Federal Council of Negro Affairs

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The Federal Council of Negro Affairs was an informal collection of African Americans who advised President Franklin D. Roosevelt during his administrations. The term was coined in 1936 by Mary Mcleod Bethune and was occasionally used in the press. Roosevelt appointed numerous blacks to second-level positions and by the mid-1930s, about 45 prominent blacks were working in the New Deal agencies.[1] They were known informally as the Black Cabinet. Roosevelt and the Council, together with his New Deal programs, gained support for the Democratic Party from many black voters across the country. They had previously favored the Republican Party as the party of President Lincoln and their emancipation.


Although the Council was concerned with civil rights, Franklin D. Roosevelt believed there were larger problems to be addressed than racial inequality during the wartime years; he was also struggling to maintain support of the Southern white Congressional Democrats. Roosevelt declined to support legislation making lynching a federal offense, and banning the use of the poll tax in the South.

The Black Cabinet, with Eleanor Roosevelt's support, worked to ensure that blacks received 10 percent of welfare funds. The Council argued that blacks were underrepresented among recipients of aid under the New Deal, in large part because Southern Democrats had influenced the structure and implementation of programs to aid their white constituents. For instance, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration helped farmers but did not help farm workers; farm owners were given incentive to cut farm production, reducing the need for labor. Programs such as the Works Projects Administration (WPA), and the National Youth Administration (NYA) attempted to direct 10 percent of funds to blacks (as their proportion of the US population). These agencies set up separate all-black units with the same pay and conditions as those in white units, to which black voters responded favorably.

Mary Mcleod Bethune served as an informal organizer of the Council, as well as the Director of Negro Affairs in the National Youth Administration.[2] Rayford Wittingham Logan drafted Roosevelt's executive order prohibiting the exclusion of blacks from the military in World War II. Other leaders included William H. Hastie, and Robert C. Weaver. The leaders associated with the Black Cabinet are often credited with laying part of the foundation of the Civil Rights' Movement that developed in strength in the postwar years.

The Council tried to create jobs for unemployed African Americans and to create more opportunities for them; still concentrated in rural areas of the South, blacks made up about twenty percent of the poor in the Depression Era. They were often the first to be let go from industrial jobs. Most of the black community did not benefit from some of the New Deal Acts.

The WPA created agencies that employed creative people in a variety of jobs: as writers, artists, and other photographers. WPA murals were painted and WPA sculptures were commissioned for numerous federal buildings that were constructed during this period. Photographers documented families across the South and in northern cities. The Federal Writers' Project paid its workers $20 a week, and they wrote histories of every state in the Union, covering major cities in addition.[3]

Under Roscoe E. Lewis, the Virginia Writers' Project sent out an all-black unit of writers to interview ex-slaves. Such accounts were also solicited in interviews in other states. The Slave Narrative Collection of the Federal Writers' Project stands as one of the most enduring and noteworthy achievements of the WPA. it is available online through the Library of Congress.[4]

See also[edit]


  • Poole, Bernice Anderson (1994). Mary Mcleod Bethune: educator. ISBN 0-87067-783-7.