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How accurate is it to say there was significant progress towards racial inequality in the period 1945-55?
Racial inequality in the USA was an extensive and significant issue before, and controversially after this time period. What is crucial to say is that progress still needed to be made – this is despite the colossal step forward predominately in the legal frame work of federal government, but economic and social steps too, for example – voting rights in the southern states. Arguably though these so called steps forward both helped and hindered the fight for black equality. An example of this hinderance would be the rise in white opposition due to African American protests.
One major problem in American society before 1945 was the lack of expression the black population had on American politics, and crucially if they could vote the amount of affect they could make.One effective section of American society that was positively changed by primarily Truman’s government was political appointments, and political change. Perhaps interestingly you could say, limitedly that political viewpoints and acceptance had been altered. On one section we look at political appointments. Under Truman’s government we see an attitude change to black people in politics. Before 1943 we have no African Americans in senior political and federal positions.
However the change begins in this year when William Dawson and Adam Powell were elected to congress – successively in 1949 we see William Haist become a Federal Judge. This arguably indicates a crucial change in viewpoints, or at least a step forward to this. Activism due to the war also heightened in1945. This point is crucial as its direct consequences allowed direct action to influence political agenda. For instance the Morgan V. Virginia case in 1946, arguably wouldn’t have appeared before the war. Irene Morgan with the help of the NAACP targeted supreme court, consequently ruling the segregation in interstate busses was illegal. So here we have a pathway.
Increased black activism, increased direct action and political judge appointments – alongside government change of tactic leads to the conclusion that significant progress with various court cases have vastly improved the racial equality, in 1945-55. In hindsight we see a consequence of CNO’s direct action campaign in Arkansas. In 1945 1.5% of black people could vote, however as a result of increased activism in 1947 17.3 voted. This was crucial as it shows the phenomenal change the war brought on activism and equality and more interestingly how the apparent change in political viewpoint changed how Black people were able to express themselves politically, arguably this suggests its highly accurate to say this time period was significant.
Another example of how significant progress was made was how various economic impediments were overcome. Before 1945 Huge restrictions, even in the North were upon Black workers – however under Truman’s Government and the ‘Secure these rights’ agenda things were about the change. ‘Secure these rights’ was a committee set up by Truman to highlight inequality and changes to be made in America. There are several main examples that were helped by this scheme, arguably the most significant were the various proposals and departments set up in 1949 which were consequently proposed to congress. One main section would be the ‘Fair Deal’ program. This initiative aimed to tackle fundamental economic inequalities. Evidence suggests that segregation was accentuated by literal segregation of communities.
Black people had a lower standard of living. Under Truman in 1949 we see a government initiative providing a higher minimum wage and a public housing scheme. Moreover, looking at a different section of economic impediments we see a huge unemployment difference between black and white people, a startling statistic is that 62% of low paid labour jobs were done by black people, only 28% white. This huge juxtaposition in jobs was yet again tackled by Truman and ‘Secure these rights’ In his 1949 speech (to an integrated crowd) he pledged to not fund organisations that discriminate on the grounds of race.
This was extended from before 1945 as the CGCC scheme. This arguably was achieved through Truman’s fight in the cold war, but perhaps more significantly through the efforts of Black direct action. Evidence suggests that although segregation was still an issue, looking back years before this era – significant change had been made to fundamentally the perception of people and the legal framework. I think looking at economic initiatives we see a path being built that wasn’t thought of before 1945. In this I believe this era is fundamental for the successes of people like Martin Luther King and the NAACP in the decades to come.
Social changes, mostly as a result of the factors above Eg. Secure these rights, also took place in this period. The fight for equality was most apparent in the South before 1945. We see all aspects of society from education to restaurants was segregated, but this was, at least attempted to be tackled in this era. Steps were being made, with the help of activism, courts and initiatives. With education we see Black children were being segregated in inferior schools and to many extents being treated as second class citizens. Fundamentally though this had wider consequents as this lack of quality education would put Black people for generations to come at a disadvantage – helping segregation in the economy. Here we have a historical pathway. As a result of the war – activism was increased and groups such as CORE and the NAACP emerged. This allowed lobbying of supreme court, and laws to be passed in their favour, eg. Sweatt V. painter case (1950).
In the Brown v. Topeka case we see that Direct action unswervingly caused the supreme court to rule in 1954 that segregation of schools was illegal. More over reported incidences of lynchings were proportionally lower in the later stages of this period, despite a boom after the increased activism. However on the whole the change is significant as it altered attitudes of the plessy v. Ferguson case in 1896, that black people can be ‘separate but equal’ This new ruling completely goes against this and I believe this is the true change of this period, and in many respects a beginning to the end.The evidence suggests here that without a doubt this time, due to many different factors was crucially significant to the framework of equality that was needed to change older and newer generations viewpoints on African Americans. Arguably in this light, this period seems detrimentally effective.
In stark contrast we look on the other side of the spectrum. We see numerous de jure laws being placed, and we see that framework being laid – but how significant is that progress? How effective were those laws? We are now underpinning how little de facto change actually took place, especially in the political realm. For example there was a change in law in particularly the southern states enabling Black people to vote. However Grandfather clauses’ (you had to be able to prove the previous two generations had voted) and unanswerable literacy test or clause (the ability to read) stopped Black people from voting. In 1947,17.3% of black people could vote in new orleans – but many were stopped because of sheer intimidation. More over in the North – where arguably politically barriers were not present, poverty of black voters often stopped them from voting.
So although laws had been placed preventing it – the idea of white supremacy constantly found routes around this. So looking at the significance of the change, the evidence suggests they are relatively minor in the de facto change. Furthermore we look at Truman’s significance, on one hand we see he was the first president (After Lincoln) to express Black equality so highly in his manifesto. However more significantly many of the proposals by ‘Secure these rights’ never got passed. This is because of the overwhelming about of racists in congress – arguably more could have been done in this period, but political factors stopped this from happening.
The examples made earlier was the creation of the ‘CGCC’ (Committee on Government contract compliance). At the time of creation, this seemed to have worked. However in hindsight we see that it was poorly conceived and could not force defence companies to implement fair employment. Here is a clear example of how on one side of the spectrum the CGCC seems to have made significant progress – however when you dive deeper we see that little change took place – suggesting that this time period was not as significant as first thought. Perhaps if more defined laws had been implemented and congress backed Truman this time period could have been more effective.
Political factors were not the only topic to doubt this eras significance. Stemming from this economically and socially, despite great change Black people still faced great hardship. In the South, they faced lower wages and higher unemployment. In 1950 one-third of black Americans lived in the North due to migration. This just fuelled the lower standards of living in ghettos, concentrated in industrial cities. On one hand this could be a positive factor, in that unemployment was down. Significantly though – looking at segregation, black industrial workers were unlikely to get payed the same as their white counterparts. Furthermore although unemployment had fallen they were still more likely to be unemployed than white Americans. For example in New York City 6% of the white population was unemployed, adversely the figure was 10% for black men.
On one hand, arguably opportunities had been changed and improved for black workers, but significant progress still needed to be made. For instance socially, schools were still segregated on the large part in southern states, similarly in other aspects of life such as state bus services and social areas. Crucially black people were still treated like second class citizens, in this period, in many aspects of life. This point had not changed from before 1945. Segregation, although in many cases illegal put black citizens at a disadvantage constantly – so they could never be in the same position as white people, suggesting significant progress still needed a lot of progress. Above all, looking in hindsight at this point it seems the position of black people had fundamentally not changed, therefore one could conclude that it is not accurate to say significant progress had been made.
In conclusion it is clear a combination of factors help both sides of this argument. On one hand we see that although de jure change has been made, little had been done to follow up these policy proposals, and on the whole peoples social, economic and political position changed very little. This is despite the steps forward in public engagement (direct action) and political momentum (Truman’s government). CORE’s ‘Journey of Reconciliation’ in 1947 is a prime example of this. On one hand we see black and white citizens standing up for what is right, non segregated interstate busses. However the consequence of this direct action was arrested campaigners and little media attention. Perhaps the years 1955, and later were more significant in making de facto change, in that problems were finally beginning to be solved at grass root level. However in stark contrast we look at the other side of the spectrum, relatively significant progress had been made.
For example if you look at the years before 1945, we see little or no change to the legal framework, other than the 14th and 15th amendments that considerably contributed to equality of African Americans, however in this period we see masses of physical change in all aspects of society. More over we see increased activism due to the war laid down the fundamental roots of direct action. For example one major fault of the Journey of reconciliation was the little time it was over, 2 weeks.
However these newly founded groups (UDL, NAACP, CORE) in this period grounded themselves, and learnt – for example the Montgomery bus boycott was a success, with the help of a better organised NAACP. On the whole I believe that it is hard to ignore the progress made in this period. From 1945, with primarily the help from supreme court many aspects of several generations lives were improved – and this improvement is more that can be said for any other period of time. It is this comparison alongside compelling grass root policies of Truman’s government that leads to the argument that it is accurate to say there was significant progress made 1945-55.