46Despite a concerted effort to appoint black advisors to someNew Deal programs, Franklin Roosevelt did little to directlyaddress the difficulties black communities faced. To do soopenly would provoke southern Democrats and put his NewDeal coalition—–the uneasy alliance of national liberals, urbanlaborers, farm workers, and southern whites—at risk.Roosevelt not only rejected such proposals as abolishing thepoll tax and declaring lynching a federal crime, he refused to
specifically target African American needs in any of his largerrelief and reform packages. As he explained to the nationalsecretary of the NAACP, “I just canʼt take that risk.”47In fact, many of the programs of the New Deal had made hardtimes more difficult. When the codes of the NRA set new payscales, they usually took into account regional differentiationand historical data. In the South, where African Americans hadlong suffered unequal pay, the new codes simply perpetuatedthat inequality. The codes also exempted those involved infarm work and domestic labor, the occupations of a majority ofsouthern black men and women. The AAA was equallyproblematic as owners displaced black tenants andsharecroppers, many of whom were forced to return to theirfarms as low-paid day labor or to migrate to cities looking forwage work.48Perhaps the most notorious failure of the New Deal to aidAfrican Americans came with the passage of the SocialSecurity Act. Southern politicians chafed at the prospect ofAfrican Americans benefiting from federally sponsored socialwelfare, afraid that economic security would allow blacksoutherners to escape the cycle of poverty that kept them tiedto the land as cheap, exploitable farm laborers. The Jackson(Mississippi) Daily Newscallously warned that “The averageMississippian canʼt imagine himself chipping in to paypensions for able-bodied Negroes to sit around in idleness . . .
while cotton and corn crops are crying for workers.” Rooseveltagreed to remove domestic workers and farm laborers fromthe provisions of the bill, excluding many African Americans,already laboring under the strictures of legal racialdiscrimination, from the benefits of an expanding economicsafety net.49Women, too, failed to receive the full benefits of New Dealprograms. On one hand, Roosevelt included women in keypositions within his administration, including the first femalecabinet secretary, Frances Perkins, and a prominently placedAfrican American advisor in the National Youth Administration,Mary McLeod Bethune. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was akey advisor to the president and became a major voice foreconomic and racial justice. But many New Deal programswere built on the assumption that men would serve asbreadwinners and women as mothers, homemakers, andconsumers. New Deal programs aimed to help both butusually by forcing such gendered assumptions, making itdifficult for women to attain economic autonomy. New Dealsocial welfare programs tended to funnel women into means-tested, state-administered relief programs while reserving
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