The Impact of the Great Depression on the African American Community



The civil war which gave people of black origin relatively equal rights had occurred only in 1861 and the misery that it had caused was fresh in the minds of many who were young at that time. In many ways, the great depression brought back for America the memories of the civil war. The community which suffered the brunt of the Great Depression was the African American community, which suffered from a greater racial discrimination during this time than during times of normalcy. In the absence of plentiful employment opportunities, the little that was available was fought for fiercely. The alternative was to stand in long queues for food where there was always the possibility of going hungry. In such a scenario, there was a propensity for job-givers, who were then mostly white, to discriminate on the basis of race when they gave out jobs. As a result of such discrimination the unemployment rates of African Americans during this period, in urban areas was thirty to sixty percent higher than the rates for people of white origin (Davis 82, 2003). Most of the available jobs were taken up by white people and the African Americans were left in a miserable situation. This was the result of many factors. One of the most important of these was the dismissal of African American workers to make way for white workers. This was compounded by the loss of domestic jobs that many African American depended on for their livelihood. Even after the emancipation of the slaves, many people of black origin continued to work for white masters, for a salary, in these domestic jobs. Many of them lost their jobs since their employers could no longer afford the luxury of domestic servants. They also depended to a great extent on the construction industry which provided them with employment in unskilled positions. With the construction industry suffering great losses, even this avenue was not open to them. Moreover in the few of these opportunities, they faced tough competition from skilled white workers. They however, were provided with a reservation in the reduced-rent government housing construction projects that turned out to be extremely beneficial for them as it kept many members of their race afloat during a difficult period of time (Davis 82, 2003). The loss of jobs owing to reservation in certain sectors, however, gave rise to widespread discontent among the whites who had lost their jobs. There was a revival of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization that worked for white supremacy over people who were racially black. This period thus was one when the blacks suffered in many ways. Not only was their livelihood taken away in most cases, but they were also culturally marginalized. The racist nature of arguably the most iconic work of literature to come out during this period, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind stands testimony to the nostalgic desire of the whites for the return of the old order of which slavery was a part (Mitchell, 2008). Due to the widespread migration from the countryside, a lot of African Americans who worked in farms faced unemployment. Having lost their jobs, they were faced with poverty and starvation, which the government of the time was not in a position to remedy. African Americans of the countryside of the south thus had to face a lot of hardships during the Great Depression. The African Americans