JF Ptak Science Books Post 2571
The Negro Transient
I found this article, "The Negro Transient", by Herbert C. Jenkins, in Opportunity, Journal of Negro Life, January 1935, while looking for support material for an F.S.A. publication on immigration of "drought sufferers" and the indigent poor. It is an interesting account of an African-American experience of part of the Dust Bowl, with a number of interesting collections of data and stats for "travelers" in the St. Louis area in 1935. These "travelers" of course were folks who took it hard from the Depression and from the great and dismal drought that killed many American farms throughout the Mid-West and West, and so they hit the road looking for the opportunities that dried up and blew away at home. The new sense of "home" would be defined as anywhere there was work or benefit, which were difficult things to find in the sixth year of the Great Depression.
One of the Roosevelt administration's aid to helping this large population on the move across the country was the 1933 creation of the National Association for Travelers and Transient Service, which was an outgrowth of regional Traveler Aid societies, many of which were formed in the 19th century and focusing their attention on immigrant issues and the poor. The federal program did its level best to provide shelter, food, medical aid, education, and other services to help and even improve the state of the homeless, the poor, and the Dust Bowler--in many cases the widespread assistance to people in need was unprecedented.
The fascinating part of the story in Opportunity was the African American angle on population-in-motion. The author, Herbert C. Jenkins, reports that "The November issue of the Transient, a bi-monthly publication issued by the National Association for Travelers Aid and Transient Service, states that there were 249,975 individuals under care in Federal Transient Bureaus October 15, 1934." And "As in every movement of nation-wide scope Negroes contribute their quota to this transient army. There are no available figures at hand to show the percentage of the number under care in various bureaus, but because of the traditional "last to be hired and first to be fired" policy which exists in industry they doubtless constitute a substantial number of these wanderers." Jenkins proceeds to establish data that gave a peek into the African American part of the issue.
"As far as the officials in Washington are concerned efforts have been made to dispense relief to all needy citizens regardless of creed or color."
Jenkins used the records in St. Louis for a case study. "Most of the [Black] applicants for assistance, 955, claimed to be looking for work, twenty (mostly under the age of twenty-two ) were frankly traveling just to see the country. Thirteen were in poor health and hoped to find a more desirable location, five claimed inadequate relief at their legal residence, three were traveling to get away from discordant home conditions, two were seasonal laborers and two more had been released from penal institutions. Some of these men gave more than one reason for being away from home."
"As one prominent newspaper in St. Louis recently stated, Mr. Hopkins has taken the attitude that a Negro can get as hungry as a white man. Without a doubt the administration of relief in some transient bureaus has been controlled by the color of the applicant, but such policies give evidence of local not national tendencies."
Though the differences between what was offered to the white transient compared to the black was legendary, though Jenkins writes that "The white and colored transients are housed in separate buildings but every effort is made to see that Negroes obtain the same service as whites." "The same menus for meals are used in both [segregated] "shelters" and the food is prepared by experienced cooks. A colored man who desires to return to his home or wishes to obtain any other service is given the same consideration as a white man. Due to local feeling regarding the maintenance of any transient bureau in the city it has been difficult to obtain a satisfactory dwelling place for Negro men and the location of the present shelter leaves much to be desired."
"There are no figures to indicate how many different men received service at the bureau since the beginning of January, but statistics compiled for the months of March to September inclusive indicate that 7,357 colored transients as over against 24,896 white transients were given assistance in the two shelters. This means that some of these men received service continuously during these months, others stayed for two months or more, while still others only stayed for a day. It may be safe to say that from four to five thousand different colored men received some care during this period."
Frankly this is all new area to me, the part of African Americans in the Great Depression/Dust Bowl--I don't feel as though there is necessarily any summary here or what can be drawn from this portrait of the African American experience in St. Louis, except that so far as discrete pieces of info what Jenkins published in his piece in Opportunity was pretty interesting.
"In considering the birthplace of the 1,000 cases which were chosen for this brief study it was discovered that 809 gave some one of the southern or near southern states as the place where they were born. The largest number, 138, were born in Arkansas; Mississippi followed with 131; Tennessee was third with 125; ninety-eight were born in Louisiana and other southern states were represented by numbers below sixty. None claimed such states as Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, North or South Dakota, or Wyoming as their native state."
Taking the figures as set forth below as a basis for a statement it seems apparent that transient problems are chiefly those of youth and men approaching middle age, as 800 of the 1,000 were thirty-seven years-of age and under while only 17 were over sixty-two.
|70 and over||6|
"Some of the applicants who registered from the rural districts of Mississippi and stated that they went to the sixth grade could hardly write their names and admitted that they could read very little. Even those who had gone to the eighth grade in some sections of the south stated that their school terms were from three to six months in length. Some stated that they had gone as far as the first or second grade but for practical purposes they were considered as having had no education. Educational attainment is illustrated by the following table:"
|EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT OF NEGRO TRANSIENTS|
|YEARS OF SCHOOL||NUMBER|
|MARITAL STATUS OF NEGRO TRANSIENTS|
Eight hundred sixty-two of the applicants had never learned a trade. Forty-seven were cooks, eleven were moulders, nine were mechanics and there were a smaller number of electricians' printers, tailors, plumbers, carpenters, and boiler makers. Some men had engaged in occupations which could hardly be called trades but might be classed as semi-skilled work such as concrete finishers ( ten ), chauffeurs ( sixteen ), and stationary fireman ( three ) .
"Illinois leads the states having the largest numbers of applicants who claimed it as their last residence. One hundred forty-two of the 1,000 transients came from this state. This was largely true because of the fact that the bureau cared for ninety-eight local homeless (i. e., unemployed residents of East St. Louis) as transients. Only forty-one of these men claimed Illinois as their birthplace. Of the remaining number 674 migrated from the South or near southern states. None of the transients claimed Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Oregon, Utah, Nevada. North or South Dakota as their residence at the time they started their wanderings."