• The Black Cabinet

  • The Untold Story of African Americans and Politics During the Age of Roosevelt
  • By: Jill Watts
  • Narrated by: Bahni Turpin
  • Length: 19 hrs and 5 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (34 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In the early 20th century, most African Americans still lived in the South, disenfranchised, impoverished, terrorized by white violence, and denied the basic rights of citizenship. As the Democrats swept into the White House on a wave of Black defectors from the Party of Lincoln, a group of African-American intellectuals - legal minds, social scientists, media folk - sought to get the community's needs on the table. This would become the Black Cabinet, a group of African-American racial affairs experts working throughout the New Deal, forming an unofficial advisory council to lobby the President. But with the white Southern vote so important to the fortunes of the Party, the path would be far from smooth. 

Most prominent in the Black Cabinet were Mary McLeod Bethune, an educator close to Eleanor Roosevelt, and her "boys": Robert Weaver, a Harvard-educated economist who pioneered enforcement standards for federal anti-discrimination guidelines (and, years later, the first African-American Cabinet secretary); Bill Hastie, a lawyer who would become a federal appellate judge; Al Smith, head of the largest Black jobs program in the New Deal at the WPA; and Robert Vann, a newspaper publisher whose unstinting reporting on the administration's shortcomings would keep his erstwhile colleagues honest. Ralph Bunche, Walter White of the NAACP, A. Philip Randolph, and others are part of the story as well. But the Black Cabinet was never officially recognized by FDR, and with the demise of the New Deal, it disappeared from history. 

Jill Watts' The Black Cabinet is a dramatic full-scale examination of a forgotten moment that speaks directly to our own.

©2020 Jill Watts (P)2020 Random House Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

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Brilliant, important, and little known history

This is a fabulous work of history. Dr. Watts tells the story of how African-American men and women infiltrated FDR‘s administration. It retails for accomplishments and feet as they attempted to maneuver FDR into I’m more forward thinking position on Civil Rights.

Excellent narration, fantastic history and clear, lucid writing make this a must read if you’re interested in any FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, Civil Rights, African-American History.

4 people found this helpful

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Interesting

I elected this book because it was to be the August discussion book for the Mocha Girls book club and I wanted to be able to participate in the discussion. I did not like this book. I learned a lot, but in the current political environment it is just a repeat of what is going on now 90-years later. It does provide historical perspective for a lot of the blacks we’ve heard about – not necessarily why we should know who they are. In it’s purest form, this is a history book.


RECOMMENDATION: MAYBE – Depending on the kind of book/stories you like.

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Wow! So insightful.

This book is beyond eye-opening. Loved it, loved learning about my ancestors and the nation I live in.

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Pursuing reform from inside government

Watts' text helps to fill a gap in the historical narrative of anti racism resistance in the United States. Books like Rosenstein's Color of Law and Katznelson's When Affirmative Action Was White are essential in understanding the building blocks of structural racism lain during the first half of the 20th century, thanks in particular to black exclusion from (or anti black discrimination within) New Deal era jobs and housing programs. Watt's text shows that black Americans fight against the erection of these building blocks is as old as the building blocks themselves.

The historical narrative tends to privilege outside agitation of groups like the NAACP and Thurgood Marshall, King and the SCLC, CORE, SNCC, and the Black Panther Party - groups using both institutional and extra- institutional means. Watts complements this narrative - and the social movement analytical lens that perpetuates it - by unveiling the black Americans who struggled thanklessly from inside federal government institutions during the crucial era of the 1930s and 1940s.

Even for those aware of the extent to which New Deal programs increased rather than decreased racial inequality in the United States, Watts' texts unearths the potential that if not for black cabinet members such as Bethune, Weaver, Al Smith, and Hastie, black Americans would have been completely shut out from the New Deal and would be even further behind white American counterparts than they currently are.

Moreover, Watts' thorough research helps to complete or even to correct the images of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, their complicated relationships to black American leadership, and their influence over the quality of black lives. Watts shows that FDR (and even Eleanor Roosevelt to a lesser extent) needed to be pushed, pulled, and prodded to make even the moderate concessions he made toward black America during his years in office. That is, credit for the moderate positive effects of New Deal programming on black lives largely goes to the Black Cabinet rather than to Roosevelt. And Watts' text details this overlooked and perhaps entirely forgotten truth.

In addition to reading this text alongside the Rosenstein and Katznelson texts mentioned above, I recommend this text as a prelude to Katznelson's Fear Itself, Carol Anderson's Eyes Off the Prize, Michael Krenn's Black Diplomacy, Brenda Gayle Plummer's Rising Wind, Penny Von Eschen's Race Against Empire, and Anderson's Bourgeois Radicals - all of which explore black Americans as creators and not merely as subjects or objects of government policy - including American foreign policy - in the years before (and, for some of these texts, during) the Civil Rights and black power movements of the late 1950s through early 1970s.

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Great Story

It was a very informative way of learning black history. There was so much to unpack. Loved it!

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Intriguing book!

Learned so much about the struggle for equality from a group I never knew existed. Narrator was also good.

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Overcoming of (Black) Political Struggles

The Black Cabinet details the trials, failures, and success of black political leaders during the early 20 century. Those working in any form of government owe thanks to these pioneers for they paved roads for future success.