WithOliver Ayers
Pages 23

The Introduction sets out the different ways scholars have approached the question of black civil rights during the New Deal and Second World War. Attention is paid to the arguments of the ‘long civil rights movement’ and the notion that this period represented a ‘decisive first phase’ of protest. The Introduction identifies some problems with this increasingly orthodox view, especially its tendency to subordinate the achievements of activism to surveys of the attitudes and aspiration of left-leaning activists associated with organized labour and aligned with the Communist Party. Laboured Protest, in contrast, casts a wide net, spanning the range of the political spectrum to assess the achievements of activism during the New Deal and war in New York City and Detroit. The book argues that civil rights protest in the period was laboured in three senses. First, questions of work—of labour—assumed greater importance than before and, second, the rise of organized labour offered new potential remedies to discriminatory treatment. At the same time, workers complained of receiving a ‘grand runaround’ from management, government and labour, forcing civil rights activists (often divided on lines of personality and politics), to collaborate, which they managed only on a sporadic basis. Civil rights activism was often, therefore, laboured in a third sense: conducted with tremendous effort but marked by frustrating difficulties.