This paper discusses the effects of the Great Depression on the American minorities. It describes the groups and individuals involved in the Great Depression and the efforts made to resolve the calamity. The main argument of this paper is that discrimination was the major cause of the extreme suffering experienced by the American minorities. This paper also demonstrates that enormous changes have occurred since the Great Depression in relation to equality and promotion of economic activities.
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The Cause of the Great Depression
Whereas the Depression was a cultural, social, political, and financial disaster, its causes were economic. In the period between the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Depression, America largely enjoyed economic prosperity under the Republican administration which believed that the prosperity of great businesses represented the prosperity of the whole country. However, most American groups including minorities, low-income workers, and farmers did not share in the good times due to the segregation laws passed by Jim Crow (Davidson, DeLay, Heyrman, Lytle and Stoff 42). The stock market had crashed, and though it did not lead to the Depression, it aggravated the situation in the USA at that period (Dobbs 211).
In 1933, the overall degree of unemployment in the country was twenty-five percent. At the same time, the rate of unemployment for minorities was about fifty percent (Trowbridge n.p.). However, unlike most other Americans who had not anticipated poverty until the onset of Depression, the minorities had already experienced poverty for a long time in history. Thus, they were less affected by the initial Depression disaster. During the Depression, there was widespread racial discrimination. Minorities were usually the last to be employed and the first to be fired (Trowbridge n.p.).
When it Happened
The Great Depression happened throughout the 1930s. It began with the 1929 Wall Street Market crash. It marked the worst market crisis in the U.S. history. The problems nearly affected all American groups. It was even harder on racial minorities, including Asian Americans, American Indians, Mexican Americans, and Black Americans. In several Northern cities, racial minorities lost their jobs to their white counterparts (Broussard 105).
The People and Organizations Involved
The 1932 presidential campaign chiefly focused on the causes and ways of solving the Great Depression, thus it was stated that immigration had been restricted “in order to protect American labor” (Daniels 91). Herbert Hoover’s Administration is the one that ushered in the Great Depression. Herbert ineffectively struggled to re-establish the American industry. David Trowbridge points out that communist organizations took the lead in the financing of civil rights litigation and attempted to register black voters in the 1930s. However, these organizations faced enormous challenges because of the widespread discrimination. President Roosevelt and his First Lady attempted to grant relief aid to some minority groups, and supported their representation in the federal government.
The Various Points that Made up the Problem
The chief cause of the Great Depression was the enormous discrepancy between the production capability of the country and the ability of Americans to consume. Technological development increased industrial production beyond the purchasing capability of farmers and income earners. The middle class and rich Americans had drained their savings in stocks when the Depression struck the country. The fall of the market stock, thus, led to the leveling of the insubstantial system of thought to the ground (Weiss 567).
The Great Depression led to the destruction of the Great Plains due to the horrendous dust storms (Roberts and Olson 163). White farmers and businesspeople that depended on farm produce had to search for employment in order to sustain themselves. The unemployment experienced during the period led to the discrimination of minority groups in the workplaces. As a result, the number of blacks who lost employment was two to three times more than that of the whites (Weiss 568).
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Franklin Roosevelt asserted that the main cause of the Depression was the country’s underlying economic flaws, which had increased because of the Republican policies during the 1920s (Trowbridge n. p.). Jim Crow’s segregation laws contributed to the extreme suffering experienced by American minorities. The census done in1930 considered Mexican Americans as a race for the first time ever. There was legislation that prevented Mexican Americans from entering the United States (Weiss 569).
The Solution to the Problem
It was very hard for many American minorities to make a living during the Depression. The Great Depression hit the African-Americans the hardest compared to other minority races. There is barely any evidence on how this group survived during the Great Depression. As a result of the Depression, organizational activities among the minorities, especially the black increased. There was considerable effort to ameliorate the suffering emerging from the economic crisis. For instance, black churches enlarged their services to the black community (Dubofsky and Burwood 90).
President Roosevelt’s New Deal program somehow helped in addressing the problems. The program comprised of various economic and social initiatives which aimed at bringing reprieve to the suffering American minorities. However, discrimination prevailed even in the New Deal housing and employment programs. Political critics contend that President Roosevelt failed to support the legislation advocated by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. At the time of the Second World War, the labor leader threatened to protest because of job inequity in the military and other activities related to defense (Weiss 578). President Roosevelt reacted by issuing an order for all people, irrespective of their race, national origin, color, or creed, to participate in the defense of the country (Dubofsky and Burwood 98).
John Collier aggressively advocated for the Indian Americans’ rights. Consequently, in 1934, the government introduced the Indian New Deal (Weiss 568). Instead of compelling Indian Americans to unify into the American civilization, the Indian New Deal concentrated on the promotion of economic and cultural development. African Americans began feeling Roosevelt’s efforts from 1956. They received relief aid and had representatives in federal positions. However, the New Deal failed to ameliorate discrimination against Asian Americans and Mexican Americans (Dubofsky & Burwood 90).
The Relevance of the Great Depression on the US Society Today
The Great Depression plays a very important role in the United States economic programs. People still study the circumstances surrounding the Great Depression. The period is useful to economic scholars because they refer to it when making recommendations from time to time on the best economic programs for the country. There has been considerable democratic development since the Depression, and many laws have emerged that prohibit discrimination on grounds of race, color, and national origin.
Broussard, Albert S. “The Worst of Times: African Americans during the Great Depression”. Ed. Hamilton Cravens. Santa Barbara: CA: ABC-CLIO. 2009. 105-127. Print.
Daniels, Roger. “Immigration in a Time of Depression: The United States, 1931-1940” Ed. Hamilton Cravens. Santa Barbara: CA: ABC-CLIO. 2009. 85-105. Print.
Davidson, James West, Brian DeLay, Christine Leigh Heyrman, Mark Lytle and Michael Stoff. US: A Narrative History, Volume 2: Since 1865. Pennsylvania: McGraw-Hill. 2008. Print.
Dobbs, Charles M. “Hollywood Movies and the American Community”. Great Depression: People and Perspectives. Ed. Hamilton Cravens. Santa Barbara: CA: ABC-CLIO. 2009. 207-227. Print.
Dubofsky, Melvyn and Stephen Burwood. Women and Minorities During the Great Depression. Garland. 1990. Print.
Roberts, Randy and James Olson. American Experiences: Readings in American History, Volume II Since 1865. 7th Edn. London: Longman, 2007. Print.
Trowbridge, David. “Last Hired, First Fired: Women and Minorities in the Great Depression”. United States History, Volume 2. 2012. Web.
Weiss, Richard. “Ethnicity and Reform: Minorities and the Ambience of the Depression Years.”The Journal of American History 66.3 (1979): 566-585. Print.