Warning: Because of the context of the era, you will read outdated terms no longer used to describe Black or African American people, including “colored” and “negro.” The Division of Negro Economics was first established in 1918 by the Federal Department of Labor. Dr. George E. Haynes was named the director of the department and tasked with researching the labor force amongst the African American community. Dr. George E. Haynes was the first Black person to receive a Ph.D. from Columbia University and helped establish the National Urban League in 1910.
“Report of Work in North Carolina”
Before discussing the subsequent steps of organization and activity in North Carolina, brief attention is here given to a few general and specific industrial and agricultural situations which obtained in North Carolina.
These situations are cited for the purpose of showing the wide scope of the field of Negro work into which the policies and plans of the Division of Negro Economics were to be carried.
The chief occupations of Negro women were in the field of agriculture, laundry work, domestic service, some work in spinning mills (and some in hosiery and underwear), and work in tobacco factories. There was a scarcity of female labor and on that account a number of silk mills had been closed. The cotton-mill season extends from May to September, and the tobacco season from September to April. In many instances the homes of workers were of a poor type; the streets and sidewalks fronting such homes were unpaved and poorly lighted. Surface drainage existed and general sanitation was inadequate in some cases. On the other hand, there were large numbers of well-cared-for homes in communities of intelligent and progressive Negroes.
In one North Carolina city it was reported that a Negro union had been organized to which the white workers objected. At New Bern, lumber industries employing large numbers of Negroes were reported as having “working conditions which were unpleasant.” At Wilmington Negroes were employed in the shipyards, but only in the unskilled occupations. At various other points in North Carolina Negroes found employment in tanneries, hosiery mills, guano plants, box factories, and the like. Throughout the State there were found a number of physicians, dentists, druggists [pharmacists], and a more than usual ownership of store and office buildings. At Kingston 5,000 Negro women and children were reported working in tobacco factories. At Waynesville there were found mill girls, garment workers, and a few clerks, organized and unorganized. As a general situation throughout the State, Negro labor was much in [demand] and was affected by the usual factors–(a) the union, (b) low wages, (c) housing conditions, (d) health, (e) opportunity for advancement, (f) the general competition between white and colored workers…
“How To Keep Negro Labor”
…New methods–How to keep the Negro workers and make them satisfied with their lot is the problem now presented to the South. It ought not be difficult of solution. It is not natural for the Negroes to leave their old homes in this wholesale fashion, and they really do not want to go. Some planters and industrial establishments are already demonstrating by means of better pay and greater care for their employees what such considerations will do in keeping the Negroes loyally at work in the South; and the more efficient Negro schools have for years been pointing the way.
Constructive possibilities.–The improvement of race relations is a matter of time; and rests largely on the satisfactory solution of the economic problems of farm life. Several noteworthy tendencies were, however, noticeably strengthened by the loss of Negro labor. The first of these was the tendency of the leaders of the two races to draw closer together. Several State-wide and county meetings were held to discuss the migration and the grievances of the Negro. Until more interest is taken in these meetings by the white leaders, and until they are followed by constructive programs for better law enforcement and education they can not measurably influence the tendency of the Negro to move…
…North Carolina led the way.–On June 19, 1918, Gov. T. W. Bickett, called a conference in his office which was attended by 17 of the most substantial Negro citizens from all parts of the State and 5 white citizens. Out of this meeting came the plan of Negro workers’ advisory committee of leading Negro men and women of North Carolina was appointed and plans were formed for the creation of county and city committees. There were on April 1 of the present year 35 of these committees actively at work in our State.
The supervisor’s report.–The supervisor of Negro Economics for North Carolina and the assistant supervisor have visited 23 counties since their organization, holding conferences with leading white and colored citizens which have been most helpful. On the basis of this personal investigation throughout the State, the supervisor wishes to present under separate headings, a summary of conditions as found:
White employers and liberal white citizens.–There is the greatest cordiality and willingness to cooperate upon the part of these persons. In many instances they rivaled the colored citizens in spirit and enthusiasm. They spoke freely as well as the Negroes, and are asking on every hand to be called upon for cooperation. Some of them came from the rural districts and from near-by towns to attend the conferences.
Many employers are already offering special inducements to their Negro workers. For example, a cotton oil company is giving free life insurance for $500 to all who remain in its employ for six months; many older employees have been given free insurance for $1,000. Knitting mill companies are carefully selecting colored girls for their plants and are giving employment at good wages throughout the year. Lumber companies are giving bonuses to men who go to the lumber camps.
The labor situation in North Carolina.–Broadly speaking there is a scarcity of Negro labor in the State. All the industries are feeling this at present. But a greater suffering will be felt in the fall when it is time for crop gathering. The farmers are suffering most. Cotton is standing in the fields in all parts of the State from last year. It is highly desirable that leaders of white workmen cooperate with our communities…
Citation: “The Negro at Work During the World War and During Reconstruction,” General Records of the Department of Labor, Record Group 174. United States. National Archives and Records Administration. https://fraser.stlouisfed.org/archival/5731/item/576453, Accessed 23 September 2023.
- According to the source, what was life like for African Americans in the South?
- Which industry suffered the most in North Carolina during the Great Migration?
- How did North Carolina try to address changes in the state’s labor force due to the Great Migration?
Subsequent: occurring later or after
Spinning mills: factories making thread and yarn
Scarcity: in short supply or a shortage
Inadequate: lacking the quality or quantity required
Progressive: favoring or promoting change or innovation
Union: an organized association of workers formed to protect and further their rights and interests
Guano: bat excrement (and sometimes seabird excrement) processed for fertilizer and gunpowder
Wholesale Fashion: leaving in large quantities
Grievances: an official statement of a complaint over something believed to be wrong or unfair
Substantial: wealthy or influential
Inducements:things that motivate or persuade; incentives