Blacks in the USA in 1945 were not considered as equal; the treatment of people was based on their skin colour, a practice that had been going on for many years before, even after the Reconstruction of society after the Civil War in which the blacks were “liberated” from slavery. In theory, blacks were free to work and live where they wanted, but the figures at the time told a different story: by 1960, around 17% of the workforce of “white-collar” workers, i.e. professional, technical, administration, etc., were blacks, while the whites remained the majority at 47%. The “blue-collar” work, such as craftsmen, manual labourers, etc. – jobs that are renowned for needing less skill and education – had 40% of the workforce as blacks, and 36% were whites. Blacks just weren’t provided the education and qualifications to do the professional types of work due to separation of black and white facilities. Not only were they held back at getting the higher-class jobs, they were paid less for the same work that whites did; in 1950, blacks earned about 53% of a whites wage. This figure remained the same over the next 20 years, with it rising 11% to blacks earning 64% of a whites wage. All over the USA, blacks were discriminated against in almost all areas of life, whether it is the law of the state, or just by the custom of the local society.
After the abolishment of slavery, slaves had the choice of moving away from their former homes and having their own lives; unfortunately, many blacks didn’t have any money to move halfway across the USA to the northern states that had fought to free them. Those who did have the finance to travel rarely had enough money afterwards to sustain a good quality of life after they had moved. The custom of de facto came into play in some of the Northern states; ghettos and places where the majority of the population were black sprung up in towns and cities. Segregation by custom in the North was contrasted with segregation by law, or de jure, in the South- Jim Crow laws forbade blacks, for example, to enter white facilities, or sit on buses with whites, etc.
Places where de facto was in force came up with other ways to separate blacks from whites to keep the Southern order of things; “red lining” was when banks were not allowed to give money for mortgages if they suspected it would be a risky investment- if a black family moved into a certain area, it would lower the prices of the surrounding houses. This meant that places such as ghettos were built up, when the majority of the population were black. This type of segregation wasn’t by law, but by custom, blacks weren’t forced to live in “black” areas, but they felt pressured to live in certain places because of the practises such as red lining in effect.
Although it is in the Constitution that everyone is equal and has the same civil rights, it is beliefs like red lining that push a wedge between races; it may not seem constitutional, but it is up to the Supreme Court in the USA to decide what is constitutional. They decided that slavery was lawful mainly due the fact that the Southern states economy was based on slavery; they were needed to produce cotton, the main export in the 19th century. Without them, the economy would have fallen apart. After the 13th amendment to the Constitution, slavery was no longer legal, but the Supreme Court still remained to overlook state laws that continued discrimination and practices that could be seen as worse then slavery- for example, the Ku Klux Klan were allowed to terrorise and lynch blacks, yet lynching was not made illegal.
“The Supreme Court declared that the 14th amendment forbids states, but not citizens, from discriminating” (1) Separate facilities for blacks and whites were considered as the solution to the discrimination problem; the Supreme Court believed that the blacks were “separate but equal” when they were forced to use different buildings, transport, schools and hospitals then the whites. Since the Supreme Court approved laws and could declare them unconstitutional if they wanted to, they were the ones who the blacks has to convince if they wanted to change anything; in legal cases, the trial had to be taken to the Supreme Court to have any impact, since the State Courts were always going to be in favour of the Jim Crow laws. The Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896) case was when Homer Plessy refused to sit in the “coloured” car of a train and sat in the “white” section instead.
The case went to Supreme Court, and they ruled that Plessy was guilty and sentenced him to pay a fine or go to jail. This was considered the most shameful ruling of the Supreme Court in history; it shows the extent of the discrimination against blacks, even after slavery was abolished- even though Plessy was 1/8 black and 7/8 white, he was still considered as black in the eyes of the Louisiana law. Although many people thought that this ruling was shocking, there wasn’t much that could be done, since they did not have a definite leader to show them what the do; everything that the movement did was relatively unorganised, with maybe one person leading the others. People such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Booker T. Washington tried to unite blacks under one leadership, but it did not work, because everyone has different opinion on what should be done about the discrimination problem.
Dr Martin King Jr. was a black leader that advocated peaceful resistance; because of this, many whites accepted him because they knew that he would not cause violence, but blacks did not like this as peaceful protest could only take them so far- they felt that King was weaker then some of the other extremist black leaders, such as Malcolm X. King’s approach to fighting against their oppression wasn’t enough to keep the blacks following him; they preferred people who were willing to do more for the benefit of all blacks.
Another leader who was thought as weak by fellow blacks was Booker T. Washington; he was accused of being an accommodationist to the whites, as he wasn’t campaigning for equal civil rights, he was concentrating on equal job opportunities- this wasn’t what the blacks were fighting for; they wanted to be free to do what the whites could do, not only in jobs but in other aspects of life too. The leaders of the movement were not united, therefore they were not strong- many leaders were critical of others, for example, W.E.B DuBois criticised Washington, saying that blacks cannot get social equality if they do not get political equality first.
The New Deal is a phrase used to explain the actions taken after Black Tuesday when the US Stock market crashed to stop the effects of the Depression disturbing the lives of the public. Laws were passed to help stop the consequences of the Depression becoming a long-term problem; within the first hundred days, President Roosevelt passed a law that lowered worker’s salaries and pensions by up to 15%- a move that people did not like, yet it saved a lot of money for the government. Another act was passed that stated that the government could inspect banks before letting them open again so they could see if the bank was eligible to lend and hold money.
This prevented banks lending out money that they did not have, therefore they did not losing money for their customers and wouldn’t have to close, as they would have to have done if they did lend out money they didn’t have. The New Deal was produced so the government could help all of those that were affected by the Depression; this helped the blacks because they were some of the poorest people in the USA at the time, and as many as 8% of blacks were unemployed in 1955. For the blacks, the New Deal slightly improved their way of living as it was designed to help everyone without discrimination. Soon after New Deal was set up, the situation for blacks was improved socially by the outbreak of the Second World War.
When the Americans were brought into the war, they needed as many men as they could to fight; blacks had regiments where they could join and be equal to whites, but they still were not allowed to belong to the same regiment as the whites- there were some who did, but they were rare, they normally belonged to an all-black regiment. At the end of the war, the blacks got more ambitious; they were allowed to fight for their country, but America wasn’t even grateful enough of them to let them be equal. This would have enraged African Americans since they had fought so hard to be a part of America, so the Civil Rights movement activity increased, which put pressure on the government to do something. The Nazi ideology also pushed the government into action, because what the Americans were doing to the blacks could be compared to the Germans discriminating against the Jews in Germany; the blacks realised this, so demanded equality, as they didn’t want the same to happen to them.
In conclusion, the position of blacks in 1945 was not equal to whites: even after a century of supposed “freedom” from slavery, blacks were still treated as inferiors to whites. Laws and acts were in effect that encouraged the discrimination of blacks. Amendments such as the rights for blacks to vote and the rights for them to be equal were passed, but there were so many other laws that cancelled them out. Jim Crow laws in the South and practises such as “red lining” in the North made it impossible for blacks to be seen as equal politically, whilst rebellions by extremist whites and groups such as the Ku Klux Klan stopped blacks gaining any social standing or equality.
Blacks were supposed to be equal, but by 1945, some may comment that the position of them was worse then slavery, as the blacks were on their own in there poverty and discrimination; before, they had their slave owners who would clothe and feed them to keep productive workers- they would never be out on the streets as slaves, but as “free” people, they received basically no help. Things that whites took for granted, such as clean and good-quality facilities, and jobs that are fair and just are things that blacks counted themselves lucky if they managed to get any equality. People like Martin Luther King Jr. and W.E.B. DuBois tried to get equality, both through violence and peaceful means, but it didn’t have much effect to the political and social standing of blacks. The discrimination of blacks continued right into the 20th century, even up into the 21st century. It was slow going for the blacks’ right to equality, but actions by both blacks and whites changed things for the better. However, in 1945, blacks were not considered as equal, but as 3/5s of a human being.
Field, Ron; “Civil Rights in America 1865-1980”; Cambridge University Press