Personally, I do not believe that in 1945 the chances of improving the situation for black Americans were minimal, if by improving this also means by just a marginal amount. In many ways the situation in which the black Americans were in had been improving up to this point anyway, since slavery had been abolished and they had been granted more and more legal rights. Although black people, in many states, namely in the south-east, were still being treated in a full discriminatory fashion it is important to note that this was not entirely the case everywhere. Therefore it is already clear that the situation was being improved.
In the south, before the war, although slavery had been abolished, the introduction of the ‘Jim Crow’ laws, between 1890 and 1910, along with the Plessy vs. Ferguson case in 1896, meant that there was to be legal segregation. So, although black people were no longer slaves they were still treated with disrespect, as they were separated and in some cases restricted from accessing certain places. This effected education, healthcare, transport and other public facilities. For example, on buses black people had to sit on one side while white people sat on the other.
This segregation and sense of social hierarchy meant that in the southern states many whites’ saw themselves above the blacks. White children learnt to talk down to blacks and black people were never invited into a white person’s home. On top of segregation, southern states also found ways to override the voting rights given to black people, due to the fifteenth amendment. These methods included unfair literacy tests and the right to vote if one’s grandfather had been able to do so. In the north, there was only a small amount of legally authorised segregation and thus black people were treated in a more equal manner.
In general most black people found themselves working within the secondary sector, in the north, whereas southern black people were more often found working in the primary sector, on farms or committing to domestic jobs for wealthy whites’. Each black person in the north was therefore, on average, earning more money than each in the south, giving them a better standard of living overall. Not only were black people in the north working in the more profitable businesses of society but they were also earning more money even when doing the same jobs.
However, despite the fact that in general the black people of the north were treated in a more favourable manner, they still encountered great discrimination as racism was prevalent across all areas of the country. Although in the north they earned comparably large amounts to the south, their wages still only amounted to 50 per cent of that of the average white person. Overall, the situation the black people of America were in was improving. They were no longer treated as objects, as they had been during the 1800s, instead, at worst, they were segregated.
Despite the improved situation, black Americans still continued to face great difficulties after slavery had been ended. They were not seen as being equal to whites; instead they were viewed as second-class citizens. What’s more they were treated disrespectfully in the sense that they were spoken down to, unwelcome in a white person’s house and forced to live in low class residential areas. In spite of this, the situation still had the chance to improve further as the American Constitution enabled people to confront biased laws.
This meant that black people would be able combat the segregation and unequal laws. During the war the mind-set of black Americans changed to such a degree that they felt the way in which they were being treated was unjust and change needed to happen. Before the war had begun black civilians from the north were seemingly oblivious to the harsh manner in which those who lived down south were being treated. More than 1. 2 million black men signed up for the US army. They often trained in the southern states where segregation was law.
Northern black people who were not used to being treated in this severe, unequal manner were outraged at the fact that they were fighting for a country that viewed them as an inferior race, second-class citizens. Not only were they segregated within training but also throughout the war effort. This meant that black people were transported separately to white people, were trained to a lesser degree, while also equipped with substandard weapons. Not only were they mistreated on the battlefield but often they weren’t even given the opportunity to fight for their country, instead they did domestic jobs, cooking and cleaning.
In addition to this was the fact that in many European countries segregation was not enforced by law and black people were treated with huge respect, viewed by Europeans as heroes. A collaboration of all of the previous points meant that black people started to riot in protest. Not only was it the black people that began to believe more needed to be done as the war effort progressed, but also many white people had a change in mentality. The US was fighting against a racist German nation, which under Hitler, had taken racism to the extreme through the extermination of lesser races.
On seeing what was being done in the concentration camps across the country, the mass extermination, people began to notice what racism could lead to in extreme cases. America had shown signs of extreme expression of racism in the past through the Klu Klux Klan, who saw it as natural. However, for this very fact people started to feel that the situation needed to be resolved. As well as seeing racism to its utmost extreme, people also noticed the extensive contribution the black people had within the war effort. On the home front significant changes took place too, economically, politically and socially.
In the southern states $4. 5 billion were spent transforming and expanding industry to be used to supply the war effort. In addition this, the black activist A. Philip Randolph threatened to campaign against the fact that black people were inhibited from becoming involved in the war industry. In response to Randolph’s threat President Roosevelt announced an executive order in 1941 which in turn meant that industries were not to discriminate. Northern industries also boomed resulting in some migration of black people in 1940.
The economic changes during the war therefore meant that black Americans had a huge role in the war effort, earned on average more money and thus had an increased standard of living. As a result of the industrial advance there was a huge fall in black unemployment from 937,000 in 1940 to 151,000 in 1945. A. Philip Randolph also showed that if the government were to be pressurised in the future positive changes could be made. Politically, there was also a huge change during the war effort. In the south more and more black Americans were allowed to vote.
The figure rose from being 2 per cent of the southern black population to 15 per cent. By 1945 around the north had also made a political advance to such a stage at which black people had an equal right to vote. Black Americans were also gaining positions in the government. In southern states the social conditions during the war remained the same. There was still widespread racism which resulted in the segregation law continuing to prevail. But, northern progression was such that many facilities and transportation systems were segregation free and there was more mixing of races.
One problem that did seem to be rather prominent was that the fact that the black population as whole were poorer they were forced to live in the low class residential and undesirable areas. Overall the war was a huge turning point in the advancement of black rights. It created a reduction in racism and an increase in the number of black activists. Putting pressure on the government also showed that change could happen. So at the end of the war effort it was clear that people were now seeing more chances of improving the African-American situation.