in many sections of the country; and that further progress in this direction, a necessity because of our growing number of schooled young people, can be attained through reshaping objectives, building on the experience the race has acquired in long accustomed fields and emphasizing self-help as a means of producing an awareness of strength and potentiality.
Let me state in the outset it is fallacious to consider Negro labor as an abstract entity. The ills they suffer are only partially racial. Unemployment among them finds its parallel in unemployment among white workers and the cause in both instances may be traced to fundamental economic factors which either group, separately or together, is powerless to obviate. Negro workers are prosperous when white workers are prosperous, less so perhaps, but the trend in one case is the same always as in the other. It behooves us therefore to consider the effect upon workers of all races of certain outstanding developments of recent years which are at the base of the present difficulties Negro workers face. I shall name only two of them. First, the movement away from the farms to industrial cities; and second, the so-called mechanization of industry.
Between 1920 and 1925 the farm population declined about 2,000,000, or an average of 400,000 a year. In 1920 the total farm population was 31,614,269. On January 1, 1927, it was 27,892,000, or more than four and one-half million decrease in seven years. Between 1920 and 1925 there was a decline of about 120,000 in the number of colored farmers in the South. There was an absolute decrease of close to 80,000 in the farm tenant class. Of the 2,500,000 tenant farmers in 1925 only 636,000, or about one-fourth, were colored. Although the number of Negro tenants declined by 80,000, the total number of tenants in the South went up 10,000, showing an increase of 90,000 white farmers. A release sent out from Hampton Institute in February, 1928, reads, in part, as follows: “Georgia has lost one-third of its Negro farmers between 1920 and 1925, and is still losing them. One out of every six tillers of the soil in South Carolina has departed for parts unknown. One out of every eight in Arkansas has gone, and in Alabama one out of every ten left plow to rust.”
What machinery is doing to the labor of men is common knowledge to every one. Practically every industry is producing more with less human man power. Recently 3,000 musicians lost their places in New York theatres with the advent of sound pictures. On this point Secretary James J. Davis has said: “In less than ten years the population of the United States has increased by 20,000,000. To supply the needs of this large number, it would now take 140 men for 100 men employed on the production scale of 1919. Instead we are meeting the nation’s demands with fewer workers.”
These two factors therefore—the lure of the city which has attracted both white and colored rural workers, and the mechanization of industry which has thrown into idleness workers of every race and nationality in the country —are responsible for the dilemma in which Negroes find themselves today; namely, the replacement of Negro workers by whites. As a consequence white men are driving trucks and express wagons in the South, repairing streets doing the scavenger work, delivering ice on their backs where formerly Negroes delivered and white men collected for deliveries, serving as waiters and bellmen in hotels and doing other tasks which were once regarded only fit for Negroes. This same practice passes beyond menial occupations to the building trades where impressive losses are felt keenly. Insurance companies and fraternal orders complain that their revenue has been curtailed because of decreased earning power of their constituents and the morale of certain sections has been adversely influenced because of it. The transformation goes on in the North as well where elevator operators, doormen, house servants, and hotel men are more often white men than colored.
For almost two years attempts have been made to trace the cause to vicious design on the part of prejudiced whites. Investigation has failed to reveal concerted effort in this direction, but it has shown the uncontrollable impulse to preserve one’s self at the expense of social prestige and tradition. That Caucasians are content to lay pavement and drive garbage carts in open view of Negroes is the result of dire necessity and not propaganda. The textile industry in North and South Carolina, the wide-spread advertisement given to industrial centers by Chambers of Commerce, the false real estate prophecies of Florida, the anxiety over the generally accepted opinion that “industry is moving South,” together with the unprofitableness of farming in its present muddled form, have filled the cities with unemployed farmers. The turn toward Republicanism in the South under the banner of prosperity has awakened faith in the possibilities of the larger cities which the administration is expected to favor in return for unprecedented support. Failing to find work at the end of their journey to the cities they have forsaken pride and class and taken whatever sort of work offered.
But no one can claim that the loss has been greater than the gain. It is easy to observe deficiencies from preempted ranks, but the trickling here and there of a few Negro workers into lines that have been occupied almost wholly by white labor goes on unnoticed. In 1920 Chicago and New York could boast of having some colored workers in all but one of the principal occupations listed in the census classification. Our next census will probably show Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis and other cities equally as prosperous. In Atlanta, Savannah and Jacksonville where much can be heard respecting the transference of jobs from colored to white, business goes on as usual on Auburn Avenue and Broad Streets. Fourth Avenue in Birmingham, Beale Street in Memphis, Wylie Avenue in Pittsburgh, St. Antoine in Detroit and Center Avenue in Cleveland are still thriving mercantile centers notwithstanding the generally accepted view that Negroes are losing place in industry. Negro salesmen and saleswomen are becoming more numerous. White firms are using them to sell goods among their race. Chain stores and some few department stores in Chicago are giving employment to saleswomen. More automobile mechanics and drivers of trucks and cars are being used today than ever, and an increasing number of men and women are entering the field of industrial chemistry.
The fact is that colored workers are entering varied vocations more rapidly than the casual observer knows. A recent tabulation compiled from reports from a number of cities shows advances made in March as follows:
Chicago reveals the most significant gains in diversified employment for Negroes. A new department store has opened with 38 colored saleswomen, 60 per cent of the working force. A garment factory installed Negro operators, and another salesman has been added to the force of a furniture store.
Other cities also report gains in skilled and semi-skilled pursuits. In Los Angeles women continue to enter the garment industry in small numbers, and a skilled operator from New York was offered the position of floor lady in a factory employing Mexican operators. A steel and machinery plant in Minneapolis has “let down the bars” to skilled Negro workers and has employed its first Negro machinist, while the manufacturers of a popular motor car have taken on three skilled men in that city. A new grocery with a Negro manager and several employers has been opened in Kansas City. Many gardeners have secured work in Springfield, Ill. The Industrial Department of the St. Louis Urban League reports that the demand for skilled and semi-skilled workers in manufacturing and the building trades reached the highest point for the year in March, constituting 11 per cent of the total demand. A famous hotel in Atlantic City installed a corps of Negro waiters when the European waiters went on strike on the eve of the Easter rush. A downtown chain drug store in Philadelphia has installed three soda fountain attendants. A Chicago candy company employed 200 girls, making its first venture in Negro help.
Many Negroes went to Detroit in March, but the Urban League of that city warns against further influx. “There are no jobs,” the League reports. St. Louis, however, reports employment on the up-grade and a definite movement of labor into the city, especially from the rural districts of neighboring states and Missouri. Philadelphia notes a falling off in arrivals and steady employment in construction work for many Negroes already there. Many Negroes have been employed in repairing streets in Des Moines, Denver and Hot Springs, Ark., and in Omaha the resumption of street railway and building construction has improved employment possibilities. The unemployment situation is reported as acute in Richmond, Virginia, with Negroes leaving the city in search of work.
Employment in the foundries of Chicago showed an increase but in other fields, “increased unemployment gave employers of common laborers and day workers opportunity to offer lower wages than the regular scale.” In Kansas City there is a noticable influx of both white and colored workers.
It would be a mistake, however, to think that all is well with colored workers. Conditions are far from satisfactory. Of the 1,000,000 Negroes engaged in industry the majority are unskilled workers in steel and iron plants, lumber and turpentine mills, slaughter houses, railroad construction, and the like. Of the 1,500,000 women in gainful occupations, all but 80,000 of them were in agriculture, domestic and personal service, dressmaking, tobacco factories and teaching. No other classification had as many as 10,000. Detroit boasts of 15,000 workers in the Ford plant alone, but in the numerous other cities in which the Ford Company makes or assembles cars, Negroes are employed as janitors, truckers and porters. For the present the automobile factories, chain stores, textile mills, box factories and rubber plants new to the South are doing likewise. While it is possible to find in Ohio iron factories and steel plants employing as high as 50 and 60 per cent colored workers, they are for the most part confined to laborious and unskilled tasks.
Moreover there has been no real advance in the attitude of organized labor toward colored workers. I can discover no change in practice during the past fifteen years, save the partial victory of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. As desirable as Negro membership would be to both white and colored workers, and as persistently as some have fought for it, sentiment in labor circles is still set against Negro participation. The radical wing of the labor movement is bidding for support and is probably adding some Negro workers to its ranks. But it is safe to say that unpleasant experiences lately between Negroes and the labor movement have outnumbered the pleasant ones. Unionism breaks down between black and white when it would give advantage to either side in times like these. The conquering influence of self-preservation overrides doctrine and ritual. Hence, Negro union building tradesmen, applying for work at a union employment office, may work when white tradesmen have been supplied and not until then.
The rank and file are concerned about their jobs. They are aware of a fierce struggle between themselves and their white fellow workers. They are not always sure of its origin or purpose; they may think there is concerted propaganda to take their jobs away from them, but they are agreed that the situation is real and their thoughts and conversations center around it. In all the other contests the Negro has had he has fought for gains. Today he is fighting against losses. Even in the combats against housing segregation laws he was in reality not fighting against giving up property but to acquire new possessions in territory that the race had not before occupied. Heretofore his employment problem has been chiefly one of advancement to positions commensurate with ability. Today he is endeavoring to hold the line against advancing armies of white workers intent upon gaining and content to accept occupations which were once thought too menial for white hands. But he is not holding the lines; he is receding blindly with no objective in view from which to maneuver.
While the motivating influence behind these changes is economic rather than racial something can be done about it. The pressing need of the hour is a plan for the Negro’s occupational future. This he has never had. He was brought to this country a slave and did the farming and other tasks that were assigned him for more than three hundred years. He moved North during and after the war to the number of something approximating a million to meet industrial exigencies created by the war crisis. In between these two epochal events he has made entrance into industry when there was a strike to be broken, a shortage of labor for which white men could not be found, something onerous to be done, when pay was less than that paid others, or when some other emergency made his labor expedient. And when emergencies subsided he was discharged and left to find his way as best he could.
While appeals to employers for positions on the basis of fitness should never be abandoned the present state of industrial uncertainty makes it encumbent upon the Negro that he do certain things for himself. Lacking opportunities for apprenticeship he can make effective demand upon Land Grant college and trade schools for thorough courses in mechanical arts. Our losses in building operations have been due in part to our failure to apprentice or to follow courses of instruction in schools. In parts of the South in which the Negro once had a monopoly in the building trades no new carpenters, brickmasons, plasterers and painters are taking the places of the old men who are now passing on. Trade schools located throughout the South have been unable to supply the demand or young men have been without inclination to take the courses. The public vocational schools of our larger Northern cities are filled with white children with only an occasional colored face. Federal funds were withdrawn from a Negro school in the middle west because public sentiment opposed vocational training.
The race once acquired a reputation for cooking, barbering, catering and domestic service. Negroes were the wagon drivers, laundresses, hackmen, mechanics, tenant farmers, moulders, street pavement workers, harness makers, shoemakers and longshoremen. From the experience gained in these vocations we should have developed drayage corporations, laundry establishments, building contractors, engineers, land-owners, tool makers, manufacturers, leather dealers, and street pavement contractors. Owners as well as skilled mechanics should now be common. Here is a foundation upon which to construct a degree of skill as well as ownership that will serve to prevent exploitation.
Having demonstrated proficiency to the point where the ability of Negroes to do skilled work is no longer questioned it ought to be possible to direct efforts in definite fields until reputation is established in them. The peculiarities and traits often thought to be the possession of Negroes only could be capitalized so as to give place to large numbers of Negro workers where competition would be negligible. A program such as we have in mind would take into consideration how far the Negro could push his demand for positions on the strength of his buying or consuming power. That Chicago has been able to prove the practiability of this idea is reason to believe that it can be made to work in St. Louis, Indianapolis, New York, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Kansas City and other cities that have large Negro populations.
Opportunity, 7 (May, 1929): 143-45.
By Charles S. Johnson
The relationship of Negro labor, considered as an identifiable unit, with general labor trends appears in bolder relief in periods of rapid business fluctuations. It is only when the relationship is considered that discussion of individual fortunes in industry may be removed from the universe of sorcery and mysticism. There is a justifiable concern over the apparent losses sustained by Negro workers. But there are certain observations here which deserve mention in the interest of intelligent appreciation of the problems involved. In the first place, we know, roughly, the present distribution of Negro workers in the United States, and we are aware of certain gross social and economic trends:
The first intelligent concentration of interest should be upon what is happening in those industries which have been, in the past, a refuge for Negro workers:
(a) Agriculture has accounted for 35 per cent of the Negro workers, and the concentration has been in cotton. Since 1923 there has been a serious per capita decline in crop production and this has had the double effect of limiting returns for agricultural workers and forcing migration from the country to the cities and industrial centers.
(b) Bituminous coal mining has absorbed in West Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee, Illinois and some parts of Pennsylvania, thousands of Negroes. The industry is seriously upset by over-production, excess of miners, and this in the face of a curtailed use of coal. One instance will suffice. Increased economics in the use of coal in power production in public utilities plants have resulted in a decrease of 43 per cent in consumption.
(c) The lumber industry has been slow in recovering from the war slump and for several years has actually declined.
(d) Iron and steel work in which Negroes have found employment readily has declined consistently since 1923.
(e) Building construction has been noticeably unsteady and although highway construction has increased it has scarcely served to compensate for losses.
These are fields in which Negroes have found largest employment. But some other factors are to be likewise noted: The fields which have not been open on a large scale to Negroes have also experienced a slump, or are destined for it. Among these are the textile industry, and food products. The petroleum industry which alone was expanding at a rapid rate, as a result of the opening of new wells, has come under the observation of President Hoover and his zeal for conserving these natural resources. A result is restriction on output. All of these industries in their suspended activity have thrown labor upon the market. Add to these factors the rapid introduction of labor saving devices during the past 10 years, and as one economist has pointed out, the rearrangement in plant layout, the simplified routing of materials which under the old system required common labor, and the substitution of machinery for hand labor, the problem of excess labor begins to assert itself.
There are actually fewer factory laborers than there were in 1920.
Since the war the entrance of women in increasing numbers to industry has brought new complications, not because they have no business there, but because their usefulness in untried lines has been proved to the displacement of the traditional male. A paradox is observed at this point in the two observable phenomena which can be measured: high wages appear along with increasing unemployment, and this is a manifest contradiction of the law of supply and demand. The speculation is that there is some absorption in the new industries.
There are as yet no means of determining with accuracy the extent of this absorption, or whether, really, instead of absorption there is a widening fringe of unemployment. William A. Berridge, economist of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company has made certain estimates which prove valuable here.
Using 1923 as a base year he estimates the unemployment for that year at 1,000,000, the increase in supply of employables through population growth at 3,000,000, the number of farm workers moving to town at 1,000,000, the decline in employment at 1,200,000 as against possible new employment for 2,100,000, leaving a net unemployment of about 4,000,000. Assuming, then, that the Negro workers are affected by these same forces in the same degree, there would be expected a displacement of at least 400,000 or 300,000 more than were unemployed in 1923. It will be remembered that our picture of Negro industrial participation was set in 1923. The proportion of workers to the population is higher among Negroes than for any other class and this would contribute to the seriousness of these purely non-racial forces affecting the Negro workers. Moreover Berridge’s estimates do not take into account immigration. Negro labor is more seriously affected by this than other classes because they, like the immigrants, represent simple new recruits to industry and are in harshest competition. We think of immigration, however, in terms of the quota restrictions which do not include the heavy immigration of common labor from Mexico which has reached nearly a half million during the past ten years.
The causes behind the displacement of Negro workers are not far to seek. Where their old traditional positions have not been reduced in man power their numerical increases in industry have been halted by the pressure of excess white labor from other fields: from rural sections and from normal population expansion, willing to accept any grade of work and almost any pay. There has been much discussion of certain insidious and concerted forces at work to oust Negroes from jobs and there may be such. The only comment that it seems safe to make on this is that the insidious forces are not necessary so long as the economic ones are in action.
The one outstanding speculation at present that is as vital to labor in general as to Negro labor is to what extent this known excess created by reduced man power is being absorbed in new lines. Some of these general new lines are the partial by-products of the automobile industry, such as garages, service stations, the radio industry, road construction, moving pictures, etc. It appears that despite the observed Negro losses and a certain amount of unemployment there are few bread lines and such emergencies as reflect acuteness. What then are the Negroes doing, if anything? As the most convenient though admittedly limited test of this, I have examined the industrial records of two hundred Negro families representing about 1,000 persons in Nashville, Tennessee, a city with a Negro population which is over 30 per cent of the total. The data cover the period from January, 1928, to the present. Of the 200 there were 190 male heads of families and chief bread winners selected by the random salary method of every tenth family; less than 8 per cent were involuntarily unemployed, and there were noted 53 persons, or 27.3 per cent of the group, in occupations that might be described as “new” to Negroes.
There were 11 truck drivers, 4 contracting carpenters, 4 grain weighers and workers, 3 concrete finishers for road work, 2 garage workers, 2 bootleggers, and a string of such other occupations as mortar mixer, concrete mixer, automobile mechanic, gas pipe layer, car washers, floor waxer, telephone lineman, ice and coal dealers, acid testers, hosiery mill packer, blue print operators, junkman, linotype setter, insurance agent, machinist’s helper, boiler maker’s helper, chiropodist, embalmer, and sales manager.
The avenues for expansion, it would appear, have been distributed inconspicuously among many lines. We have been accustomed to think of Negro accessions in the mass. As with labor in general the “service” occupations associated with the automobile have provided work for Negroes, although of an unskilled character for the most part, as car washers, garage attendants, greasers, chauffeurs, truck drivers and mechanics. The road work has absorbed some as laborers and concrete workers. Negro business itself has made some though minor contributions. The number of insurance salesman and office workers has increased. In the elevation of the entire group through special training a small portion of the would-be excess has been removed through the schools to the professions of teaching and medicine.
Reverting once more to the Nashville figures, the duration of employment in the same establishment was taken as a rough test of the rapidity of displacement of Negroes from old strongholds: Of the 130 male heads of families employed where industrial records could be secured in full, 19 or 14 per cent had been on their jobs less than one year 33 or 25 per cent between 1 and 5 years, 29 or 22 per cent between 5 and 10 years, 16 or 12 per cent between 10 and 15 years, and 34 or 26 per cent over 15 years.
If we may take so small a sampling as a guide, it is evident that despite the coming of white men into the common labor jobs of public service, in the textile factories and occasionally into the hotels, many of the old strongholds remain firm.
Opportunity, 7 (May, 1929): 146-48.
By Broadus Mitchell11
It is plain that the story of the Negro in degradation and progress is mainly to be written in terms of economic forces. We have been too much in the habit of talking about the Negro in terms of his moral, racial, psychological characteristics and too little inclined to look at him in his economic aspects.
In picturing the possible future of the Negro in the industrial South, it is not possible to judge very much from the past performance. Statistics do not shed much light on the question. The Negro people and the South, in which the great bulk of them live, are passing through a transition stage. We need to think and speak in terms of dynamics rather than of statistics. If we try to particularize too much we are likely to fail to see the forest for the leaves.
The great fact about the South is that for a long time it was poor and now it is becoming rich. The old South up to the period of about 1880 showed riches only to the casual eye. About this wealth and elegance a great deal of romance has clustered; but the moonlight and magnolias were for a small minority. The whole economic system rested on the work of black slaves and of poor whites so excluded from economic participation that they were equally bondmen. There was little diversity of employments or inventiveness. There was simply stagnating routine. This was the main reason for the South’s inability to recover quickly from the effects of the Civil War. The economic system had no resiliency. An agricultural society had been laid flat, and there was conspicuous lack of industrial or commercial skill to help pick it up.
The almost universal poverty in the old South made for neglect and mistreatment of the Negro. A people economically circumscribed are apt to be pious, self-righteous, suspicious, selfish. The upper class of whites might be paternalistic, but were rarely generous. They took no chances with their social or economic order. They conceived that their own safety depended upon the definite, permanent subordination of the Negro, and out of this came racial prejudice, to give it its mildest name; but when the Reconstruction period was over, the South turned a new leaf. Important leaders realized that the old South had made a mistake in pursuing agriculture with staple crops exclusively. They preached the doctrine that the South must turn to manufacture if she hoped to regain her place in the life of the nation.
The days of industrial advocacy was the most hopeful one in the life of all the southern people—white and black alike. Cotton factories were built in large numbers, and the poor whites were rescued from penury and isolation by being brought into the mills as operatives. In the fifty years since 1880, through favorable natural resources and an abundant cheap labor supply, the South has forged ahead until she is now the industrial focus of the United States. The most conspicuous movement in American industry today is that of northern textile manufacturers to southern localities. It is a migration almost unparalleled in the history of manufactures.
All of this has meant that the South has progressed from a deficit basis to a basis of relative economic plenty and that plenty will probably grow to economic surplus. An economic system which was cramped and atrophied is now receiving new blood and takes on the aspects of vitality and rapid growth. In all of this the Negro finds his first real economic hope. There is release from agriculture ridden by a vicious credit system, with the prospect of an independent life in urban communities.
It is still commonly said that the Negro is poorly adapted to industrial employment—that he has been bred up to husbandry and cannot fit into an industrial tempo. He is said to be shiftless, unskillful, unreliable, thriftless. It is important to remember that at the outset of industrial growth in the South, all of these things and many more were alleged of the poor whites. Few darker pictures have ever been painted of any population than were used to describe the poor whites of the southern tenant farm and mountain holding. The poor whites were declared to be hardly above the status of the settled Indian—ignorant, dirty, immoral, vicious, and above all, lazy. However, when they were brought into the factories they rapidly proved themselves to be excellent industrial workers—adaptable, capable, quick to pick up a skill which had been thoroughly alien to their old employments or many generations.
With respect to the posture of the Negro in the South today, it must be remembered that social content is closely pointed with economic inferiority. When the Negro becomes a patent economic asset, much of our racial prejudice against him will melt away. It has been so with the poor whites—a class which was once despised has now come to be cherished. The labor of the poor whites is in brisk demand; and so we begin to attend to their education and their political opinions. Mill villages have become nurseries of their social improvement. We shall be more mindful of the Negro’s rights and potentialities when it is more obvious that he has something which the white South requires.
The new period of economic diversification and approaching plenty in the South may put us in mind to exploit the resources offered by nine million Negroes. We shall not be so anxious to protect a precarious white supremacy, but will be moved by the desire for greater riches to allow latitude and betterment to the Negroes. Most of our crimes against the Negro proceeded from the economic insufficiency. Poverty makes sinners of us all. I have often thought that the verse in the New Testament about it being harder for a rich man to get into heaven than for a camel to get through the eye of a needle ought to be turned around; the difficulty is going to be for a poor man to get into heaven because his limitations breed in him hatreds and shortsightedness.
The old plantation system restricted and confined the Negro; the new industrial system puts him in motion. I do not mean to imply, of course, that there were not many people in the old South and in the South since the Civil War who have been earnestly solicitous for the advancement of the Negro. There have been devoted pioneers in education, religion and race relationships; but all their prayers and anxieties have been of less effect in bettering the condition of the Negro than the purely objective developments such as the World War and the restriction upon immigration which have opened jobs for the Negro, North and South. It shows again that we cannot get away from the overwhelming importance of economic forces in the life of the Negro. It has been much the same with our whole rural population. I was brought up on this, that and the other program for enriching country life. Individuals strained their inventiveness and their pocketbooks, societies were formed, legislatures were besought, farm demonstration agents and home economics teachers were dispatched into rural districts to help render farm life less destitute and lonesome.
I suppose all this had some result, but it was far less than that which fell out from the invention of the internal combustion engine. The cheap automobile has given the farm population social contacts, earning power and a degree of assimilation to the life of the whole community of which no one dreamed before. If well-wishers of the farm people of the South had been wise, instead of begging for goodness, education and a cooperative spirit they would have prayed: O God send us a carburetor and a high compression cylinder.”
You have all seen movies in which the title of the picture is decorated with a scene intended to express the spirit of the whole picture. Thus, if it turns about the World War, the background will be composed of a shadowy cannon. If we could take a picture of Southern life today, I believe we would have chosen for our frontispiece an outline of a machine in giant proportions. The machine is destined to be the greatest modifying influence upon the life of the Negro in the South. Everybody knows it is a good thing to get Negroes into industry. The attempt at fitting them for individual penetration has been valiant but unsuccessful. I went the other day to visit a class of Negro boys in shoemaking in an industrial training school. The instructor was showing them how to fasten a hog bristle to the end of a waxed thread to make a sharp point for sewing on the soles. The teacher explained to the boys that this was a bristle of a special Russian hog which was particularly stiff. After a long time the class was still practicing in attaching these bristles. So far as I know, shoes are not made by hand any more, and they are repaired also by machinery. This class and many others like it represent wasted effort. The preparation of the Negro artisan is not racially or socially very important, I think. This is the day of mass movements with great economic forces pushing men here and there into this and that employment willy-nilly. The individual does not have to think—the machine is much cleverer than he is and does his thinking for him.
The supply of poor whites in the South available for the new industrial system is getting low. There is evidence of this in the recent series of strikes in textile communities of Tennessee and the Carolinas. It is my guess that before long industrial employment of Negroes in the South will not be confined to cotton-seed oil mills, tobacco factories and fertilizer works, but will be prominent in many of the higher grades of fabrication, as, for example, in the textile factories. Tremendous danger lurks in this potential recourse to Negro industrial workers. The poor whites of the South have been badly exploited in manufactures, and are only now beginning to emerge from long hours and low wages. Particularly because of the influx of northern industry, it may be that resort to Negroes for factory workers will mean a new submergence of the South’s industrial labor. Perhaps the competition of Negroes will tend to throw the poor whites back into their old disabilities under which they suffered because of the competition of slave labor before the Civil War.
The constantly greater tendency to machines which economize labor may make the introduction of Negroes more gradual than it would otherwise be, and thus ease the process. The greatest hope for solution of this problem lies, however, in the growing diversification of Southern industry. The cotton manufacture has been held the white man’s employment because there was almost no other industry. Every new industrial opportunity that opens means that greater latitude will be allowed to the Negro. The Negro’s entrance into industry will be through the door of the rougher operations first and he will probably fall heir to industries presenting bad conditions previously deserted by white workers. The whites in the South have been through an industrial tutelage which has been long and still is arduous, but with all its drawbacks it has meant salvation, and I think we may predict the same for large numbers in our Negro population.
Opportunity, 7 (May, 1929): 149-50.
The Negro in Industry and Business
In its issue for May, 1929, Opportunity, the organ of the National Urban League, devotes much of its space to papers and addresses given at the annual conference of the league held at Louisville, Ky., April 9–12, 1929. To a large extent, the discussions were concerned with the effects of two comparatively recent developments—the movement of colored workers from the farm to the city and the changes in their occupations consequent both on this and on the increasing competition with white workers. In moving from the country to the town and the city the negro, it was pointed out, is merely following the migration of the whites. For years past the white workers of the rural South have been going from the country to the mill village and thence onward to the city, and this movement has been accelerated lately by modern methods of cultivation which give the large owner an advantage over the small farmer. The negro, whether tenant farmer or hand, is moving from the country as the diversification of crops and the introduction of large-scale methods of cultivation make it harder for him to keep his foothold. But as he goes into the southern cities he finds a competition there which formerly he did not meet. Certain kinds of work were traditionally his; white men lost caste by taking them. But city industries are largely machine industries, and the growing productivity of the machine has decreased relatively the demand for men. In the growing struggle for employment, old traditions are thrown into the discard, and the negro finds himself meeting white competition for jobs long regarded as his by prescriptive right.
White men are driving trucks and express wagons in the South, repairing streets, doing the scavenger work, delivering ice on their backs where formerly negroes delivered and white men collected for deliveries, serving as waiters and bellmen in hotels, and doing other tasks which were once regarded only fit for negroes.
Naturally, this process makes it more difficult for a negro to find employment, but his difficulty is not due to any plot against negro welfare, intentionally fostered by prejudiced whites; it is simply a natural result of changing economic conditions. Moreover, it is coincident with the penetration of negroes into lines in which they were not formerly employed, according to Mr. T. Arnold Hill, industrial director of the league, who lists a few of the occupations in which they are making gains:
Negro salesmen and saleswomen are becoming more numerous. White firms are using them to sell goods among their race. Chain stores and some few department stores in Chicago are giving employment to saleswomen. More automobile mechanics and drivers of trucks and cars are being used today than ever, and an increasing number of men and women are entering the field of industrial chemistry.
Speaking along the same general lines, Charles S. Johnson gave the results of a study he had made to find out what the negroes in the cities are actually doing. Taking 200 families, representing about 1,000 persons, in Nashville, Tenn., a city in which the negro population forms about 30 per cent of the total, he had inquired into their occupations. There were 190 male heads of families and chief breadwinners; less than 8 per cent were involuntarily unemployed; and there were 53 persons, or 27.3 per cent of the total, in occupations that might be described as new for negroes.
There were 11 truck drivers, 4 contracting carpenters, 4 grain weighers and workers, 3 concrete finishers for road work, 2 garage workers, 2 bootleggers, and a string of such other occupations as mortar mixer, concrete mixer, automobile mechanic, gas-pipe layer, car washers, floor waxer, telephone lineman, ice and coal dealers, acid testers, hosiery mill packer, blue-print operators, junkman, linotype setter, insurance agent, machinist’s helper, boiler maker’s helper, chiropodist, embalmer and sales manager.
Prof. Broadus Mitchell, of Johns Hopkins University, stressed the fact that social principles are not immutable, and that they are constantly being altered by economic forces. It is often claimed that the negro is unfit for industrial employment, that he is shiftless, unskillful, and unreliable, and that while he is a good agricultural worker he cannot fit into the tempo of modern industry. All these things were also said of the poor whites when they were first brought into industry.
Few darker pictures have ever been painted of any population than were used to describe the poor whites of the southern tenant farm and mountain holding. The poor whites were declared to be hardly above the status of the settled Indian—ignorant, dirty, immoral, vicious, and above all, lazy.
Just as the poor white, however, proved excellent industrial material when once adapted to such employment, so will the negro. The machine age is changing the social life of the South, the supply of poor whites available for the new industrial system is getting low, and the negro is the natural resource for the employer who must have more labor. “The machine is destined to be the greatest modifying influence upon the life of the negro in the South.” There is a real danger, however, that the industrial use of the negro may go through the same stages as the industrial use of the poor whites—exploitation, long hours, poor wages, and a general submergence of the South’s industrial labor.
The greatest hope for the solution of this problem lies, however, in the growing diversification of southern industry. The cotton manufacture has been held the white man’s employment because there was almost no other industry. Every new industrial opportunity that opens means that greater latitude will be allowed to the negro. The negro’s entrance into industry will be through the door of the rougher operations first and he will probably fall heir to industries presenting bad conditions previously deserted by white workers. The whites in the South have been through an industrial tutelage which has been long and still is arduous, but with all its drawbacks it has meant salvation, and I think we may predict the same for large numbers in our negro population.
The Negro in Business12
A different aspect of the question of negro progress is presented by a study made in 1928 by the National Negro Business League, with the general purpose of finding out what the negro is doing in business, how he is doing it, and along what lines increased effort can be most fruitfully applied. The study was made in 33 cities, mostly in the West and South, with an aggregate population of 5,066,936, of whom 920,283 were colored. It included a total of 2,817 enterprises of colored business men, 60 being financial institutions, such as banks, insurance companies, building and loan associations, and the like, while 2,757 included representatives of most forms of business activity, ranging from grocery stores to undertaking establishments, and from barber shops to building and excavating contractors. Grocery stores formed the largest group, numbering 526, barber shops came next with 380, restaurants and tailoring establishments, with 309 and 312, respectively, were nearly on a par, drug stores numbered 187, auto repair and service stations 169, undertaking establishments 154, and from these the numbers decreased to 10 real estate concerns and 5 fruit and vegetable shops. Most of these are small-scale businesses, the average number of employees per enterprise running from a trifle over 2 in the flower shops and miscellaneous stores to 20.5 for the building and excavating firms. The financial enterprises differed sharply from the others in this respect, having a total personnel of 5,000 or an average of 84.8 employees per business; this is largely due to the inclusion of the field force, who number 3,916, and form 77 per cent of the total.
Excluding the financial enterprises, the great majority of the businesses were individually owned, 2,191, or 79.4 per cent, coming under this classification; 334, or 12.1 per cent, were partnerships, and 109, or 3.9 per cent, were corporations, while as to the remainder the facts were not reported. A study of methods of bookkeeping showed that of 2,466 reporting on this item, 1,639, or 66.5 per cent, used single entry; 371, or 15 per cent, used double entry; 35 used manifolding systems; and 421, or 17 per cent, kept no records. The majority purchased their supplies from local wholesalers, but a considerable group bought from the open market—i.e., from dealers outside of the immediate community in which the buyer is located—frequently on bids. Of the total group of 2,757, 1,703, or 62 per cent, advertised their business, while 830, or 30 per cent, reported that they did not advertise, and the remainder made no report on the subject. Negro newspapers were naturally the favorite advertising medium, being used by 1,080, or 63 per cent, of those who advertised at all, but white newspapers, negro and white magazines, and direct mail methods were also used. A study of business longevity showed that 883, or nearly one-third of the group, had been in existence for 10 years or longer. A report upon the volume of business done showed that a trifle over one-sixth (466) had an annual volume of from $15,000 upward as, follows:
The report stresses the fact that while, in the main, the businesses studied were small enterprises, with the drawbacks and deficiencies natural to their size, the group not only contained some large and important undertakings but also showed a creditable number making use of modern methods of buying, advertising, and conducting their affairs. But for the small retail stores, which form so large a proportion of the group studied, present conditions call for some changes if modern competition is to be successfully met, and two are cited as of special importance:
First, the grouping of retailers into chains or buying associations in order to effect economics in managerial costs and to obtain the advantages of larger-scale buying.
Another point brought out by the survey is that the field of negro advertising is not being adequately worked.
It is believed and hoped that the findings of this survey will open up to national advertisers the possibilities of developing the negro field. The 12,000,000 negroes in America represent a compact, race-conscious group which is, year after year, becoming better educated and more and more economically independent. These factors of progress comprise the elements of interest for advertisers who will be seeking to develop new outlets for their business.
It will be noticed that in both industry and business the negroes are not despondent as to their position. In industry, the advance of the machine and the change from country to city conditions are causing a transition period in which they are here losing, there gaining ground, but in which, on the whole, their leaders believe they are making progress. In business they are taking stock of the situation, with a view to finding where and why they are most successful, and how they can best strengthen their position. Five years hence they propose to repeat this survey, using the data of the present study for comparative purposes. Meanwhile, they recognize that in both fields they are hampered by the traditional view of what they are capable of doing, by their own lack of experience in the new fields they are entering, in some places by a certain amount of racial prejudice, and everywhere by an increasingly keen competition from white workers as machine productivity tends to reduce the need for man power. So, in both business and industry, they are striving to organize their own forces to improve the present situation, to open up new opportunities for training and experience, and to use their own economic power as a means for helping themselves to better conditions.
Monthly Labor Review, 29 (July, 1929): 66–69.
By A. Philip Randolph13
We are in the grip of an intensive and extensive economic crisis. It is severe. It is stubborn. It is baffling. It involves the business man, the worker, the doctor, the lawyer, the teacher, the preacher and the farmer, the buyer, the seller, the tenant, the landlord—all.
It is not local. It is not national. It is not racial. It is not creedal. It is world-wide in scope. Different from and worse than a scourge or pestilence such as the Black Death of the Middle Ages in Europe or an earthquake anywhere, it is a blight on all lands and afflicts all peoples.14
In its devastating path, stalk the menacing and unsightly figures of hunger and want, crime and corruption, crashes and conflicts of labor and capital, increased bankruptcies, mergers, mob violence, lynching, racketeers, bribery, blackmail, political and intellectual hijacking, moral malaise, misery and suffering of men and women, aged and children.
Unemployment, the most serious aspect of this crisis is guessed at, in the absence of an index gauge in the United States of America, to range from 3 to 8 millions. In England where more accurate figures obtain, the jobless are estimated at some 2,500,000; in Germany about, 3,000,000; in Italy 800,000; in Japan 500,000; and now even France of a small estate, peasant class population, hitherto relatively free from unemployment is swinging into the vicious cycle.
Estimated bank failings, another aspect of the crisis, for 1930 up to December are 981 with deposits of $312,000,000; fifty-one closing their doors in the South in one day, according to the Literary Digest of December 27th, 1930. The record year for bank suspensions was 1926 with 956 involving $270,000,000 in deposits. Nineteen thirty, when the smoke clears, is expected to record 1000 failures with well-nigh three-quarters of a billion deposits. The collapse of the Bank of United States in December with some $200,000,000 deposits and 400,000 depositors with 59 branches, together with the Chelsea Exchange Bank with 7 branches in New York, involving $23,000,000 in deposits, will quite considerably swell the sum. In this financial debacle, Negro banks and their general business have been hit hard. Probably the strongest bank ever organized among Negroes, the Binga State Bank of Chicago and the First Standard Savings, the American Mutual Savings of Louisville and the Peoples Savings Banks in Nashville, closed their doors.15
In the last decade, according to the Comptroller of Currency, 5640 banks failed with deposits of $1,721,000,000. And the mortality among wholesale and retail merchants, foreclosures on homes and farms, is frightful and staggering. Commercial failures exclusive of banks numbered 26,335 with total liabilities of $668,283,842. There is no way of estimating its tremendous extent, and the social and economic losses entailed.
Suppose we say that an average of 5 millions of workers have been unemployed during the year 1930 which is probably more nearly right than wrong and that the average wage-salary loss is $3.00 per worker per day, the total wage-salary income loss is five billion four hundred million dollars.
Now, it is estimated that the Negro working class population, as of the U.S. Census of 1920, represents 11.6 per cent of the general working class population of the country. Thus, considering the fact that the Negro is regarded as the marginal worker, “first fired and last hired,” there are surely not less than 500,000 unemployed. Says the National Urban League, in a recent survey of unemployment in 25 industrial centers among Negroes, by T. Arnold Hill and Ira De A. Reid: “Unemployment statistics of twenty-five cities for the period January 1st to September 30th, 1930, show a decrease of 34.5 per cent in number of available jobs for Negroes and an increase of 39.9 per cent in number of applicants over same period for 1929. But the average wage-salary income per Negro worker is not as high as the general average for the country. Let us say that it is roughly $2.00 per day per worker, this would represent a minimum wage-salary income loss for the race for 1930 of some 360 million dollars or about a million dollars a day.
This economic loss reflects itself in increased physical deterioration, sickness, moral degeneration, family difficulties, reduced patronage of doctors and non-payment of bills, less and poorer food and clothing, lapses of insurance policies, longer bread lines and the giving of the “dole.”
According to the survey of the National Urban League: “In almost every city Negroes constitute a larger part of the beneficiaries of charitable agencies than they do of the population. This is because they receive a smaller share of the work.”
Such are the plight and ills of the Negro.
What of the remedy? This may be more obvious after we seek the causes that appear to be many and varied. It is quite possible, too, that there is no absolute cure for unemployment under the present competitive economic system. But some fundamental remedies are applicable when the behavior of phenomena making for unemployment is adequately known.
As to the nature of the types of unemployment, there are residual, seasonal, cyclical, and technological.
Residual unemployment, like the poor, is always with us. The Committee on Elimination of Waste in Industry of the Federated Engineering Societies in its report, “Waste in Industry,” published in 1921, states: In the best years, even the phenomenal years of 1917 and 1918 at the climax of wartime industrial activities, when plants were working to capacity and when unemployment reached its lowest point in twenty years, there was a margin of unemployment amounting to more than a million men. This margin is fairly permanent; seemingly one or more wage earners out of every forty are always out of work.” And it is difficult to visualize the non-existence of some lag of unemployment, though short, less vexarious and burdensome, to be sure, even under a socialized and more highly coordinated economy.
Seasonal unemployment has long since beset the heels of the worker. It is probably putting it conservatively to say that practically every industry is in a measure seasonal. Hoover engineers showed that workers in the building trades were employed on the average but 63 per cent of the year. Investigation discloses that factories in the men’s clothing industry are running on the average of about 69 per cent of the possible working time, according to Dr. Harry W. Laidler, Director of the League for Industrial Democracy. Here again, seasonal unemployment seems to be indigenous and chronic to our Manchester laissez faire economy.
But probably the type of unemployment which occasions greatest fear and hardship among the workers is cyclical in its character. In the last 120 years in America about fifteen periods of industrial depression and prosperity, appearing with a sort of rhythmic regularity, have given us pause.
But cyclical unemployment is not the most baffling aspect of the depression, for its average duration, says the Cambridge Associates of Boston, is slightly over 18 months. Whereas, there is no apparent end to technological unemployment, that is, unemployment created by the machine, labor-saving devices, efficiency methods and industrial and commercial consolidations.
Note this picture. The automatic elevator in apartments and office buildings has eliminated men. “Seven men now do the work which formerly required 60 to perform in casting pig iron; 2 men do the work which formerly required 128 to perform in loading pig iron! One man replaces 42 in operating open-hearth furnaces. A brick-making machine in Chicago makes 40,000 bricks in one hour. It formerly took one 8 hours to make 450. In New York from 1914 to 1925 the number of workers in the paper box industry decreased 32 per cent while the output per wage earner increased 121 per cent.”
It is estimated that some 15,000 or 25,000 extras in the motion industry are unfavorably affected by the “talkies” and that “canned” music in the movie theatres has destroyed the skill and rendered jobless thousands of musicians. According to the Federal Reserve Board, the output per man in manufacturing is 45 per cent greater in 1929 than in 1919, although there was a decrease in workers in manufacturing of 10 per cent, even before the depression of 1929. In mining, the output per person increased from 40 to 45 per cent, but the numbers employed dropped approximately 7 per cent. In the last decade, the efficiency of the railroad workers measured in ton-miles greatly increased, and rail employees lost jobs to the extent of 300,000 more or less. As a result of tractors, corn huskers, binders in the wheat fields and other machinery the output per farm worker increased 25 per cent, and, according to the Department of Agriculture, about 3,800,000 left the farms for the cities, white and colored. In mining, railroading, manufacturing and farming, workers decreased in the last 10 years by about 2,800,000, observes Prof. S. H. Schlicter of Cornell.
Former Secretary of Labor James J. Davis points out “that a puddler and one helper, in the old days could turn out from 2,500 to 3,000 pounds of puddled iron a day. With a machine and the new process, an engineer has produced 2,400 tons in ten hours. The corn husker does the work of 5 men. Binders in the wheat fields in Kansas with 10,000 men will do what 30,000 men formerly did. One hundred men in the Bureau of Labor Statistics with the adding machine can do the work of 500 brain workers. There is a machine in the Census Bureau that with 1,000 employees does the work of 10,000.” Where-ever you turn,” he continued, “drills, machinery, conveyors, processes and chemicals are doing the work—Track-layers and the railroad section hands find rails laid by mechanical devices, riveted by acetylene welders, and the dirt tramped around the ties with mechanical trampers. Longshoremen find ships loaded by mechanical devices and the freight laid upon conveyors that carry it from the ship’s hold into the storage warehouse on the dock. The hod carrier finds the brick and mortar dumped into boxes automatically pulled by a chain into an elevator and scooted up to the top of the building without his assistance. The concrete mixer finds the mix poured into a great cylinder which is a part of an automobile truck and is mixed by the same power that propels the car from the material yard to the place where the concrete is to be used.”
This is but a glimpse into the amazing technological revolution going on around us. It touches the Negro worker, skilled and unskilled, as farm laborers, longshoremen, hod carrier, rail employee, etc. And whether Negro workers are employed in an industry directly affected by technological changes or not, they are hit indirectly, since when the skill of a group of white workers is liquidated by an invention, they fall into the category of unskilled workers or competitors of Negro workers, unless, they (the white workers) are vocationally restrained, which is not yet the rule. Already in the South, the influence of the mechanization of the farms and the march of mass production are creating a surplus of white workers who are becoming absorbed easily into menial forms of work formerly considered “Negro jobs,” such as teamsters, ice delivery men, scavengers, street cleaners, ashcart drivers, road making, etc.
Domestic work, too, is rapidly becoming mechanized, thereby requiring less and less personal servants. Besides, there is going on a process of hotelization and apartmentalization which tend to make for the centralization of personal service work where it is being subjected to the process of mass production, which, in turn, will result in more work done with less workers. While this may not be an immediate exigency, it is a rather certain future contingency, according to our present industrial trends.
The machine is a challenge to the nation, not only to black and white workers, and this challenge cannot be met by charity, unemployment surveys and temporary jobs, however, important they may be for the nonce. No amount of charity is a remedy. Its a palliative. To feed the hungry and shelter the homeless is necessary but this should not obscure the fundamental program.
The fact is the workers have worked themselves out of work and will repeat the process in the next five or six years. They have produced more goods and services than they can buy back with the wages they receive. The depression is not so much the result of over production as of under consumption. The people have a physical desire for goods they have no economic power to command.
Obviously if the wage earners, the large majority of the population, cannot buy back what they produce which results in piling up large inventories, one remedy will consist in increasing the purchasing power by raising the wage scale. A word about this problem. In the decade from 1919 to 1929, the numbers of workers engaged in manufacturing decreased 449,775. Wages paid in 1929 showed an increase of $809,229,749 over 1919. Whereas the increase in the total value added by manufacture was $6,286,762,484. Put in another way, the employer was able to add $7.70 to the value of his goods for every dollar he gave to his employees in increased wages. The increase in the cost of raw materials in 1929 amounted to only $124,928,718 above the figures for 1919. Thus the value added by manufacture increased $5,352,604,017 more than the increase in raw materials and wages combined.
In 1914, the average wage in American manufacturing establishments was $589, the value added by manufacture per worker was $1,407. Five years later, in 1919, owing largely to the World War, wages had gone up to $1,162, but the value added by manufacture had increased to $2,756. In other words, the workers had received $573 more for creating $1,349 of additional value. Eight years later, 1927, the average wage was $1,299 and value added by manufacture had gone up to $3,303. The worker was receiving $137 more wages than in 1919 but his production had increased $547 in value. Finally in 1929, the average wage was $1,318, and the value added by manufacture was $3,636. Here we find the workers’ wages had increased $19 in two years and the value of his output had gone up $333. Herein lies the basic cause of recurring depressions. The problem can only be solved by the most scientific industrial statesmanship and social visions.
High wages (real wages) are most significant as a remedy because wage earners are the most important and largest group of consumers in the country. Roughly, with their families, they represent 70 per cent of the population and receive an income of something more than 32 billion dollars a year or 36 per cent of the national income; with the earnings of the salaried workers, who represent about 13 per cent of the population, the two groups, while constituting 83 per cent or more of the population, receive only 57 per cent of the nation’s income. And they purchase a great deal more than 57 per cent of the nation’s consumer goods. On the other hand, the bond and share-holders and property owners, though representing 17 per cent or less of the population, receive about 43 per cent of the nation’s income, and most of this income is reinvested in producers’ capital, which is, in turn, a source of the production of more commodities the workers cannot buy, thereby, creating huge inventories and commodity congestion or industrial paralysis.
Shorter Work Day and Week
But high wages alone will not solve the problem of depressions. This fact is clearly recognized by the American Federation of Labor which is fighting for a 5-day week and by the Big Four Railroad Brotherhood Unions that have inaugurated a crusade for the 6-hour day. The 6-hour day may absorb nearly a quarter of a million idle rail workers. The progress of productive machinery, too, may eventually render the 4-hour day and the 4-day week practicable. How else will the surplus workers be employed?17
Obviously neither high wages nor the shorter work day or week will come without the struggle of those who will benefit from them. All history attests that every social, economic, political and religious reform has only been won through the utmost struggle, sacrifice and suffering. “Verily, there is no remission of sin except through blood.”
Thus, labor organization is the primary and most effective factor in the solution of the problem of seasonal, cyclical and technological unemployment; for it is only through the exercise of power, attainable through the organization of wage earners is it possible increasingly to exact higher wages and shorter hours of work. Labor alone will make the necessary struggle, sacrifice and undergo the suffering to stop its own exploitation. But the workers must be organized. Out of 41 million—only 5 million are organized and benefit from fairly high wages and shorter work hours.
But labor may be helped. Old Age Pensions are essential to those who have paid their price to society in industry in blood, sweat, tears and toil and are no longer able to keep the pace. And while the aged should be pensioned, the deadline against the men of 45 in industry should be removed.
Employment could also be provided by raising the compulsory school age and the adoption of a Federal Child Labor Law which would affect over a million child laborers who are competitors of their fathers in the labor market.
Unemployment insurance, too, like sick, accident, death and fire insurance, should be formulated and enacted as a national measure by Congress. Private charities are far too inadequate. If unemployment, like sickness and death are unavoidable, insurance against it is indispensable.
Of course, free national employment exchanges and government works, planned over a long period, will help, but usually the political red tape incidental to developing public works, prevents the works from beginning until after the depression ends.
Twenty-five Year Plan
Beside the above-mentioned measures is the broad field of self-help by the people. In this field may be listed consumers and producers, cooperatives and workers’ credit unions, to mobolize small units of capital into large volumes, for economic strength and protection. Among Negroes as among farmers and economically weak groups, the Appian Way of private capitalism is difficult if not impossible to trod, especially, in view of the increasing concentration and centralization of financial and industrial power into fewer and fewer hands.
Through a process of interlocking directorships, about 1,000 corporations dominate American business, and at the top of these stand J. P. Morgan and Co., the Bankers Trust and Guarantee Companies, the First National, the National City and Chase National Banks, who have under their control over $74,000,000, 000, of corporate assets, equal to more than one-quarter of all the corporate assets of the United States. They practically dominate the business life of the United States, Central and South Americas and exercise a tremendous control in all Europe, Asia and Africa. This amazing empire of capital is more powerful than any political empire or monarchy the world has even seen.
In this regime, the individual, black or white, is helpless. Negroes can only survive modern science and industrialism through consumers’ and producers’ cooperatives and labor organizations and through the support of labor and social legislation and political action in sympathy with the collective ownership, control and operation of the social productive and distributive instrumentalities in our industrial society. This, however, requires scientific intelligence and a new type of character which can only come through systematic and methodical planning to eventuate through a period of a quarter of a century, much of a piece in principle, with the Russian 5-Year Plan. Much time is needed for the tragedy of it all is that there are but few, either among the leadership or fellowship, who are aware of what is happening to our modern, industrial life.
Major factors in the plan should be workers’ and adult education, and a leadership of courage, education and integrity and a will to sacrifice for the economic well-being of the masses.
To the development of such a plan the “best minds” of the race should be called to form a sort of Supreme Economic Council through which such a plan might be formulated and executed. No existing Negro organization can do it. It should embrace the “best brains” in all of the Negro movements, somewhat of the nature of Kelly Miller’s Sanhedrin, but smaller. Probably more nearly like the League of Nations which assembles the worlds greatest experts to grapple with world problems such as the Young Plan. No single Negro organization is now strong enough to withstand the economic stress and strain of the coming years. United, scientific, courageous, honest and sacrificial endeavor alone can save the race. Have the leaders of church, school, press, politics, social service and race movements, the will and the spirit and world vision to meet this challenge? Either we accept the challenge, unite and rise or remain as we are and go down and perish. For, forsooth the old order passeth.18
Opportunity, 9 (May, 1931): 145-49.
The Negro in the Industrial Depression
The industrial relations department of the National Urban League has recently issued a report embodying the results of inquiries made early in 1931 of “governors, directors of community chests, chambers of commerce, Urban League secretaries, relief agencies, employment experts, officials of insurance companies, and other persons whose contact with labor and financial conditions gives them an opportunity to answer the question propounded: ‘What is the effect of unemployment among Negroes in various parts of the country?’”
The replies received were informal and do not lend themselves readily to tabulation, but several effects are distinctly shown. There is a greater proportionate amount of unemployment among Negroes than among whites; there is a tendency in some localities to substitute white for colored workers, and, occasionally, to give preference to white over colored workers in public work; there is no discrimination against the Negroes in the matter of relief; there are indications of a change in the occupational distribution of the two races, the whites taking over forms of work hitherto held as properly belonging to the colored; and there is a growing restlessness among the Negroes, who are moving from place to place in search of jobs.
Wherever figures were given, the percentage of the unemployed among Negroes exceeded their percentage of the total population, and in some cases the disproportion was very marked. Thus, in Baltimore they formed 17 per cent of the population and 31.5 per cent of the unemployed; in Charleston, S.C., 49 per cent of the population and 70 per cent of the unemployed; in Chicago, 4 per cent of the population and 16 per cent of the unemployed; in Memphis, the corresponding percentages were 38 and 75; in Philadelphia, 7 and 25; and in Pittsburgh, 8 and 38. The caution is given that these percentages are not strictly comparable, since different factors enter into the returns from different places.
It is of particular significance that the highest figures are found in northern industrial centers, where the Negro is limited to unskilled occupations and is in truth the marginal worker. This is not to be taken, however, to mean that the disporportion does not appear also in southern communities, where the percentage of cases handled by relief agencies is also in excess of the per cent Negroes form of the total population.
A part of this unemployment is direct, being due to the closing down of industrial plants, as in Youngstown, whence comes the report that “that branch of work in the large mills which engages the greatest number of Negro laborers is practically dead, resulting in critical conditions among the Negro workers.” Another part is indirect, and is due to the fact that hard times cause a falling off in the demand for services of the kind often rendered by colored workers. Thus from Danville, Va., it is reported that the general unemployment situation has been made worse by the effects of the textile strike. “Strike conditions have been felt among all classes to the extent that ordinary jobs of cleaning, washing, and general housework have been done within the families which formerly engaged Negro workers.”
White Versus Colored Workers
Instances of substituting white for colored workers are reported from a number of cities, both north and south. From one city comes the statement that janitor jobs, totaling 600 in number, formerly held by Negroes, have been vacated. “One concern laid off 12 colored porters to be replaced by white men.” In another city “many instances of the replacement of Negro workers by whites have been reported, and hundreds of Negro domestic workers have been discharged and replaced by whites,” while the statement that “several organizations have released Negroes and replaced them with white workers,” comes in varying form again and again. Occasionally, some other nonwhite race is substituted for the colored workers. “One hotel replaced its force of 20 Negro maids, elevator boys, and cooks with Filipinos, and thereby cut its wage bill practically in half.”
This substitution of workers of other races in jobs customarily held by Negroes has been chiefly in personal service occupations, the principal occupations being household employment, elevator operating, and hotel service. In a number of establishments, as in the case of hotels, white girls are employed in places formerly held by colored men.
Inevitably, in view of the large amount of unemployment among them, Negroes constitute a heavy part of the burden borne by relief agencies. Presumably they help one another informally to a considerable extent, but apart from that, their churches and other social organizations have taken up energetically the work of helping the unemployed. From city after city word comes in of the work they are doing, mostly in the form of direct relief. “In each of six different sections on the South Side one or more churches are maintaining free feeding stations. Funds are being raised among Negro merchants and their employees for relief work.” “Several large Negro churches are serving free meals, some of them averaging more than 100 meals a day. One church has served meals to over 2,000 Negroes and approximately 1,000 white persons. A women’s club has provided a dormitory for homeless women, averaging 17 lodgers a night.”
Frequent references in advices from all over the Nation indicate that free kitchens, money relief, and clothing are being provided by religious institutions to supplement the work of social agencies. For the first time the Negro church has entered the field of practical social service on such a large scale.
Naturally, the search for work is leading to considerable shifts among the colored population, and a growing restlessness is noticed. In both Brooklyn and New York City there has been an influx of outsiders to make a bad situation worse; “and throughout the country there is more than expected population mobility, even for unemployment periods.”
Signs of Improvement
From several quarters come reports of improved conditions since an inquiry of this kind was concluded in November, 1930. In Philadelphia there is “a slowly increasing demand for labor,” one which, however, is far from sufficient to employ the job seekers. Unfortunately, “employment conditions among Negroes have not increased proportionately with those of the white group,” and conditions are bad. In some of the Southern States seasonal activities have helped the situation, and in some other regions a general improvement has been visible.
The bright side of the picture is presented by improvements in several sections of the country—the packing plants in Omaha; roads and river construction near Memphis; the flour mills and lumbering industries of Seattle; a bumper cane crop and citrus yield in Florida; fertilizing plants in Augusta; the existence of public-work projects in Pittsburgh; general favorable conditions in Denver; a lowering of unemployment in Dayton—these are the principal sources of better times for Negro workers.
As a result of the survey, the following conclusions are presented:
That the situation has not materially improved since the issuance of our last report in November.
That measures for relief are confined almost entirely to charity.
That Negroes get more relief but fewer jobs than others from agencies established to aid the unemployed.
That Negroes continue, and unless provision is made to the contrary, will continue to contribute more than their proportionate share of the burden of relief agencies.
That the economic structure of the entire Negro race is in an alarming state of disrepair, with dire effect upon business and professional interests dependent upon the patronage of Negro wage earners.
That restlessness is evident from one end of the country to the other; for unquestionably Negroes have lost jobs to which they will not return even when normal times come again; and
That the new jobs offered Negroes in public works have not been in proportion to their need.
Monthly Labor Review, 32 (June, 1931): 60–62.
I am a white marine worker. Greetings to the international class struggle Negro workers!
Gee!, things are rotten here in the South—soup lines, bread lines, houses, the city jails are full. The cossacks chase the unemployed workers out to the prairies to starve. The g. d. cowards won’t fight back, many are doing “dutch”. Taking poison. For me I am waiting for the barricades, they can’t come too quick for me. I am going up in my fifties but I’ll fight the 100 percent. Comrades send us some German papers. Negro workers of Africa write to your brother workers—white and black in the South. I am sending you this letter some letters from other workers here at Galveston.
A. W.—Galveston, Texas, USA
Am unemployed for 8 months. Was a soldier in the world war where I fought for Wilson’s equality and democracy for Negroes. Because of the wounds received in battle, I cannot get a job. They want younger fellows who they work like the devil for nothing at all.
The City here opened up a Community Kitchen dump. Everyday, hundreds of unemployed, starving Negroes and whites, go there with their two cents get a can of slop. But the Negroes, because of the discrimination there, are not going any longer. They would rather starve than be insulted as they are down there.
When a Negro does get past the insulting red tape and question cards he got to fill out, then he finds that he must have two cents and a tin can in order to get a cupful of stinking mixed vegetables and a hunk of stale bread, while whites get their choice of soup or milk and even some of them have coal delivered to their homes.
The Negroes are not putting up with these miserable conditions and are organizing into the League of Struggle for Negro Rights, to fight discrimination of all kinds, off the job and on the job.
Unemployed Negro Ex-Soldier
The Negro Worker, 1 (January, 1931): 29.
By Charles S. Johnson
It is not enough to dismiss the question of Negro labor in the present crisis with the cold observation that their situation is just a part of labor’s share in the depression. For, even when our economic system is functioning perfectly, according to its principle, the interest of Negro labor, as Negro labor, turns out to be in practice inherently at variance with the objectives of labor generally. The eternal conflict of race and class finds full expression in the characteristic patterns of industrial relations, whenever and wherever the Negro worker is involved. Philosophies come and go without disturbing seriously this fundamental traditional set.
Despite the obvious waste and illogic to a man from Mars, the disposition continues to be an insistence that Negro labor shall be nothing else but Negro labor, with an implication which is more racial than economic. It is not surprising, thus, that the perpetual storming against organized labor for excluding Negroes accomplishes so little. Whether it is as it should be or not, Labor is at present much less impressed with the internal compulsions of labor policy than with those of race, and has succeeded admirably in making this manifest. Indeed, one might go so far as to say that labor, as such, has little standing among American workers, and one weakness revealed in advocacy of their own aims has at its roots the compromising ambition eventually to desert their role as well as their philosophy. Notwithstanding the desire of all those who wish Negro labor well, who hope for some common recognition of identity of aims, and a consorting friendliness of purpose among American workers, when issues become taut, as they are now, the cleavage widens by the very weight of separate group interests. The future of the Negro as a worker, barring the cataclysmal possibility of a revolution, either economic or social, is bound up with the special fate of the Negro as a race.
The process of industrialization in this country, not to complicate the discussion with other predisposing factors to our present situation, has been so rapid and so complete, as to outstrip its cultural growth. When Margot Asquith visited the United States several years ago she made the engaging observation that our progress was ahead of our civilization. There has, indeed, been progress; a tumultuous, heedless progress which has all too often taken little account of the human elements involved. Science has applied itself to the prevention and reclamation of material waste, but there has been no comparable technological consideration of the worker stranded by the cold “robotic” efficiency of the machine which science has created. And after all, of what value are more and more goods, greater precision, and economy of production, if the passion to achieve these consumes the very end and aim of the effort.19
Actually no group in America reflects so completely the whole course of our industrialization and its growing pains, as do the Negro workers. They are the oldest surviving labor group; they are linked historically with the founding and the successive stages of development of the new world. It was upon their early labors that tobacco, rice, indigo, sugar and cotton, each in its turn, gave to the new world a means of prosperous survival. The essence of the early agricultural economy demanded their presence and got them in irretrievable numbers. They were the foundation of our present machine culture and actually performed most of the early industrial tasks. Their labor has finally created a situation which renders them virtually unessential and unnecessary. They are not the only unnecessary ones, it is true. But they are, in the same sense that they are regarded as Negro labor, as unnecessary as slave labor is unnecessary in this age. Their chief heritage of status from the past is that undifferentiated one of mass labor for certain tasks. And in this status, valuable as it once was, they can neither be completely absorbed nor completely expelled.
In the South until the Civil War they were the blind content of an institution which held a vast white working population relentlessly to the ground. This period witnessed the beginning of a bitter enmity, economic at base, but racially focused, which survives today in every detail of race relations in the South. For the institution of slavery required no white workers, and they were simply eliminated from the picture by their blood kin despite the potency, for argument’s sake, of the kinship of blood. They were driven off to the barren hills, forced into a degrading poverty beneath even the Negroes, reasoned out of the right to work as the Negroes were reasoned out of the right to enjoy the fruits of their own labor. It was this period that found Negro workers both “capable and acceptable for all grades of work, from the rough labor of the plantations to the artisanry of the towns.” They did it all, and, so long as their skilled services could be leased, or bought or exchanged for profit, they were bluntly defended in their monopoly. When with the abolition of slavery the white workers were released and began their march to power the bitterness gathered itself into gall. They began to dominate politics and pass laws. In South Carolina one of the first acts was to legislate the Negroes out of the textile industry, the “only characteristic industry of the South.”
Between 1880 and 1907 every southern state enacted laws intended to separate the races and limit the privilege of franchise. In effect this legislation, backed by a solid sentiment, threw up an economic breastwork of protection for white workers against the free competition of the blacks who had the sole advantage of actual possession of the trades as a heritage of three hundred years of slavery. By 1880 the census could mark for them an absolute decline in the skilled trades; there was conflict, employing fiery racial arguments in a fundamentally economic situation. By 1900 these jobs had not only been successfully challenged, but the arguments had proceeded to the point of actually denying their capacity for skilled work.
In the North their inconsiderable numbers until recently made them a negligible factor in mass. Immigrants from South Europe were the grist of the expanding mills. And although there survive memories of clashes with the Irish in the middle eighties, over the rough work of the cities, and still later with the Italians in the vast railway extension projects, their essentialness to the North began virtually with the hectic artificial acceleration of a war emergency. Now that this is over and a hopeful residue of a million and a half of this restless army of black workers remains in the North, what of their future? For their future is that of all marginal workers, and is bound up with American industry and business, and with the very structure of American life.
It is entertaining at times to indulge in the reflection that the temperament of the Negro is the one mass quality in America which is resisting the corruptive influence of mechanization; that he has his own racial rhythm; that in a folk sense he creates so many new and quaint variations of any given pattern as to render him helpless in the midst of those higher, unvaried rhythms of mass production. This would be comforting if it were possible for him to be as distinctive as his racial temperament, in commanding a sufficiency of material goods for existence in a highly competitive society. But this is the status of wards, or of decorative appurtenances of some yet unachieved society with enough general wealth and well being to preserve such idyllic relics of a pastoral past. And although some Negroes would undoubtedly enjoy it, if one is to judge by their habits of work, it is impossible now. The Negro worker must yet live and draw his sustenance in a competitive struggle with workers who have adjusted themselves to the exacting tempo of the machine.
Cheap Negro labor is more and more being supplanted by machinery or cheaper Mexican labor, and the traditional “Negro jobs” are disappearing. Cotton culture is passing out of their hands and cotton fabrication has never included them, and apparently has no intention of doing so. Menial public service jobs such as street cleaning and garbage collection, to which no self-respecting white man would stoop, are rapidly becoming exclusively white men’s jobs under the euphonious badge of “white wings” and “sanitary squads.” Personal service positions such as hotel waiters, bellmen and porters, barbering, catering and bootblacking are comfortably distributing themselves among the French, Italians, Germans and Greeks.
The changing character of industry itself has resulted in erratic employment fluctuations in all classes of labor. An effect not to be ignored here is the excess of workers created who are not too proud to compete in the lower ranges of labor. The rapid introduction of machinery into industry has brought vast displacements in mining, road building, brick making, tobacco handling and rehandling, farming, and threatens among other fields, cotton picking from which hundreds of thousands at present, get a living. The entrance of women to industry since the war provides an even cheaper labor source for light manufacturing than Negro labor at its best underbidding rates, and excludes in large part Negro women except in laundries and certain tobacco industries where adequate machinery has not yet been devised to displace them. The increased urbanization of rural workers following the decline of agriculture in sections and, in turn, following the use of labor saving machinery on the farm, and the disappearance of free land, are crowding the cities with cheap and eager labor. The reduction of man power generally in factories, following technological improvements and efficient economies in the handling and routing of materials, until quite recently hailed as a triumph of the skill of the industrial engineer, are now unmistakably felt as inevitable displacement for the eternal marginal man. The heartlessness of the process is evident in such an instance as this: When the army of unemployed in our present slump began to reach disturbing proportions, many without prospects of other jobs found that they could eke out an existence of a sort by selling apples. Then some clever gentleman invented an automatic apple vending machine, which, with ironic throughness, has crashed their last defense against the bread line.
From a somewhat exaggerated position of importance as labor the vast bulk of Negroes find themselves precariously stranded. They have been carried through the conditioning of the cotton era, and are just emerging from it practically with mentality and musculature adjusted to its simple and almost elementary routine. Like the rest of America they have passed from an agricultural to an industrial economy, but with two significant differences: (1) the struggle for economic security, which is characteristically one of class, is complicated for them by the added factor of race and color with its highly charged emotional complexes; (2) the process has left them very largely without skill and few means of obtaining it.
Unskilled labor has been most seriously affected by machinery and by the industrial changes and the largest proportions of Negro workers (75 per cent or more) are unskilled. In the building trades the structure of buildings is changing from lumber to steel. There have been many Negro carpenters but few structural steel workers and few chances for apprenticeship in this new field. The number of carpenters per thousand of the population has, thus, actually declined since 1910. The painters, glaziers, varnishers, have suffered a similar decline since 1910, because much of this is now done in factories. Brick and stone masons and plasterers have declined about 50 per cent since 1890, because of the shifted emphasis in trade. Wheelwrights and coopers are gone, probably forever. This work is done in factories by machinery. Moreover, steel drums, pails, sacks and other containers have replaced the wooden barrel. Machinists have increased seven fold, but the machinists unions bar Negroes. Trucks are replacing drays and also competing with railway transportation. The trucking, increasingly, is becoming a chain proposition instead of an individual venturing.
Dr. Julius Klein has pointed out that there has been a world wide shift from coal to oil and hydro-electric power. The coal industry reflects this in its decline, and in the disintegration of the industry in Kentucky and West Virginia. The particular figures for Illinois mines give a picture which well characterizes the situation. Between 1918 and 1928 there were fewer mines operated, fewer men employed, fewer days of employment for miners, and less coal was produced, but there was an increase in average tons per man per day. Negro workers have been 7.3 per cent of the workers in the coal industry but a very negligible per cent of the oil industry. There are fewer factory workers generally than in 1920 but increasingly more goods are being produced. Hand laundering is giving place to machinery requiring skill and permitting the entrance of white women workers, and one of the most recent but powerfully effective laundry advertisements suggests that milady should “avoid contagion in shanty washed clothes.” In the name of hygiene, a blow is struck at the Negro washerwoman who has been the backbone of stability for the Negro laborer’s family. Moreover, washing machines in the homes are doing their bit in further reducing the necessity for Negro washerwomen. Oil burning furnaces with thermostat control strike at the Negro janitor, as do manless elevators. Ditch digging machinery has quietly eliminated thousands of Negro road workers as the new hoisting machinery in building is eliminating the well known Negro job of hod-carrying.
Stuart Chase traces the process of the new industry as follows: first the specialization and the machinery which merely gives more power to the skilled worker; then the subdivision of the manufacturing process which makes use of many unskilled workers on dull routine; finally the elimination of the unskilled workers (the robots) by more complicated machinery calling back the skilled worker. The Negro workers do not seriously profit by the first and third and share the second state with new women workers. The vital fact is that the most important fields of Negro work have been affected by both the temporary and permanent depression. The changes have placed white and Negro workers more acutely in competition for the same jobs, since race is here given greater value than class, with the result that white workers, are most frequently given preference by employers.20
The field of skilled work, which absorbs, at least temporarily, a portion of the excess workers, is coming increasingly under the control of labor organizations which either restrict or do not encourage Negro memberships. The new industries which are expanding,—the radio, aeroplane, automobile service, the manufacture of complicated labor saving machinery, trucking, etc., restrict Negro employment to certain grades of work, and are making apprenticeship for the new trades practically impossible. The pressure for the few new jobs has, in known instances, stimulated efforts of anxious protective organizations to urge employment of white workers before placing Negroes. These have not excluded women’s clubs, and Junior Leagues, but have found most notorious expression in the Ku Klux Klan and the Black Shirts. Since 1910 more than 500, 000 Mexicans have entered the country, unrestricted by the quotas applied to Europeans and others. They are finding the lowest American scale, for fruit and cotton picking in Texas and California, superior to their agricultural wages at home. From the southwest they have moved into Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania, invading the tentative borders of the very recent Negro migrants. The truth is, they are no more capable of skill than the Negroes, granted a long enough exposure to that range of work. It is inevitable that the cycle will include the semi-skilled and skilled ranges of work as it has moved geographically from Texas and California to Illinois and Pennsylvania.
The unemployment roles present an almost unvarying picture of Negro workers. The first workers to be affected are the unskilled and the casuals. The newest comers are the first goers, a matter of priority; jobs easy to learn are easiest dispensed with. The few unemployment studies made where there is an important body of Negro labor reflect the weight of these factors. Mr. Embree cites the city of Baltimore, for example. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the Negroes were 32.6 per cent of the unemployed although only 14.7 of the population. The New York State Department of Labor at the end of 1930 found the Negroes ranking below the native white and foreign born in amount of full time employment. Of native white men, 64.2 were employed full time; of foreign born, 53.8, and of Negroes 42.5 while only 31.9 per cent of the Negro women as compared with 74.7 of the native white and 63.4 of the foreign born were employed full time. For both sexes just about twice as many Negroes as native born were totally unemployed.
The most certain relief in this period has been coming from municipalities themselves in the form of emergency public work. An examination of employment statistics in 25 cities by the National Urban League revealed that between January 1st and September 30, 1930 there had been a decline of 34.5 per cent in the number of available jobs for Negro workers and a 40 per cent increase in applications for work.
Now the easiest way to dismiss the troublesome future is to put the responsibility for change hopefully upon Providence or some sudden mystic social enlightment. If dominant industry, and labor which aspires to dominance, would only forget color, the lot of the Negro worker would be easier. This seldom happens by and of itself. But it can be and is often disregarded when it is profitable to do so. So long, however, as color carries the connotation of inefficiency and unnecessity to employers, and of an unwarranted and menacing usurpation of jobs, to labor, it will ever be the badge of the marginal worker. And such a worker need never hope for full participation in the dominant American economy. With the disposition of labor organizations to oppose sharing the available work on grounds of race, these black workers are on the mercies of employers, frail reeds in times of need all too often. Except where some favorable personal factor enters, or wages are to be reduced, or there is a strike, or a sudden emergency, their chances are uneven. It seems an unsound principle, to say the least, for Negro workers to have to pin their security in work upon the misfortune of their fellow-workers.
It should be evident, however, despite the fact that there is no single source of responsibility for their drastic exclusion from some industries and the limitation of the opportunity to work in others, that the community must pay for the policy which it countenances. It usually pays indirectly in the magnified costs of relief, of protection against crime, in the support of offenders against the law, in illness and the loss of earning as well as spending power. For whether wise or not this group most nearly approaches the earnings in circulation. Most significantly, however, though less impressively, the community pays in what the system of exclusion and humiliation does to the sense of fair play itself. The blanket policies against special jobs or special ranges of skill mean a loss to efficient man power of at least that proportion of the Negro working population that earlier showed an exceptional capacity for skilled performance.
At any step forward an interesting paradox interposes; the acquirement of status and security by Negro workers is the only means by which they can develop their moral powers and full value as citizens; but this very development renders more acute the conflict of racial policies and relations. It has been pointed out that Negro labor in its old concept is not essential to present industry, that this labor has, nevertheless, along with all America, been carried on the wave of general advance, and that in its present status it cannot be expelled and is not desired for incorporation. This is merely a reflection of that curious paradox of present American life which makes it impossible for Negroes either to develop their own culture or to share fully the dominant one. In this relationship they are somewhat unique; The American Indians, who until recently were wards of the government, kept their cultural autonomy but became economically dependent; the Orientals, so soon as they had reached a point of acute competition, were expelled; the Jews, who represent a minority group in America, have both the cohesive influence of a religion and an economy which sustains itself through a special financial skill. The South Europeans, once a minority, are affected adversely by economic factors, but may lose themselves in the second generation. The Negroes remain a recognizable bloc, ever wearing the visible livery of their station.
In the mood of the present implications of the Negroes’ place in industry, it would be entirely logical to look forward to the complete separation of industries according to race. It is perfectly clear that this would be as ecomomically unsound as it would be socially absurd. There survives out of the most recent changes in industry a tendency to employ Negroes in iron and steel, on heat jobs; for longshoring, which demands a combination of strength and agility. The first of these is based upon a favorable myth, which is as groundless as that larger group of myths by which they are excluded from other lines; longshoring is being affected by declining river transportation and the introduction of loading machinery. It might be possible to found upon preference in certain limited fields a cult of competence which would automatically eliminate competition, but this in a sense would be as unfair as the practices against which protests are made. Again, it might be rationally urged that Negroes should receive their pro-rata share of unskilled, skilled and even professional positions according to their population proportion. But there is no dictator to enforce such specious even handedness. Negro business as an absorbent of the higher ranges of Negro skill is a mirage and an impossible economy.
The situation demands, in the absence of any sure, powerful leadership, deliberate education and strategy to overcome the emotional opposition to full inclusion of Negro workers in the pattern of American life. What appeals to good-will and the generosity of their hard pressed and scarcely sympathetic fellow-workers cannot accomplish must be accomplished with the aid of economic laws. To enjoy anything approaching an independent status the Negro workers must achieve it by some effort of their own. This, then, is their new economic frontier. The task ahead is the creative one of remaking Negro labor to fit the exigencies of the new age, if they are to survive in it. This is the economic imperative of the new race!
It is scarcely worthwhile to dwell upon the present character of Negro labor. It is by no means an abused mass of indifferentiated competence. The extent to which only moderately competent and even incompetent Negro labor has been able to exist at all is one of the best auguries for this labor under a new discipline which makes superior competence in all ranges of skill the price they must pay for being Negroes. The fundamental lack, strange to say, has not been skill, but a developed sense of those more generalized patterns of precision and craftsmanship. The ease with which the Japanese could shift from an age old eastern culture to that of the West is due not so much to the precision of imitation as to a well-developed technique for manipulation which could be transferred to any given set of problems. Such is the value of a college for providing a student with a technique, which, though not related to any given occupation may be transferred to any field. Such is the value and should be the insistence of all the elementary schools where Negro youth are in attendance, and such is the special task of our technical schools, which should be increasingly concerned with the development of these mental and physical habit sets.
The pssibility is suggested of selecting and training those youth of exceptional ability to a point of unquestioned superiority in a wide range of fields, counting upon them to influence the others to higher standards of workmanship, directly through training, and indirectly through the stimulation of example within the group. The patterns of competence thus set will inevitably color attitudes toward all of them as workers and as citizens, both by enforcing an actual competence on their part and by dispelling fears of mass substitution of black for white labor on the part of their fellow-workers. It will offer the first full range of opportunity for those who wish to and are able to improve their status, insure a new confidence in labor performed by Negroes and give a new significance to the industrial programs designed to aid these workers.
Although it has scarcely been recognized, the new age of machinery has rendered archaic and ruinous the dual and mutually exclusive chambers of “white” and “black” labor; only the shell of the social customs remains. Black labor as a group asset died with the institution of slavery which created it. The institution of slavery did not completely expire with the Civil War. It owes as much of its death as has been accomplished quite recently to the relentless course of a more efficient, even if less idyllic system. It probably would have been as effective without a civil war. The logic of this new economy permits no specific sphere for black labor of all grades and degrees of competency, without an enormous waste both to industry and to national life. The present transgression of the boundaries of these spheres by white workers, in their clamorous demand for “black jobs,” even to the point of passing ordinances to insure street cleaners’ jobs and murdering Negro railroad firemen, is only an admission of the cold color blindness of this process.
The black workers face one of the most intense periods of their history, and in the struggle for survival they have the weight of many factors against them. But it is becoming increasingly clear that, at bottom, the contest is not between white and black labor; it is between the imperatives of our new economic system and the surviving social orthodixies of the old.
Opportunity, 10 (June, 1932): 168-73.
By T. Arnold Hill
Negro workers are being discharged by employers whose belief in white supremacy will not tolerate their paying Negroes a wage equal to that paid white. Fearful that such practices will force many Negroes now employed into idleness, some are suggesting that the codes of the National Industrial Recovery Act provide a dual wage scale—one that will allow the option of paying a smaller wage to Negroes than to whites.21
Such a position is economically unsound and socially unjust. Few employers will pay more for their labor than they have to. If they can get Negroes cheaper than they can whites, the latter will often find themselves unwanted and unemployed. This condition will tend to perpetuate the age-old strife between the two groups and make for actual warfare at a time when it takes little to foment either racial or industrial discord.
Moreover, it is impossible to have national recovery as long as one-ninth of the nation’s workers are not given the opportunity to recover. If high wages are essential to an improved economic and social state, then recovery of business and public welfare is retarded to the extent that low wages are permitted. In leaving agricultural and domestic workers out of the code formula, the bulk of Negro workers, some 3,000,000 out of a total of 5,500,000, will continue to live under a system which is little better than slavery. Wages now for domestic workers in the South are down to as low as $1.50 per week, and three dollars a week is regarded as a good wage.
It has been contended that what the nation needs to lift it out of the depression is adequate consumption for normal production of goods. Because we are not able now to consume all products farmed, it is costing the government millions to subsidize farmers who are turning crops back into the soil rather than harvest them for a market over-stocked with farm products. If the 2,500, 000 Negroes in the North and the 9,5000,000 in the South earned more they would buy more. The masses of Negroes have never purchases enough food, clothing, furniture, transportation, hospitalization, and the like. Twelve million people would greatly expand production if they were employed and paid according to their economic value rather than their social status.
If a correlation were established between the wages paid Negro workers and the minimum wage level for all workers, it would undoubtedly show that the starvation wages received by Negroes have been directly responsible for limiting the economic security of all workers, as well as for contracting the market for consumer goods. Thus, Mississippi and South Carolina must forever be backward states as long as one-half the members of their population are not allowed sufficient livelihood to purchase their normal share of their state’s products.
If employers are unwilling to pay Negroes wages equal to those paid whites, then let them be discharged. There should be no wage distinction based upon race in the NRA codes. To the extent that people are unemployed, to that same extent will those who work have to take care of them. This fits Negroes as well as whites. If all Negroes are discharged in the South, so that whites may work, then the employed whites will have to support the idle Negroes. It is unfair, of course, that the race should be forced into mendicancy, but it is better that Negro workers insist upon wages equal to those paid whites, even if it means their ultimate discharge, than to accept smaller wages and thereby perpetuate the class distinctions that now exist. Neither position is a satisfactory one for the Negro, but it is fair to assume that if the burden of support for the maintenance of Negroes were thrown upon the State, conditions would tend to right themselves much more quickly than if Negroes submitted to a smaller wage.
But more than this, the Government of the United States and the Recovery Administration, must put an end to this hypocrisy for the sake of national integrity. At some point this system of exploitation must cease. It impedes prosperity and disqualifies the government as a democracy fit to pass sentence upon other nations. President Roosevelt cannot permit the United States to rush to the protection of Cuba and at the same time tolerate the enslavement of its own fellow-citizens. Neither can our economic experts permit race prejudice to nullify all the thinking, planning and work that have gone into the agricultural and industrial plans for business recovery. Is the New Deal departing from the conventional in all important national issues, to be listless to the plight of twelve million persons, merely because they are darker than the other 110,000,000? Are we to have a New Deal for whites and an old deal for Negroes? The United States cannot possibly remain an international arbiter if it continues to neglect to arbitrate its own domestic affairs.
As serious a national blunder as the neglect of Negroes is, it is not as disturbing as the failure of Negroes to rouse themselves on behalf of their own salvation. This is largely because Negro leaders have not agreed upon a program. They are in agreement that something is wrong; and while they suspect that it has its foundation in economics, they are not sure what the “something” is, nor how to get rid of it. Those who have been leading are unwilling to try new ideas or new personnel. Ignorance and custom are not the only drawbacks. Traditional enmities, factional differences, organizational loyalties, personal likes and dislikes—all stand in the way of a united front at a time when the most potent weapon is the impact upon governmental authority of a solidified public opinion representative of Negroes everywhere and of every activity in life. There has been no honorable attempt to bring this about. When efforts are undertaken with the same bias and selfishness that have so often characterized projects of this sort heretofore, then we can expect weak organizations, weak support, and weak results.
An emergency is on. It calls for forthright leadership that will indoctrinate Negro masses with an awareness of the effect of economic relationships upon other aspects of life. It demands leadership that will provide a program for insulating Negroes with industrial and ocupational information and firing them with devotion to a cause that is just and fruitful. This leadership is needed to compel the respect of the Administration and to build an esprit de corps among the masses of Negroes who are ready psychologically for a program as they have never been before.
Opportunity, 11 (September, 1933): 280-81.
My dear Mr. Jones:22
May I congratulate you on the Special Memorandum for the President on “The Social Adjustment of Negroes in the United States.” He has asked me to tell you that he is very glad indeed to have this factual summary. He realizes the unfavorable economic position of the Negro, and the tremendous suffering which the present depression has brought to them and to other unskilled as well as skilled workers. But in spite of the discouragements of the immediate past, he finds great hope for the Negro race in the enormous progress it has made in the last 30 years. Gradually Negro workers have succeeded in securing more skilled and responsible jobs, have made their way in professions and in business. There is also great encouragement in the progress that has been made in the reduction of illiteracy, of infant mortality, and of the general death rate among Negroes.
I can assure you that as this Administration undertakes the problems of relief administration of providing work opportunities, of raising basic wage levels, etc., etc., we shall not forget the special problems of the more than ten million people who belong to your race.
I note that you refer specifically to certain abuses or discriminations in connection with the Mississippi flood control and the Boulder dam project under the past Administration. I am sure that as far as it is legally possible under the contracts already made the President will leave nothing undone which will prevent or stop the exploitation of workmen, whether white or colored, by Federal contractors. I am personally at work on the problem of making sure that labor standards will be more fully provided for in future government undertakings.
As for the Employment Service, this is my own immediate responsibility. You have perhaps seen from the papers that a complete reorganization of the Service is under way. It will take some time to put the cooperative Federal and State system on the kind of basis which will insure real service for working men and women. I can assure you, however, that I shall be glad to have any suggestions you may have from time to time as to how the Service may serve more efficiently all classes of labor.
(Signed) FRANCES PERKINS,23
Opportunity, 11 (June, 1933): 169.
Washington Conference on the Economic Status of the Negro
A conference on the economic status of the Negro was held in Washington, May 11 to 13, 1933, under the auspices of the Julius Rosenwald Fund, with an attendance largely of economists and sociologists, both colored and white, from all parts of the country. Beginning with a discussion of the population and occupational trends of the Negro from 1890 to 1930, the conference considered the relation of the Negro to unemployment in the various industries in which he has established himself, the human factors in the displacement and reemployment of Negro workers, the future of the Negro in America, the effect of the depression upon his position in the South, the agricultural outlook, the social needs of Negro children, the effect of present conditions upon the employment of Negro women and upon the family, the adjustments and cooperation needed in the relation of credit agencies to the Negro farmer, whether owner, tenant or share cropper, the economic status of the Negro in business and the professions, race relations and economics, the role of the small southern farm in any future land utilization program, and the next steps called for both to meet the immediate emergency and to prepare a long-term plan of advancement. Several of these topics were treated by more than one speaker, and some of them roused considerable discussion as to what present conditions imply and how they can best be met. The program was such a full and varied one that the “findings committee,” appointed to sum up its results, was obliged to postpone its report until it should have had time to consider the papers and discussions more fully. In passing, it may be noted that to a very marked degree the papers and addresses presented had a factual basis. Sweeping generalizations were lacking, and in their place were careful statistical studies to support the assertions as to the past or hopes for the future. Although no final summing up was presented, there was rather general agreement on some salient features.
It was held to be well established that the Negro’s economic status had distinctly improved within the last 40 years. The census of 1890 showed that, of the gainfully employed Negroes at that time, 87 per cent were either in agriculture or in domestic and personal service, and only 13 per cent in all other pursuits. In 1930 the proportion in other pursuits had risen to 34.7 per cent and Negroes were found in practically all the occupations listed. While in many lines they are handicapped by discrimination against them, neverthe less their number is noticeably increasing in those pursuits requiring some skill, initiative, experience, and special training.
Again, it was rather generally agreed that in the industries in which the Negro has gained a foothold he has not, during this depression, suffered disproportionately from unemployment. He has suffered, just as the white worker has, but relatively he has not lost ground, and his unemployment has been a matter of economic rather than of racial factors.
However, the fact that the race is still largely engaged in two of the great occupational groups which have suffered severely, agriculture and domestic and personal service, has led to a larger amount of unemployment among the colored than among whites and has forced them to appear in disproportionate numbers among the seekers of relief. Negro women, in particular, have been hard hit by unemployment because of the extent to which they have been engaged in household service, a kind of work in which more easily and quickly than in almost any other an employer may retrench when income falls off. Among the Negroes it is not uncommon for married women to be gainfully employed, so that their unemployment is at once reflected in the family income. Consequently, the Negro family is under a greater strain, and there is danger of its serious disorganization. The social needs of Negro children, the unemployment of the women as well as of the men, and the stresses thrown upon the family were brought out as interrelated factors, as well as matters of individual suffering.
In the matter of relief, it was agreed that in most parts of the country there had been no discrimination against the Negro from either private or public sources. In a few places the relief standards were reported as being lower for the colored than for the white, but this was unusual. For the causes mentioned above, unemployment has been more widespread among the Negroes, and they have formed therefore a larger proportion of those needing relief than they do of the general population.
For the future it was held that there must be a strong and continuous effort to hold what the Negro has gained and to secure further advances. Farming in the South would present some special advantages, but at present the Negro who wishes to take it up is handicapped by inability to secure good land in acreages suited to his needs, by lack of familiarity with improved methods, by poor equipment and by lack of credit facilities, as well as by the disadvantages which affect farmers in general just now. Agricultural schools and courses, demonstration farms, and county or community agents of their own race were advocated. If to these were added opportunities to secure at a reasonable price something better than marginal land, fair credit facilities and instruction as to how to use them, county or community activities which would give the small farmer some chances of education for his children, hospitalization and medical care for his family and himself, and reasonable provision against the more serious disadvantages of his present isolated position, the drift to the city would probably be stopped, and the Negro would find a field of activity congenial to his character and beneficial alike to himself and the country as a whole.
It was urged that, industrially and professionally, better and more abundant opportunities for education and training are desirable, and that along with these should go continuous effort to break down the unwritten restrictions which now operate to keep Negroes out of many occupations and callings. Vocational training should be advanced, and vocational counselors should consider it a fundamental part of their work to induce employers to give the Negro students a chance to enter the callings for which they were preparing themselves. Negroes should help the movement along, when possible, by an intelligent choice of uncongested occupations, and by the use of their buying power to secure openings for others.
For the immediate future it was suggested that there is serious danger that, as industry revives, the Negro may not be reemployed in proportion to his numbers. Competition will be fierce, and wherever a group finds that it can use race discrimination to increase its own chances it will be very apt to do so. Strong efforts should be made to guard against this. Under the reorganization measures now before Congress, it was pointed out, both employers and organized labor receive various concessions and are to be subjected to certain regulations; some definite measures for the recognition and proportionate absorption of colored labor might well be added as the plans are worked out. Obviously, a number of agencies must be set up to develop policies and procedure with regard to public-works programs, the administration of credit agencies, the regulation of private business, the promotion of building projects and the like; but it was pointed out that unless the claims of the Negro are definitely and persistently and forcibly brought before such bodies there is real danger that he will be overlooked or neglected, and that the reorganization of industry may leave him in a worse position than before.
One suggestion offered was that the Negroes should undertake cooperative experiments, using their own labor power and their own demands as consumers to build up self-sustaining or nearly self-sustaining communities, and to secure better opportunities for self-development. Another called for the establishment of fact-finding agencies to discover potential demands for Negro labor and to secure more diversification of employment within the race.
The conference closed on a note of hopefulness. Mr. Edwin R. Embree, president of the Julius Rosenwald Fund, pointed out that apparently this was the first major depression in which the Negroes’ unemployment had been caused by economic factors with the racial element either altogether lacking or of small importance, and that this spoke much for the gain in standing they had made. Also, he considered that the outlook for the future is good. Politically, he said the Negro is gaining in power, and his possibilities from an economic standpoint are beginning to be appreciated. His potential buying power offers business a new and important opportunity. “An increase in employment and of standards of living among Negroes would increase the buying power of the country by more than the total amount of our present exports. The greatest undeveloped market for American goods is the 12,000,000 Negroes in our midst.”
Monthly Labor Review, 37 (July, 1933): 42–44.
By Joseph H. Willits
I have slightly modified the title assigned to me because the original title seemed to indicate that I had made an exhaustive study of the subject directly. I have not. What I present are some sidelights on the effects of the depression on the Negro in Philadelphia,—sidelights which have incidentally been brought out of other studies.
The justification for presenting data which are limited to one locality is that this locality exhibits some considerable degree of representativeness of the manufacturing area of the country.
The chief sources of the data which I shall present are the five censuses of unemployment which have been conducted by the Industrial Research Department of the University of Pennsylvania from 1929–1933 inclusive; and from the analyses of the men who applied for made-work in Philadelphia in the winter of 1930-31. The censuses were made by Mr. Emmett Welch, Research Associate of the Industrial Research Department, and the analysis of made-work applications by Dr. Ewan Clague and Mr. Webster Powell of the Community Council.
The recent migration of many Negroes city-ward, with the attendant problems of adaptation to urban industrial life, has not made the weathering of a prolonged period of depression easier for the Negro. In fact, migration by anyone in the hope of securing employment just prior to the depression, would tend to place the migrant at a disadvantage, when contraction in business conditions took place. In the case of the Negro in Philadelphia, this factor has, therefore, been added to the many others which have tended to make the Negro feel the effects of the depression more promptly than white workers.
In order to discover to what extent unemployment has affected Negroes in the Philadelphia community, comparisons with other groups in the population will be made. A few basic facts which will serve as a background for these comparisons will first be presented. From 1920 to 1930, the total population of the city increased 7 per cent. For this same period the white population increased 63.5 per cent,—from 134,229 to 219,559. In 1930, Negroes constituted 13.36 per cent of Philadelphia’s gainfully employed (10 years and over).
An occupational analysis of Philadelphia workers made by the United States Census Bureau for 1930, lists under the classification of manufacturing and mechanical industries (for males) nearly 27 per cent of the total gainfully employed Negroes 10 years of age and over (of whom 65 per cent are laborers of some kind in these industries); nearly 14 per cent are engaged in transportation and communication (mostly as chauffeurs and truck and tractor drivers, garage laborers, road, street and steam railroad laborers, longshoremen and stevedores); nearly 5 per cent are classified under “trade;” only 2 per cent are in public service (not otherwise classified); about 1-1/2 per cent are listed as in “professional service” (of whom over 21 per cent are clergymen and 27 per cent are “all other occupations”); “domestic and personal service” embraces nearly 13 per cent (with janitors, porters, and servants making up the bulk of this group). Agriculture and the clerical occupations (males) account for slightly more than 2 per cent of the total gainfully employed Negro group. Among the females, the classification of domestic and personal service, includes over 30 per cent (with servants forming slightly more than 85 per cent of this group) while “manufacturing and mechanical industries” includes slightly more than 3-1/2 per cent of the women Negro workers. It will be important to keep these facts in mind, in interpreting the results of the various surveys.
Annual Unemployment Censuses Since 1929 (Philadelphia)
With these figures as a background we are in a position to consider the incidence of employment on the Negroes in the city of Philadelphia, as brought out in the available census figures which have been collected each year since 1929 by the Industrial Research Department of the University of Pennsylvania. These censuses were conducted in an eight per cent sample of the Philadelphia population, which has been found statistically to be representative of the whole city population. For the purpose of the surveys, the areas selected were distributed among the subdistricts of the ten school districts in Philadelphia approximately the same blocks being visited by the Department’s numerators in each year’s enumeration. Up to 1932, the census taken in April; in the latter year it was taken in May. The census for 1933 has just been completed, and although the total figures are known, the classification by race has not been completed.
The following figures give some of the more significant results from the four earlier censuses:
These figures indicate clearly that from the beginning of the unemployment period, the Negroes have shown a larger percentage of unemployment than the whites; but that as the depression continued, the percentage by which the unemployment ratio of Negroes exceeded the unemployment ratio of whites, tended to go down somewhat; but the percentage of unemployment among Negro employables still in 1932 was nearly half as high again as it was among the whites. We may put the situation of the Negro with respect to unemployment, more briefly by saying that whereas the Negro makes up nearly fourteen per cent of the city’s wage earners he constitutes nearly twenty per cent of the city’s unemployed.
The part-time unemployment figures show little difference between whites and Negroes, the proportions varying only slightly in each census period.
The “Made-work” Analysis of Unemployment
Further corroboration of this greater impact of the depression upon Negroes is suggested by the applicants at the Demonstration Employment Office run under the auspices of the state. Of these, 82 per cent were white and 17 per cent Negro. It was found that Negro workers constituted almost half (44.7 per cent) of the applicants coming from domestic and personal service pursuits; 35.2 per cent from unskilled trades, and 8 per cent or less from other occupational groups. It was noted that a larger percentage of Negroes is found among the applicants than in the city’s gainfully employed occupation. These figures may be influenced by the fact that the State Employment Office is located near the residence districts of the city where Negroes predominate.
Still further corroboration of this heavier unemployment among Negroes is found in the study of the applicants for “made-work” by Messrs. Ewan Clague and Webster Powell. It should be recalled that the “made work” was reserved for those unemployed whose need in the judgment of the investigators was greatest.
While colored males constituted slightly over 11 per cent of the total male population and formed 13.2 per cent of the employable wage earners they constituted 28.8 per cent of the “made-work” employees. The lesser wealth and income of the Negro forces a larger proportion of them to work for wages; there would not be among them, as there would be among the whites, any considerable number of adult males not gainfully employed, such as high school and college students, persons retired on their income, etc. The Negroes, then, were represented in “made work” to about 2-1/2 times the extent of their Philadelphia population, and considerably more than twice their proportion of employable wage earners.
On the basis of need, the Negroes qualified because of their much smaller savings than whites, with practically no home ownership, lower wages, etc. Moreover, if readiness to ask for help is examined, it is found that the newer (1920-30) migrants received a larger amount of “made-work” (relief) because of difficulties and handicaps of newcomers in a strange place. For example, many of these Negroes seemed to have had few opportunities in the South from whence they had come, had few resources on arrival, had to take the so-called poorer jobs, and when disaster came, they were less likely to have friends or relatives to help. It can thus be seen that the time of migration was closely associated with need for relief. This will be discussed in more detail later.
Unemployment by Age Groups
The censuses of the Industrial Research Department throw light on the amount of unemployment among different age groups. Invariably the age class 16–25 has the greatest burden with respect to total unemployed. Among the native whites, the percentage of unemployed in this group in 1931 is 35.5; for 1932, 50.5; for the Negroes, the figures are 45.3 and 63.3 respectively. The age group suffering least in 1931, among the native whites, is the 36–45 and among the Negroes, the 46–55 age group. With unemployment becoming more widespread in 1932, the age groups 36–45 and 46–55 share alike the honor for the least per cent of unemployment—among the whites (31.4 and 31.6); while for the Negro group, the age classes of 36–45 and 46–55 suffer least numerically (52.8 and 52.5). There is a tendency for the curve to start at its highest point at the lowest age class, becoming lowest at the middle group and then rising again at the oldest, but not to quite the same height as at the lowest. The same situation holds for both whites and Negroes. This state of affairs is somewhat contrary to the prevailing opinion that the age group just above 45 was the one which generally suffers first and most when hard times curtail industrial activity.
The percentages of total unemployment by the various age groups show in each case a larger figure for the Negroes than for the native whites. When one realizes that among the former, laborers and helpers in building construction form approximately 65 per cent of these Negroes listed in the 1930 Census for Philadelphia in the manufacturing and mechanical industries category, while in the native white classification this figure amounts to only 9 per cent, it might be inferred that in a prolonged period of unemployment, this group would suffer considerably more than the native white. The bad effects of this situation will be brought out later when economic effects are discussed.
Reasons for Unemployment of Individual Analyzed
In the surveys (1931 and 1932) conducted by the Industrial Research Department, a question was included, asking the reason for the individual’s unemployment. An analysis of the “made-work” applications also provided this information.
From the latter source, those who gave “laid-off,” and “firms bankrupt, merged, moved away” as reasons formed well over 90 per cent of the total number, both white and colored. It is possible, of course, that they were laid off because they were the least efficient but in view of the comparatively long service records of these men, this reason does not seem to be the chief factor in accounting for the loss of jobs. So far as this small sample is concerned, the Negro here does not seem to be affected more adversely than whites.
It must be noted that this high figure—from the workers’ own report of reasons for leaving his last permanent job—is much higher than the labor turnover figures given by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 1931,—i.e., 70 per cent of all separations were due to layoffs (on the employer’s own tabulation).
From the Industrial Research Department’s unemployment census (in 1932) a slightly larger percentage of unemployed native whites reported “inability to find work” than did either the foreign born or Negroes. “Old age” was relatively less important as a reason for unemployment among the native white and Negro than among the foreign-born employables. This may be due mainly to the higher average age of foreign-born employables because of the immigration restriction of recent years. “Illness” was relatively more important among foreign-born and Negroes than among native whites.
Stability on the Job
Applicants for made-work relief were classified in regard to stability on the job, according to which a steady or regular job was defined as a job of 3 months or longer. Negroes did not have quite so good a record for stability as did the whites although these facts do not indicate where the cause is with the job or the Negro.
One-third of the Negroes and over one-half of the whites held jobs for over 5 years; and one-fifth of the whites had job records of over ten years.
The scarcity of longer jobs among the Negroes is unquestionably due in part to the fact that a very large proportion of them migrated in Philadelphia in recent years. Thus they did not have the opportunity to establish service records as long as those of white men. The figures also tend to lend support to the wide-spread opinion that Negroes are the first to suffer unemployment when layoffs become necessary because of their shorter service records. The nature of the occupations in which a large proportion of the Negroes is found must also be kept in mind in any attempt to understand the greater proportionate unemployment among Negroes.
The average length of longest job was only 3.8 years for Negroes as compared to 6.0 for whites. The percentage ratio of the longest job to the total working life was approximately 20 per cent for the Negroes and 30 per cent for the whites. About one-fifth of the entire working life of these colored men had been spent on one job. Though less impressive than the data for the whites, these figures do not by any means indicate that colored men are essentially unstable.
Average Length of Time Out of Work
Looking next at the average of time out of work up to the time persons came for relief to the Made-Work Bureau, the facts are similar for whites and Negroes: for Negroes 8.62 months; for whites, 8.56 months. It should be recalled that the construction and manufacturing industries account for 68 per cent of the “made-work” applicants. From the results of the April 1931 census (I.R.D.), the average time out of work was found to be 37 weeks—with the average duration of unemployment smallest among colored persons (31 weeks) and largest among foreign born (43.1 weeks). One explanation given for the relatively small duration of unemployment among the colored is the possibility that they are more generally engaged in casual and domestic work, and that persons thus engaged are more likely to be unemployed more frequently, but for shorter periods of time than persons in other pursuits.
The duration of unemployment, on a comparative basis, reveals little difference between the white and colored groups in the made-work study. A total of 71 per cent of white and 72 per cent of Negroes had been out 9 months or less (1931).
Wage-Earners in Families
The marked shortage of wage earners in these families—1.3 average for white and 1.4 average for Negro families (resulting in a ratio of employables to persons per family of 27.3 and 31.0 respectively) might have had something to do with their plight in asking relief. Other censuses, the I.R.D. and the U.S. Census Bureau, have shown higher ratios of average number of wage earners to average number of persons per family, i.e., 42.6 and 45.6 respectively. The husband was the only wage earner in nearly 4/5 of these white families and 2/3 of the colored families. Supplementary wage earning support was furnished primarily by children in the white families and by the wife in the colored families. The explanation suggested here is that colored children do not remain at home they become self-supporting wage-earners—either getting married at an early age or going out and shifting for themselves.
Reserves and Earnings
Economic or financial resources accumulated preceding or during the depression ease or increase the impact of the loss of the individual’s opportunity to work. Wages, savings, insurance, home ownership, credit reserves, etc., determine in large measure how great or how little the impact will be felt, and what alterations must be made in one’s standard of living.
Questions concerning earnings received or last regular job were among those secured from “made-work” applicants. The largest proportion of whites reported earnings of $25–29 per week; another large group reported earnings of $30–34 per week. The Negroes’ earnings were much more concentrated at one level. The largest group reported wages of $20–24 per week, while nearly 62 per cent fell between $20 and $29. There were very few in the higher wage classes and very many in the lower ones under $20.
Savings are the first reserve resources to be drawn on when unemployment comes. An examination of 325 colored families studied by Powell showed that about half had savings, although many of the accounts were small—28 per cent were of less than $50; 45 per cent were of more than $100. The median was $86. White families studies, however, showed a median of $204. A partial explanation of the situation is based on the fact that a large proportion of the Negroes was attached to the construction industry and to other industries of an unstable character, and irregular employment in such leaves small reserves to tide the family over between jobs. These savings were really adapted to the meeting of seasonal unemployment and were wholly inadequate for the longer period which these families were undergoing. Colored families had comparatively small reserves at best, and even those who had saved large amounts soon found themselves face to face with disaster. Bank or building and loan failures, bankruptcy, sheriff’s sales, severe illness and death were a few of the more serious drains on the family reserves.
Reserves in the form of insurance were carried by more than half of the whites and Negroes—the weekly premium averaging $1.40 for the former and $1.26 for the latter. The asset value of these reserves for emergency purposes was very small, as much of it was of the “industrial type” which has no cash or surrender value until carried a long way toward maturity.
Home ownership may or may not be an asset in a long period of depression. Powell found that 24 per cent of the white families and 4 per cent of the Negroes reported home ownership; while Clague’s figures were 23 per cent and 2 per cent. In this respect, the Negroes were considered by social workers more fortunate, in that they had not sunk their meagre wages in real property.
A form of credit reserved which is closely allied to home ownership is the amount of arrears in monthly payments on homes. Data available from the Powell study indicate 42 per cent of white and 75 per cent Negro home owners in arrears. However, because of the small group of Negroes who are home owners this latter comparison is not significant. Unpaid rent—a type of forced credit reserves—is reported in the Powell study by 63 per cent of the whites and 66 per cent of the Negroes. Clague’s study states that over half of the whites and almost 70 per cent of the colored persons reported this as an important factor in getting along.
A rent survey made by the Philadelphia Housing Association in December 1932 reported for the properties studied, 33.8 per cent whites and 56.0 per cent Negroes in arrears. The average length of time in arrears for whites was 4 months, and for Negroes 3.8 months. The rate of new occupancy in houses occupied by whites was 33.5 per cent, and 41.5 per cent by Negroes. This is said to account for the lower average of months in arrears among Negroes than among whites. This survey did not include slum properties, and so represents the situation among that part of the industrial population, normally better housed than those living in the slums.
Records of ease of borrowing show (according to Powell) that the white population is more favorably situated in this respect—36 per cent against 28 per cent having been able to borrow. Loans average $192 for the whites and $75 for the Negroes. Nearly 84 per cent of the whites and 88 per cent of the Negroes had contracted debts of some kind, the average indebtedness being $186 and $92 respectively.
Relation to Standard of Living
All this bears an important relation to the standard of living of these families, and it is here that the cumulative results of the effects of unemployment are brought to light. Powell estimated that white families with savings and credit could have continued operations on the old scale for about 8 months. Negro families, with reserves very much lower, could have continued 6 weeks before all resources would have been exhausted.
The actual fact was that the median white family had been out of work for 6.3 months and the Negro for 5.7 months. This difference was made up by reducing the standard of living, moving to cheaper quarters, doubling up with relatives and friends, buying bulkiest and cheapest foods, spending nothing on clothing, etc. There was more than a 50 per cent drop in the white standard—from a $35-$40 a week to $10-$15 and a 75 per cent drop in the colored standard, from a $20-$25 a week level to $3-$6. The colored family had only half the resources to fall back on, and they made these last almost as long as did the whites before asking for help from the Emergency Work Bureau.
The climax of all these various impacts of unemployment comes when the families are forced to seek charitable relief from social agencies, and it is generally found to be a “last resort” step. Figures supplied by the Philadelphia County Board as of April first, 1933, show that nearly 36 per cent (35.7 per cent) of the families receiving relief were Negroes. This represents a decrease in the proportion of Negro families carried on relief of nearly 10 per cent from the figures given as of December 31, 1932. On December 31, 1932 the Bureau of Personal Assistance had under its care 2,399 children of whom 596 or 24 per cent were Negroes. In 1931, 27 per cent of the children under its care were Negroes. These figures should be considered in the light of the fact that in 1931 and 1932, approximately 20 per cent of all persons unemployed in the city were Negroes. (I.R.D.).
The picture presented here, of course, does not pretend to be complete. The physical and psychological consequences of unemployment have not even been mentioned since no studies were available which differentiated the two races. It is obvious that the Negroes as well as others suffered from undernourishment, ill health due to poverty and the makeshifts resulting from unemployment. The attitude of the wage-earner toward the family’s predicament, the effect on his self-respect and self-reliance when continued seeking failed to materialize in work, the effect on the children and on the home atmosphere in general, on moral standards, etc., are not subject to generalization but there are, no doubt, thousands of instances where the resulting psychological strains have made living much more difficult, temporarily or permanently.
A presentation such as this does not permit of any clear-cut conclusions. Undoubtedly the Negroes of Philadelphia have suffered much distress, and relatively more severely than the whites. Differences of unemployment between white persons and Negroes can be attributed partly to the differences in their occupational and economic status. A study of the two groups of the same occupational status might throw more light on this question. The facts of recent increase in migration and the adaptation due to the newness of the industrial environment must also be credited with adding to the hardships and distress which unemployment brings to the Negro. And the prejudice against Negroes in certain occupations has also undoubtedly played its part.
Opportunity, 11 (July, 1933): 200–204, 219.
By Henry Allen Bullock24
For the past year, Texas reports a re-employment of 176,800 workers. Of these, 143,051 were employed by the C.W.A. Many are very optimistic concerning the outcome of labor in its relation to our National Recovery program. There are many who feel that these rapid strides toward reemployment are indications of permanent industrial recovery. However, in spite of this optimism, we are forced to admit the present inadequacy of our national re-employment program as a permanent good. There are several circumstances which tend to establish this viewpoint.
Much of our re-employment is the result of the operation of public projects which are to be completed shortly. These projects are designed to fulfill definite purposes, such as to build roads, to beautify cities, to construct buildings, etc., and when these purposes are fulfilled, the labor depending upon the project for employment will find itself unemployed. It is difficult to believe that this employment will be dependable and permanent, especially for the Negro, because it does not involve agriculture nor does it involve individual household servants. These occupational classes absorbe a large amount of Negro labor. The question of the constitutionality of the NRA is ever being raised and unless individual states take the principles suggested in its codes and put them into laws, as has been true in some instances, its effectiveness will constantly diminish. Many agencies created by the national government for the purpose of increasing employment are manned by local politicians who are very unsympathetic toward Negro labor. This lack of sympathy is to be expected for they do not depend upon Negro votes for their political pre-eminence nor are they aware of the efficiency of Negro labor, since they are not often engaged in business which employs Negroes on a large scale.
Since the hopes of Negro workers are apparently staked on temporary public works projects and the National Recovery Administration, the influence of which does not reach the heart of Negro labor and the constitutionality of which is already being questioned, and since these national agencies are often manned by local politicians whose sympathy toward the Negro worker is almost nil, it seems that we should turn our attention toward more permanent and dependable sources of aid for Negro labor. The state appears to be a fruitful source. It can aid labor in a variety of ways. Through its governmental machinery, it can unquestionably modify industrial relations. It may possess opportunities unexplored and often has the facilities for training labor to meet these opportunities for Negro labor in Texas, it has been necessary to gather statistics concerning Negro employment and unemployment in Texas as revealed in the United States Census returns for 1930. The Texas Almanac has been used in order to get a true picture of the natural resources of the state, and questionnaires from 505 employers of 11,615 Negro laborers in the state have been received and analyzed. By means of these three sources of information, we shall suggest some new fields for Negro labor in Texas.
On the basis of the 1930 census report for Texas, there were 390,008 Negroes who constituted the gainfully employed. These Negro workers can be distributed as to occupational classes as follows:
From this tabulation we can see that over 70 per cent of the Negro Labor in Texas is concentrated in agriculture and domestic services. In the case of agriculture 74.4 per cent of these farmers are tenants and cotton growers. In the case of domestic services, 80.9 per cent are maids, cooks, chauffeurs, etc., serving for private families and only 3.2 per cent were found in laundries, cleaning and dying shops, and pressing shops. Even though the manufacturing and mechanical rate is barely over ten per cent, 38.5 per cent of these are concentrated in the building and saw-mill industries. As a result of this concentration, there are only 4.1 per cent in independent hand trades (such as, barbering, shoemaking, blacksmithing, etc.) 2.6 per cent in woodwork and furniture making, 2.7 per cent in automobile shops and 1.1 per cent in the paper and printing industry. There are tremendous degrees of negligence reflected in the above tabulation. Industrial groups such as extraction of minerals, forestry and fishing and public service do not involve two per cent of the Negro working population.
Since Negro labor is too heavily concentrated in some occupational classes such as cotton growing farmers, private domestic servants and building and saw mill laborers, and not heavily focused in others, it would seem to be a wise move to begin to direct Negro workers into these unexplored fields. Laundrying, cleaning and pressing, independent hand trades, woodwork and furniture making, operation of automobile shops, paper and printing industry, extraction of minerals, forestry and fishing appear to be desirable vocations for Negroes in Texas. These fields are suitable not only because they are not congested but because they meet very rigid industrial qualifications. They have suffered the least amount of unemployment during our economic crisis. The natural resources of the state and the industrial enterprises involving these industries can stand an employment increase at normal times and the employment managers representing these enterprises speak favorably of Negro labor.
When we study the occupational classes and their quantitative representation in relation to unemployment statistics, concentration and negligence in occupational distribution become significant. Though domestic service made up 27.8 per cent of the employed group it represented 38.8 per cent in the unemployed group. Most of this unemployment was found among those domestic servants who were employed by private families. One would expect this reaction in domestic service, for it has always been very sensitive to periods of business depression. When the family income is reduced considerably, one of the first reactions on the part of the housewife is to give up those phases of her household that are least necessary and most luxurious. A reduction in the number of personal servants is usually the first sacrificial step made. It is usually preceded by a reduction in wages and as the situation grows acute, wage reduction is followed by a decrease in the number of servants. Manufacturing and mechanical industries made up 10.6 per cent of the employed but 24.4 per cent of the unemployed. All of the independent hand trades referred to above involve less than one per cent of the unemployment suffered by these industries. Forestry, fishing, and extraction of minerals totaled only 40 instances of unemployment out of 2,793 cases of employment. Numerous oil wells, proximity to the sea and millions of board feet of standing timber greatly assure employment in these fields. According to the Texas Almanac for 1931, the various lumbering enterprises in the state spent an aggregated sum of $42,000,000 on skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labor exclusively. This is a partial indication of the enormity of the lumbering business in a state ranked as the seventh largest lumbering area in the Union. This gigantic business is located in East Texas where over 75 per cent of the Negro population lives.
The depression of agricultural commodities has caused a depression in the value of land. Acreage for farm use can be purchased now at a very moderate rate. The fertility of the soil and the low cost of the land make the cost of operating a farm in Texas much lower than the cost of operation in many other southern states. Negro farmers are far from exhausting the possibilities of Texas agriculture. Therefore, a considerable modification and redistribution of interests are necessary. Here, Negro agriculture must acquire a less burdensome age. The age distribution for the Negro farm-population is between 35 and 64; 38 per cent are between the ages of one year and 14 years, and 3.1 per cent are over 64 years of age. These facts suggest that the Negro farm-population of Texas is extremely old and extremely young. A redistribution of interest in types of agricultural commodities is in order. Of all the Negro farmers in the state, only 1.1 per cent are engaged in the production of goods other than cotton crop. Of course Texas is dominantly a cotton state but other types of commodities are being grown with a relatively small cost of production. There are some instances in which Negro farmers are beginning commercial poultry, fruit-growing and truck farming. Most of those responsible for this change are farm owners. This change is almost equally as possible among tenants as among owners, for many tenants rent on a cash basis and therefore have the right to determine their own crop. Many share croppers can receive aid from local banks and their landlords provided they mortgage their livestock, where the bank is concerned, and their products where the landlord is concerned.
Many employers have revealed very wholesome attitudes toward Negro labor. The following list shows the occupational distribution of the majority of the questionnaires:
Of those employers represented in the above tabulation, 86.2 per cent were willing to employ workers on the basis of merit rather than on the basis of race. Of this group so represented, 15.3 per cent were from the manufacturing and mechanical industries, 56.2 per cent were from domestic services (such as laundries, cleaning and pressing shops, etc.) 28.5 per cent from forestry, fishing and the extraction of minerals. Some of these employers preferred Negroes because of the efficiency of those whom they had already employed and because they had vainly tried all but Negro workers. Those who objected to Negro labor did so on the grounds of inefficiency; inefficiency as reflected in technical training, punctuality and dependability. Most of these employers, 75.3 per cent, appear determined to maintain and improve the efficiency of their labor for they are exacting technical training which their workers do not possess. Sixty-five per cent required that this training be done by apprenticeship.
In conclusion, we may say that the National Recovery program is not a very dependable source of permanent adjustment for Negro labor and therefore, it is necessary for us to find another way out. In Texas there are many unexplored labor opportunities. The existence of these opportunities is made certain by the fact that there are some fields of “normal-time” employment which are not very crowded and do not suffer heavily the shock of unemployment. The natural and industrial resources of the state can normally take an increase and the employer himself, on the whole, expresses satisfaction with Negro labor and a willingness to accept an increase under normal conditions.
Opportunity, 12 (May, 1934): 145-47.
By Robert C. Weaver25
The Crisis, 41 (August, 1934): 236, 238.
By Ira De A. Reid
One may safely give long odds that when the Economic Fathers set out to establish the present machinery for industrial recovery they had not the slightest idea that they would meet such a problem as that of a wage differential based upon race. Nevertheless, the Labor Advisory Board and its economic technicians have found themselves facing a most complicated array of statistics, inferences and assumptions of Southern industrialists, proving that it is both necessary and expedient to permit a differential wage for Negro workers. If this is not permitted, say the employers, they perish. Since the objective of the NRA is the stimulation of productive enterprises, the advisers found themselves in an abyss between the Scylla of permitting a racial differential in violation of the minimum wage agreement and economic theory, and the Charybdis of restricting and delimiting industry by placing upon the employer wage costs that he believed excessive.
Caught in this passage is the Negro worker, muttering the moral of Alice in Wonderland’s Duchess, “Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.” He has been told that if he does not accept a lower wage, he will have no job. Are not millions of white workers unemployed? He has also been told that the acceptance of a sub-wage brands him as inferior en masse to the white workers, demanding a complete about-face in the fight for industrial equality that he has been waging for seventy years. But, when in addition, he is counselled, by such a sage of racial adjustment as Kelly Miller, to throw his lot with Capital, the Capital offers him a sub-minimum wage, he not only mutters a Duchess-like dictum, but resigns himself to what apparently seems a hopeless situation. This situation is best described as a common law under which Negro workers—unskilled, skilled, and professional in private and public affairs, in communities where they form a large percentage of the working population, and in occupations they have a majority of the total workers—are paid a lower wage than white workers performing the same type of work. The current question is, in view of the fact that all of the southern states sanction a lower wage for Negro workers as school teachers and other public employees, should this differential be given the legal sanction and approval of the recovery machinery of the Federal Government?
Though differential wages for Negroes are more pronounced in the South, they are frequently found in Northern areas. The methods for determining this differential vary. According to Feldman, they are limited only by the range of human ingenuity. Such methods are both direct and indirect. The direct method is the one now causing chief concern in the emergency legislation. It is a process whereby Negro workers are automatically classed as “sub-standard” or “sub-normal” workers and are given an initial wage lower than that prescribed by industrial codes or professional standards. The indirect methods include such devices as changing the title of an occupation while authorizing the same manipulative performance as existed in a higher classified occupation for which there was a higher wage; distributing Negro workers in piece-rate occupations for which the rate of pay is lower than that on which white workers are employed; and unequally distributing the over-time work to the disadvantage of the Negro worker.
In general, the payment of a lower wage to Negro workers is a parallel to the former employers’ device of angling for cheap labor among immigrant populations. The factors that enter into determining this differential are not alone economic, but are social and political limitations of a so-called free competition. Thus, in the loosely organized industrial areas of the South, particularly in many small enterprises and frequently in larger one, the employer dictates what the wage shall be. There is no better example of this than the situation recently brought to light in Selma, Alabama, where an employer was induced to establish his burlap bag making company in that community with the following concessions: exemption from taxation, guaranteed non-unionized labor, guaranteed cheap labor at his own price and the delivery of cotton to his plant without paying freight.
This factor and the element of custom play a very important part in the present controversy over differential wages. A New York Times correspondent well expresses the point of view in the South in this respect. In a communication of September 10, 1933, Julian Harris writes that many white Southerners believe that a sane solution is a differential. As the South had become accustomed to a lower wage for white women than for white men, and since a similar differential for black men and white men had existed for so many years, it would be unwise to make a change as sweeping as that inaugurated under the Blue Eagle. Many believe that the Southern wage differential is all that keeps the Southern manufacturer in competition. However, “None asserts that such a condition represents justice, but is a course which, according to many, wisdom seems to dictate.” Thus, the dictates of custom noticeable in this situation are part of the same set of conditions that created and perpetuated Negro jobs for which there was a lower wage scale as well as an insignificant amount of occupational prestige.
Organized labor, also, has contributed its share in the establishment of the race differential. The working class philosophy in such instances has been for the white workers. In Charleston, South Carolina, for example, where Negro building tradesmen were largely organized ten years ago, these Negro artisans worked at a lower scale than the white workers although they belonged to the same unions as their fellow-unionists. Separate unions for whites and blacks in other Southern cities likewise promoted a differential wage in favor of the white worker. In such cities as Jacksonville, Florida, and Birmingham, Alabama, and New Orleans, Louisiana, (where there were two central labor bodies, one for whites, the other for Negroes) the ill-effects of such duplicity in labor’s aims have been most pronounced.
The extemporaneous arguments mouthed by employers for giving Negroes a lower wage rate vary from such statements as “They don’t need any more, and they don’t expect any more” to arguments purporting that “Negroes are naturally untrustworthy, inclined to be lazy, and usually very slow.”
In addition, the following arguments have been advanced in substantiation of a differential wage for Negroes: (1) the Negro’s standard of living is lower and he gets along on less. (This argument limits wages to a subsistence level and argues that the plane of living of Negroes is the standard whereby they live without realizing that, in the main, this group of workers has been compelled to live on that plane); (2) the Negro has fewer economic responsibilities and, therefore, requires a smaller wage. (It is on this basis that the wage paid to Negroes more nearly approximates that which might be given to an unmarried man, despite the fact that the Negro family of the South is relatively larger in urban areas than is the white family); (3) Negroes are engaged on processes requiring little skill, and are, therefore, worth no more than they receive. (This argument does not take into consideration the fact that Negroes are not permitted to work in very many skilled occupations. Furthermore, being individual bargainers, they are unable to give voice to their opinions as to the worth of their services.); (4) Negroes are a temporary factor in the labor supply and are, therefore, paid lower wages to make up the employer’s costs of replacement. (This is a very fundamental factor in the labor situation, as the Negro worker is constantly threatened with elimination from industry if he insists upon so-called “normal” standards); (5) the Negro worker, instead of having particularly quick motor-reaction or unusual manipulative deftness and quickness of vision is phlegmatic, dull-witted and slow. (The greatest credence that can be given to this assumption, according to psychologists and anthropoligists, is that these opinions are based upon hastily drawn generalizations and should be treated with skepticism; furthermore, that there is a very slight difference in the fundamental qualities of races independent of cultural background, training, etc.); (6) the Negro worker is worth less to an employer. (This fact is more largely a social factor than an economic one. The position of the Negro in the community does not permit, says the employer, his promotion on the basis of experience and he, therefore, does not become a valuable addition to the working personnel); (7) the Negro is adversely affected by inadequate earnings. (This is another method of interpreting the social and cultural inferiority of the Negro, and is based upon the assumption that the Negro requires less to live than does the white worker); (8) the payment of equal wages to Negroes would mean the establishment of social equality. (This argument is closely related to the racial stratification of occupations as it existed in the South of wages); (9) the payment of an equal wage for Negroes and whites in the South would cause the displacement of many Negroes by whites and the promotion of racial conflicts. (As this would be a distinct departure from the traditional method of handling black and white labor problems in the South, it is not to be doubted that there would arise specific instances where Negroes would be displaced by white workers. Also, it cannot be overlooked that there might be a possibility for increased racial conflict. However, the injustices in a differential of this sort have been so outspokenly denounced by certain prominent newspapers of the South that the possibilities for violence have been decidely diminished since the summer of 1933).
The arguments against a differential wage for Negroes are, of course, based upon the fact that the Negro is an integral part of the American labor population and stratifying his marginal position with a codified scale below that of the white worker would automatically adversely affect the wage status of the majority group.
Advocates of the equal pay for equal work theory maintain that in view of the reasons advanced by employers for a differential wage, (1) the difference in wage costs should be made a fixed charge against the competition of other industries; (2) the payment of equal wages would standardize wages and check the unscrupulous acts of employers who permit low labor charges to offset inefficient management; (3) the elimination of a differential wage would result in the levelling of wages for the whole working population and would check petty abuses in many industries; (4) equal wages would end the subsidizing of inefficient management and antiquated methods of many industries at the expense of Negro employees; (5) equal wages would result in the displacement of many unemployables—unemployables being determined not so much by race as by industrial efficiency; (6) equal wages would protect the white worker against under-bidding in the labor market; (7) the elimination of the differential would, in part, compensate for the restrictions on promotions which adversely affect Negroes in industry.
It is a strong belief that the differential wage is a very pertinent part of the wage system whereby the workers’ share is determined by the rule of thumb bargain. Under such a system, neither the employer nor the employee is certain that he is getting a fair deal. Many of the reasons that employers give justifying a racial differential, however, are due to faulty labor control, inadequate labor management and inadequate and improper rate-setting rather than to racial differences.
The much talked of productive ability of white and Negro workers has not been sufficiently authenticated by scientific studies. It is certain that there should be a study of the capacity of Negro and white racial groups—a capacity not vitiated by various differences in cultural background and opportunity. One of the most recent and most outstanding studies of this relative ability was made by Alma Herbst. This study showed that the “earning capacity of colored groups as demonstrated by weekly earnings and premiums, though far from conclusive, rules out the assumption of their (the Negroes’) lack of ability and industrial efficiency as the only explanation of their status and rates of pay.” On the question of labor mobility, Miss Herbst concludes that the “shiftlessness and unreliability of individual colored workmen have not been conclusively demonstrated.” It was also found, in an analysis of the earnings of Negro and white employees in a typical meat packing establishment between 1922 and 1926, that under the Bedoux Premium System of Wage Payment, affecting 617 employees of whom 502 were white and 115 Negroes, 20.3 per cent of the whites earned no bonus while all of the Negroes earned some bonus. Furthermore, of those earning a bonus, 45.8 per cent of the whites and 42.6 per cent of the Negroes earned the lowest bonus; while 22.1 per cent of the whites and 26.1 per cent of the Negroes earned the highest amount available under the system.
Enforcement of the equal minimum wage for whites and blacks in the South is going to face several stumbling blocks. Will a local compliance board be able to enforce the law in a community where a Negro teacher has to teach forty years before she receives the salary that a white teacher receives in her first year? How enthusiastic will any community be to so completely alter a wage policy that heretofore has paid Negro public professional employees a salary ranging from fifty to seventy per cent of that paid to white employees in the same occupation?
All Southern employers are not desirous of paying Negroes a wage lower than that paid to whites. There are a few who are convinced of the economic necessity of paying equal wages in the local market. A few pay it. Many more would, did they not fear the reaction of their competitors. According to one observer, there are other employers political-party-loyal to the core who will do “whatever seems necessary to make the party’s program a success and keep it in power.” Other employers have increased Negro workers’ wages to an amount just below the standard minimum set either by the blanket agreement or the individual code. All in all, the majority believe that there must be a differential.
Occasionally, there comes a voice of conviction that seeks to alter this point of view. There is the editor of the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph (a daily that increased its annual income from Negro subscribers from $2,700 twenty years ago to $45,000 in 1932 exclusive of “the additional advertising from national accounts that were brought in by the increased subscriptions”) who wanted higher wages for Negroes “Not so much for the benefit of the Negro, as we have said a thousand times, but for the benefit of Macon and Georgia. If his earnings are increased, he becomes a buyer of advertised goods, and Macon rates accordingly . . . and Telegraph prospers accordingly. . . . We are selfish in it. It’s good business to uncover these acres of diamonds at our own door-step. And, this type of argument will fall upon more receptive ears than any other.26
But what of the Negro workers? Forsooth, they really do not want a differential, but many of them have subscribed to and accepted a lower wage, for they have been made to believe that pursuing such a course will insure them permanent jobs. Yet, witness this anomaly. In one Southern community where the lower wage for Negroes is a reality, certain Negro leaders advocated publicly and privately for the differential. The ire of the Negro community was so aroused, that the Negro leader of this movement was forced to have his life and home guarded by white policemen. However, the same Negro community never said “a mumbling word” a few months earlier when a Negro minister, the leading advocate of equal pay for Negroes, was driven from the city because of his views.
Job-conscious on the one hand and skeptical of the success of Federal administration on the other, the Negro employees in the South, according to the Southern Field Secretary of the National Urban League, “Have very grave doubts as to the ability of the Federal Government to compel compliance with the code.” They know how deliberately public policy in the South completely disregards the provisions of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Federal Constitution. They feel that if the government is powerless to enforce the provisions of these measures, it will be equally as powerless to enforce the provisions of the codes. They accept the language of the codes quite the same as they do the statements with reference to equal accommodations on railroads, and ‘separate but equal’ educational equipment in the public school system. Hence, they are more concerned over displacement by white workers and no wage, than over a minimum wage with its discriminatory racial differential. And so long as they are, they will have jobs—at least, that’s what their present employers say.
Opportunity, 12 (March, 1934): 73–76.
By Eugene Kinckle Jones
Civilization was many thousands of years old before the importance of fresh air, pure water supply, balanced diets, wholesome recreation, periodic medical examinations, and isolation of persons afflicted with communicable diseases was fully recognized in the matter of personal and public health. Civilization will be many, many years older before it realizes that human progress in social and economic affairs cannot be realized fully for strong majorities without guaranteeing to all inhabitants of given areas full benefits of liberalized laws and customs.
The Negro in American life represents a weak minority—first enslaved, then freed constitutionally after prolonged suffering and disastrous consequences resulting from a war between representatives of the strong majority; then discriminated against politically, socially, and economically in the development of a class-controlled, profit-mad, caste system which in 1929 collapsed. Bewildered, hoping against fate, floundering, desperate, then almost chaotic, a country which has prided itself on its sound financial institutions, its unlimited economic resources, its democratic political institutions passes through a bloodless political revolution, changes completely its partisanly political alignments and begins experimenting on a new philosophy of relationships between the various elements making-up our heterogeneous population.
The rights of industry, labor, and the consumer in their relations to each other and to those within each class are to be preserved. The farmer, the home-maker, the student, the teacher, the artisan—all are to be protected fully and their interests are so to be conserved and promoted that prosperity (whatever that means to the citizens of democratic America) is to be vouchsafed to all under the shibboleth of the New Deal.
The acid test, the unerring barometer of effective political, social and economic philosophies and practices in America is the Negro. When Negroes began to secure work during the unemployment period in the beginning of the World War, it predicted an early return of the bonanza period of expanding business, plentiful employment, and high wages. When Negroes began to lose employment by the hundreds and thousands after the Wall Street debacle Negro leaders were already predicting the depression which almost immediately followed (the Negroes were the “first to be fired”). As long as the Negro is underpaid, exploited, disfranchised, brutalized in the South, the South remains the poorest, the most illiterate, the most backward section of the nation. When Negroes are lynched, burned at the stake, mobbed, it is inevitably the introduction of mores which prompt enraged citizens to take the law into their hands and wreak vengeance against any person charged with crime, regardless of race.27
I shall summarize briefly the industrial status of the Negro and some of his urban problems which must be adjusted with the other social and economic problems of the American scene.
Negroes constitute 9.7 per cent of the population. They are 43.7 per cent urban. Of all urban Negroes 70.4 per cent live in metropolitan areas; 55.5 per cent of all metropolitan area Negroes are in nine northern such areas—2,033,203. There are seven cities with more than 100,000 Negroes: New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, New Orleans, and Detroit, ranking in the order named.
Negroes are 11.3 per cent of all workers, although 9.7 per cent of all the inhabitants. In transportation and mining his proportion of workers is being maintained only in unskilled and semi-skilled occupations, however. He is over-concentrated in agriculture and personal and domestic service. His professional group,—teachers, physicians, nurses, dentists, lawyers, and clergymen—has increased—only his physicians at a less rapid rate than his population.
Approximately one-fourth of all women fifteen years of age and over are workers; about one-half of all Negro women are gainfully employed. Negro married women form one-fourth of all married women working away from home, the ratio being about three times greater than that of all women. Over one-third (36 per cent) of the child-labor in America is Negro.
One of the most unfortunate phases of the whole industrial picture so far as Negro workers are concerned is the attitude and practice of organized labor in matters interracial. There are nineteen national and international labor organizations which forbid Negro membership either through their constitutions or through rituals. There are under normal conditions approximately 90,000 Negro members of labor organizations. According to their proportions of workers in fields already organized, the number should be 300,000. One-sixth of the Negro members are in independent Negro locals—separate because of the refusal of white locals to have mixed membership. This situation warrants close watching as the feudal authorities insist in the adoption of codes of fair competition and the rights of workers to bargain collectively with their employers in the matter of wages and hours. How will the rights of Negro workers be preserved? Will our federal authorities also insist on there being no color line in the labor organizations which treat the employers?
Negro business before the depression was showing distinct gains in those fields in which the Negro businessman was not faced too directly with chain store and mail-order house competition and the price cutting practices of the large business concerns. In the retailing of foods, restaurants, grocery stores, etc., is found 42 per cent of all retail business among Negroes. The Negro drug store is the most successful in his small business enterprises. The Negro banking and insurance business represents about the most successful business venture of the Negro middle-class. Banking suffered severe losses during the period since 1929. Industrial loans are the chief fields of banking operation. Their most useful service has been in promoting thrift and home-ownership.
Negro life insurance operations have had serious set-backs also. In 1930 at a meeting of the National Negro Insurance Association 21 member companies reported $260,175,000 of insurance in force. Since that time there has been a decided reduction in this total, lapsed policies as well as decreased increment of new business being the cause. Impaired mortgages and other assets of the companies and the sharp competition of white insurance companies seeking Negro business have had their influence on the stability of the Negro insurance company.
The health, the housing conditions, and other social conditions of the Negro generally during the depression have kept pace with the general trend in these fields along with the population as a whole—except that as always the racial elements involved due to prejudice and lack of acquaintance and understanding on the part of those in authority have accentuated the difficulties under which Negroes attempt to make helpful adjustments. The Negro death rate has declined with the white death rate, one of the paradoxes of the depression period.
Negro housing is a distinct problem because the Negro population usually is drawn into the most deteriorated residential sections of cities. Property values usually depreciate partly for economic and partly for psychological reasons. Restrictive compacts and covenants tend to limit areas of Negro residence thus encouraging and often enforcing overcrowding. The limiting of facilities for financing Negro home ownership, increased rentals, and neglect by municipal authorities of the enforcement of health and sanitary laws in Negro neighborhoods all contribute towards making his poor housing conditions worse. Little or no slum clearance projects have thus far been placed in operation on behalf of the urban Negro and no Subsistence Homestead plan has as yet been definitely adopted in which Negro industrial workers may be assured of participation, although, admittedly many proposed projects contemplating Negro inclusion have been discussed.
Delinquency, juvenile and adult, is on the increase for Negroes in cities, as is true with whites. And unfortunately leisure time and recreational activities for Negroes not only have not increased, but have a tendency to be curtailed due to reduction in the budgets of those private social agencies under which such programs are in the main fostered.
What is the situation today in regard to the urban Negroes’ effort to fit into the national recovery program and what are the prospects of success?
The National Industrial Recovery Act has as its purpose the serving of the people by increasing business, spreading employment, and creating such a flow of money that all of the citizens of the country will profit. Unquestionably there was no desire on the part of the framers of the Act or those who were selected to put it into execution to exclude the Negro from its benefits. However, the Negro’s very status itself affected him adversely in the operation of the Act. Negroes are not employed in large numbers in those industries directly affected by the codes. Differentials in wages to the disadvantage of the Negro which have been so generally discussed in Negro circles were already in vogue throughout the South and in most sections of the North before the depression. Negroes have not been acquainted with the sources to which they might turn for aid, many of the projects and programs of relief having been established and in actual operation before Negroes even knew where to apply.
This was due in large measure to lack of organization among Negroes and also to the fact that leading Negroes were not selected as members of planning or policy-making boards and committees. The local authorities selected to administer the programs often were ignorant of the Negroes plight, were not interested in Negroes, or were prejudiced against them. Organized labor, which has been recognized as never before by the NRA in its fight for a fair wage and reasonable hours, has proverbially been neglectful of the rights of Negro workers. This situation possibly is the greatest menace to the ultimate participation of Negroes in the fruits of the recovery program, for without the Negro being welcome to the rights of organized labor his chance to advance in the occupational scale is lost.
Prejudice has been most pronounced in the displacement of Negroes by white workers when the wages accorded Negroes under the NRA are equal to those received by whites. Displacements have not been as numerous as rumors would indicate, but violations of the code wages have been more frequent, Negroes receiving lower wages under threats of removal or personal violence, and intimidated to the point where they asserted that they were receiving the code wage although they actually received much less. In many cases, checks for feed, seed, and fertilizer loans drawn to the order of Negroes have been cashed by white land-owners or holders of mortgages on the property of Negroes, who actually received but a small part, if any, of Government funds.
While this picture is a sad one, there is a brighter side. Many private organizations such as the National Urban League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Joint Committee on Recovery, the Young Men’s Christian Association and the Young Women’s Christian Association, and many local movements among Negroes, as well as a number of liberal white organizations, have made constant protest against discrimination. Although many whites and some Negro leaders have argued for a differential in wages for Negroes on the ground that this was the only way to assure the continuance of Negroes in jobs, the arguments that have been advanced against differentials have been more potent and are having their effect in economic thinking. If out of the collapse of our economic system there is to come regimentation of industry, a more equitable distribution of wealth, and a guarantee of employment at reasonable wages and hours for all workers, it is necessary that all workers should share alike in performing like services. The principle of the differential wage should not be permitted to become an established, accepted, approved, legal reality. It might become a precedent engrafted in the nation’s social consciousness for permanent adoption. This situation alone would be provocative of intense racial misunderstanding and friction. Employers would not be able to resist the temptation to exploit the Negro worker and through him to exploit the white worker. We would have a continuation of the lower standard of living among Negroes which would in turn have its effect, as in the past, on the standard of living of white workers, especially those residing in the South. There is only one real basis on which a wage differential might be established and that is on the matter of relative efficiency between white and Negro workers. Thus far no scientific evidence has been forthcoming to indicate that there is any difference, under normal conditions, in the efficiency of white and black workers in any given field. I dare say there never will be.
If white workers are to be protected in their struggle for the rights of men who toil, there must be equal protection for all of the workers of every minority group in our land and towards this end we must work. The Government recognizes the importance of this argument in stating in the very Act creating the recovery program that there shall be no distinction made on account of race or color, creed or politics. In the selection of economists of the most liberal views and possessed of human understanding, our President and cabinet officers chosen by him have assured themselves of the presence in high administrative positions of persons who but need to have the plight of the Negro brought to their attention to enlist their sympathy and their aid. The experience of all who work with administrators and executives in Washington points to the universal conclusion that at least those in authority are well disposed towards the Negro.
Conferences of Negro leaders or of sympathetic whites with Negroes have been called in the Department of Commerce, with the Subsistence Homestead staff, and with the staff of the Labor Advisory Board of the NRA. The Children’s Bureau of the Department of Labor has had a conference on the care of dependent and neglected children to which persons representing the interest of Negro children were invited. Representatives have pleaded the cause of the Negro at many of the code hearings, and an inter-departmental conference group has been brought together representing all of the various departments and emergency administrations, to meet monthly for the present, to discuss means by which these various departments and administrations may more effectively handle problems affecting Negro citizens. The NRA has had several investigations made of displacements of Negroes and of means by which the rights of Negroes may be protected.
In the final analysis America herself is on trial. If the experiment of the “New Deal” is to be successful, will it be possible for America to ignore the rights of the Negro for her own welfare? Negroes are still concentrated in the South. Sentimentally and actually the South will still be palliated as has been the custom ever since the Civil War was won on the field by the North. The Union was preserved but on the race question the South has never been conquered. The cost of segregating and of desocializing the Negro has been too great and the South, after all, has been the chief sufferer. The poor whites of the South will remain poor as long as the Negro is kept poor. Lifting the South up to the northern and western economic and social standards, with the Negro segregated and economically debauched, will be too costly to the controlling white majority for them to vouchsafe economic security to the masses of the whites themselves.
The only way out is to lift the economic and social status of the Negroes along with that of the masses of the whites so that the purchasing power of all of the workers of the South will be at such a point that the modified profit system may be continued under a plan calling for a greater and a wider distribution of our national wealth. It must mean a higher wage scale, improved civic life, and better educational facilities for all. If recovery means a new social order this is unavoidable. This must obtain for the teeming masses of the North, the South, the East, and the West. It is for those who control our political, our social, and our economic destiny to give the answer for America. The people are ready to follow but they must be led in the right direction.
Opportunity, 12 (May, 1934): 141-44.
By Gustav Peck28
The Crisis, 41 (September, 1934): 262-63, 279.
By John P. Davis29
The Crisis, 41 (October, 1934): 298-99,304.
By B. D. Amis
The outstanding piece of work in 1933 in the sight of American capitalism is the contribution of the Roosevelt administration. This “gift” (burden and yoke of oppression) to the poverty stricken toilers of America was the “New Deal” program which introduced the widely heralded National Recovery Act.
The NRA promised to improve the living conditions of all by introducing fair competition labor codes which would open up employment, thereby increasing the purchasing power of the masses and help capitalism to get out of its crisis. Although there was a temporary pick up in the employment, the material conditions of the workers were not bettered to any marked extent. The fact that a new wave of strike struggle and demonstrations demanding the right to organize, wage increases against terror, etc., after the codes went into operation, is sufficient proof that the standard of living condition was not raised.
The Negro workers and toilers are the worse sufferers under the NRA. Over 3,000,000 Negroes, (domestics, farm workers, and laborers) are excluded from its labor codes which are to regulate wages in all industries, to increase the buying power, and do away with much unemployment. Wherever wage rates are provided for Negroes in the codes, the differentials is from 25% to 50% lower than the wages given to white workers in the same industry. And in industries where formally there were uniform wages for Negro and white workers, the employers have replaced Negro labor with that of white labor, rather than pay the same wages under the NRA. Many of the employers not only have suggested dual wage scales, but in practice pay the Negroes much less than the whites under NRA protection.
The wages of Negro workers show no increase under the codes. In the south domestic workers receive from $1.50 to $3.00 a week. The Negro employees of the Federal Barge Line operated by the War Department, went on strike in August against rotten working conditions. These men worked from 12 to 15 hours a day but received pay for only two hours work. The NRA labor board refused to listen to their demands. But the officials of the company called the police to break the strike. In the textile industry of the south, white workers receive the minimum code rate of $13.00 a week, but the Negro workers are paid as low as $4.00 a week. In the lumber industry the disparity between the wages of the northern worker and the Negro of the south is very great. Frances Perkins, secretary of labor in the Roosevelt cabinet, in defending the discriminatory practices of the NRA stated that the low wage rates in the southern districts is based upon the predominance of Negro labor. The rates here are 25 and 27 cents an hour.
Many of the codes in order not to make provisions for wage rates for the Negro, do not classify the work done by the Negro, but exclude it. Consequently, the white employer exploits more cheap Negro labor.
At the same time that the low level living conditions of the Negroes are being attacked by the NRA, lynchings are increasing. Over 40 were lynched in the first year of the Roosevelt “New Deal.”
Mass indignation against the NRA and Negro oppression is developing rapidly. Protest movements, joint actions of Negro and white workers in strikes, and unemployed demonstrations, under militant working class leadership, are arousing the consciousness of the Negro masses that the NRA will not concede them anything, but that they must struggle jointly with the struggling white workers.
The barbarous organized new wave of lynchings by the courts and gangs calls for mass resistance. The struggle against the worsening of the low level living conditions is the united front joint struggle of Negro and white workers.
The League of Struggle for Negro Rights at its regional conference in Baltimore, issued a call for a nation-wide drive against lynchings and Negro oppression. Only a powerful mass movement and the organized strength of the indignant Negro masses is necessary to stop the vicious attacks of the NRA. This organized movement must contain in the forefront Negro and white workers who struggle together with the Negro people for equal rights, for self-determination for complete emancipation. NRA to the Negro people means NO RIGHTS AT ALL—NEGRO REPRESSIVE ACT. It is another link in the continuous chain of persecution of the Negro masses and the denial to them of their democratic rights. It is glorified and defended by the enemies to the Negro liberation movement. To struggle against the NRA means to struggle to defeat the misleaders and NRA agents among the Negro people, it is struggle against the imperialist oppressors of the working class and the Negro people.
The Negro Worker, 4 (April-May, 1934): 17–18.
By John P. Davis
The Crisis, 42 (May, 1935): 141-42, 154-55.
A. We Must Have Jobs
By Vere E. Johns
The Crisis, 41 (September, 1934): 258-60, 274.
By R. Maurice Moss
The Depression came late to Pittsburgh. Months after many other communities were suffering from the disruption of our industrial machine, the Pittsburgh district which supplies the nation’s heavy machinery and the coal to operate it, the steel for buildings and the glass to fill their windows, and the electric equipment of a thousand varieties, still found smoke pouring from its myriad stacks and its retail balance sheets showing but a small reduction in business.
But when these other communities found themselves unable to buy even the nessities of life, let alone the equipment for new buildings and enterprises, the blow fell heavily on the Smoky City and its environs. Mining was curtailed, mills closed down, and the business houses discharged their forces. In May of 1933 one of every four of Allegheny County’s workers found his name on the lists for relief. This same list contained the name of one of every two Negro workers.
The big steel and coal concerns established their own relief organizations and Negro and white employees who were laid off fared alike in the distribution of food orders, clothing, etc. Meager as were these grants, they marked a recognition, on the part of the employing group that the Negro was a valuable and necessary part of these firms’ working forces, and that they expected, once the depression passed, to utilize again these black workers whom they had induced to desert their southern farms to man furnaces and dig coal in Allegheny County—“the world’s workshop.”
Within the past year the wheels of industry began again to turn—slowly, unsteadily—but they began to turn again. What then of the black worker who in the past two decades had made himself so much a part of Pittsburgh’s working force? Or had he made himself so much a part of that working force as we tried to believe? How many had advanced to skilled work? How many were now supervising the work of others? What fields offered new avenues for employment?
It was to answer these, and other questions that the Pittsburgh Urban League undertook a series of the Negro workers. These studies, designed to secure a “spot-picture” of the Pittsburgh Negro’s present and possible immediate future place in its industrial scheme, are to cover at least the following:
1. The Negro in Pittsburgh’s Larger Industries;
2. The Negro in Pittsburgh’s Retail Establishments;
3. The Negro in the Domestic Service Field;
4. The Negro and Organized Labor;
5. The Negro in Professional and Government Employ
These studies are sponsored jointly by the Urban League of Pittsburgh and the local Federal-State Employment Office under the joint direction of Dr. Francis D. Tyson and R. Maurice Moss. The field work staff has been furnished by the Work Relief Administration. To date studies 1 and 2 have been completed and work is now under way on numbers 3 and 4.
Study 1—The Negro in Pittsburgh’s Larger Industries covered the 731 largest industrial and commercial firms in the whole of Allegheny County. All firms were covered, whether they employed any Negroes or not. The highest official that could be reached in each firm was interviewed and the figures obtained were, in the vast majority of cases, from actual payrolls. The employers were remarkably cooperative, as is indicated both by the fact that in only three cases were the interviewers refused the information sought and by the frankness of the replies to questions.
It should be borne in mind that the figures cover Allegheny County only. This is important because some of the largest of the employers of labor whose home offices are in Pittsburgh, operate factories, or mines, outside this City or County. For example, the Pittsburgh Plate Glass plant at Ford City, Pa., in which scores of Negroes are employed, is outside this County. Thus, only the employees at the company’s Pittsburgh office and warehouse would be in our present picture.
The 731 firms covered in the study employed at the time of the interviews 152,295 persons, of whom 10,821 were Negroes. In 1930 the United States Census reported approximately 547,000 potential workers, ten years of age and over, in Allegheny County, of whom about 39,000 were Negroes. The survey thus covers about 28 per cent of all the potential workers and about 27 per cent of the potential Negro workers.
But the Pittsburgh Bureau of Social Research estimates that on April 1, 1934 (the central date of the study) approximately 390,000 persons were actually employed, full or part-time in the County. In this case the coverage would be 38 per cent of the actual workers. Assuming that Negroes have been displaced in no greater percentage than the workers of other races, there would have been 28,500 Negroes at work on April 1st. The total of 10,821 would be 36 per cent of the actual employed Negroes. While these figures are estimates, it would appear that the study covered one-third of all the Negroes actually at work in the County at the time it was made. However, it should be borne in mind that the study did not include:
(a) Negroes in domestic and personal service (save those employed in certain classifications by hotels) in which lines of work the vast majority of the Negro women workers of the County are to be found.
(b) The Negro professional group (save two Negro physicians on the staff of one hospital).
(c) The Negro in the employ of the local, State, or Federal government (which, at the moment, would have included several hundred on CWA work projects).
(e) Negroes who work for other Negroes (since no Negro firm was large enough to be included in the firms covered).
When these factors are considered it will be apparent that the coverage of the Negro worker as employed by the large local industries was far above the 36 per cent. Two estimates, made independently, have placed the actual coverage at approximately 70 to 75 per cent. Certainly the coverage was sufficiently high to make possible the drawing of accurate and valid conclusions.
Where the Negro Works: By Types of Firms: (excluding, for the moment, firms not employing any Negroes)
Practically all of the firms covered were operating under NRA codes. Not a single instance of differential in pay on the basis of race was reported. But the vast majority of the Negro workers, as may be seen by the above table, found themselves in the types of work, or on those processes, which pay the minimum under the codes. The highest paid Negro employee reported upon received $236.00 per month; the next highest received $180.00. The bus companies hire Negroes as porters on tips only. They reported an average income of but $5.00 to $6.00 per week.
The total weekly payroll for these 10,821 Negroes would not exceed $200, 000, even if each and every one of them worked full time at the “rate of pay” shown by the payrolls. Actually at least one-quarter of them were working only “part-time” so that the total weekly income of the group was thereby considerably reduced. We believe that the figure of $170,000 is a generous estimate of the actual earnings of this group of ten thousand workers each week. The Negro Woman Worker:
The survey showed that comparatively few Negro women are employed by Allegheny County’s larger industrial, or commercial firms. Of the 731 firms studied, 679 employ women in some capacity. But only 52 of these same 679 concerns that had women employees had any Negro women on their payrolls. Their Negro female employees totaled only 546 and only one of these was reported to to be an office-employee. It apparently “just does not occur to the employers that Negroes can do office work.”
The largest employers of Negro women were the department stores (104), the hotels (102), the hospitals (97), the clothing trades (86), and the laundries (72). Practically all of those employed in the clothing trade worked in one plant.
The major classifications for these 546 Negro women workers were maids (100), needle workers (86), laundresses (73), tobacco strippers (18), elevator operators (15), janitresses (5), and checkroom attendants (5). The others were scattered as cleaners and dyers, cooks, dishwashers, matrons, wrappers, pressers and scrubwomen. There was one office-clerk, one saleslady, and one seamstress.
Firms Not Employing Negroes:
Of the 731 firms studied 282 (38.1 per cent) employed no Negroes whatever. They covered the entire field of business activity in the County and frequently were found to be located very near to competing firms which do hire Negroes. Of the 282 firms which do not employ Negroes in any capacity 86 come under the heading: “Firms employing fifty or more persons,” with an aggregate employed force of 18,289. The ten largest of these firms alone have 10,044 employees on their payrolls, ranging from 4,600 to 400.
The reasons given for not employing Negroes varied, and were frequently ridiculous in the extreme. One firm reported that it could not hire Negroes because “the nature of our work makes it necessary for our employees to go into the intimate recesses of homes.” Thousands of these same homes are occupied by Negro families while Negro servants certainly go into “the intimate recesses” of thousands of the white homes of the city. Another said: “The mill next door hires Negroes; therefore, we shouldn’t.”
The replies from the 86 largest forms (not employing Negroes) showed: No special reason (40); Negroes never applied (11); Specialized work at which no Negroes are skilled (9); Unions supply help and no Negroes members of the particular union (5); racial prejudice (21). “No work that can be segregated,” “white help better,” “in white locality,” were some of the other answers to this question of why the payrolls are lily-white.
Membership in Unions:
The returns were grossly inaccurate and incomplete in regard to the membership of the Negro in organized bodies of labor. Save where there were company unions, the employer either did not know, or, knowing, would not give, figures on the union membership of his employees. Only 19 Negroes were reported by the employers as members of American Federation of Labor unions. The reports for industrial union membership were just as incomplete. It is known that many Negroes are members and, in several cases, officials of the United Mine Workers of America, the Trade Union Unity League and other industrial unions.
Moreover, in some cases, such as building trades, only those working at the moment were reported by the employer. Thus a Negro carpenter, holding a union card, but not employed by one of the construction companies the day the interviewer called, would not have been counted here, or elsewhere, in the study. The returns on unionization (as given by employers) are, therefore, without value. In passing, it should be noted that this subject, which is to be covered in the fourth of the series of surveys, is highly important since some of the unions supply all of the labor used in certain lines of employment—and no Negroes belong to certain of these unions.
Study 2—The Negro in Retail Business Firms covered 375 firms in a widespread variety of lines but was limited to the city of Pittsburgh alone. Of these 375 firms, 141 had either moved or gone out of business since their listing a few months before in the then current telephone directory; 47 were found to be improperly classified as retail business; and 18 refused to give the information sought. Figures were secured on 99 firms which together employed 1,068 persons, divided as follows:
There was no retail classification covered in which some Negro workers were not found. In most instances, they did menial work, with the largest number classified as porters. It is important to note that in these 99 firms only two Negro elevator operators were found. This field of work, once open as a “Negro job,” would appear to be on the rapid decline. It is also important to note that here again, as in the case of the larger industrial firms, the Negro woman hardly enters the picture.
Among other interesting facts it was found that the NRA had affected, for the better, either the wages or hours, and in some instances both, in 18 cases. The highest weekly wage found among this group was $22.50. In one instance a Negro man works for “tips only” as a poultry dresser in a kosher meat shop. Since the rabbis prepare all the kosher meat, the Negro is dependent upon the occasional gentile trade for his tips. Two porters in a jewelry store receive, respectively, $17 and $20 a week. The manager stated that they were being paid “on the basis of their needs, the number of their dependents, and their work records of 25 years.”
It was found, as a result of these first two studies, that the Negro in the Pittsburgh district has not lost, nor gained, out of proportion to the workers of other nationalities and colors in the same plants. There has been no wholesale firing of Negroes, and almost no instances of replacements by workers of other races when forces have been re-hired. However, the fact that he is, and has been, confined to the lower paid and most-easily-dispensed-with processes has driven him to the relief rolls in disproportionate numbers. Also the almost complete cessation of building construction, in which large numbers of Negroes are ordinarily employed, had its effect.
These studies have accomplished in a few weeks what the “visitation service” of the Urban League and the State Employment Office must necessarily have taken months, or even years, to cover with their small regular staff. And in so rapidly changing a situation, there would never have been a “spot-picture” such as this use of Work Division investigators secured. The findings will have a bearing for years to come in the fields of employment, training, and vocational guidance. Negro boys and girls may be guided into those fields from which they are now excluded purely because of lack of training while efforts are made to open new fields among those firms which now maintain a lilly-white employment policy.
Opportunity, 13 (February, 1935): 40–42, 59.
The findings of several inquiries concerning the efficiency of Negro labor as compared to white labor are brought together in an article in the December 1934 issue of the American Federationist, by Robert C. Weaver, associate adviser of economic status of Negroes, United States Department of the Interior.
These findings are regarded as of special interest in view of the fact that since the setting up of the President’s recovery program there has been a great deal of discussion on the relative efficiency of colored workers. In the South particularly it has been reported that Negroes are not so efficient as the white workers and that as a consequence it is “impossible and uneconomic” for employers in that part of the United States to pay these colored workers as much as white laborers.
According to the author of the article here reviewed there is no direct evidence to support or refute the statement. In his judgment, however, there are some pertinent data on the subject in question, although he doubts whether the efficiency of labor is scientifically measurable by race. He declares that up to the present no such studies have been made. The results of some investigations of the attitudes of employers on the matter and some additional data for a single industry are, however, available. The greater number of the inquiries as to the opinions of employers, made in the latter part of the last decade, are concerned with the North and the West. In those sections of the United States there is not so much industrial prejudice against the Negro as in the South. Moreover, the Negro workers are more carefully selected in the North and West, and the information secured relates to a period in which Negro workers were entering industries from which they had been formerly excluded. Employers were uncertain as to the desirability of these newly tried laborers, who were used because other labor was not available. Such workers were not expected to be efficient, and, consequently, the favorable reports of employers upon the efficiency of Negro labor, while they do not disprove the statement that Negroes are less efficient workers, do tend to weaken it.
Among the inquiries cited in this article in the American Federationist is one made by the Chicago Commission on Race Relations in 1920. That body reported that 71 employers interviewed considered the Negro as efficient as white workers and 22 reported the Negro as less efficient; the first group, however, included nearly all of the large employers of Negroes.34
The following table is a compilation of the results of three other inquiries as to employers’ opinions on the relative efficiency of Negro labor. One of these surveys was made by the Detroit Bureau of Governmental Research, another by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, and a third by J. Tinsley Willis in connection with the preparation of a master’s thesis on Negro labor in the tobacco industry in North Carolina.
Efficiency and Regularity of Negroes as Compared to White Workers, according to Opinions of Employers
1Feldman, Herman. Racial Factors in American Industry. New York, 1931, p. 60. Data are for 1926.
2Johnson, Charles. The Negro in American Civilization. New York, 1930, pp. 70, 71.
3Willis J. Tinsley. Negro Labor in the Tobacco Industry in North Carolina. An unpublished master’s thesis at New York University, 1932, pp. 46, 47. Data are for 1930.
4“Recent migration was felt to be responsible for the high rate of irregularity. Labor turn-over for Negro employees was thought to be generally less than that for white employees.”
Commenting on these findings, Mr. Weaver says:
Although these data speak for themselves, a word should be said by way of explanation. In the first place, statistical material can never tell the whole picture. The Negro is not offered the same inducement to increase his efficiency as is his white prototype. Working conditions in the South are particularly unfavorable and in all sections of the country there are few inducements for efficiency by way of better jobs which act upon the colored workers. Thus employer assertion of equal efficiency for Negro workers assumes greater importance and significance. It means that in spite of the traditional attitude toward the Negro, and in the face of the smaller likelihood of promotion that presents itself to colored workers, their labor has so proved its worth that it is judged to be as efficient as that of another group which has enjoyed and does enjoy greater advantages. This evidence points to the potentialities of Negro labor, if it is treated in a more just and sympathetic manner.
In Mr. Weaver’s judgment, the closest approximation to a valid investigation of the efficiency and regularity of Negro labor is Miss Alma Herbst’s study of the meat-packing industry in Chicago, published in 1932. Miss Herbst covers the “typical” establishment having the Bedeaux wage-payment system under which, after standard output is fixed, any worker exceeding it gets a premium. Although it is not certain that the workers fully understand this system and although the industrial processes do not render easy a precise allocation of production per man, the premium payments are instructive. When a group is given premiums, it is evidence that the output of the members of that group is above standard. They must have attained and exceeded the minimum efficiency requirements. The accompanying tabulation presents some of Miss Herbst’s findings. The data are only for employees affected by the Bedeaux premium system.
Earnings of White and Negro Male Employees as Affected by Bedeaux Premium Wage Payment*
*Include only those whose wages are affected by Bedeaux premium wage payment.
Fifteen and one-tenth percent of the white women elibible for premiums as contrasted to 6.5 percent of Negro women of the same group failed to receive these extra payments. The proportions awarded premiums up to $5 were approximately the same for both races, but 16.3 percent of the Negro women as compared to 8.8 percent of the white women getting premiums had extra earnings of $5 per week.
The sources cited in the article under review seem to indicate a tendency for the employers to feel that the Negro’s regularity is less satisfactory than his efficiency. By way of explanation of this attitude, the author states that Negroes are as a rule hired to do unpleasant work which is frequently casual and that they are also marginal laborers with a slight hold on their jobs. These facts, in addition to the fact that the type of labor which falls to the lot of colored workers is of the kind that ordinarily has a higher turn-over, regardless of the race of those doing such labor, throw considerable light on the tendency toward irregularity. “For the most part,” the author says, “this is an occupational and not a racial characteristic.” It is found among Negroes because of their job distribution. He concedes, however, that there is a racial factor in this irregularity. The Negroes, he reports, find advancement based on ability very difficult and consequently have recourse to new jobs in order to improve their economic status. Moreover, “the greater degree of irregularity seems to have been, in part, an attribute of the post-war period.” Again, rural workers find it no easy matter to adapt themselves to urban industry. The southern textile manufacturers have noted this tendency to irregularity in recently recruited white labor for the cotton mills. “There are evidences to the effect that Negroes, as they gain more industrial experience, are reducing the degree of their irregularity.” For example, in 1930 the North Carolina employers testified more favorably along this line than the Detroit employers at an earlier date.
The above analysis, according to the author, seems to show certain tendencies.
It seems to point out that the Negroes’ efficiency varies in proportion to the favorableness of their working conditions. In addition, the Negro has become efficient in industries in the period since the World War. The evidence supplied by his employers and by an independent investigation is to the effect that he is as efficient as the white worker. When one considers the occupational distribution of colored workers, it seems that the irregularity of Negroes is about on a par with that for whites. In light of these findings, certain conclusions can be drawn. There is no reason for setting the wage for the Negro below that for white workers. Pleas for separate minimum wages for colored workers in the codes of fair competition rest upon a traditional attitude toward Negro labor. The assumption of lesser efficiency for Negroes has not been proved, and all the evidence we have about relative efficiency seems to refute the assertion.
Monthly Labor Review, 40 (February, 1935): 335-38.
Occupational Distribution of Negroes
Of every 1,000 gainfully occupied Negroes 10 years of age and over in the United States in 1930, 25 were reported in professional service as compared with 79 per 1,000 native white gainful workers in such service and 44 per 1,000 of the foreign-born white gainful workers. In clerical occupations, however, the findings were much less encouraging for the Negroes, only 7 per 1,000 of the gainful workers of that race being included under this classification, while the corresponding figures for the native and foreign-born white gainful workers were, respectively, 104 and 41.
Other contrasts for these three groups of the population are given in Table 1 from “Negroes in the United States, 1930-32”, published by the United States Bureau of the Census in 1935.
According to Table 2, from the same report of the Bureau of the Census, the proportion of Negro gainful workers 10 years of age and over in the United States, in specified occupations in which Negroes predominated, 1930 ranged from 50.1 percent of the midwives and 50.6 percent of the bootblacks to 84.1 percent of the laborers in fertilizer factories.
Monthly Labor Review, 42 (April, 1936): 975-6.
By Bill Smedley
Ford, one of the largest automobile plants in the world, and General Motors Corporation is another automobile concern with branches throughout the State of Michigan.
There is not one of these industries that doesn’t employ Negro labor. The majority of the Negro workers have come from the South seeking work. This was because of the big headlines printed in the newspapers and general agitation concerning Ford’s and high wages in the Automobile industry. And especially because the Negroes thought freedom from discrimination, Jim-Crowism and the right of their cultural development would be permitted.
On coming to the North, discrimination and Jim-Crowism took on different forms. Whereas Negro and white aren’t allowed to ride together on the street cars, trains, etc. (on the train for example, the Negro must sit in the coach near the engine where all the smoke comes through) in the North they ride together. On jobs in the South where Negro and white work together, they must not eat together and they drink water out of cups that are marked—one for the white and another for the Negroes. This policy is not so prevalent in the North. In the South, the right to vote is denied to 3/4 of the Negro population, while the North they have the right to vote. In the South separate schools are built for the Negro and white youth, and consequently many privileges are given the white over the Negro youth by the State and county officials. The schools of the whites are much more confortable than those of the Negroes. The expenditures for education by the State county amount to $2.89 for Negroes per term and $10.32 for whites. (Chas. Johnson, “The Negro in American Civilization”). In the rural districts particularly, Negroes attend school 7 months per year and the whites 9. In the North they attend the same schools equally insofar as time is concerned.35
On receiving jobs in the North, the Negro is given the worst. In Chevrolet (G.M.C.) there are very few Negroes operating machines. They are either cleaning the floors, machines, etc., or out in the steel yard. Therefore, their wages are considerably lower than the white workers’ because they “can’t” operate the machine. In the South he operates the machine, but receives 1/3 of the wages as that of the white worker for the same work. In Briggs (G.M.C), thousands of Negro youth are employed. Their job is sanding automobile bodies. There are approximately five times more white than Negro workers employed but not one single white worker is on this job. Ford has a reputation for distributing jobs equally, in other words, “equal rights” to the Negroes. But Ford’s work is done mainly with machines; if he is to work Negroes at all they must operate machines. But look in the foundry at Ford’s. Of course that is the hottest and heaviest spot in any factory. Here, where the most strenuous energy is required, is where the Negroes in Ford’s predominate. That is his “equal rights” to the Negroes. Oh! There is just another instance by the way, to make sure that Ford is for equal rights for the Negroes. Dearborn is a city where no one but Ford workers live. But the Negroes are not only forbidden to live there—but better not be caught there, especially after sun-down, if they don’t want to be terrorized by the police.
In May, 1935, a Negro went to speak at a May Day celebration. When he got off the street car and walked about 4 blocks he was stopped by the police scout car and told that “No Negroes live in this city—what are you doing here?” Of course his answer was that he had a white friend who was helping him to get a job at Ford’s. He was told to get out as quickly as possible.
Let us take Briggs. Here the Negroes get the jobs of sanding auto bodies, trucking, etc. Sanding requires dipping your hands in water from the time you enter the plant until your day’s work is finished. The end of your fingers are almost worn off after having worked there for any length of time. You must also stand in water without rubbers on your feet. Trucking is hauling auto bodies to and fro lifting, straining, etc. There is not a white worker on either of these jobs in spite of the fact that they are in the majority in the factory.
Thus, the difference in the North and South is that the signs for Negro and white to go by are not posted up. If we take another phase of work we will see that discrimination is not a mere accident but the policy of the bosses. In City Service there are 210 Negroes employed out of a total 23,364 employed in municipal jobs. The Negroes in this city constitute 6.7% of the population, but 26% are on relief rolls.
Negroes and white attend the same schools, theatres, and restaurants. But in many theatres and restaurants are not permitted. For example, in July, 1935, I, together with some white friends went in to the Wayne drugstore for a soda. We all called for the same flavor and portion. Theirs was 10₵ and mine was 25₵. Well, of course my friends together with me refused the drink and reported the case to the American Youth Congress that was in session at that time for rather a meeting of the Executive Committee, in the Wayne Hotel. A committee was sent down, a picket line formed and forced the management of the drugstore to promise elimination of discriminatory practices.
The ruling class have also their Negro agents who play a treacherous role against the Negro people. In February, 1935, the Negro workers in Ford’s plant began to manifest their willingness to struggle against low wages, speed-up and for the 6-hour day, without reduction in pay. Marshall (Negro) assistant employment agent at Ford’s stated: “The Negroes must keep out of the unions if they want to work at Ford’s. Ford has always gotten along without the unions.” (Detroit Independence, Feb. 1935).
Corrupted politics is so predominant, that even in getting a job at present you must be recommended by the preachers and politicians. Especially, is it significant to note the role the leaders of the church organizations play. Rev. Bradley, pastor of the 1st Baptist Church is known as one who sells jobs for Fords. To get a job requires a “good character” and from $10 to $20. Chas. Boxborough, once State senator of Michigan, 1930, is also known as one who can “fix” you up with a job at Fords.
The Negro people are beginning to seek their way out through united working class action on the economic and political field. In the fall elections of 1935, the heaviest vote for Maurice Sugar in Detroit (labor candidate for councilman) was obtained among the Negro population.
On October 23, 1935 an “Economic Conference on Negroes in Michigan,” was held at which representatives of many organizations were present such as: Churches, N.A.A.C.P., tenants leagues, Y.M.C.A and Y.W.C.A and similar organizations. Delegates were elected to the conference held in Chicago (Negro Congress), program of struggle for the rights of the Negro people adopted, and a committee set up to lead in the building of the organization that will help free them from the oppression of the bosses.
The Black Worker, 6 (August-September, 1936): 10–12.
By A Seaman
Negro seamen in the U.S.A. are more and more being driven out of the industry. In 1928 and 1929 there was hardly a ship sailing the high seas that did not carry Negro seamen in one of its departments. During the days of coal burning ships, two ships out of three carried Negro firemen. Since then, the ships have been installed with oil burners and the work is lighter, the Negroes have been replaced with white firemen. There are still a few Negro firemen working on some of the remaining coal burning ships, especially those that run to countries having a hot climate. These few seamen, knowing that if they lose this job they will not be able to get another ship, are forced to accept extremely low wages, some of them having to stand six-hours watches.
The only place for the Negro seamen today is in the stewards department. Here they have to work from ten to twelve hours a day, and have to do the job of an ordinary seamen also, such as scraping, and painting the galley gangways. They stop this half hour before meal time in order to prepare to serve the officers and crew. On most ships the stewards department receive the lowest wages. Some companies paying less than $30.00 per month. But now even these jobs are not secure for the Negro seamen. The crews of this department are being replaced by white crews.
In 1928 the American Hampton Roads Line carried Negroes in stewards departments on every ship in the fleet. Gradually they were removed. Why were they removed? Because they were inefficient? No, the captains of the ships were forced to admit that they understood their jobs and were able seamen. After 1929 along with the lowering of the standard of living of the workers in the factories the semen’s standard lowered also. The seamen became dissatisfied, the Marine Workers League was organized and began to carry on propaganda among the seamen, explaining to them the necessity of unity. The shipowners knew that with the Negro and White seamen united they would not be able to carry out their wage slashing programme. They began to carry out their policy of divide and rule, by replacing Negro crews by white crews, which helped to create antagonism between the two races.
More than once have the white seamen been told that if they did not like the wages and conditions on the ships, they would be replaced by the Negro seamen. The same is told to the few remaining Negro seamen that are on the ships, if they don’t like the job they can get off, because there are white seamen waiting for the job. This left each group of seamen blaming the other for their destitute condition.
The seamen are now beginning to wake up. They are beginning to realize that only the unity of both Negro and white will win jobs and decent wages for them on any ship and in any department they are capable of working in.
The recent strike on the Eastern Steamship Company gave proof of this. This company, carrying 600 Negro stewards on its ships, were forced to give the stewards higher wages and shorter hours, because the white members of the crew supported them. The company was unable to divide them by offering to give the stewards their demands and repeating to give the white members of the crew their demands, simply because these 600 Negro stewards refused to go back to work until all demands were settled. Only in such a way will the Negro seamen remain in the industry, and win the right to work in any department he is able to, instead of being limited to washing pots and pans.
The Black Worker, 6 (August-September, 1936): 12–13.
Approximately 4 (3.8) percent of the 73,122 Negro gainful workers in the District of Columbia in 1930 were professional persons, 1.7 percent were proprietors, managers, or officials, and 6.3 percent were clerks and kindred workers. The majority, 66.2 percent, were unskilled workers. Of the 31,311 Negro female gainful workers, 75.1 percent were unskilled, servants being included in this group.
The following table from a press release of the United States Bureau of the Census, dated May 12, 1937, shows the distribution of gainful workers in the District of Columbia in social-economic groups, by color or race, and sex, in 1930. In this presentation approximately 83.8 percent of the Negro gainful workers are classified as unskilled or semi-skilled, as compared to 17.9 percent of the native white and 32.1 percent of the foreign-born white.
Gainful Workers in the District of Columbia, by Color or Race, Sex, and Class, 1930
1Includes figures for 545 workers of “other races”—506 males and 40 females.
Monthly Labor Review, 45 (September, 1937): 612.