chapter  1
The New Deal, the Rise of Organized Labour and National Civil Rights Organizations During the 1930s
WithOliver Ayers
Pages 41

Chapter One tells the national stories of the New Deal, organized labour and civil rights activism during the 1930s. Economic concerns, centred on employment in particular, moved to the top of the protest agenda during the Great Depression, and organized labour also became a more important topic after the emergence of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). This chapter shows that the political currents of 1930s civil rights activism did not, however, all pull in the direction of the left. Collaborative responses were undermined by a menu of personal, political and generational tensions. The National Negro Congress (NNC) offered a glimpse of the power of coordinated action but was institutionally weak at a national level, while key constituent organizations like the National Urban League (NUL) and National Associated for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) operated largely independently from one another. The experiences of national level leaders reinforce the book’s larger argument: many realized that a certain type of activism—a distinctive recipe for success—was more urgent than ever. Broad-based alliances were needed as never before, but enduring political differences meant coordinated activism at a national level was sporadic and faltering.