Population. – In the 1940 census, the total black population of the United States was 12,865,518, increased (from the 1930 census) by 15.8% in the north, 5.8% in the south and 41.8% in the West. The figures indicate that internal migration from the southern states – especially from rural to urban areas – is still accentuated. While in fact in 1930 77% of the Negro population resided in the agricultural south, in 1940 about 50% resided in urban and industrial regions. The war and the increased employment opportunities (in 1945 the Minister of Labor reported that from 1940 to 1944 about one million Negroes had found work in activities relating to defense and war production) have certainly accelerated this process,
Of the 5,389,191 Negroes with an occupation in 1940, 62.2% are engaged in agriculture and other daily activities, compared to 28% of Whites, while only 5%, compared to 30% of Whites, figure in professions, in administrative and bureaucratic positions and in commerce. The percentage of illiterate people in the black population is 10%
Participation in the war. – It is estimated that about half a million Negroes were part of the armed forces during the war. In October there were only 115,197 in the army; subsequently the number was increased and the Negroes were admitted into the navy, into the air force, into the coastal troops and into the riflemen. In August 1945, the bulk of the black armed forces were deployed as follows: 206,000 in the Pacific, 23.000 in India, Burma and China, 43.000 in the Mediterranean chessboard, 181.000 in the European theater. The 92nd Black Infantry Division fought in Italy in the 5th Army under gen. L. Truscott and in September 1944 participated in the occupation of Lucca. In May 1946 it was officially announced that Negroes would make up 10 percent of the postwar armed forces of the United States.
Civil rights and political and cultural developments. – Despite the persistence of restrictive and discriminatory laws against Negroes in various states of the Union, the last decade and especially the Roosevelt administration, have been characterized by considerable activity aimed at achieving effective legal equality of the black population with respect to to the Whites. The most significant measure in favor of Negroes since the time of emancipation was the creation, on the initiative of Roosevelt, of the FEPC (Fair Employment Practice Committee) on 25 June 1941, with the task of investigating cases of discrimination due to race, color, religion and nationality, in defense industries and government jobs, where the president prescribed the most absolute “equity of employment”. The action of the committee, unfortunately, he quickly got bogged down by opposition from Southern congressmen and his lack of executive authority. The committee had a mixed life until 1946, when after vain, repeated attempts to obtain official recognition and a permanent base, it was suppressed. The efforts of the Negroes since then focused on the achievement of legislation against racial discrimination in individual states rather than nationally, and led to some results especially in Indiana, Massachusetts and the states of New York and New Jersey.
These efforts at the end of 1946 met with a courageous initiative by President Truman, who, on December 5 of that year, gave life to a presidential committee for civil rights placed under the presidency of CE Wilson, with the aim of eliminating any intolerance and racial discrimination, especially in consideration of the sacrifices endured by the black population during the war and the fact that an ideal of democracy could not be affirmed externally when it was not recognized internally. On October 29, 1947 the civil rights committee presented a conclusive report which, assuming the existence of “moral, economic and international reasons for a re-examination of the civil rights situation in the US”, proposed the establishment of central and peripheral bodies of the Department of Justice for the protection of civil and constitutional rights, as well as individual freedom. It suggested, in concrete terms, to make more severe the legislation against racial discrimination, administrative and police abuses and above all that against lynching, to eliminate the established custom of keeping Negroes separate from Whites in public places, in services transport, in hospitals, to get rid of restrictive measures on the purchase of property, etc. This program, brought before congress by a special message from Truman on February 2, 1947, met the most bitter opposition in the Southern states.
Among the specific fundamental demands made by 25 national Negro organizations on the eve of the presidential elections of 1944, were: federal laws abolishing the voting tax, used by some Southern states to exclude poor and ignorant Negroes from elections and therefore from every possibility of government; integrated Negroes into the armed forces, eliminating the injustice of separate formations. In addition, the establishment of a permanent federal committee for fair employment; the development, at the expense of the government, of the construction of non-segregated housing for the Negroes.
The highest national black organization, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and the National Urban League which is divided into numerous state leagues where Whites and Negroes find a meeting place to get to know each other and work on common problems, added in February 1944 the Southern Regional Council, to whose establishment the Commission on Interracial Cooperation (founded in 1919) contributed, and the conferences of white and black leaders held in Durham (October 1942), Atlanta (April 1943) and Richmond (June 1943) for the achievement of a better understanding and cooperation between Whites and Negroes in the Southern states, for the democratization of the social order and the implementation of the ideals of “equal opportunity for all the peoples of the region”.
The most notable achievement of the Negroes in the literary field in the last decade is represented by Richard Wright, born in Missouri on September 4, 1908 and author of original and vigorous novels: Uncle Tom’s Children, 1938; Native Son, 1940; 12 Million Black Voices and Black Boy, 1945.