The Black Cabinet: The Untold Story of African Americans and Politics During the Age of Roosevelt
It’s hard to believe the level of racism present in the United States less than a century ago. From the backroads to the halls of government, there were restrictions so that the races would not have to mix. Stir in the Roosevelt years of the Great Depression and you begin to understand the issues that challenged those who dedicated their time and energy to create equality among all Americans.
The Black Cabinet was the unofficial name for a brain trust of African Americans during the presidential years of FDR. Initially, a few were given token hires within the government where they were supposed to be able to give their insight and ensure both blacks and whites received aid during the Great Depression. They themselves experienced racism in their departments. Non-whites were not allowed to eat in the department dining room, and at one point, the entire secretarial pool refused to work for one of these pioneers. These were the years when the Democrats and Republicans battled over votes of the African American community, even though both sides promised much and delivered little. Those in the Black Cabinet battled a President who would listen yet hesitated to move forward due to political issues, and administrators who marginalized and blocked their efforts. Yet though there were many setbacks, there were accomplishments that are described in the book.
Author Jill Watts provides deep detail of the people involved, painting a picture of their backgrounds and how they ended up becoming a part of the Black Cabinet. While most of us remember reading the skeletal history of the Great Depression and Roosevelt’s New Deal, never before have I had the opportunity to be able to learn about this slice of history, one that had great effect upon the United States. The author backs up her work with a long section of references as well as an extensive listing of books and pamphlets. The research is impressive and adds many small items that enrich the story. Though the book is long the detail keeps it interesting.