Symposium Explores Role of New Deal in Creating Two-Tiered Citizenship

Convening leading scholars in a national symposium, “Rethinking New Deal Racial Politics: Citizenship, Public Policy & the American Welfare State,” Sarah Lawrence College professor of history Komozi Woodard and Brooklyn College professor of political science Jeanne Theoharis will present several views of history that place the New Deal at the center of a critical turning point for the destiny of "whites" and "non-whites," particularly African-Americans, in the United States. The symposium will take place April 13 on the Sarah Lawrence College campus.

“A major turning point in American history, the New Deal institutionalized first- and second-class citizenship that extended far beyond the scope of simple voting rights or Jim Crow segregation in public accommodations, with lasting implications for wealth and poverty in the United States,” said Dr. Woodard.

The symposium will consider New Deal politics and policies that enlarged "social citizenship" through major programs, (Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, Public Welfare, Farm Relief, the G.I. Bill), large scale regional investments that transformed the South from the Cotton Belt into the Sun Belt, and public investment and policy in urban and housing development that included pioneering home ownership programs and mortgage finance – all of which largely excluded "non-whites."

One area that will be addressed is the Federal Housing Administration, which distributed handbooks guiding loan policies to banks throughout the country that included color-coded neighborhood maps rating communities "A - D." Grade D, which meant run-down houses, undesirable residents, vandalism, and poverty, was red. According to Dartmouth professor Craig Wilder: “Colored red, these neighborhoods were judged unsafe and unfit for mortgage investment, and the resulting financial boycott acquired the opprobrious label 'redlining.’”

“Under that scheme the value of real estate in ‘Jewish’ neighborhoods, for example, was reduced because the residents were not ‘white, Anglo-Saxon, protestants,’ or fully ‘white,’ and many middle-class, black neighborhoods were ruined, turned into slums and ghettos,” said Dr. Woodard. In addition, he said, Federal programs for ‘whites’ emphasized suburban homeownership; by contrast federal programs for ‘non-whites’ favored public housing projects.

Compounding these inequities, said Dr. Woodard, was the Selective Readjustment Act (aka G.I. Bill) which was drafted during the Great Depression by a committee of experts expecting a postwar depression that would have added returning veterans to the unemployment lines, creating a politically explosive situation.

“While the G.I. Bill transformed higher education in America by expanding American colleges and universities with college loans for veterans – fashioning a new American middle-class – it used Jim Crow segregation as an organizing principle in that expanding world of higher education,” he said. Most African Americans could not take advantage of the college benefits in the G.I. Bill because of the staggering segregation in higher education in postwar America. Most ‘white’ colleges and universities, north and south, would not accept African Americans; the few that did had tiny admissions quotas.

“The New Deal thus introduced a rigid two-tier system by creating ‘universal programs’ that lifted ‘whites’ out of poverty and that largely excluded ‘non-whites’ from the American bounty, widening the gap between ‘white’ and ‘non-white’ citizenship, and between the middle class and the poor,” Dr. Woodard said.

“This symposium will serve as a conversation with some of the nation’s leading experts seeking solutions to injustices exacerbated by the New Deal that continue to plague large segments of our citizenry. We expect useful discussions of the future of Social Security and welfare reform, as well as college opportunities, loans and scholarships, to inform the outcomes of the symposium,” he said.

Program: Rethinking New Deal Racial Politics: Citizenship, Public Policy & the American Welfare State
Friday,  April 13, 2007
Reisinger Auditorium
Sarah Lawrence College

11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.

Opening Remarks:  Komozi Woodard

Panel 1: Rethinking the Racial Politics of New Deal Citizenship

Ira Katznelson, Columbia University
Craig Wilder, Dartmouth College
Nancy Weiss Malkiel, Princeton University
Harvard Sitkoff, University of New Hampshire
Moderator: Jeanne Theoharis, Brooklyn College

1:00-2:00 Lunch

2:00-4:00 Panel 2: Whose Safety Net? / Rethinking the Racial Politics of Social Welfare from the New Deal to the Great Society

Michael Katz, University of Pennsylvania
Annelise Orleck, Dartmouth College
Premilla Nadasen, Queens College
Mary Poole, Prescott College
Moderator: Komozi Woodard, Sarah Lawrence College

4:00-4:30  Coffee Break

4:30-6:30  Panel 3: The Making of a Middle Class: Rethinking the Racial Politics of Public Investment, Job Creation and Housing Policy

Bruce Schulman, Boston University
Gail Radford, University of Buffalo
Leslie Brown, Washington University
Adriane Lentz-Smith, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Moderator: Tim Tyson, Duke University

Concluding Remarks:  Jeanne Theoharis

Background on some of the presenters:

Michael Katz, The Price of Citizenship; One Nation Divided; The Undeserving Poor; In the Shadow of the Poorhouse
Ira Katznelson, When Affirmative Action Was White; City Trenches; Black Men, White Cities
Premilla Nadasen, Welfare Warriors
Annelise Orleck, Storming Caesar’s Palace: How Black Mothers Fought Their Own War on Poverty; Common Sense & a Little Fire: Women and Working-Class Politics in the United States, 1900-1965
Gail Radford, Modern Housing in America: Policy Struggles in the New Deal Era
Bruce Schulman, From Cotton Belt to the Sunbelt: Federal Policy, Economic Development, and the Transformation of the South, 1938-1980
Harvard Sitkoff, A New Deal for Blacks; Struggle for Black Equality
Jeanne Theoharis, Not Working: Latina Immigrants, Low-Wage Jobs and the Failure of Welfare Reform; Freedom North; Groundwork
Nancy Weiss Malkiel, Farewell to the Party of Lincoln: Black Politics in the Age of FDR; Whitney M. Young, Jr., and the Struggle for Civil Rights
Tim Tyson, Radio Free Dixie; Blood Done Sign My Name
Craig Wilder, A Covenant of Color: Race and Social Power in Brooklyn
Mary Poole, The Segregated Origins of Social Security: African Americans and the Welfare State
Komozi Woodard, A Nation within a Nation; Freedom North; Groundwork; The Black Power Movement