Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Remembering the New Deal during Black History Month: Remedying past sins

Above: Graduation day for African Americans who have learned how to read and write in a WPA education class in Tensas Parish, Louisiana, ca. 1935-1943. Across the nation, many thousands of African Americans (and many thousands of whites and immigrants too) learned how to read and write in WPA-funded literacy programs. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Carrie "Mother" Kirk, in a WPA literacy class in the Sterling Library, Cleveland, Ohio, ca. 1938-1939. Kirk, 101 years old in this photo, was born on March 31, 1837, a slave to the Alexander family near Charlotte, North Carolina. The Alexander Plantation was very large, and Kirk was one of 400 slaves. The caption for this photograph tells us, "Probably her good health today is due to the fact that she was not an ordinary field worker but served as the plantation nurse and seamstress." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: During the New Deal, "separate but [supposedly] equal," i.e., apartheid, was still the law of the land, thanks to the Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). To pour salt into the wound of that dreadful case, the Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, noted that, "in some parts of the country there have not been enough schools for Negroes" (p. 60). New Dealers, for various reasons (not the least of which was the Plessy case) could not completely end American apartheid; but they did the next best thing by building or improving thousands of new facilities for African Americans (e.g., hospitals, clinics, libraries, colleges, and elementary, middle, and high schools). In the photo above, taken the day after Christmas, 1936, African American children stand in front of their new WPA-built school in Pocomoke, Maryland. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.

Above: An African American school in Dorchester County, Maryland, gets a new paint job, courtesy of the WPA. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.

In many parts of America, during the nation's slave years, it was illegal to provide an education to blacks. In South Carolina, for example, educating blacks--whether enslaved or free--could lead to a fine or imprisonment (Illinois Writers' Project, Cavalcade of the American Negro, 1940, p. 24). Yes - as if enslaving people for profit was not sick and twisted enough, many Americans wanted to ensure that blacks could never develop their minds. What kind of a person purposefully tries to keep another person in an uneducated state? 

Many brave people defied these evil laws, and brought some degree of education to some African Americans in any covert manner that they could. Decades later, New Dealers did their part to remedy these past sins too, through literacy classes, adult education on various topics, and better and more numerous educational facilities for African Americans.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Remembering the New Deal during Black History Month: Restoration & preservation at the Frederick Douglass House

Above: "Cedar Hill," the Washington, D.C. home of abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), ca. 1938. The estate is now a National Historic SitePhoto courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: This interior photo of Cedar Hill was taken around 1895, the year Douglass died. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Above: Workers from the WPA's Historical Records Survey are busy organizing artifacts in the Frederick Douglass House, 1938. Across the nation, the WPA preserved and organized an enormous amount of American history. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A photo of Frederick Douglass, ca. 1859, courtesy of the National Park Service.

Above: WPA worker Annie Wheeler organizes letters, manuscripts, speeches, and other material from Frederick Douglass's life, in Douglass's private study, 1938. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Frederick Douglass in his Cedar Hill study & library - date unknown, but probably between 1885 and 1895. Notice the violin. According to the National Park Service, "Douglass played the violin for his grandchildren and guests when they visited Cedar Hill. He frequently performed for his grandchildren after supper and before their bedtime." Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Above: About half-a-century after the previous photo was taken, this photo was taken, showing two WPA workers in Douglass's study, going over historic documents. Compare the desk, chair, book shelves, and framed images on the wall, in this photo, to the previous photo. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: An artwork showing Douglass as a young man. Image courtesy of the National Park Service.

Above: Two enrollees in the New Deal's National Youth Administration (NYA) repair the steps leading to the Frederick Douglass House, 1938. This was one of many NYA projects on the historic estate. And across the country, the NYA offered job & training opportunities to hundreds of thousands of African American men and women between the ages of 16 and 25. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Frederick Douglass's Cedar Hill home today. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

"The American people have this lesson to learn: That where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe."

--Frederick Douglass, 1886 (link to quote)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Remembering the New Deal during Black History Month: Better housing

Above: The description for this 1936 photograph reads, "Maria Beans, over 80 years old who was a slave in her childhood, having no stove in her kitchen must use an old galvanized bucket for a cooking fire to prepare a meal for her little 3 year old great-great grand daughter at Montgomery, Alabama." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A housing project for African Americans in Omaha, Nebraska, 1938, funded by the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA). Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The false, self-exonerating narrative of American segregation: "The New Deal made me do it!!"

A popular narrative has formed over the last few decades, and especially over the last few years, that places the majority of the blame for segregation on New Deal housing programs (see, e.g., "How FDR Promoted Racial Segregation," The Future of Freedom Foundation, March 17, 2009; "The Racist Housing Policy That Made Your Neighborhood," The Atlantic, May 22, 2014; "A 'Forgotten History' Of How The U.S. Government Segregated America," NPR, May 3, 2017).

This new narrative is a convenient crutch.

By frequently following existing and deeply-ingrained attitudes on racial segregation, with respect to its housing and loan programs, the New Deal makes for an easy target - and a much more comfortable one than looking in the mirror and assessing our own past and continued roles, for example, investing in companies that ship good-paying jobs to third world labor markets (thus creating perpetual economic ghettos); failing to push for a new Civilian Conservation Corps for African American and other youth (instead, lazily relying on law enforcement and mass incarceration to keep the poor in line); consistently voting for politicians, both Democrat and Republican, who are owned by Wall Street (think Clinton and Trump); and allowing payday lenders to set up shop in low-income minority neighborhoods while, at the same time, restricting bankruptcy protections for individuals, thereby creating a mass of permanently insolvent citizens who don't (and probably never will) have access to good credit (i.e., home ownership).

What came first, the chicken or the egg?

It's been argued for decades that during and after the Roosevelt administration New Deal policies fortified or exacerbated segregation. Well, if the public didn't approve, why didn't it do something about it sooner? And why isn't more being done now? (Take a drive around Baltimore, for example... and I don't mean the tourist-friendly Inner Harbor.) And, for that matter, why didn't the public do something about it long before the New Deal? Yes, yes, yes, my oh my, everything was just an integrated utopia... and then along came the New Deal and made us stop singing Kumbaya! In this modern, popular narrative, it's not the public's lizard-brained racism, or its lack of empathy, or its lack of critical thinking skills, or its penchant for electing right-wing fanatics & neoliberal Democrats... it's that damn, dirty, rotten New Deal!! 


Scholar Amy Hillier has highlighted the fallacy of this one-dimensional approach to explaining America's apartheid tendencies: "Even before the Depression, private lenders chose to avoid certain areas, particularly those home to African Americans, certain ethnic groups including new immigrants, and with older, cheaper housing... focusing on one agent of change, even if it is a large federal agency, is to assign relatively passive roles to the thousands of appraisers, realtors, and lenders who decided where to make loans" ("Redlining and the Homeowners' Loan Corporation," Journal of Urban History, Vol. 29, No. 4, May 2003, pp. 414-415).

In a Washington Post article on this topic, it is said: "The segregation that President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration inherited reflected preexisting institutions, of which restrictive racial covenants may have been the most important. They were still relatively new, however. FDR might well have used his unprecedented leverage over housing finance to undo them." But even if FDR had unprecedented leverage, it doesn't mean he had unlimited leverage. As Gerald Horne of the University of Houston recently pointed out, FDR "was faced with a rock-solid granite wall of white supremacy within the ranks of his own party and that is a force that is very difficult to overcome" ("Undoing the New Deal: African-Americans, Racism and the FDR/Johnson Reforms," The Real News, December 18, 2017).

Does anyone seriously believe that dyed-in-the-wool, racist southern Democrats, on whom FDR was dependent upon, were suddenly going to say, "Sure, let's build integrated communities all across America; we're fine with that!"

FDR and the New Deal did create better housing for African Americans

Whether the Roosevelt Administration could have done more to curtail or limit segregation will be debated forever. What is not debatable, however, is that the New Deal improved housing conditions for tens of thousands of African Americans, as noted in the Official Program and Guidebook for the American Negro Exposition of 1940:

"... the USHA [United States Housing Authority, created by the New Deal] is meeting two of the most urgent problems of the Negro American - housing and employment. Survey after survey has indicated that great masses of Negroes are living in substandard dwellings for which they are compelled to pay high rents. They have not been able to get out of these slums and blighted areas, because decent, safe and sanitary homes have not been available to them at rentals within their reach... As of April, 1940, local housing authorities had obtained the approval of loans from the USHA amounting to nearly $631,000,000 [about $11 billion in today's dollars] to pay 90 percent of the development costs of 400 projects in 180 communities. These projects will rehouse 143,600 families. It is estimated that 47,000 of these will be Negro families. Of the 400 projects, at least 177 will be wholly or partially occupied by Negro families... In addition, 7,500 Negro families are living in public housing projects developed by the PWA Housing Division and now administered by the USHA" (pp. 21-23).

Let's confess: We dropped the ball

Now, today, public housing has become synonymous with poverty and crime. But again, that's not the fault of the New Deal. As with the rest of our infrastructure, FDR and his colleagues had no idea that the public was going to develop a case of the stupids, engage in an orgy of tax-cuts-for-the-rich, and let the nation's infrastructure fall to pieces. They expected both structural and intellectual improvement, not apathy, voodoo economics, and the rotting of the common good (which they were trying to cultivate). Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich recently wrote:

"... the common good seems to have disappeared. The phrase is rarely uttered today, not even by commencement speakers and politicians... There's growing evidence of its loss - in CEOs who gouge their customers and loot their corporations; Wall Street bankers who defraud their investors... We see its loss in politicians who take donations from wealthy donors and corporations and then enact laws their patrons want, or shutter the government when they don't get the partisan results they seek... This unbridled selfishness, this contempt for the public, this win-at-any-cost mentality, is eroding America... This is not a society. It's not even a civilization because there's no civility at its core."

So, if we want to blame somebody, or some thing, for America's long tradition of race & income-based apartheid (not only in housing, but also in education, voting, job opportunities, etc.), perhaps we should collectively look in the mirror, and stop saying, "Um... well... uh... the New Deal made me do it. Yeah, yeah, that's it! The New Deal made me do it! Whew, what a relief... I'm exonerated now, right??"

Of course, none of the above is meant to imply that there were no problems with the New Deal. Of course there were problems. There are problems with everything in this world. But the next time someone makes a blanket statement, like, "the New Deal was bad for blacks" or "the New Deal was racist," ask them to stop picking cherries for the libertarian cause, and also suggest that they might spend less time binge-watching Netflix and more time doing their homework.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Remembering the New Deal during Black History Month: The WPA's Negro Advisory Committee

Above: The WPA's Negro Advisory Committee, Washington, DC, 1937. The WPA had a policy of non-discrimination, and this committee, presumably, advised officials on such issues. The February 1939 edition of the African American journal, Opportunity, noted: "It is to the eternal credit of the administrative officers of the WPA that discrimination on various projects because of race has been kept to a minimum and that in almost every community Negroes have been given a chance to participate in the work program." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Remembering the New Deal during Black History Month: Ellen Woodward and wages for African Americans

Above: Ellen Woodward (standing at left), head of the WPA's Women's and Professional Division, visits some schoolchildren enjoying a WPA lunch, Washington, DC, ca. 1935-1939. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Ellen Woodward (1887-1971) was born and raised in Mississippi. She was one of many New Deal administrators who fought for more economic fairness. Once, after hearing complaints that African American workers were making too much money in the WPA, she replied, "Government isn't justified in paying people starvation wages because they only got that much before" (Martha H. Swain, Ellen S. Woodward: New Deal Advocate for Women, Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1995, p. 100).

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Remembering the New Deal during Black History Month: African Americans, music, and the WPA

Above: African American musicians in the National Youth Administration (NYA), in Mobile, Alabama, 1937. Between 1935 and 1939, the NYA was a subdivision of the WPA. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: An African American dance band in Detroit, Michigan, 1938. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A WPA recreation / music program at the Utopia Children's House in Harlem, New York City, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives

Above: A WPA chorus in Los Angeles, California, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The description for this photograph reads, "Negro Spiritual Singers from North Carolina, who were trained through a WPA Federal Music Project, who participated in the White House program for the King and Queen of England, June 8, 1939." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: An African American military band, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1937. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A WPA violin class in New York City, 1937. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A WPA piano class in Columbus, Ohio, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

As you can see from the photos above, the New Deal tried to invest in the common good, improve people's quality of life, bring Americans together, and increase our access to the arts. Compare that to today, where public policy is more about cutting or eliminating anything that helps us, or anything that brightens our lives... in order to give tax breaks to the millionaires & billionaires who've undermined our democracy and sent our good-paying jobs to third world labor markets. How pathetic is that? Is it any wonder that suicides and other deaths of despair have been rising for years? (See, e.g., "Drugs, Alcohol and Suicide Are Causing Life Expectancy in America to Drop Dramatically," TIME, February 8, 2018). Make no mistake about it, Republican & corporate-run public policy is not only tedious and dull, but lethal too.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Remembering the New Deal during Black History Month: FDR appoints the first African American federal judge

Above: William Hastie (1904-1976), left, was "one of the first African American members of the Franklin Roosevelt Administration. He was appointed the President's race relations advisor. Later he was given the post of assistant solicitor for the Department of Interior" ("Hastie, William Henry," BlackPast.org). "In 1937 Hastie became the first African-American federal judge when President Roosevelt appointed him to the bench of the Federal District Court in the Virgin Islands" ("William Henry Hastie," Howard University School of Law). Hastie later become the dean of Howard University's School of Law, the governor of the Virgin Islands, and an appellate judge on the U.S. 3rd Circuit (the 3rd Circuit covers Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the Virgin Islands). Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Remembering the New Deal during Black History Month: Celebrating African American achievements & contributions

"It is truly remarkable, the things which the Negro people have accomplished within living memory - their progress in agriculture and industry, their achievements in the field of education, their contributions to the arts and sciences and, in general, to good citizenship."

--President Franklin Roosevelt, "Letter on Negro Progress," December 26, 1935

Above: "The Negro's Contribution in the Social and Cultural Development of America," an oil painting by Millard Owen Sheets (1907-1989). This artwork is part of a larger set of murals that Sheets painted for the U.S. Department of the Interior Building. Precise information on the painting is hard to come by, but it's likely he was awarded a contract by the New Deal's Section of Fine Arts in 1939, but was unable to complete it until 1948 because of wartime duties (see, e.g., "Murals Show Negro Life," The Bakersfield Californian, November 2, 1948, p. 13). Sheets also assisted in the administration of the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, 1933-1934. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and Carol M. Highsmith.

Above: Science work in the new PWA-funded Chemistry Building at Howard University, Washington, DC, ca. 1937. Speaking about the growth of Howard University, President Roosevelt said, "The American Negro's response to this opportunity in the field of higher learning has been prompt and eager as in other fields. In 1867 at the first term of Howard University ninety-four students enrolled. Today there are nearly two thousand students on the lists" ("Address at the Dedication the New Chemistry Building, Howard University, Washington, D. C.," October 26, 1936). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A program & guide book for the American Negro Exposition, held in Chicago in the summer of 1940. FDR appointed a "United State Auxiliary Commission" for this two-month event. Image courtesy of the Internet Archive.

American Negro Exposition of 1940

On page 1 in the above program & guide book, we read: "This is the first real Negro World's Fair in all history and is being held in Chicago... Government departments and federal agencies are cooperating completely. Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace has ordered the FSA, AAA, and U.S. Extension Service to prepare large exhibits... [the FSA brings] displays prepared by NYA, CCC, Social Security Board, Department of Education and Public Health Service. Under Administrator John Carmody of FWA, exhibits are shown for USHA, WPA and PWA while secretary of Labor Frances Perkins has arranged for a labor exhibit flanked by a showing of women's and children's bureau activities... The exposition will promote racial understanding and good will; enlighten the world on the contributions of the Negro to civilization; and make the Negro conscious of his dramatic progress since emancipation."

The two-month exposition included historical exhibits, murals, dioramas, singing, theatre & dance, special days (for example, "Pennsylvania Day - CCC Day" and "Boy and Girl Scouts Day"), and more. Though the American Negro Exposition has been forgotten about today, it was a big event in 1940 - and an important event for the African American community.

Above: The WPA Writers' Project for Illinois produced a book to go along with the American Negro Exposition, Cavalcade of the American Negro. The supervisor for the book, Curtis D. MacDougall, wrote: "This is the story of a brave people forced to become a part of the American scene, more often than not treated unjustly, generally discriminated against, and frequently persecuted; yet, despite these handicaps, a people who have contributed generously to American culture" (p. 9). Image scanned from personal copy.

Above: A WPA poster, promoting the WPA book, Cavalcade of the American Negro. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: A WPA poster encouraging people to read & learn about African American history and culture. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Remembering the New Deal during Black History Month: Improving tourism and travel for African Americans

Above: A reproduction of the 1940 edition of The Negro Motorist Green-Book. Image scanned from personal copy.

The Negro Motorist Green-Book was created by Victor H. Green (1892-1960) to assist African Americans traveling across the country. During those deeply segregated days, the Green-Book helped black Americans find friendly services and accommodations. It was published from 1936 to the mid-1960s, and during its early years it was assisted by the U.S. Travel Bureau (look closely at the image above). The Travel Bureau was a New Deal creation and part of FDR's overall push for more travel and recreation for all Americans. The Living New Deal has a good summary of the U.S. Travel Bureau.

The Green-Book's listings are broken down by state and city. In Berkeley, California, for example, we see that the "Little Gem" beauty parlor accepted African American customers (and may have been owned and run by African Americans); and in Annapolis, Maryland, "Wright's" hotel was open for business for black travelers.

The Green-Book offered other information too, for example, points of interest, bridge toll rates, and travel articles. In the 1940 edition, in an article titled "Southward," the author writes: "At Savannah we visited [the archaeological site] Irene Mound... A laboratory and museum have been established at this site and a large number of Negro W.P.A. workers is employed."

A history page added to the above reproduction edition of the Green-Book, explains that the guide "was sold largely through service stations - specifically, through Esso stations, as Esso not only served African-American customers, they were willing to franchise their stations to African Americans, unlike most petroleum companies of the day. The guide was also offered by AAA and distributed elsewhere with advice from the United States Travel Bureau, a government agency."

The credit for the Green-Book goes to Victor Green of course. But the assistance of the U.S. Travel Bureau shows, once again, how the New Deal tried to improve the quality of life for African Americans.

Above: The Berkeley, California section of the Green-Book. Image scanned from personal copy.

Above: The San Francisco section of the Green-Book. Image scanned from personal copy.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Remembering the New Deal during Black History Month: African Americans in the Federal Theatre Project

Above: During the New Deal, African Americans found opportunities in the WPA's Federal Theatre Project - both in regular productions and special "Negro theatre units." Above is a scene from the African American performance of It Can't Happen Here, in Seattle, Washington, 1936. The play (and novel), by Sinclair Lewis, is a fictional story about fascism taking hold in America. Wikipedia's summary of the plot: "...the novel describes the rise of Berzelius 'Buzz' Windrip... elected President of the United States, after fomenting fear and promising drastic economic and social reforms while promoting a return to patriotism and 'traditional' values. After his election, Windrip takes complete control of the government and imposes a plutocratic/totalitarian rule with the help of a ruthless paramilitary force, in the manner of Adolf Hitler and the SS." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Opening night for the African American performance of It Can't Happen Here, Seattle, Washington, October 27, 1936. The play ran from October 27 to November 6, 1936 (Hallie Flanagan, Arena, 1940, p. 393). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Wardell Saunders and Rose Poindexter, in the WPA production of The Moon of Caribbees, at the Lafayette Theatre in New York City, October 30, 1937. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Wardell Saunders and Rose Poindexter

Though forgotten today, Wardell Saunders was a trailblazer for African American actors and theater. The following was reported in the January 5, 1946 edition of The New York Age newspaper: "The McKinley Square Players made their debut... with their version of the comedy Arsenic and Old Lace... It is interesting to note that among the cast are four members of the former Lafayette Players, the group of yesteryear, who were the negro pioneers in the legitimate theater - Wardell Saunders, Hilda Offley, Billy Cumberpatch, and of course, Miss [Abbie] Mitchell" ("Abbie Mitchell Scores in 'Arsenic and Old Lace,' Production of McKinley Sq. Players"). Among his other theatre performances, Saunders played "Father Christmas" in the Broadway play The Cool World - a play that also included James Earl Jones. 

Described as a "dancer and actress from the upscale Edgecombe Circle area of Harlem," Rose Poindexter enjoyed some entertainment success too: "Rose Poindexter was in Blackbirds of 1928 which toured Europe after a successful Broadway season. Leaving the company in Paris, she took to cabarets, singing and dancing in many continental hot spots from Copenhagen to Cairo. Her most recent Broadway appearance was in the last edition of New Faces ("Sing for Your Supper A Tribute to Negro Artists," The New York Age, May 27, 1939). From 1938 to 1945, Poindexter was married to the famous African American writer Ralph Ellison.

Above: The WPA's Federal Theatre Project not only provided opportunities for African American actors, but also for other African American professionals. The description for this 1938 photograph reads, "800 negro theatrical workers are employed as actors, directors, scriptmen, stage and lighting technicians in the Federal Theatre Project. Pictured here are the stagehands and electricians working under the direction of the stage manager at the Lafayette Theatre in New York." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Remembering the New Deal during Black History Month: More services for infants

Above: Two babies enjoy their first taste of orange juice, on a Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) project in Alabama, 1935. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A nurse weighs a baby at a WPA-funded nursery / clinic in New Orleans, 1936. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

As we all know by now, our Republican-led federal government is constantly trying to kick poor people off Medicaid, in the hopes that the money saved can be fed back to their wealthy right-wing donors. They've also dilly-dallied for months on the Children's Health Insurance Program, finally using it as a bargaining chip to garner some Democratic votes on other matters. Now we learn that they're also dragging their feet on the Community Health Center Fund, a federal program to help lower-income Americans receive healthcare ("Congress Left Health Care For Millions Of Poor People In The Lurch," Huffington Post, February 4, 2018).

Republicans have also routinely attacked the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or Food Stamps) and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). One Republican official summed up his party's attitude when he wrote, "Obama is rewarding the lazy pigs with food stamps." And a former Republican Lt. Governor from South Carolina once warned us not feed the poor "Because they might breed."  

These constant Republican efforts to reduce, block, or eliminate assistance programs are harming and killing infants. For example, millions of American babies are not receiving adequate nutrition; and this malnutrition will probably put them at a disadvantage for the rest of their lives (see, e.g., "More Than Half Of American Babies Are At Risk For Malnourishment," Huffington Post, February 3, 2018). Infant mortality is also a serious problem, especially for the black community: "African American infants are 3.2 times as likely to die from complications related to low birthweight as compared to non-Hispanic white infants" ("Infant Mortality and African Americans," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; also see, "Black and White Infant Mortality Rates Show Wide Racial Disparities Still Exist," Newsweek, July 3, 2017).

In contrast to mean-spirited Republican policies, the New Deal increased nutrition and healthcare for lower-income Americans - and on a massive scale. With respect to nutrition, food was distributed through the Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation and the Food Stamp Plan. With respect to healthcare, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration hired over 6,000 nurses to make 3.5 million home visits (FERA Work Division's final report, 1935, p. 76). And the WPA operated many health clinics across the country: "There were clinics in which prenatal care was given to expectant mothers, and there were other clinics where mothers were taught how to keep their babies in good health" (Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, p. 69).

It is quite clear that our decision to move away from the New Deal, in favor of neoliberalism & trickle-down economics, is harming and killing infants. When President Bill Clinton decided to lead the Democratic Party rightward--stating, "The era of big government is over," and suggesting that we rely on "religious, charitable, and civic associations" instead--he may not have foreseen the disastrous consequences of such a shift (but he should have). Those consequences include: preventable illness & death, a halt to progress, and an electorate that is shockingly comfortable in its apathy.

Above: A WPA-built health clinic, staffed with WPA health assistants, in Birmingham, Alabama, 1938. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Remembering the New Deal during Black History Month: Dental services

Above: A dental clinic in Plainfield, New Jersey, supported by the New Deal's Civil Works Administration (CWA), ca. 1933-1934. Photo from Henry Alsberg (ed.), America Fight the Depression: A Photographic Record of the Civil Works Administration, New York: Coward-McCann, 1934, p. 127, used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

Above: A dental hygienist cleans a patient's teeth, while an enrollee in the New Deal's National Youth Administration (NYA) assists, on a WPA project in Kanawha County, West Virginia, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

During the New Deal, there were great efforts to bring more dental care to more people, especially children from low-income families. For example, "The WPA took an active part in providing public health services in rural areas where these services had been entirely lacking... in some rural areas the WPA operated mobile dental clinics, staffed with a dentist, nurse, and clerk, that went in trailers from school to school" (Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, p. 69).

FDR and his fellow policymakers tried to set us on the right path. Today, we've purposefully stepped off that path, and opted for trickle-down economics instead - a mean-spirited, saliva-dripping form of economics, where you only deserve the health your wealth can purchase. 

The result? Well, in terms of dental care...

"Wealthy Americans spend billions of dollars per year, collectively, to improve their smiles. Meanwhile, about a third of all people living in the United States struggle to pay for even basic dental care. The most common chronic illness in school-age children is tooth decay. Nearly a quarter of low-income children have decaying teeth, well above the national average; black and Hispanic children also experience higher rates of untreated decay... Dental coverage improved modestly during the Obama administration, through an expansion of Medicaid and the state Children's Health Insurance Program under the Affordable Care Act, but access remains patchy and wholly inadequate... At the pediatric dental clinic at the University of Illinois at Chicago, there's a two-year waiting list for children who need dental surgery that requires anesthesia" ("America’s Dental Gap Has Left People Relying on Pliers, Chisels, and Whiskey," The Nation, November 3, 2017, emphasis added).

That's right folks. As the super-wealthy utilize their record wealth--obtained from decades of tax cuts, job outsourcing, fraud, paying workers as little as possible, and barbaric investments in private prisons, tobacco, and war--to brighten their pearly whites and have custom-made porcelain veneers installed in their mouths, many low-income children have to wait years for needed surgery.

So... what was Trump saying about "$hithole countries" again?