“WE WORK AGAIN:” African Americans and the Federal Work Programs during the Great Depression

Today’s blog was written by Kevin L. Bradley, Archives Technician in the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Division at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland

 

The economic hardship of the Great Depression affected everybody, but it was especially harsh for African Americans who were already suffering from unfair employment, housing, and educational practices. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to assist with the needs of Americans during the time of economic crisis. The WPA provided jobs to needy men, women, and youth to work mostly on public construction projects. The agency also gave employment opportunities of struggling artists, writers, actors, and musicians. Many of those employed by the WPA were African Americans.

great depression

The film We Work Again, 1937(NAID 12322) was created by the WPA to promote the involvement and activities of African Americans who were employed with this agency. This film shows the role of WPA programs that assisted African Americans during the Great Depression. The first reel depicts African Americans waiting in breadlines, receiving household and health care training, and working on public construction projects. The second reel highlights African Americans artists, musicians, writers, and actors. The film contains footage of the all-black version of Macbeth. Some of the black performers were Juanita Hall, Alma Dickson, Bertram Holmes, Zola King, Josephine Williams, and Wilhelmina Williams.

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