Black History Month 2020

Black History Month 2020: The African American Experience in the 1930's

This February, we're inviting volunpeers to join us in making African American history more accessible through new and ongoing transcription projects from the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Anacostia Community Museum. Specifically this year, included Transcription Center projects focus on the experience of African Americans in the 1930's - a period of immense change in the United States. 


With the stock market crash of 1929, the “Roaring Twenties” came to an end, causing a period of economic depression and widespread unemployment known as the Great Depression. During the worst of the Great Depression, one quarter of the working class in America lost their jobs, and African Americans were often the first to be let go. By 1932, approximately half of all African Americans were out of work. In addition, the Dust Bowl ravaged the middle of the country, increasing the Great Migration of over one million African Americans from the fields of the South to the factories of the North.



Untitled, 1930-49. Photograph by Joe Schwartz of domestic workers marching with picket signs. 
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Joe Schwartz and Family, © Joe Schwartz, 2010.74.174.


In response to the urgent needs of millions of Americans who were impacted by the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted a series of reforms, regulations, and programs known as the New Deal. Many of the programs directly helped African Americans by creating jobs, affordable housing, education opportunities, financial relief, and support for artists and writers including Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright. Additionally, Roosevelt convened the Federal Council on Negro Affairs, often referred to as the “Black Cabinet” by the press, an informal group of policy advisors for African American affairs. Yet, despite advancements through New Deal programs and the Black Cabinet, racism and discrimination continued to permeate throughout American society in the 1930s. Faced with discriminatory labor practices, unequal access to many government-led programs, disenfranchisement, and violence, African Americans across the country actively participated in political and social movements for equal rights.           


Alongside growing political and economic change that would form the foundation for the modern Civil Rights Movement, the 1930's also witnesesed a thriving African American culture. The cultural advances of the Harlem Renaissance continued into the new decade with African American musicians including Count Basie, Marian Anderson, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington breaking musical barriers, while black athletes such as Jesse Owens and Joe Louis won Olympic medals and championships on the world stage. 


Explore new Transcription Center projects highlighting this history and 1930's African American entertainers.



Image 1, 2, and 3


This Black History Month travel back in time with us to the 1930's to learn about the often overlooked history, culture, and lives of African Americans during this decade by helping to transcribe projects from across the Smithsonian.


"New Negro Opinion" Newspaper Collection - Anacostia Community Museum 



          (Right Image): Negro Alliance Committee [sic] [acetate film photonegative], c. 1930, Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History 


On August 28, 1933 the manager of the Hamburger Grill on U Street in the District of Columbia, fired his all black staff and replaced them with whites. Black customers, led by Washingtonian John Aubrey Davis, maintained a boycott and picketed until the manager relented and brought the Black workers back—with an increase in pay and a reduction in hours. The success of this action spurred the creation of The New Negro Alliance.

The organization was established to protest discrimination in employment practices in stores doing business in black neighborhoods. The Alliance conducted survey research in the neighborhoods surrounding a retail store that excluded black employees. They then determined the statistical percentage of African American among the store’s regular consumers, presented the statistical information to the store managers, and requested that hiring policies be changed to hire the same percentage of black employees as there were customers.

The New Negro Alliance also established a weekly newspaper, the "New Negro Opinion" to educate the community about injustices in employment and fight for the rights of African American citizens. The Alliance published the paper between 1933 and 1937. After several successful protests, Alliance activities ended around 1941.

The Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum holdings include December 1933 to April 1935 editions of the "New Negro Opinion." Help transcribe these fragile newspapers and discover how the Alliance reported on employment discrimination and their strategies used to fight the practice. 


Political Pamphlets - National Museum of African American History and Culture



Images 4 and 5


Easy to hand out and inexpensive to print and produce, pamphlets allow any group or person, no matter their socio-economic status to share their ideas, thoughts, and opinions with audiences large and small. Pamphlets helped spread the ideas of the founding fathers, as well as the social reform movements in the 1960s. This month, we're adding new projects in the Transcription Center from the Maurice Jackson Pamphlet Collection related to African Americans and their intersections with the Communist Party and radical left groups in the 1930's. The pamphlets in this collection are now held in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and were a Gift of the family of Dr. Maurice Jackson and Laura Ginsburgover. They cover a variety of topics and include a biography of Angela Davis, writings by Paul Robeson, and prints discussing labor unions, the Black Power movement, and Communist, Socialist and Nationalist politics. Transcription of these materials will provide an important window into the longstanding and often overlooked relationships between the political left and African Americans in the 20th century.  EXPLORE PROJECTS: 


Pamphlet: The Jobless Negro 

Pamphlet: The Negro Worker Vol. 1 No. 10-11  

Pamphlet: Life Begins with Freedom 

Pamphlet: The Road to Negro Liberation 

Pamphlet: Acceptance Speeches: Communist Candidates in Presidential Elections 

Pamphlet: The Negro Worker Vol. 2 No. 4 

Pamphlet: The Negro Worker Vol. 2 No. 6 

Pamphlet: The Negro Worker Vol. 2 No. 7 

Pamphlet: The Negro Worker Vol. 4 No. 5 

Pamphlet: The Negro Worker Vol. 4 No. 2  

Pamphlet: The Negro Worker Vol.4 No. 4 

Pamphlet: The Communist Vol IX. No. 4: Unity in Struggle Against Unemployment 

Pamphlet: The Color Line Series No. 2: 5,000,000 Jobs: The Negro at Work in the United States 

Pamphlet: Is Japan the Champion of the Colored Races? 

Pamphlet: Anti-Semitism and the Struggle for Democracy 


Explore additional - fully transcribed - pamphlets from this collection, here.  


Explore Other Ongoing and Completed Transcription Center Projects Related to African American History


Freedmen's Bureau Records, National Museum of African American History and Culture

The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, often referred to as the Freedmen’s Bureau, was established on March 3, 1865. The duties of the Freedmen’s Bureau included supervision of all affairs relating to refugees, freedmen, and the custody of abandoned lands and property. Please help us transcribe these records to learn more about the experiences of formerly enslaved men and women  during the Reconstruction Era. 







Black History Month Projects from 2018 and 2019

See what African American history collections volunpeers have transcribed during our Black History Month Transcription Center campaigns in the past, including papers from Frederick Douglass, materials from James Brown and other musicians, and Playbills featuring African Americans in theater












All African-American History Projects in Transcription Center

From the personal papers of famous entertainers, scientists, and leaders, to the yearbooks of high school and HBCU students, volunpeers have transcribed over 600 projects related to African American history. Historical collections from across the Smithsonian are included, and date from the 18th century to the present day. Click here to explore them all and join us as we transcribe new and ongoing projects--making these stories more accessible to researchers around the world. 




Image Credits

Image 1: Program and menu from the Cotton Club, 1938. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Vicki Gold Levi, 2013.223.21.


Image 2: Poster advertising Fats Waller's performance at Empire Theatre at Finsbury Park, 1938.
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, 2011.57.41.1.


Image 3:"Abbott's Monthly" Vol. II No. 5, May 1931. Published by Robert S. Abbott. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Bobbie Ross in memory of Elizabeth Dillard, 2012.84.1.

Image 4: "The Jobless Negro" by Elizabeth Lawson, 1933. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of the family of Dr. Maurice Jackson and Laura Ginsburg, 2010.55.21.


Image 5: "Old Jim Crow Has Got to Go!" by Henry Winston, 1941. Published by New Age Publishers. Collection of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of the family of Dr. Maurice Jackson and Laura Ginsburg, 2010.55.19.