Segregationist Legislation And The Rise Of The NAACP
When, in 1913, Democrats gained control of Congress and the White House for the first time since the mid-1890s, southern Members of the party were tempted to expand segregation into areas of federal jurisdiction.109 In the first two Congresses of the Woodrow Wilson administration (the 63rd and 64th, 1913–1917), southern Members introduced bills to segregate the federal civil service, the military, and public transportation in Washington, DC. Others introduced bills to repeal the 15th Amendment. Though Congress enacted none of these measures, the significance of these proposals lay in the fact that they were entertained at all. Having solidified absolute control over race issues in the South, southern Members of Congress were sufficiently emboldened to prod Congress to endorse a nationalized racial apartheid.110
In part, the emergence of African-American public advocacy groups such as the NAACP—founded by Mary White Ovington and Oswald Garrison Villard, descendants of prominent abolitionists—counterbalanced efforts to introduce federal segregation laws.113 Although its original organizers were largely white, the NAACP included black intellectuals such as W. E. B. Du Bois, anti-lynching reformer Ida Wells-Barnett, and women’s rights leader Mary Church Terrell, establishing its headquarters in New York City under the leadership of Moorefield Storey, a former president of the American Bar Association. Du Bois soon began publishing The Crisis, the organization’s journal, which served as an outlet for reformers and literary contributors and as a tool to inform the American public about issues critical to African Americans. The NAACP quickly experienced a growth spurt: During World War I, membership swelled 900 percent to include more than 90,000 individuals in 300 cities and towns nationwide. In the 1910s it began a methodical apprenticeship, learning to lobby Congress and to organize national public opinion campaigns.
109For an exhaustive study on segregation in the federal government, see Desmond King, Separate and Unequal: Black Americans and the US Federal Government (New York: Oxford, 1995): especially pages 9, 20–27.
110See, for example, H.R. 5968 (63rd Congress, 1913–1915), H.R. 7540 (64th Congress, 1915–1917), H.R. 3573 (65th Congress, 1917–1919); King, Separate and Unequal: 218, appendix A1.3.
111From 1914 and lasting until 1940, persons seeking civil service jobs were required to submit a photograph with their application—a de facto method of discrimination based on race and color. Successful African-American job seekers were assigned to a disproportionate number of menial positions (custodial, clerical, and laborer jobs) and very few supervisory positions. See King, Separate and Unequal: 4, 29, 48. As a result, the percentage of African-American civil servants declined from 6 to 4.9 percent of the federal workforce during the Wilson administration, though that figure was somewhat misleading because the actual total increased due to the growth of the federal government during the war production effort. Kendrick A. Clements, The Presidency of Woodrow Wilson (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992): 45–46, 60–61. See also Joel Williamson, The Crucible of Race: Black-White Relations in the American South Since Emancipation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984). For percentages of African Americans in the federal workforce, see King, Separate and Unequal: 49. Even after Wilson left office, however, discrimination in the federal government remained pervasive. King, Separate and Unequal: 16, 20, 222, 229 (appendices A2.2 and A3.2).
112King, Separate and Unequal: 26–27.
113For a history of the NAACP, see Gilbert Jonas, Freedom’s Sword: The NAACP and the Struggle Against Racism in America, 1909–1969 (New York: Routledge, 2005).