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“Will ‘Our People’ Be Any Better Off After This War?”

“Will ‘Our People’ Be Any Better Off After This War?”

(p.81) Chapter Three “Will ‘Our People’ Be Any Better Off After This War?”
Crucibles of Black Empowerment
Jeffrey Helgeson
University of Chicago Press

World War II has been seen as a watershed moment in black history. The wartime economic boom lifted black Americans out of the Depression and inspired the mass activism that became the seeds of the modern Civil Rights Movement. This chapter argues that the war was important for yet another reason – while it raised African Americans expectations for economic opportunity, the wartime boom and the growing federal government distributed significant opportunity unevenly throughout black Chicago. The chapter details the experiences of a wide variety of black workers – from former sharecroppers fleeing government-sponsored peonage in the South to black building trades workers to white-collar workers running the local office of the United States Employment Service in black Chicago. Their fates all improved, but in very different and unequal ways, indicating how the city would open in the postwar era, but in ways that would increase social differences among black Chicagoans.

Keywords:   World War II, United States Employment Service, Civil rights movement, Black workers, Black building trades, Wartime economic boom

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