July 5th, 1935

President Franklin Roosevelt Signs Discriminatory National Labor Relations Act

Throughout the 1930s, white Southern Democrats secured amendments excluding the majority of blacks from the benefits and protections of New Deal legislation that built the central pillars of the modern middle class. The Southern congressmen struck agricultural and domestic workers from the law establishing Social Security, barring over 60 percent of the black workforce overall, 85 percent of black women, and almost 75 percent of the Southern black workforce from receiving Social Security benefits. This included retirement benefits, welfare, and unemployment payments.

The Southern Democrats, capitalizing on their control of leadership positions in Congress and their effective veto power over almost any legislation, similarly barred farmworkers and domestic workers from the protections of laws creating modern labor unions, and setting minimum wage and maximum hours. The Southern legislators secured provisions requiring local administration of the GI Bill, small business loans, home mortgage assistance, educational grants, and nearly all forms of federal financial aid that built our modern middle class and the assets that can be passed from generation to generation. Southern Democrats also prevented Congress from including any anti-discrimination language in social welfare programs, such as hospital construction grants, school lunches, and community health services. As explained by Representative James Mark Wilcox from Florida, “You cannot put the Negro and the white man on the same basis and get away with it.”

As a result of this concerted effort by white Southern politicians, the unprecedented comprehensive government program represented by the New Deal disproportionately benefitted whites and largely excluded black people. The impact of this racially-motivated, discriminatory legislating continues to profoundly impact the nation today. According to the Pew Research Center, white households possess roughly 20 times as much wealth as black households, and more than a third of black people have zero or negative wealth, compared to just 15 percent of whites.