Politics and Government

Political Parties and Politics

What was the “Black Cabinet”?

This network of African-American advisers to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt represented black interests and concerns during the Great Depression and the New Deal economic recovery programs of the 1930s. The NAACP, the Julius Rosenwald Fund, and other organizations lobbied the Roosevelt administration to appoint blacks as advisers to federal agencies and New Deal programs. The administration, however, was hesitant to act because of the potential backlash from powerful Southern Democrats in Congress. After considerable political maneuvering, the appointments began to occur.

During the Roosevelt administration, African Americans gained considerable political clout and became specialists and advisors in a number of governmental departments. Advice of African Americans was seen early on; for example, with Booker T. Washington, educator, school founder, and founder, in 1910, of the National Negro Business League. He advised U.S. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. By Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s time, however, the administration had selected a fairly large group of black advisors, rather than focusing on a small group or select individuals, as other Presidents had done. Whether or not the earlier advisers actually had access to the President is questionable. FDR’s advisers, however, were put in positions of importance with enough clout to be deemed significant. Under his New Deal administration, which included many programs to aid in recovery from the Great Depression, these advisors (who were not politicians) performed specific functions that required use of their intelligence and education. Some also referred to them as the “black brain trust,” primarily because they were college presidents, lawyers, and/or held doctoral degrees.

The Black Cabinet was not a formal body. Included in the Black Cabinet were newspaper editor Robert L. Vann, Howard University Law School dean William H. Hastie, National Urban League executive Eugene Kinckle Jones, college founder and president Mary McLeod Bethune, and Ralph Bunche, later known for his work as undersecretary of the United Nations. By the late 1930s the cabinet members called themselves the Federal Council on Negro Affairs. The Black Cabinet also provided a model of successful coalition-building for leaders and organizations during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.



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