The Black Cabinet: The Untold Story of African Americans and Politics During the Age of Roosevelt

The Black Cabinet: The Untold Story of African Americans and Politics During the Age of Roosevelt

by Jill Watts


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Monday, May 23


A magnificently researched, dramatically told work of narrative nonfiction about the history, evolution, impact, and ultimate demise of what was known in the 1930s and 1940s as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Black Cabinet.

In 1932 in the midst of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt won the presidency with the help of key African American defectors from the Republican Party. At the time, most African Americans lived in poverty, denied citizenship rights and terrorized by white violence. As the New Deal began, a “black Brain Trust” joined the administration and began documenting and addressing the economic hardship and systemic inequalities African Americans faced. They became known as the Black Cabinet, but the environment they faced was reluctant, often hostile, to change.

“Will the New Deal be a square deal for the Negro?” The black press wondered. The Black Cabinet set out to devise solutions to the widespread exclusion of black people from its programs, whether by inventing tools to measure discrimination or by calling attention to the administration’s failures. Led by Mary McLeod Bethune, an educator and friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, they were instrumental to Roosevelt’s continued success with black voters. Operating mostly behind the scenes, they helped push Roosevelt to sign an executive order that outlawed discrimination in the defense industry. They saw victories—jobs and collective agriculture programs that lifted many from poverty—and defeats—the bulldozing of black neighborhoods to build public housing reserved only for whites; Roosevelt’s refusal to get behind federal anti-lynching legislation. The Black Cabinet never won official recognition from the president, and with his death, it disappeared from view. But it had changed history. Eventually, one of its members would go on to be the first African American Cabinet secretary; another, the first African American federal judge and mentor to Thurgood Marshall.

Masterfully researched and dramatically told, The Black Cabinet brings to life a forgotten generation of leaders who fought post-Reconstruction racial apartheid and whose work served as a bridge that Civil Rights activists traveled to achieve the victories of the 1950s and ’60s.

Related collections and offers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802129109
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 05/12/2020
Pages: 560
Sales rank: 1,138,188
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.80(d)

About the Author

Jill Watts is the author of Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood, Mae West: An Icon in Black and White, and God, Harlem USA: The Father Divine Story. She is a Professor of History at California State University San Marcos.

Table of Contents

Prologue xi

Part 1 Of People and Politics, 1908-1932

Chapter 1 Remembrance 3

Chapter 2 Turning the Picture of Lincoln to the Wall 36

Part 2 Called to Washington, 1933-1935

Chapter 3 Will the New Deal Be a Fair Deal? 69

Chapter 4 A Black Cabinet 100

Chapter 5 Factions 132

Part 3 Thinking and Planning Together, 1935-1939

Chapter 6 Star-Led 169

Chapter 7 We Belong Here 199

Chapter 8 Things Are Happening 229

Chapter 9 Thwarted 259

Part 4 Fighting on Two Fronts, 1940-1944

Chapter 10 Keep 'Em Squirming 293

Chapter 11 Mobilization 324

Chapter 12 Mighty Struggle 356

Chapter 13 Last of the Brain Trusters 389

Part 5 Vanishing Figures

Chapter 14 No Resting 421

Notes 451

Bibliography 497

Acknowledgments 523

Index 527

Customer Reviews