Days of Hope: Race and Democracy in the New Deal Era

Days of Hope: Race and Democracy in the New Deal Era

by Patricia Sullivan
     
 

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In the 1930s and 1940s, a loose alliance of blacks and whites, individuals and organizations, came together to offer a radical alternative to southern conservative politics. In Days of Hope, Patricia Sullivan traces the rise and fall of this movement. Using oral interviews with participants in this movement as well as documentary sources, she demonstrates thatSee more details below

Overview

In the 1930s and 1940s, a loose alliance of blacks and whites, individuals and organizations, came together to offer a radical alternative to southern conservative politics. In Days of Hope, Patricia Sullivan traces the rise and fall of this movement. Using oral interviews with participants in this movement as well as documentary sources, she demonstrates that the New Deal era inspired a coalition of liberals, black activists, labor organizers, and Communist Party workers who sought to secure the New Deal's social and economic reforms by broadening the base of political participation in the South. From its origins in a nationwide campaign to abolish the poll tax, the initiative to expand democracy in the South developed into a regional drive to register voters and elect liberals to Congress. The NAACP, the CIO Political Action Committee, and the Southern Conference for Human Welfare coordinated this effort, which combined local activism with national strategic planning. Although it dramatically increased black voter registration and led to some electoral successes, the movement ultimately faltered, according to Sullivan, because the anti-Communist fervor of the Cold War and a militant backlash from segregationists fractured the coalition and marginalized southern radicals. Nevertheless, the story of this campaign invites a fuller consideration of the possibilities and constraints that have shaped the struggle for racial democracy in America since the 1930s.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Harvard historian Sullivan carefully details the impact of Roosevelt's later New Deal in the Old South, noting that any step forward often meant two steps back.

A case in point, she writes, was Roosevelt's 1936 industrial-union program, spearheaded by the CIO, which "threatened to undermine the region's tradition of low-wage, nonunion industries" and stirred up heated opposistion. Efforts by influential northern blacks to hasten civil-rights advances in the South also aroused considerable opposition; when Roosevelt failed to pack the Supreme Court in his second term, Sullivan notes, southern Democrats (with the notable exception of longtime Florida senator Claude Pepper) allied with Republicans to block reform in the region and eventually to remake the Democratic party as a more conservative, anticommunist entity in the postwar era. Other incidents that contributed to a profound white backlash in the South included the famed Scottsboro case of 1930, which drew national attention to the region for a decade, and the Harlan County coal strike of the mid-1930s, to which Sullivan brings fresh insights based on recent documentary work on labor organizing. Of special interest to students of contemporary politics is Sullivan's examination of Henry Wallace's third-party presidential bid in 1948, a campaign that in the author's view, taken with earlier New Deal programs, prefigured Southern civil-rights agitation in later decades; as she writes, "although little, if any, memory of the New Deal years informed the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the activists of the earlier decades tilled the ground for future change." Ultimately, Sullivan notes, civil-rights advances were furthered by African-Americans' participation in WW II, when soldiers who had fought against fascism abroad began to agitate for democracy at home.

A dry and sometimes narrow work of history, meant for a specialist audience.

From the Publisher
A first-rate narrative of New Deal liberalism and its aftermath from 1933 to 1948.

Alabama Review

Days of Hope is a graceful addition to New Deal, southern, and civil rights historiography.

American Studies

A splendid book.

Journal of American History

Days of Hope does much to deepen our understanding of the civil rights movement and the New Deal.

Nation

Sullivan's book is a compelling challenge to easy generalizations about the Solid South.

Southern Changes

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807822609
Publisher:
The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date:
04/28/1996
Edition description:
1
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
6.41(w) x 9.54(h) x 1.18(d)
Lexile:
1470L (what's this?)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Patricia Sullivan offers fresh perspectives on the strengths and limitations of the New Deal at the local and national levels, the changing complexion of the Democratic party, and the roles of those social activists determined to bring social and economic justice to a region not noted for either democracy or racial tolerance. Days of Hope is a graceful addition to New Deal, southern, and civil rights historiography.--American Studies

Days of Hope skillfully illuminates the period of the '30s and '40s that preceded and produced the better known civil rights movement of the '50s and '60s. The struggles of these black and white activists to create a progressive, interracial coalition have much to teach us today.--Julian Bond

Patricia Sullivan's book casts bright light upon an often overlooked but important phase in the struggle for racial equality. It is a rich and indispensable work.--William Styron

Although the case for a racially progressive New Deal has been made before, . . . it has never been argued with more force or originality than in Days of Hope. . . . In arguing that the Southern civil rights struggle from 1938 to 1948 yielded a distinctive era of progress, Days of Hope gives the prewar, wartime and postwar history of race and liberalism a coherence missing from most accounts. . . . Days of Hope does much to deepen our understanding of the civil rights movement and the New Deal. It is a testament to Sullivan's boldness that she seeks not merely to illuminate the New Deal era but also to redefine it--and to a remarkable extent she succeeds.--Nation

Days of Hope instructs us to reach for deeper understandings of our nation's history. It turns our minds' eyes counter-clockwise, circling the story of the two races into their bitter southern roots. It adjusts our minds' lenses, forcing our focus onto serious people rising amidst seminal events to confront the nation: Palmer Weber, Charles Houston, Ella Baker, Clark Foreman, Henry Wallace, Virginia Durr, Osceola McKaine. It demands our attention.--Bob Moses, SNCC Field Secretary, Mississippi, 1961-65

Sullivan effectively explores the campaigns to abolish the poll tax, build industrial unions, win protections for Southern tenant farmers and sharecroppers, uphold the wartime prohibition on discrimination in wartime industries and register Southern black voters and democratize the South.--Chicago Tribune

At last, we have some heroes for a dark time. Patricia Sullivan's compelling narrative about the gallant cohort of black and white activists who fought to bring the New Deal to the Old South shows us how much we lost when the domestic Cold War of the 1940s and 1950s destroyed the promising movement for a democratic solution to that region's racial and economic woes.--Ellen Schrecker, author of No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities

A first-rate narrative of New Deal liberalism and its aftermath from 1933 to 1948. Her study breaks new ground in an important way by pushing "the start" of the Civil Rights movement back to the 1930s, long before the traditional date of 1954.--Alabama Review

A splendid book. It inspires optimism rather than despair by reminding us that social justice is achieved, not simply through politicians and policy makers, but through grass-roots political mobilization.--Journal of American History

In its attention to the fluidity, radical potential, and reservoir of dissent which existed beneath a rigged political system, Sullivan's book is a compelling challenge to easy generalizations about the Solid South. Its greatest contribution is the chronicling of Southerners who knew that their region had to change from within and knew that federal intervention was also a prerequisite, a lesson which still resonates today.--Southern Changes

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