tv History Bookshelf Lauren Sklaroff Black Culture and the New Deal CSPAN June 3, 2018 8:05am-8:45am EDT
promoted black artists, including lena horne, duke ellington. this was recorded at the franklin d. roosevelt library and museum in hyde park new york in 2010. it is about 40 minutes. [applause] >> thank you so much for coming to this talk. for supporting the book, and thank you so much to the roosevelt library for offering this invitation. the new deal is often characterized as progressive, even revolutionary. nuanced economic policies coupled with a sense of executive emergencies led many americans to celebrate the roosevelt administration as a symbol of change and progress. in the minds of new deal administrators, these programs would alleviate suffering for american families, but they also have the potential to create an inclusive, participatory democracy. as cultural visionary louis mumford reflected on this
impulse in the 1930's, he pronounced, "more public good has come out of the bankruptcy of the economic quarter than ever came out of its flatulent prosperity." did mumford statement, however, applto all americans? more specifically, did the new deals inclusionary mission african-americans who , had arguably been suffering the most extreme poverty? asologically, it did, liberal officials such as harry hopkins declared a need to rescue the forgotten man. to uncover and celebrate all american communities, regardless of race or creed, rural and cosmopolitans alike. african-americans had, however, also become increasingly important to the roosevelt administration because of their growing presence in the democratic party. although african-americans have largely maintained their loyalty to the party of lincoln in the 1932 election, the creation of some early new deal relief agencies raised african-americans expectations of the federal government. likewise, the appointment of
liberal minded administrators such as interior secretary -- gave some indication that the administration was becoming more attentive to racial issues. demographic shifts influenced his political realignment as well. by 1934, the number of registered black voters increase in urban areas, particularly falling by continuous northern and midwestern black migration during the depression. cities with existing strong black communities, such as andington, d.c., chicago, new york city all witnessed population increase in the 1930s, contributing to the democratic coalition. although not uncritical of early new deal policies, by 1936 , african-americans no longer felt confident that the republican party had their best interests at heart. writing in a black newspaper the pittsburgh courier, one writer declared perhaps one any other
couple ever occupied the white house, president and mrs. roosevelt have demonstrate their friend and as an interest in the problems of colored americans. setting an example and -- exale in tolerance, which all white america should follow. there was a reason for many african-americans to share this optimism. by the mid 1930s, a topic of race relations had moved for isolated quarters into the new deal's larger public discourse. largely due to the commitment of the first lady. eleanor roosevelt formed close friendships with national youth administrations, negro affairs director mary mcleod bethune and naacp secretary walter white. and other black political leaders. by 1936, mrs. roosevelt had become active in anti-poll tax campaign and the struggle to procure a federal anti-lynching bill. in addition to racial liberal, other new dealers such as harry hopkins connected progressive
social reform to racial equality. hopkins worked to eliminate racial discrimination in relief projects, a view that the president publicly endorsed and in a 1935 speech to state works project administrators, saying we cannot discriminate in any of the work we are conducting, said the president. either because of race or religion, or politics. aubrey williams, the head of the national youth administration and will alexander director of the security administration also worked to encourage racial inequality and the respective in their equality respective agencies, and to -- the new deal also became and welcoming space for some african-american intellectuals and politicians. by the mid 1930s a black cabinet formed including individuals such as william hastings, robert alsor, and -- --
african-american advisors the wpa, the treasury department, and other essential agencies. as progressive as these developments were, the roosevelt administration could never commit to the full advance of civil rights agenda. the political composition of congress posed the most formidable obstacle to the passage of racial legislation. during both of the roosevelt and truman administration, southerners accounted for no less than 40% of democrats in congress, sharing about half of chairing about half of the committees. several political scientists remarked that even at the apogee of the new deal, the democratic party required the acquiescence of southern representative. who, as potential coalition partners for republicans, could block the national program. on a personal level, franklin roosevelt never endorsed civil rights as a priority, in part because he revealed a limited amount of sympathy.
when it came to racial issues. as his wife remembered when discussing the anti-lynching bill and the abolition of poll tax, her husband "although franklin was in favor of both measures, he never became must legislation. when i would protest he would say first things come first and i can't alienate certain votes i need for measures that are more important at the moment." given the executive reluctance towards the promotion of structural legislation, the roosevelt administration still recognized the need for racial policies that would maintain black democratic loyalty. undoubtedly, anti-discriminatory measures existed within many of the new deal programs although , they were difficult to enforce. in addition, the creation of a fair employment practices commission during world war ii was the hallmark in placing racial legislation as a priority on the federal agenda. he yet in my book, "black culture and the new deal," i argued that it was a creation of culturally based government
programs that were even more sustained and systematically implemented as a form of racial policy. initially conceived under the work progress administration federal arts project and then under wartime agencies such as the office of war information, and the war department, fine art and media-based program figure prominently on the civil rights agenda during the 1930s and 1940s. new dealers forwarded a cultural agenda that, despite all of its limitations, marked a significant turning point in the production of black culture. programs under the federal arts project and were agency serves as an important focus for black cultural advancement when minstrel images dominated commercial culture. in the 1930s and 1940s, popular music, radio and film industries segregated or excluded african-americans. debates within these state projects also noted how cultural -- corporal autonomy and
representational agency were vital in the quest for racial equality. in addition, federal response of cultural development reflected a pattern that would repeat itself during the depression and world war ii, providing continuity between the 1930s and 1940s, with art and media projects and -- as viable forms of racial policy. so, what do these programs look like? and i'm going to give you a little thumbnail sketch, which, if you happen to read the book, you will learn much, much more about them. beginning in 1935, government officials centered their attention on a corporate attention on incorporating african-americans into the federal arts project, and established as a white-collar relief program under the auspices of the far ranging works project administration. in the federal theatre project, which i will call the ftp, for
sake of brevity. it offered employment to black theatrical workers providing african-americans with non- stereotypical roles and bringing socially provocative entertainment to both black and white communities. the essential agency for the -- selecting plays that would cater to a white audience while still illustrating important racial themes. although the general criteria vary,cceptable plays ver supervisors implied that they would not consider topic that were too militant or on -- or unpredictable, and often shied away from controversial topics such as lynchings. plays recommended for production such as walk together children and brother most, featured themes of unionization, consider timing material. the bureau also recommended plays depicting the history of black resistance. three plays, the open doors, haiti, and black empire all portrayed the result of slaves -- the revolt of slaves against
the french in haiti, it is a subject close to the heart of every negro. in addition, the play bureau aimed reach a general audience in recommending plays with a strong musical components. "the spiritual of the coral provide a tremendously moving background." readers wrote of the green pastures, while arguing that the play john henry, include a , symbolic musical background. the ftp perform a number of dramas that tackled racial inequality in an uncompromising manner. plays penned by black americans included theodore ward's drama, big white fog, depicting one chicago family portraying interracial prejudice, the appeal and rejection of garveyism, and the embrace of communism and radicalism. frank wilson's brother featured the plight of black residents who were moved off line by what -- white authority to approve largely successful playing in 20 cities. the trial of doctor beck examined the prosecution of a light skinned man who had killed
his wealthy dark skinned wife. this had enough success to be moved to the famed maxine petetheaterr -- elliott on broadway. yet as congressional scrutiny of the federal theatre project heightened by 1938, many anti-new dealers considered the agency to be subversive which narrowed the political scope of the performances. under these conditions, the ftp started to focus on more seemingly-sanitized productions, such as -- in which the chicago negro unit performed to sold-out house for a sustained period. here, although the production achieved its popularity through the classic form of a gilbert and sullivan opera, black actors were able to interview the imbue the performance with their own racial meaning. it sheds the oppressive characteristics of, while a strict adherence to the plot and lyrics, pronounce the classic story as transcending racial
lines. within the context of the play black men and women experienced the same pain, happiness and friendship as those white counterparts, but performed for almost half a century. the syncopated music and modern choreography gave it its highest acclaim. only three songs were swung. it had in enormous impact on the performance. this technique served to legitimate the capacity of black actors who performed the street lyrics, but in swinging the songs, such as the jitterbug, and the lindy hop that black men and women assert that this was indeed their mikado, not a mere recitation of white men's words and music even , in absence of direct racial theme, presented in other negro performances, the swing my condo hashe swing macado significant political information for black performers. in the federal writers project, noted black poet sterling brown served as editor of the new
affair section, attempting to revise traditional narrative of black history. urging for the incorporation of black communities into the american guide series which were travel guidebooks for each state in united states. brown and his editors sought to portray a more honest depiction of race relations. brown's undertaking on how -- held important political implications for african-americans historyis as white historians account the slavery and reconstruction remain dominant up until that point. his directorial appointment demonstrate that liberal administrators believed importantly vision is and should -- imported revisionism -- important revisionism should occur in the hands of a black leader, and he held the highest post of any african-american in the foreign arts project. brown and his assistants in the federal writers project's sought to eliminate derogatory racial characteristics. negro affairs, editorse
ordered those in the various states to capitalize the word "negro" and to "avoid the use of the word darkie." in some cases come there was significant response to brown's comment difference in the indiana guide, which brown initially deemed not adequate at all, changed dramatically after a year of editorial exchange. eventually document black migration, political activities and leisure pursuits. in the texas guides, where he -- headfirst alleged black people as a quote lazy good for nothing lot during the third of reconstruction, the section was later revised noted that black individuals had been "cast adrift" by an indifferent government. unfortunately, attention to racial inequality and discrimination was not, within -- was not common within other southern guidebooks are although -- guidebooks. although brown often suggests a writer should mention the role of alexandria, virginia, as the chief way to getting firm in virginia, the published virginia guide neglected to discuss that fact. paradoxically, even in instances where southern writers admitted
to the economic and social progress of black citizens, they could not veer from traditional racial stereotypes. the montgomery, alabama, essay describes various types of black "using, and pronounced, negros have played a novel part in the cities quite steady growth." however, writers found it difficult again to avoid minstrel-like descriptions. and negro boy, usually across you don'ter's with , have to tote that grip boss man, for cheap. in most cases, writers at least follow brown's suggestion with minimal changes. still, brown is often frustrated with state officials let him to pursue a project focused entirely on african-americans under federal writers project auspices. brown and his colleagues
collected materials between 1937 and 1940, for an ambitious broad study entitled the porait of a negro as an american. which included sketches, studies, folklore studies and materials on slavery. research conducted largely by african-american writers with a -- for the guidebook also contributed to important study of black culture. former illinois writers and the use of their findings in the work of black folk traditions called a secret city. one writer used his guidebook research in his influential book, new world coming. the need for auxiliary projects raises the question of whether the federal writers project could create an integrated program that could thoroughly incorporate african-americans and meet the expectation of african-american intellectuals. although brown initially criticized the separateness in
writing by black historians, he eventually came to direct this kind of scholarship. for lack of a better alternative. despite the obstacles he faced, however, his achievements had a lasting effect, building the foundations of social history by privileging the expenses of marginalized groups. as americans entered world war ii, state administrators sought to integrate black americans into the cultural apparatus as they had in the 1930s. yet, the treatment of racial issues would unfold under much tighter parameters. wartime cultural officials were created with the explicit goal of boosting black moreale. some war officials understood and sympathized the african-american belief that the war against fascism was also a war against american racism. still, cultural administrators abided by the official line that the war was not a testing ground for social reform. in the 1940s, officials
pronounced media based programs as a solution to the "negro problem." a means of securing black support when the possibility of dissent existed. by the onset of world war ii, black expectations ran high. fueled by wartime egalitarian rhetoric and african-american political mobilization. discontent became manifest among black politicians and in the black press. as one letter to roosevelt and the naacp's literary, the crisis, despite your occasions, -- despite year expectations of unity, the 13 million of american citizens have not been made a part of the war effort. we who are willing and actions to fight for the freedom are not free. the political extended cheese of the 1940s, however, should not obscure the continuities within cultural development over the course of the entire new deal era. most significant, many men and women employed within the
federal arts project serve as administrative and wartime agencies, or performed in the project. yet there were major changes as well. with the new priorities of war production, dodge extended once focus on the dissemination of hierarchies quickly get your propaganda machine based on mass culture. officials now focused on radio, film and celebrities who enlisted in the war effort. african-american performers such as duke ellington and libby armstrong -- and louis armstrong frequently played at war related functions, and rising star lena horne begin to rival betty grable as a pinup among servicemen. yet by 1942, no african-american was more loved among white and black americans as heavyweight champion joe louis. his triumph in 1938, coupled with his patriotic announcement rendered him a potent symbol. administrators affirmed his political import as the brown bomber stood for heroism unity,
and a part of the armed forces, black military participation. in september of 1943, lewis headed a boxing tour along with nicholson, sugar ray robinson and george j. wilson under the army special service division to tour army camps in the u.s. and abroad. the boxing tour also serve the purpose of both in a team and athletic training. it could diminish racism by exposing truth to that promote good sportsmanship and teamwork. influences 46 months of army, he fought 96 exhibition in the u.s. and in england, france and italy. this experience gave louis the opportunity to witness the racism and poor conditions within black army camps. his most public challenge to racial discrimination was his refusal to fight or speak in front of segregated audiences. indicating that the boston tour was "not for any one race group."
for many black servicemen, his altruism and patriotic duties made him an important race leader. african-american private jimmy bivens described his relations -- his elation when he heard the boxing tour stating that morale , activities offered black soldiers greater opportunity than the common labor, the training camp. while pleased that the positive response of his military tour, administers in the war department still reviewed his appearance at certain events with the utmost scrutiny. morel branch chief osborne reacted to many proposals unfavorably, such as one for those speak at a closed giant demonstration and rally of racial unity in new york city. correspondence between political organizations that viewed lewis as a racially charged symbol, and those who aimed to protect the depoliticized nature of his presence presents a difficulty of controlling cultural interpretation. although louis' political stance was largely muted, when the government featured him and
boxing matches and other things, war protesters, these furthered the more racially charged symbol of the strong and sometime armed black man. like the promotion of joe louis, the creation of the jubilee jazz program in 1942, which is part of the armed forces radio service, was another attempt for war officials to recognize black americans through cultural contribution. administrators agreed that the best way to feature african-americans on the radio was to develop shows based mostly around music. employing luminaries such as louis armstrong, ethel waters, and lena horne, armed forces radio services director attempted to soften the heated subject of racial in the quality -- racial inequality with familiar black voices. yet, in spite of this, radio paradoxically provided many black artists with the opportunity to relate political messages. broadcasted both black and white servicemen, the show legitimated music by black performers which
white artists had often cleaned up and covered in other settings. in surveys, the armed forces radio service staff indicated that the show was the fourth most popular noting it was a top favorite with colored troops. these managers did not characterize jubilee as a negro show. instead, focusing on the function of the latest in jive and jump with artists such as ellington. while this description indicates that black performers were sent -- were essential, for officials it was important that servicemen of all races could enjoy the show. fans of jubilee revealed by putting with servicemen. usually program is absolutely tops and the gis really eat it up. from october 1943, to march 1944, more fan letters were addressed to the jubilee program show, exceptr afrs for the highly popular command performance. the armed forces reserve is
-- reserve responded to jubilee's ongoing popularity by establishing the show position during the peak listening hours. the program allowed for a wide range of musical style, leading many artists to record new music. singer-comedian timmy rogers performed his new song in 1934. the same year, ivy anderson play a new song released on record. and some songs on jubilee made direct references to racial and social inequality, such as rogers's performance of scrub, sweep and mop which described the task of black soldiers who were restricted from our highly -- from more highly skilled positions in the military. songs such as play the blues sung by ivy anderson recalled the tradition of black women such as bessie smith, who used music to decry social injustice. remarkably, jubilee allowed the middle artists unconditional positions on the radio. many served as guests for
congress. and many studio heads were unwilling to challenge racial ideas. only a handful of films represented african americans. while the productions did not often live up to rhetoric. nonetheless signaled the beginning of what would become a promotion of racial liberalism on behalf of the motion picture industry. the two most anticipated films "a cabin in the sky", and "the stormy weather", were significant financial investment in black talent illustrating a large group of black actors, dancers command musicians today. when government officials could cite hollywood's will greatest influence won out. -- hollywood greater influence won out. the all-black musicals also contains the greatest influence a black woman during the years. roles played suggested a range of possibilities for black women outside of the paradigm with the implications that black women could command of their voices and their movements. in advancing the owi's mission, hollywood also produced several films which heightened the status of black americans do the -- to the symbol of a multiethnic platoon revealing the greatest departure from racial stereotype. combat films conveyed a world absence of racial discrimination. likewise, "sahara," demonstrated the critical role a black man in an american military endeavor placing a sudanese soldier at the center of allied military strategy. interestingly they did not provoke any charges from the black press, which could have understandably been angry at a blatant denial of military segregation. instead newspapers held it as a presentation of a scholarly
negro hero. these papers evaluated the struggle for representation within the history of racial imagery characterizing the roles of central actors as groundbreaking. critics, such as billy rowe, understood that the fight for racial equality is being carried out on several fronts, politics, employment, education, and my study in the cultural arena. the state's most direct acknowledgement of black contributions to american life was the documentary the negro soldier. used as a mandatory orientation film for almost all black and white army trainees by the spring of 1944, it displayed the countless achievements of black soldiers and civilians assuring mention of any controversial subjects such as slavery and segregation, the vestry applauded the history of black cultures. most black individuals did not critique the film's admission of more controversial issues. langston hughes called it the most remarkable negro film never flashed on an american screen.
while military audiences warmly received the negro soldier the presentation was another matter. particularly in the south. in tennessee and arkansas and mississippi, and kentucky the film was largely restricted. the censorship of the negro soldier may seem surprising given the ostensible acceptance of the films in the region. the negro soldier was not a hollywood motion picture but they were documentaries testifying to the equal status of black servicemen. many southerners in the black military participation with intense hostility as racial violence in southern training camps illustrated. for many in the south of this embodiment could be a potent catalyst for civil rights legislation and activism. while the content and structure of all the programs are talked about different, there are the essential questions that surfaced in the development of all of them. how should cultural
administrators reconcile the often conflicting ideas of black political leaders and the african american communities that are targeted. can culture become truly integrated or should black political expression be expressed in separate publications? before the 1930's, african-americans only appear in a popular iconography. which reduces them to minstrel tropes. even as the roosevelt administration shied away from structural legislation the program still represented a pivotal moment in the quest for black civil rights. from the african-american communities represented in the state guidebooks to the black soldiers featured on screen alongside white servicemen , american culture in the 1930's and 1940's increasingly offered more ways for audiences to envision african american men and women. the creation of federal culture
the creation of federal culture was not an unproblematic history, but it is fundamental to understanding the struggle for racial equality more fully during the roosevelt era. [applause] >> thank you, professor sklaroff. i was practicing that all that time, too. [laughter] i may have to call you lauren. >> that's fine. [laughter] >> now we have time for some questions. i invite people to come up to the mic, please. >> hi. john harvest. one thing i wanted to ask you about is whether your book covers robert l. van who is a lawyer and the editor and publisher of the courier who told black voters to turn lincoln's portrait against the wall. in world war ii.
>> i talk in the first chapter of the book significantly about the changing mentality of -- oh. [laughter] the changing mentality among black voters. i talk about what i think of is the ambivalence on the one hand. follow the advice and abandon the party of lincoln. and on the other side, this sort of promise of the new deal, encouragement of people like kelly miller and walter white who were so complementary of roosevelt and the kind of plans that he had for african-americans and also increasingly the material evidence that things were improving. but there was, again, a large degree of ambivalence in terms of how people were going to cast their vote and whether or not, you know, people like him were believed because for every piece of evidence that the new deal was going to give or opportunity and you or jobs there was also
evidence of discrimination, these of southern administrators and directors who would not respond to it is the military measures. also one of the racial advisers. >> right. >> advice to roosevelt and all? >> yeah. i mean, i think in general the book covers the backdrop of black political movements and attitudes. but, it centers much more on the foundations of the cultural programs. but he is certainly all over the book. >> thanks a lot. >> did you do anything with the supreme court and the decisions they made? >> i have mentioned the progressive nature of many
supreme court decisions, and another historian covered extensively on that and was a long study on the new deal the , legislation in the supreme court. so i sort of left it in his capable hands. >> just thinking, the contrast where social security excludes many. >> right. agricultural, domestic. >> the warren court, is still a roosevelt majority core. -- court. the supreme court issues today and members of the court, the longevity of the fdr court ultimately was part of the triumph of the civil rights movement. >> and this is the point that other historians make. again, i leave it in his hands. >> thank you very much. i'm going to bring this into a contemporary question.
do you see a way of taking what has been determined and seen as the use of developing civil-rights situations with the new deal into what we have today the issues around latinos? and >> ok. i think the epilogue talks significantly about the legacies of the programs of the 1930's. one of the legacies is the, again, the reliance on cultural programs during the cold war era, the use of state department department tours to promote american good will all over the world in the midst of civil rights turmoil, race riots, all of the violence going on in the u.s. and people like gillespie and armstrong and ellington going out and promoting this kind of racial goodwill.
but the long-term -- it is interesting because on the one hand, the reliance on these cultural figures in large part accompanied a greater visibility of african-americans and commercial culture. and a greater scope of possibility as well. so by the time that the civil rights movement had come to an end the cultural progression had gone only so far. but, it never accompanied a continuing structural reform. so the civil-rights, the passage of the voting act in this civil -- voting act, the civil rights act, that is the most transit in securing that, but there is never then time to think, okay, what is next? let's steal deal with the issues of policy and education and instead we now have celebrities
who have become racially transcendent. during the period of my book, the only person who is racially transcendent is joe lewis. by the 1970's you have all kinds of figures that are meaningful and accepted across the color line. there's a very uneven and complicated legacy of this particular kind of cultural development. >> that legacy, the good part of it of course was to the benefit of the united states. at its image internationally. our image is being tainted by what is going on in attitudes toward immigrants. i was wondering if you couldn't possibly step forward and do an extrapolation to make it contemporary. >> i think we're going to have to come to a close. >> by the way, i had the pleasure of going out with lena horne's daughter. >> very nice. very nice. good for you. [applause]
>> this has been very nice. thank you, questioners. >> unnerving history tv, we are also taking your questions and comments at htv at c-span history and the question is which party changed the most since 1968. the vote right now with more than 24,000 casting their vote, saying the democrats change the most. 56% and religions at 44%. >> thanks to everyone who voted in twitter polls on 1968 america and turmoil. more than 200,000 votes were posted on issues ranging from the vietnam war to the presidential election, to women's rights and race relations. you can tweet us questions and , seents during live events video previews of upcoming programs or look back to what happened on this day in american history.
on twitter at c-span history. >> are spectrum cable partners work with c-span cities tour staff when we traveled fort worth, texas, the city was established in june 1849 as an army outpost after the mexican american war. learn more about ft. worth all weekend here on american history tv. >> wherein the historic forward andkyards just on exchange the corner of north main. this was a very historic area, an area that is a source of pride for fort worth, to be honest with you, because of the history of this place means in texas. a lot of the cattle operations that were very important economic development and the growth of texas allur