The decade following up to WW2 there was general hostility towards Black Americans, lynching’s and beatings were quite common in the Deep South. Due to the huge amount of volunteered/conscripted black Americans who joined to fight for ‘liberty and freedom’ in Europe, many also fought the war of liberty and freedom at home. When black soldiers returned majority were still met with the same segregation and racism that they had felt when they left. However you could see some improvements in political, social and economic conditions for them; largely achieved through a combination of federal measures, supreme court decisions, and black activism.
But there were clear limits to this progress due to powerful forces such as white racist attitudes, congressional resistance and lack of executive commitment. Conditions Improved
The way the black soldiers had fought had changed a number of people’s views, including President Harry S. Truman, whom was known for being racist, understood that there were social developments in place and the black population began to have a voice such as organisations like the NAACP.
Immobilised Black American soldiers were given the chance to have a college education and they had took advantage of this, they had also been treated like heroes in Europe but were unequal in the USA- Truman saw this was injustice and though they shouldn’t be subject to racist attacks, which made them more motivated to take action. In connection to this, there was increased awareness of southern inequality due to more motor cars and televisions becoming more accessible, so campaigns were mobile and more recognised.
His reaction to this was “the buck stops here” meaning he was determined to get equal human rights for all citizens.
The extent to which his motives were questionable as it can be argued he was well aware the black vote was of growing importance for the Democratic Party, so he knew he needed to gain their support. However having the President on side was a great step to making black and white citizens equal, and was one of the key steps to success for the Civil Rights movement, the other two being a Supreme Court and congress with pro-civil rights majority in the US constitution. Truman took government action to help black people. In 1946, Truman established the President’s Committee on Civil Rights; they produced a report “To Secure These Rights” which examined racial minorities in America, so that they could address these issues. Such problems included lynching (over 300 reported cases from 1882-1945), police brutality(barbaric beating, forced confessions when innocent), voting rights (in 1944 only 18% of black people in the South could vote), employment, education and health ( black people were paid less that whites even if educated, and medical schools refused to take black students and they had less doctors). The summary was that segregation was causing many problems, “separate but equal” did not exist as blacks did not receive equal treatment, and were seen as inferior to associate with white people. Truman also appointed William Hastie as the first black judge in relation to making opportunities fairer in employment and education.
He also appointed Ralph Bunche as the American Ambassador of the United Nations; he mediated between the Israelis and Palestinians and won the Nobel peace prize for this in 1950. These government appointments impacted the psychology of the black and white citizens, they could all see that black people were beginning to get high positions of power and authority; this in turn would help secure more democratic black votes, as their fair opportunities were being shown to increase. He also recognised that black campaigners such as Philip Randolph were telling soldiers to not go to war due to how they were treated, and he used his power to desegregate armed forces, under an exec.
Order 9981 which guaranteed “equality of treatment and opportunity for all”, this boosted the morale and confidence of soldiers which encouraged them to fight for America. The inauguration of Truman was also not segregated, which showed the immediate effect of his policies all around the world as he had publicity.
The NAACP- the National association for the advancement of coloured people were a popular protest group that fought segregation and wanted to enfranchise black people with rights , between 1939 and 42, their members had grown from 50,000 to 450,000 so by 45 they were well established.Groups like these used methods involving both direct and indirect action. The indirect action the NAACP took were supporting people in their court cases to get the Supreme Court to take notice of the political incorrectness for black people. Such cases included the 1944 Smith v Alwright which concerned the voting rights of black people in Texas, they were allowed to vote in congressional elections but not primary elections- which were more important as it determined the winning candidate. The case was taken to the Supreme Court and the 15th amendment states that all citizens have the right to vote so the case was won and all white primary elections were outlawed throughout the whole of America.
In 1946, the case of Morgan v Virginia was regarding the segregation of interstate bus services, she was fined for not giving up her seat for a white person and she argued her constitutional rights were violated. This was taken to the Supreme Court and her case was won, segregation on transport was ruled illegal. in1950, Sweatt v Painter was a case about a black student wanting to study law, but was refused admission in Texas, a new law school was built for black students only, but this was shown to be inferior to the white school so Sweatt was able to register for the Texas law school and so the case was a success.
The Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954 showed how black children weren’t being provided with an adequate education, and that segregation had a negative effect on black children. It was recognised that southern states failed to provide an education and the racist education system didn’t reflect on the ideals on America, so the decision was reached due to a change in leadership of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren replaced the deceased judge and he was much more sympathetic so used his authority to persuade desegregation.
This case was a major stepping stone for black people, however there was a lot of white backlash, southern racists were provoked, like the KKK and white citizens council. The case was re opened for Brown II in 1955 as desegregation was not happening fast enough especially in southern states so it was argued a timetable needed to be implemented. The Brown case also demonstrated how the new President Eisenhower (from 1953) was unwilling to help, and showed how de jure change had little de facto change in the Southern states especially.
Much like when slavery was still legal, the primary jobs for African Americans in the south were in agriculture, where they would work for very low pay and as a result remain very poor. However war had forced the south to spend over $4.5 billion creating factories for war goods, blacks couldn’t get jobs in them at first though due to racism and prejudice on the part of those hiring (a social issue). But this was resolved in 1941 when President Roosevelt, under the threat of ‘black’ activism issued an executive order creating the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC). The FEPC forced industries not to discriminate on the grounds of ‘race, creed, colour or national origin’.
This had made the economic situation for ‘blacks’ better but it wasn’t to last as many were fired from their war time jobs to be replaced with returning white servicemen. Still,the war period had vastly improved the economic situation for African Americans on the whole, this can be proved on statistics alone; the number of unemployed African Americans in 1940 was 937,000 but fell to 151,000 in 1945, showing a huge improvement. Simply due to the lower income made by ‘blacks’ in both the North and South meant they were forced into substandard housing (Ghettos) as they were unable to afford better. In the North ‘blacks’ were predominantly industrial workers and during war time there was a second wave of black migration from South to North (the first being ‘The Great Migration’).
Again proved by statistics; in 1940 a quarter of African Americans lived in the North (primarily in industrial cities such as Philadelphia), but by 1950 it was nearly a third (a migration of about 500,000 during the war), this was driven by the ‘war boom’. It must still be kept in mind that although it jobs were better in the North the situation was still not ideal, ‘blacks’ would earn, on average, 50% less than their white colleagues and it was common for whites to object to the promotion of African Americans. Finally whites were still more likely to be employed over ‘blacks’ and example of this is in New York, where 6% of white men were unemployed compared to 10% of black men.