SIGNS OF CHANGE BY 1955:
How far is it accurate to say that the status of black Americans varied considerably in 1945?
Politically, blacks had no say in elections. They were prevented from voting by the “legal” means of state laws that established the qualifications required to vote. These ranged from the grandfather clause (you had to be able to prove the previous two generations had voted) to the literacy clause (the ability to read).
Where blacks had the vote, they could still be prevented from voting by the mechanics of the election e.g. the eight ballot box law required you to choose the correct ballot box out of a choice of eight! Where all else failed, violence could be used to intimidate blacks and thus prevent them from voting.
Politically, there were no laws preventing blacks from voting in the north, although poverty sometimes prevented registration of the right to vote. When blacks voted, although they had generally supported the Republican Party until 1932, they largely switched their allegiance from 1936 to the Democratic Party.
The consequence of the Plessy v Ferguson case was the proliferation of segregation across the South. The judges decided that segregation was lawful as long as black and white citizens had access to facilities that were equally good. Transport, education, all public facilities were segregated; even in death southern cemeteries provided segregation.
Segregation in the south was also an attitude of mind which governed even the smallest aspects of behaviour, including how people stood, sat, ate, walked and made eye contact. There were unspoken rules which governed the way that black and white people related to each other. For example whites never called black men ‘Mr’ or black women ‘Mrs’. Black and white children had learned this by the age of three or four.
Despite segregation white people often relied on black people for domestic help. Black people were hired to bring up white children, to cook, to clean and top provide nursing care for rich white people. There was a contradiction between them being seen as an inferior race and the fact that the whites needed them in their family lives. Thus the stereotype of the ‘good old-time negro’ was invented. It meant that black people were happy to serve white people and entirely satisfied with their role in a segregated society
In the north Blacks were subject to de facto discrimination i.e. although the laws did not discriminate, the nature of black life in the cities led to the experience of discrimination.
Although there were no segregation laws in the north, blacks found themselves effectively segregated in largely black communities (ghettos), such as Harlem in New York and Watts in Los Angeles. 90% of the population of these ghettos was black. Hence, their children also went to largely black schools, which were under-funded relative to white areas.
Economically, blacks experienced great hardship. If they were employed as sharecroppers, they had to work for a share of the crop, but needed to borrow money from the landowner to pay for equipment and seed. These loans were charged at exorbitant rates of interest, which often meant that the sharecropper was perpetually in debt.
Where blacks were employed in towns, they experienced the low wages that all southern workers earned.
The consequence of economic hardship and discrimination was social deprivation: poor housing, low living standards, poor health, and lower levels of educational provision.
In the period after the Civil War there began the process of migration from the south to northern cities that seemed to offer more prospect of employment.
Economically, in the north, blacks experienced great hardship. Many of those who came from the south were unskilled and where they found jobs, they were often menial. Those blacks who acquired greater skills...