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Blacks, Unions, & Organizing in the South, 1956-1996


Compiled by Rudolph Lewis




The Negro: A Step Behind

By Simmons Fentress

The Charlotte Observer

(December 18, 1956)

             The problem of the Southern economy cannot be divorced from the problem of the Southern Negro.

            The two are intertwined, just as they always have been. If the economic opportunity of the Negro does not expand, the development of the South will be hampered.

            The problem is grounded in numbers. Despite his heavy migration to the North, the Negro still accounts for 26 per cent of the South's population.

            In Mississippi, where he was in the majority a few years ago, he represents 45.4 per cent of the population. In South Carolina, 38.9 per cent. In Louisiana, 33 per cent. In Georgia, 31 per cent. In Alabama, 32 per cent. In North Carolina, 26,6 percent.

            Economically, he lives pretty much on crumbs from the table.

            He works generally in the lowest-paying jobs of the lowest-paying industries.

            In the United States, in 1949, the median income of non-white persons was only 46.8 per cent of that of white persons.

            In South Carolina, it was only 31.9 per cent. The median income of the white person there was $1,684; the Negro, only $525.

            In Mississippi, the dollars were fewer but the percentage slightly higher. The median income of a white person in that state was only $1,236. The Negro earned $439.

            In five other Southern states--North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana--the average was below that of the nation.

            Several factors are at work here.

            Education is one of them. The level of education in the Negro labor force is below that of the whites. The Negro thus is hampered in his competition.

            The barriers that restrict Negro opportunity are a major factor.

            Evidence of these barriers is found in figures showing that the income differential between whites and Negroes tends to increase as the level of education increases.

            For instance, in 1949 the income of white persons in the South exceeded that of the non-whites by 48 per cent at the level of a grammar school graduate.

            The differential jumped to 73 per cent among graduates of high school.

            It rose to 85 per cent among college graduates.

            The differential were considerably narrower in other regions of the nation.

            In the North and West the median income among whites, after fours years of college, was 59 per cent above that of Negroes with the same education. In the South the income among whites was 85 per cent higher.

            Yet the median income of whites with no education at all was only 16 per cent above that of Negroes in the same situation. In the North and West the spread was greater--28 per cent.

            The situation can easily be understood in terms of specifics. Suppose a young Negro graduates in engineering at state-operated A&T college in Greensboro. He immediately faces the fact that there are few Negro firms in the region that have use for his services. There are few Negro construction firms; few, if any Negro roadbuilders. In short, the avenues to employment within his own race are limited drastically.

            The chances of his securing employment of that kind with white firms is practically non-existent. The invisible barrier still rules out state employment, city employment and county employment at the levels of his training. This is true regardless of the need for engineers in these quarters.

            The ultimate choice, for man, is simply to leave their state and their region. Elsewhere they will face the same problems to an extent, but not to as large as extent.

            They take with them their education which was subsidized by the taxpayer.

            There are no hard figures on the degree of Negro migration from the South. There is no doubt that it is great. A walk through the trains moving up the Mississippi Valley toward Chicago and Detroit will establish the fact.

            That migration largely explains why two Southern states, Arkansas and Mississippi, actually lost population over the last 15 years.

            No one can say how many Negroes go in the interest of their dignity or in the interest of their economics or how many from a combination of the two.

            It is not hard to establish the economic connection. The two states, Arkansas and Mississippi, rank 47th and 48th in per capita income.

            Just as the South does not share fully in national prosperity, the Negro does not share fully in the beginnings of a Southern industrial revolution. In new factories he still does menial jobs.

            He has won major victories in the courts in terms of his citizenship. His progress in the realm of economic opportunity is slower.

            That fact figures heavily in the south's economic ranking. It will continue to do so as long as the Negro comprises more than a fourth of the Southern population.

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . .

The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.”  His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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