In the 1930s, the Roosevelt administration--unwilling to antagonize
a powerful southern congressional bloc--refused to endorse
legislation that openly sought to improve political, economic, and
social conditions for African Americans. Instead, as historian
Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff shows, the administration recognized and
celebrated African Americans by offering federal support to notable
black intellectuals, celebrities, and artists.
Sklaroff illustrates how programs within the Federal Arts Projects
and several war agencies gave voice to such notable African
Americans as Lena Horne, Joe Louis, Duke Ellington, and Richard
Wright, as well as lesser-known figures. She argues that these New
Deal programs represent a key moment in the history of American
race relations, as the cultural arena provided black men and women
with unique employment opportunities and new outlets for political
expression. Equally important, she contends that these cultural
programs were not merely an attempt to appease a black constituency
but were also part of the New Deal's larger goal of promoting a
multiracial nation. Yet, while federal projects ushered in
creativity and unprecedented possibilities, they were also subject
to censorship, bigotry, and political machinations.
With numerous illustrations, Black Culture and the New Deal
offers a fresh perspective on the New Deal's racial progressivism
and provides a new framework for understanding black culture and
politics in the Roosevelt era.