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Monday, January 18, 2016

Race in FDR's New Deal

Strained Coalitions

The New Deal coalition contained within its ranks both large numbers of African Americans and a huge constituency of racially conservative Southern whites. The racial tension inherent in such a political alignment is obvious; FDR usually tried to hold his coalition together by providing benefits for all while sidestepping racial controversy. He wasn't always successful, and the vexed issue of race in America limited the potential of the New Deal to truly transform our society.

Roosevelt was no racist (and his wife Eleanor was an early hero of the civil rights movement [source]) but the President knew he needed the support ofSouthern Democrats to pass his legislation and he wasn't willing to risk his program for the sake of racial justice.

It's terrible, but that was the reality of politics at the time.

"I Just Can't Take that Risk"

The harsh logic of Roosevelt's racial stance was expressed most clearly in 1938, when liberal congressmen attempted to pass federal anti-lynching legislation to halt the most horrific type of anti-black terrorism. (Several thousand black people were killed by lynching in the United States between the 1880s and 1960s.) Southern Senators angrily filibustered, and FDR defied black leaders and his own wife by refusing to throw his support behind the measure.

Just to reiterate here: there were people—like, actual humans beings—who thought hanging black people was okay.


1 comment:

Thornton Crowe said...

Brilliant. Amazingly, many in the black community herald FDR as yet another mythological emancipator that never was -- the New Deal was a horrific failure and even his attempt at court packing didn't win out.

What most do not know is after FDR's initial 100 days (the New Deal) his tenures were not very successful. Even in the light of WWII, he was slow to move into engagement due to the public sentiment still recovering from the travails of WWI. The New Deal had a very low impact on citizens that resulted in positive forward movement and many historians believe it prolonged the Great Depression an additional decade. There was actually a much worse Depression in the late 1800s that corrected itself because the government had a hands-off attitude at the time. It reversed itself within a year whereas the Great Depression lasted over fifteen years - only with the war and rationing - did the country's economy turn around. Why? Because government cannot spend its way out of a downturn economy.

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.