Civil Rights Activism in the Era of Laboured Protest
WithOliver Ayers
Pages 9

The conclusion reiterates the reasons why the New Deal and Second World War constituted the era of ‘laboured protest’. First, at a general level, activists across the political spectrum assigned issues of work—labour—employment and economics a much higher level of importance than they had before. This did not imply, however, a neat shift toward the left; organizations and individuals retained distinctive and different views on the implications of these developments. Second, the rise of organized labour became a defining issue for black communities and their leaders alike, although some unions worked to advance black claims and others remained obstructive. Protest leaders often found they needed to engage and negotiate with, or protest against, members of three constituencies—management, government and labour—in tandem. Coordinated activism was the order of the day. But although many agreed that economic concerns had moved to the top of the political agenda, personal and political differences about the strategic and ideological implications of this change often undercut collaborative protests. Civil rights activism during the New Deal and war was not an abject failure, but it was often ‘laboured’ in a third sense: conducted with tremendous effort but undercut by frustrating difficulties.