John P. Davis: “A Black Inventory of the New Deal”

(1935)

John Preston Davis’s essay “A Black Inventory of the New Deal” is a scathing indictment of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s early programs to combat the economic woes of the Great Depression. Published in May of 1935 in The Crisis, the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), this essay challenged African Americans to create their own solutions to their dire economic situation rather than relying on a government that had systematically failed to come through for them.

Davis’s essay was published at the time of a conference held at Howard University in Washington, D.C., titled “The Position of the Negro in Our National Economic Crisis.” The conference was organized by Davis and Ralph Bunche, who was a professor of political science at Howard University and would later become a key architect of the United Nations. Like Davis, most of the participants in the conference were highly critical of Roosevelt’s New Deal, noting that the...

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Sharecropping families evicted for membership in the Southern Tenant Farmers Union (Library of Congress)

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