The Solid South: Solidly for the New Deal
Yesterday, I published a cartoon (see below) from the Chicago Defender criticizing the NRA. Instead of appreciating the Misesian insight it conveys, my friend Tom DiLorenzo speedily dismisses it as"a typical example of bogus midwestern moralizing. The headline says 'How the South Interprets the New Deal,' and implies that policies are harmful to blacks. But the last time I checked, FDR was from Hyde Park, New York. Having grown up in the north and gone to college there, I can assure everyone that white racism was always as at least as strong and stronger there as in any southern state."
Tom is certainly right that most northerners (including FDR) were racists.....but I don't quite understand the larger point which he is driving at in stressing this.
If he is bothered that the cartoon's author (who I'll wager was born in the south as were most of the readers of the Chicago Defender) was a"yankee moralizer," I wonder what we should call the vast majority of southern politicians, such as Theodore G. Bilbo, who applauded FDR's New Deal policies. Unlike the"yankee" midwestern states, no southern state ever voted against FDR in any of his four campaigns. Moreover, southern politicians (unlike many good midwestern yankees such as Robert Taft), led the charge for FDR's policies in both houses of Congress. During the New Deal period in the 1930s, for example, every speaker of the house and majority leader of the Senate were Democrats from the south.
Only in the 1940s did FDR start to lose support in the south, much later than in the rest of the country.
For this reason and others, the cartoon's emphasis makes perfect sense. Most blacks at the time still lived in the south and thus had good reason to focus on how southern politicians and bureaucrats applied the New Deal there.
Southern racists loved the NRA for a reason which I would think that Tom, as an economist, would want to highlight. It gave them an opportunity through the force of law to discriminate against blacks. Were northerners racists too and did they also use the NRA to disciminate? Sure, but that hardly leaves racists in the south off the hook.
While I would agree with Tom that currently people in the north are on average more racist than people in the south, let's not forget the broader context of the cartoon.
Just how bad was it for a black person living in the deep south in the 1930s? In Mississippi, for example, blacks constituted nearly half the population yet less than two percent could vote. Many Delta counties (where blacks were in the vast majority) did not have a single black voter. Few, if any, juries had any black members, most towns and cities forced them off the streets after dark via curfews, and a black person calling a white person by his first name would be asking for trouble. The reverse, of course, was the norm for whites. Few, if any, whites in Mississippi were even brought to court, much less convicted, for killing a black person.
Having said this, Tom does have a point. Although many blacks were highly critical of the New Deal, black voters (like their racist white counterparts in the South) still voted for him. This is an important issue and I will touch on it later.