The National Negro Congress :1933-1940



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Few Americans were prepared for the devastating impact of the Great Depression. Black workers, because of their particularly vulnerable position in the economy, were especially hurt by the economic decline of the 1930’s. Neither the administration of Herbert Hoover nor that of Franklin Roosevelt proved able or willing to attack the problems of poverty and unemployment in the Black community. Two young, Black Harvard graduates, John P. Davis and Robert Weaver, created the Negro Industrial League to demand fair treatment of Black workers under the National Recovery Administration. Their efforts led a number of other organizations to join with the League to form the Joint Committee on National Recovery. Although the Joint Committee engaged in a vigorous public relations campaign attacking NRA discrimination against Black workers, its general lack of influence convinced many leaders in the Black community that a more powerful organization was necessary. In 1935 the Joint Committee and the Department of Social Science at Howard University sponsored a special conference to explore this need. The most important result of the conference was the formation of the National Negro Congress. Under the leadership of John P. Davis and A. Philip Randolph, the Congress initially intended to bring all Black improvement groups under one umbrella organization. They also planned to attack a broad range of issues facing the Black community. However, an ideological split developed between Davis and Randolph which eventually shattered the National Negro Congress in 1940. Randolph believed that the Congress should have pursued a program emphasizing Black unity and a broad, sometimes contradictory set of reforms. Davis, on the other hand, believed that the organization of Black workers into industrial unions would be far more appropriate in improving the living standards of the Black lower class. While Randolph emphasized racial solidarity, Davis called for an inter-racial class consciousness among all workers. Their views openly clashed at the 1940 convention of the Congress, and the majority of the delegates decided to support the class consciousness position of John P. Davis.



African Americans--History--1877-1964., African Americans--Economic conditions., African Americans--Civil rights.