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(The US to the CRASH of 1929 – continued)

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Black Migrations, Riots and Repression

European immigration had stopped during the war, and manufacturers in the North were looking for cheap labor among blacks in the South. Whites in the South who were benefiting from the labor of blacks were concerned about losing that labor, and newspapers in the South editorialized that the South needed all of its "able-bodied Negroes," claiming that Negroes would do better by remaining in the South and calling on whites to treat blacks justly. Nevertheless, during the war, a great migration of blacks looking for work headed north – a good portion of it to Chicago and Detroit.

Blacks were willing to work for less, and they allowed themselves to be used by employers as strike breakers. This started a riot on 27 July 1919 in Chicago, a riot that lasted eight days, with black and white gangs roaming the streets and taking vengeance on each other. Thousands were burned out of their homes. Fifteen whites and twenty-three blacks died. And that summer, race riots erupted in Knoxville, Omaha, Washington DC and in some other cities that had sizable increases in black populations.

Chicago was the scene of another race riot in 1919. Blacks had been moving into white neighborhoods, and racial tensions were high. In the heat of late July a black youth, swimming at the 31st Street lake beach, crossed into waters that whites considered off limits to blacks, and, according to reports, the whites stoned the youth, causing him to drown. Blacks at the beach were outraged, and a riot followed that spread inland. Twenty-two blacks and fourteen whites were killed before the state militia arrived two days later and restored order.

Blacks were fighting back more than before. Blacks who had served in the military in France had come home less willing to submit to injustice. In France they had found less racial discrimination, and they believed that blacks willing to die for their country deserved first class citizenship. To a few black intellectuals, the Russian Revolution appeared to be a breakthrough against colonialism, and therefore against racism. W.E.B. Du Bois, founder and leader of the NAACP, was working for integration and education and demanding immediate and equal civil and political rights for blacks. A young black writer and union organizer, A. Philip Randolph, was agitating for justice. Randolph was a moderate socialist who saw as absurd the belief in a Leninist revolution in the US. Nevertheless he had recently been called the most dangerous Negro in America, and in July 1919 his monthly journal, The Messenger, was refused passage through the US mail.

Differing from Du Bois and Randolph in his approach to justice for blacks was Marcus Garvey. Garvey was a Jamaican who had excelled as a student. He had worked in dockyards in London, Cardiff and Liverpool, and he had moved to Harlem in New York, where he led his Universal Negro Improvement Association. He published a weekly newspaper "The Negro World" and in 1919 he founded a steamship company, the Black Star Line. He was concerned about the welfare of blacks everywhere, and he advocated liberation of blacks from colonialism. Concerning blacks in the United States, he opposed working with white labor unions and white revolutionaries, including Bolsheviks. This was lost on one of A. Palmer Mitchell's lieutenants, J. Edgar Hoover, who described Garvey as a part of a Bolshevik threat to the United States. Hoover started a campaign to discredit Garvey and to deny him freedom of action in the United States.

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Copyright © 1998-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.