Sunday, June 01, 2008

The turning point

A reader left a note in the Comments section of Stung by the word "white." She wrote: "It's difficult to separate out a prior influence: the long-time affinity of black Americans for the Democratic Party. I have no strong explanation for that affinity, but since it predates the existing campaign, it probably has a large place in the voting decisions of black Americans . . . . "

Following is an excerpt from an article on the Issues & Views website. It is essentially the results of an interview with the late Vincent Baker, who ran for public office and was a long-time political activist in Harlem. As a conservative, he tried to fight the good fight, and had an excellent grasp of history -- especially the history he had lived first-hand.

In answer to the questions, Why did the Democrats' New Deal overturn so much of what blacks had learned in the past, and why did so many blacks, even those who knew better, turn away from entrepreneurial endeavors, Baker shared his views.
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The Depression as turning point

The consequences of the Depression made it harder for the proponents of self-help to make their case. What chance did they now stand against those who were urging blacks to cease initiating their own ventures and work for further integration into white institutions? In an interview, the late writer Vincent Baker, who had actively participated in the civil rights movement, reflected on the Depression as a turning point.

He claimed that, as New Deal policies were put into effect to cope with the devastation caused by the Depression, this increased the role of government in the life of the average person. Gradually the American mindset began to adapt to this growing presence in their lives. The new circumstances proved especially injurious to blacks, since there were now no leaders to signal an alarm and warn of the inevitable increased dependence on whites. If anything, said Baker, the projected agendas and policies being drawn up in Washington fit right in with the preachments of the leaders who began to emerge in the 1940s.

One legacy of the 1930s catastrophe was a defeatism which grew among the most influential blacks. This defeatist spirit was augmented by a growing band of black "intellectuals," who publicly disparaged self-help efforts. In the pages of their academic publications, they made fun of the small black businesses that once dotted the landscape of every black community, and found no virtue in them. "Puny" was a favorite term these elites liked to apply, when comparing black efforts to the mammoth Sears Roebuck or Ford Motor Company. The leading black sociologist of the time, E. Franklin Frazier, led the assault on the entrepreneurial past, and downplayed the importance of black business, because, as he claimed, "the profits of these enterprises did not compare to those of large-scale corporations in America."

It now became fashionable to deride the teachings of people like Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee elders. In fact, such teachings were soon wiped clear from the history textbooks. This educated, intellectual class of blacks now taught that "the poor have no bootstraps," thus reinforcing notions that leaders in an earlier age vigorously fought against. David Tucker captured the truth when he wrote in 1969, "Black capitalism suffered a drastic loss of prestige in the 1930s when the economic depression led the race intellectuals to initiate an anti-business tradition which has continued into the present."

Issues that once were debated among blacks were no longer open for debate. Now the advocates of economic independence were downgraded and ostracized, while integrationist forces, subsidized by wealthy whites, grew stronger. The era of the NAACP had begun.
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