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Today’s blog is written by Dr. Jametta Davis, Appraisal Archivist at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

The Great Depression was one of the most devastating economic periods of the twentieth century.  Between 1929 and the early 1940s, countless American citizens experienced high unemployment rates, increased poverty, and great uncertainty.  For black girls and young women, the period created even greater challenges due to the fact that prior to 1929, they were typically employed in the lowest paying jobs within the labor market.  Also discrimination, marginal education, and growing competition for their already meager wages made circumstances even more difficult for black women during the Depression.  Recognizing these unique challenges, prominent civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune, and the Negro Affairs Division of the National Youth Administration provided thousands of black girls and women with educational programs and vocational training to prepare them for better job opportunities.

Mary McLeod Bethune (1943)

Mary McLeod Bethune (1943)

The National Youth Administration (NYA) was a New Deal program created in 1935 within the Works Progress Administration (WPA).  The mission of the program was to provide economic relief to young people aged 16 to 24 through educational aid, job training skills, and employment opportunities.  In 1936, in an effort to better address the needs of black youth, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Mary McLeod Bethune as Director of the NYA’s Division of Negro Affairs.  With this appointment, the prominent civil rights leader became the first black female administrator in the federal government.  In this capacity, Bethune worked closely with federal and state agencies, black college presidents, and black businesses and organizations to establish numerous resources to aid black girls and women through the auspices of the NYA.

Bethune at the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA in Washington, D. C.

Bethune at the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA in Washington, D. C.

For instance, the NYA’s Special Negro Fund provided educational aid and work-study programs to black college students.  Such programs allowed young women to remain in college, acquire additional job skills, and participate in wage-earning projects that provided them with opportunities to instruct and assist other NYA participants in the various vocational programs.  For Bethune, it was just as important to assist students who could not afford to attend college.  Therefore, the NYA also collaborated with local schools, hospitals, and organizations, such as the YWCA to provide girls with training in nursery school work, home economics, gardening, cafeteria work, nursing, clerical skills, and factory jobs.  A number of residential training centers on and near the campuses of black colleges in thirteen states were also created.  Selected girls, usually from rural areas, traveled to the centers where they resided for extended periods to learn new trades and skills.


Female participants in each of the agency’s programs earned wages for their part-time work on projects.  In fact, unlike most New Deal work programs, the NYA paid black and white students equal wages for the projects they participated in.  However, participants were not the only ones to benefit.  Through their work, they also contributed much needed resources for the communities in which they worked.  Resources provided to the community included:  meals and services, improvements to the various facilities in the black community, including recreational and educational amenities for youth, assistance for Tuberculosis patients, and resources to charitable institutions that provided for the black community’s most needy.


As World War II began and the need for defense goods and materials grew, young women in the NYA program were increasingly trained for industry work related to the war efforts.  As a result, black NYA participants were readily prepared in cities throughout the country to work in programs which emphasized industrial sewing, welding, machinery, pattern-making, and to a smaller degree, clerical work.  Because the war had also stimulated the economy and the general labor market, the NYA industrial training programs had also prepared numerous black girls and women for jobs in the defense industry.


The improved economy eliminated the need for the NYA’s existence and, as a result, its programs were discontinued by 1944.  Despite this fact, Mary McLeod Bethune and the Division of Negro Affairs made incredible strides for the black youth who participated in the NYA’s educational and vocational training projects.  The work of the agency marked the first time in the history of the federal government that black youth and young adults were assisted through such programming efforts.  In the end, the agency had assisted close to 300,000 black youth and as such, paved the way for thousands of young black women to participate in better opportunities within the job market.


The images used in this blog can be found in RG 119 Records of the National Youth Administration (NYA), located at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

I too, am Rosie

by on March 11, 2014

Today’s blog is written by Dr. Tina L. Ligon, Archivist at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland

Black women have a long history of work in the United States. They have toiled in hot fields, cared for other people’s children, cleaned homes, worked in factories, taught in poorly funded schools, and held numerous professional and political positions. African American women are a part of the American workforce by choice or by circumstance. They contributed to the progress and success of leading industries with dedication and hard work. And after these long days away from the home, black women still managed to find the strength to care for and nurture their own families.

National Archives Identifier 535413

National Archives Identifier 535413

The iconic image of Rosie the riveter during the war years depicts a white woman flexing her muscles and wearing a bandanna with the catch phrase “We Can Do It!” Black women also gave their labor in support of the wartime shortages. Women of all races and ages worked in various factories and industries during both world wars across northern and mid-western states. Most women endured difficulties as paid labor in the wartime industries, which include low pay, sexual harassment, and grueling working conditions. Black women, who often worked in segregated areas, were paid even less than their white female counterparts and also had to deal with racism and oppression, while attempting to support their families and the war effort.


The General Photographic File, 1893-1945 (National Archives Identifier 522858) series in RG 86 Records of the Women’s Bureau contains photographs showcasing women at work during World War I and the early 1920s. The Department of Labor managed to document all classes and races of American women employed at various naval yards, tobacco plants, Army hospitals, and federal agencies. Within this series are images of black women employed in lumber yards, in manufacturing plants, at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, and in steel mills. The photographs from this series illustrate African American women at work and their struggles to obtain better pay and improved working conditions.


The series Negro Activities in Industry, Government, and the Armed Forces, 1941-1945 (National Archives Identifier 535799) in RG 208 Records of the Office of War Information consists of photographs detailing all aspects of black life during the World War II years. Among these images are representations of African American women’s contributions to the wartime labor shortage. Similar to the war effort during the First World War, black women filled vacant positions in industrial and service sector positions. These photographs also show black women at work in both civilian and military offices.

Virginia is for the Lovings

by on February 25, 2014

Today’s blog is written by Dr. Christina Violeta Jones, Textual Reference Archivist at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland

1969 was a remarkable year.  Richard Nixon became the 37th President, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin were the first two men to land on the moon, and Woodstock the music festival took place.  Also born in 1969 was the tourism/travel slogan “Virginia is for Lovers,” established by advertising agents David N. Martin and George Woltz of Richmond, Virginia.  This bold and provocative phrase was intended to plant a new image of a more exciting Virginia, appealing to younger consumers who were the market of the future.  Given the new unofficial state motto, it is incredible that only two years before Richard Perry Loving, a white man, and Mildred Delores Jeter Loving, a woman of African American and Native American descent, were fighting for the right to live as husband and wife in the state of Virginia.  Loving v. Virginia (1967) was a landmark civil rights decision of the United States Supreme Court which invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage.

Decision, Loving v. Virginia

Decision, Loving v. Virginia

Laws banning interracial marriage (also known as anti-miscegenation laws) were well established throughout the United States since the country declared its independence in 1776.  The Virginia state law was the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which prohibited marriage between whites and other non-white ethnic groups, mandated that a racial description of every person be recorded at birth, and divided society into two classifications: white and colored. However, in certain parts of Virginia “racial integrity” did not always translate from the law books into real life. The town where the Lovings grew up was considered “the passing capital of America” for the ability of its black residents to pass as white once they left town.  Nevertheless, segregation and its laws still existed.

When Mildred became pregnant in June of 1958, the couple married in Washington, D.C. where there was no law against interracial marriage and soon after returned to Caroline County, Virginia. One night the local police raided their home and when Mildred pointed their marriage certificate out to the police, the document became the evidence for a criminal charge. The couple was charged under Section 20-58 of the Virginia Code, which prohibited interracial couples from being married out of state and then returning to Virginia, and Section 20-59, which classified miscegenation as a felony.

In January, 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty and were sentenced to one year in prison, with the sentence suspended for 25 years on condition that the couple leaves the state of Virginia.  It was then that the couple moved back to Washington, D.C.

By 1964, the Lovings were frustrated, in part from their social isolation and financial difficulties, but more so because they were unable to travel in Virginia as a married couple, to visit their families.  Around this time, Mildred wrote a letter in protest to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.  Kennedy referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU attorneys Phil Hirschkop and Bernard Cohen filed a motion on behalf of the couple in the Virginia State trial court to vacate the judgment from Virginia and set aside the sentence on the grounds that the violated statues ran counter to the Fourteenth Amendment.  This set in motion a series of lawsuits, which ultimately reached the Supreme Court of the United States.

As seen in the Opinion given above, the Supreme Court overturned the convictions for violating the Virginia Code in an unanimous decision to dismiss the case that a law forbidding both white and black people from marrying people of another race and providing identical penalties to white and black violator could be construed as racial discrimination (RG 267, Appellate Jurisdiction Case Files).  The court ruled that Virginia’s miscegenation status violated both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Telegram Announcing the Decision in Loving v. Virginia

Telegram Announcing the Decision in Loving v. Virginia

As we celebrate African American History month and Valentine’s Day in February, readers should keep in mind that Richard and Mildred Loving never considered themselves activists, they just wanted to live a simple life; loving each other, living happily married, and raising their children in their home in the state of Virginia.

Readers should note that several documents from the Supreme Court Loving v. Virginia case file are featured in the Records of Rights and the Making their Mark: Stories through Signatures exhibits. Making their Mark will open March 21, 2014 and close January 5, 2015 in the O’Brien Gallery at the National Archives building in Washington, DC.

 Today’s blog is written by Alexis Hill, Assistant Registrar in the Exhibits Division at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.


February 12, 2014 marked the 105th anniversary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Founded in 1909, by a diverse group of people, which included educator W. E. B. Du Bois and activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the NAACP has had a long history of fighting for equal rights for people of all races during the twentieth century. The organization was particularly active during the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s and provided legal counsel in many discrimination cases. The founding date of the NAACP was also significant because it was the anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s 100th birthday.

During its early years, the NAACP fought Jim Crow laws in the South, which promoted segregation in the schools, transportation, and in public places. The NAACP used the courts to overturn these laws. Members of the organization led various lawsuits that challenged racial segregation and most of them went to the United States Supreme Court. One case in particular was Guinn v. United States (1915), which challenged Oklahoma’s racial discriminatory grandfather clause that disenfranchised African Americans from registering to vote. In the end, the court ruled that the grandfather clause violated the 15th Amendment and ruled it unconstitutional. This was the beginning of many victories to come for the NAACP.

Judgment Frank Guinn v. U.S. (1)

During World War I, the NAACP was influential in winning the right of African Americans to fight overseas and the rights of working Black women. Several NAACP representatives sent letters and telegrams to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and to President Woodrow Wilson seeking federal action for the protection of African American women in the workforce. One such telegram from NAACP’s secretary John R. Shillady in New York to President Wilson, asked for such protection.

RG 60, Straight Numerical Files, 158260-79

 The Crisis magazine, edited by Du Bois, printed several articles about the mistreatment of African Americans both at home and abroad during the war years. One particular article in May 1918, “The Negro and the War Department,” discussed the injustices that were inflicted upon Black soldiers.


After World War I ended in November 1918, the NAACP began a crusade against the lynching of African Americans in the United States, particularly in the South. Many NAACP staff members such as Assistant Secretary Roy Wilkins and Secretary Walter White wrote to several government agencies seeking federal legislation against lynching. Subjects of these letters included the investigation into a double lynching in Tuscaloosa, Alabama; support for the Costigan-Wagner Anti-Lynching Bill; the lynching of Claude Neal in Florida; and drafting a measure to punish perpetrators of mob violence against any religious, political, or racial minority groups. All of these letters are from the records of the DOJ numerical file #158260 in the Straight Numerical Files series (National Archives Identifier 583895) that contains all sorts of letters relating to racial violence.


At their office in New York City, NAACP staff hung a black flag outside entitled “A Man Was Lynched Yesterday.” Its purpose was to reminder every one of what was happening to African Americans in the South.


"A Man was Lynched Yesterday"

Bolstered by the Brown v. Board of Education decision in May 1954, the NAACP began a campaign of desegregation in the South. Famous campaigns of desegregation were the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 and the Little Rock Nine of 1957.


By the 1960s, the NAACP’s reputation had grown. They were involved in most major events that occurred during the years of the modern Civil Rights Movement, which included the March on Washington and the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. These events contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. NAACP’s Executive Director Roy Wilkins played a major role during the civil rights movement, including the March on Washington. For more on his career and the NAACP’s growth and impact of the movement, please watch a video entitled Roy Wilkins, The Right to Dignity (National Archives Identifier 2546045) narrated by Academy Award winner Sidney Poitier.              

Today, the NAACP continues to fight for equal rights for all citizens of race, gender, religion, etc. As we celebrate Black History Month, let us remember the NAACP as they celebrate 105 years of hard work and fighting for equal justice.

Today’s blog is written by Kevin L. Bradley, Archives Technician
in the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Division at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland

African-American art has been a vital part of the American experience from the time of slavery in America to the present. Black artists and their artwork have been documented in textual records, still pictures and moving images at the National Archives.


Sargent Johnson, painting (National Archives Identifier 559180)

Sargent Johnson, painting (National Archives Identifier 559180)


The Harmon Film Collection at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland includes footage on some of the great African-American artists of the Harlem Renaissance. Artists such as Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Laura Wheeler Waring, Sargent Johnson, and Palmer Hayden were highlighted in several films sponsored by the William E. Harmon Foundation. The Series Motion Picture Films on Community and Family Life, Education, Religious Beliefs, and the Art and Culture of Minority and Ethnic Groups, ca. 1930 to ca. 1953 (National Archives Identifier 94791) contains nearly 300 items relating to African-American life and culture in the United States and abroad. The films were funded by the Harmon Foundation to showcase the talents of black artists, primarily those during the Harlem Renaissance.


“A Study of the Negro Artists, 1937?” (National Archives Identifier 94957) is a great source for learning more about African-American artists during the early 20th century. This silent film illustrates African-American artists and their art collections. Featured in the film are Lois Mailou Jones, Augusta Savage, James A. Porter, and several other black artists working or instructing others. This film also shows the important of art in African-American culture, which was sometimes used for communication as well as a venue to past down the African-American history and experience. The skills of the selected artists in the film were used in college classrooms across the country.



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