A NEW DEAL FOR BLACKS: The Emergence of Civil Rights as a National Issue by Harvard Sitkoff

A NEW DEAL FOR BLACKS: The Emergence of Civil Rights as a National Issue

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Harvard Sitkoff, professor of history at the University of New Hampshire, provides the first of a projected two-volume history of the black rights movement in the 1930s and 1940s. Discussing the period 1929-41, the book is impressive--judicious, well-researched, and lucidly written. The Roosevelt Administration, Sitkoff notes straight away, originally did little for Afro-Americans. Most relief initiatives of the First New Deal (1933-35) discriminated against Negroes and sought only economic relief and restoration to 1929 standards, not the reform of economic opportunities. (On this point, Raymond Wolters' Negroes and the Great Depression, remains the best indictment.) But through the 1930s, Sitkoff finds, attitudes towards the race problem changed among liberal New Dealers and radicals. These shifts stemmed from new intellectual formulations about race, the diminishing significance of Southern congressmen and Southern voters to the national Democratic party, the intense lobbying of Eleanor Roosevelt and Negro leaders, and a belated commitment to racial equality by new labor leaders and the American left. Sitkoff is extraordinary careful not to claim too much for the later New Deal. Yet he does maintain that it helped in many subtle ways (FDR's Court appointments, Executive Orders banning discrimination) to lay the groundwork for the civil rights revolution of our time by beginning to move the federal government to a prominent role in achieving racial justice. Sitkoff offers a long-needed, very thorough narrative.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1978
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press