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The Walter White Project

Randy Stakeman, Jackson Stakeman, Authors
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New Deal Agencies and Cultural Production

Although most legislation and New Deal agencies marginalized African Americans the most important placed they included them was in federal cultural programs like the Federal Writers Project, the Federal Arts Project and the Federal Theater Project. As historian Lauren Rebecca Sklar writes,

As the first administration to recognize publicly that African Americans mattered as citizens, New Dealers forwarded a cultural agenda that, despite all of its limitations, marked a significant turning point in the production of black culture...programs under the WPA...served as important locations for cultural advancement at a time when black minstrel images still predominated commercial culture and popular music, radio and film industries segregated, demeaned, or excluded African Americans. ...the government programs offered creative outlets that were unavailable elsewhere. [Source Note]

The New Dealers wanted "to embrace and promote a multiracial, multiethnic nation because "America's progress" depended on "Americans of all colors and nationalities [who] not only built this nation," but who would "better facilitate both economic recovery and [later] wartime mobilization. [Source note]

African Americans seized this opportunity because as Federal Artist Project African Americans like Sterling Brown and Carlton Moss thought "if white Americans could understand their black counterparts beyond minstrelsy, perhaps they would deem black men and women worthy of other civil rights." [Source Note] As Sklar wrote

For organizations such as the NAACP, struggles for representational agency, the obliteration of racial stereotypes, and the excavation of black history from the margins accompanied the fight against segregation and other forms of discrimination. [Source Note]

The New Deal programs never made the impact that either the New Dealers nor the black creators wished for. Hollywood was too set in its ways and neither the plays, writings or radio broadcasts reached as wide an audience as desired. White administrators, the House Un-American Activities Committee and budgetary concerns severely limited the mixture of political and cultural concerns that the black culture producers wanted.
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