One of the few areas of Americamn life that remained open for blacks to compete on an equal basis with whites was the Federal civil service. This resulted from two circumstances. First except for the two Cleveland administrations, the Federal Government was in Republican hands for 50 years (1861-1913). The different Republican presidents had a range of attitudes toward blacks. Some were supportive, others paternalistic or indifferent. None were particularly hostile or committed to souther Jim Crow approaches. The other factor was the reforms carried out during the Arthur Administration establishing a merit-based civil service. The spoils system was ended and job seakers took competitive tests which determined along with other qualifications appointments. As a result, there was in the Federal agencies a substantial number of black employees, including positons in managerial and technical posts. This changed with President Wilson who had grown up in the South and won the election with a core of southern voters.
The hope of real freedom for the emancipated slaves after the Civil War was quashed by racist state governments after the withdrawl of Federal trops in the 1870s. The gains achieved by blacks were gradually eroded by racist Jim Crow legislation and extra legal terror fomented by the Klu Klux Klan. Lynchings and mob vilolence througout the South cowed blacks into submission and precented them from voting.
Jim Crow laws throoughout the South sought to isolate blacks and deny them basic human rights. Blacks were unable to compete on an equal basis for education, jobs, housing, public accomodations and other aspects of American life. This was most pronounced in the South, but blacks in the North also encountered significant limitations. Virtually every aspect of life for blacks was restricted in America.
One of the few areas of Americamn life that remained open for blacks to compete on an equal basis with whites was the Federal civil service. This resulted from two circumstances. First except for the two Cleveland administrations, the Federal Government was in Republican hands for 50 years (1861-1913). The different Republican presidents had a range of attitudes toward blacks. Some were supportive, others paternalistic or indifferent. None were particularly hostile or committed to souther Jim Crow approaches. The other factor was the reforms carried out during the Arthur Administration establishing a merit-based civil service. The spoils system was ended and job seakers took competitive tests which determined along with other qualifications appointments. The civil service exams were color blind. And because black professionals were not hired in most other areas (corporations, universities, hospitals, ect.), the best educated and most competent blacks sought Federal jobs where they could compete fairly with whites through the civil service exams. As a result, there was in the Federal agencies a substantial number of black employees, including positons in managerial and technical posts.
The election of 1912 was one of the most interesting and significant elections in American history. The election of 1912 was one of the most important in American politics. Roosevelt and Taft considered themselves friends. Taft never could have become president without Roosevelt's personal intervention. Roosevelt soon found himself missing the presidency after he left office. This personal feeling was amplified when progressives began to complain to him about President Taft. Gradually the personal relationship between the two men ruptured. Here Mrs. Taft was a factor. She did not like Roosevelt and this affected Taft's opinions. Roosevelt saw Taft as weak and abandoning his legacy to conservative party boses. Taft came to see Roosevelt as a dangerous man and a threat to American democracy. Roosevelt deciced to contest the Republican nomination. Still emensely popular, Roosevelt won state primary election, including the Ohio primary. The Republican machine politicans, however, succeeded in renominated Taft. A majority of Republicans favored Roosevelt and he did well in the states with primaries. But most delegated to the Republican Convention were chosen in state conventions dominated by the party bosses. Roosevelt was angered that he and his supporters were ignored by these Republican bosses. He thus bolted the party to lead the Progressives. The Party under Roosevelt became known as the Bull Moose Party. Taft considered the Roosevelt candidacy as a personal affront from a former friend. The Republican split guaranteed the election of the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson.
Woodrow Wilson tried in vain to bring the United States into the League of Nations. Like Theodore Roosevelt before him, Woodrow Wilson regarded himself as the personal representative of the people. "No one but the President," he said, "seems to be expected ... to look out for the general interests of the country." He developed a program of progressive reform and asserted international leadership in building a new world order. He roclaimed American entrance into World War I a crusade to make the world "safe for democracy." Wilson had seen the frightfulness of war as a young boy in the South during the Civil War. Wilson was an ardent believer in social justice and democracy. He called for New Freedoms in his administration and campaigned for self determination for Europeans after the World War I. He is generally viewd as a progressive staresmen who championed many needed reforms. His commitment to democracy, freedom and social justice, however, did not extend to black Americans.
President Wilson had grown up in the South and ws a committed racist. He also saw the Southern segregationist system as the appropriate order of scociety. His published works show a clear acceptance of the Southern Lost Cause vision and a idealised antebellum South disrupted by Civil War and Reconstruction. President Woodrow Wilson was impressed, for example, with the overtlky racist "Birth of a Nation" (1915). Wilson wrote about the Civil War and its aftermath. He was especially critical of Reconstruction, but maintained that recovery took place because of the "inevitable ascendancy of the whites". [Wilson]
As president of Princeton University, he was known to reject black applicants. We do know that he thought of blacks as inferior and that Jim Crow as necessary. In public tatements he would justify this as needed to prevent conflict between blacks and whites. He insisted to a delegation of blacks, "segregation is not a humiliation but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen." We suspect that this was not the real reason that he supported Jim Crow.
Wilson like all Democratic candidates until the 1960s, won the presidency with a core of southern support. In addition he had strong majorities in both the House and Senaste. The core of those majorities were southerners. Many of the committee chairmansd in the Congress were southerners. Wilson also brought southerns into his administration. With the rare Democratic victory since the Civil War, there were large numbers of job seekers beseging Wilson and Democratic Congressmen. Many of these individuals were shocked by what they saw in the Federal beauracracy--large numbers of blacks. Not only were there many black employees, but there were blacks in both mangerial and technical positions. [Patler]
Imeeditaley after Wilson took office, there were steps taken to segregate the Federal work place. Here I am unsure to what extent Wilson was involved personally. There was no executive order issued. Nor do I know if Wlson spoke to the cabinent about this. We do know that certain cabinent members were especially committed to this process. These included: Albert Burlesson (Postmaser General), William Gibbs McAdoo (Secretary of the Treasur, 1913-18), and Josephus Daniels, (Secretary of the Navy, 1913-21). And we know that Wilson supported the steps they took to segregate the Federal woek place.
The Federal work place throughout the 19th century was largely male. Even jobs that came to be seen as women's jobs such as secretaries were filled by men. This began t change after the turn of the 20th century. As a result, by 1913 when Wilson and the southerners arrived in Washington, they were apauled to find not only white women working in offices with blacks, but sometimes working under black supervisers.
The goal of the Wilson Administration was to get blacks out of the Federal Government. This was, however, complicated by Civil Servicce laws. Some blacks were fired under various pretentions. This was especially true in the Suth. It was hoped many more would leave as a result of the indignities of seggregation. Soon white and black signs appeared in the facilities throughout Federal government office buildings. Administration officials segregated the toilets. Here black toilet facilities were often located at some distance from the work place. Often they were unisex toilets at a time that whites would have been horrified if they would have had to use such facilities. Separate tables were set up for blacks in cafeterias and gradually facilities tblacks were relocated to dressing rooms and other undesirable locations. There were steps taken to create separate work areas. Partitions were set up to separate blacks or in other cases they were relocated behind filing cabinents. Blacks were reassigbned from offices they had worked in to less desirvlle locations. Duties and assifnments were also reassigned. Many blacks were demoted. Some separate buildings were built for blacks, but because of the cost this was rare. Different agencies adopted various approaches. The State Department essentially purged all black diplomasts. The Washington D.C. police force and fire department stopped hiring blacks altogether. [Patler]
Often no justification was given for these actions. Wilson at first denined that actions against black workers were being taken. Eventually when the administration's actios could no longer be hidden, he claimed it was to protect black workers because they couldn't compete with whites. Others fond other justifications. One claim was that White Federal employees were threatened by contagious diseases that blacks suposedly caried such as venereal diseases. Others pointed to the need to pfotect white female employees.
Reading this one can not but be reminded of the actions taken by the NAZIs when they took power in Germany (1933). In fact, the NAZIs used American race and segregationist laws as well as eugenics laws as a model for the laws they used to supress the Jews.
Patler, Nicholas. Jim Crow and the Wilson Adminisdtration.
Wilson, Woodrow. Division and Reunion.
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