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To what extent did the political, economic and social status of black Americans vary across the USA at the end of the Second World War?
Black American soldiers made up a sizeable part of the American army during the Second World War. As a result, one would expect the attitude of the racist white people and employers towards African Americans to change, from one of disdain and disillusionment, to one of respect and gratitude. However, as this may have been the case when it came to certain states, areas or individuals; History teaches us that the population of a country never speaks with one voice, and a wide mix of racism and segregation laws were still to ensue after the cease of the fighting in the Second World War. The main divide in opinion came from the divide between the opinions of the North and the South, and due to the lack of federal regulating laws on racism and segregation; each state was different in its attitude to African Americans, and posed a variety of hardships on the African American community, despite their undeniable contribution to the war effort.
As always, political change came first. Prior to the war in the southern states, only 2 percent of the black population could vote, yet by the end of the war in 1945, 15 percent had this right. Although this number was still small, it did show the first signs of an America that was on the way to racial equality. In the southern states where racial oppression was more present than the northern states, Civil rights groups began to appear, as they had begun to do all across America. These groups chose to remind people of the sacrifice and loss taken upon by the black community in the fight for freedom and justice during the war. However, these political groups, made up of black campaigners and ex-soldiers alike, were met with fierce hostility and racism in a part of America still set in its old traditional pre-war ways, and the number of Lynchings actually increased dramatically immediately after the war.
Although such a negative reaction was happening in the South, the political power of black African Americans was increasing in the Northern States. In 1945, blacks held a sizeable block of voting power. 16 states in the north had a population of blacks which made up 5-13 percent of the overall populous. This meant if they voted as one, they could change the result of an election dramatically. A step even further for black Americans was the election of William L. Dawson and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. two Black Americans who had been elected to congress, a huge success for the Civil rights movement, despite these being the only African Americans to be elected between 1943 and 1955. Finally came the appointment of African Americans to Federal positions by white American presidents, including William Haist, who was appointed a Federal Judge in 1949, demonstrating the new wave of extended rights the African American community in the North was about to experience.
After Black Americans had gained some form of political power, as often, economic power would follow close behind. The war had caused a huge boost in industry, and many blacks had migrated from the south to the north in order to find work, as employers in the south were racist, and favoured giving jobs to white Americans. This meant that by the end of the war, 48 percent of the black population of northern America was urban. In general, urban jobs paid more than rural ones, and as a result you could argue that the black population of the north was receiving a higher average wage than before, and were better of as a result.
However, the economic racism in the south had become so bad that action was needed. Roosevelt issued an executive order creating the Fair Employment practises Commission (FEPC) to avoid potential violence from breaking out, and to ease the tension that was building rapidly in the south, and all across America. One such threat was from Philip Randolph, a black civil rights activist who threatened to organise a march on Washington if the racist ways of post-war America were to continue. The act passed meant that employers could no longer allowed discrimination on grounds of race, creed colour and national origin. The new legislation made it easier for blacks to get jobs in the higher paid city industrial areas, and many moved to improve their financial situation. The economic situation dramatically affected the African American people, as it redistributed them to urban locations, away from rural areas, as they tried to improve their standard of living.
The largest social issue of the time regarding race, was segregation. Many southern states still enforced segregation after the war, and blacks were banned from restaurants, cinemas and hotels amongst many other public facilities. Another problem the black population faced was housing, in northern and southern states alike, a large percentage of housing available to African Americans would have been sub-standard, as opposed to 12 percent of the houses available to white people.
However an African American living in the northern states was subjected to much less racism and segregation. Eating transport and educational facilities were not segregated, making it more likely for different races to socialise and mix, although the divide in economic stability between blacks and whites meant they often lived in different areas entirely, and so certain areas had much higher proportions of blacks than whites, meaning segregation existed in a way, only that it was by the economic injustice that forced blacks to less desirable areas and facilities, rather than segregation laws.
Overall, the African American population were arguably better off after the war, although a large difference still remained between the north and the south, the north being much more desirable due to the treatment of blacks, causing many to relocate to northern states when possible. The American state system also allowed each state to have its own laws on racial segregation, and so one would notice many different attitudes towards African Americans if they were to analyse each state individually. Some legislation was passed in the Blacks favour, and an increase in civil rights groups, and black political influence showed blacks that there was hope for improvement, yet there was still a long way to go before they gained true equality.