The South after the Civil War had an economic crisis. The Plantations on which the Black Slaves were employed were pretty much destroyed by the war. There were probably not enough other jobs to accommodate the population. The white soldiers were pretty much treated as criminals and any money that was made was probably made by the carpet baggers. Fortunately by the turn of the century, reconstruction was over and things had stabilized somewhat. In the early 1900’s the automobile was invented. The south was segregated by schools and living space, but Blacks were allowed to compete with Whites for jobs. My Mother’s family moved from Knoxville, Tennessee to St. Petersburg, Florida in 1920. They still had relatives in Knoxville and they went back to visit some. They had a car, but I remember her telling me that a lot of the highways were dirt roads and not good. But the cars had brought a challenge to government to improve the infrastructure. Roads needed to be paved for the automobiles. That brought jobs for Black laborers – at least in the South – working for contractors who paved roads.
I was not really familiar with the Davis-Bacon act passed by the U. S. congress in 1931 until George Will had a piece on the Op. Ed. page of the local paper last week. It appears that the Davis-Bacon act was passed in 1931 to protect Union Labor from Black Labor. Will’s column says:
Davis-Bacon was enacted in 1931 to require construction contractors to pay “prevailing wages” on federal contracts. Generally this means paying union wage scales. It was enacted as domestic protectionism, largely to protect organized labor from Competition by African-Americans who often were excluded from union membership but who were successfully competing for jobs by being willing to work for lower wages.
It seems that US Rep. Robert Bacon – a Long Island Republican was upset because in 1927 the low bidder for a construction project in his area was an Alabama contractor who used black labor. The law was passed in 1931 with the support of the American Federation of Labor. Will said that the congressional debate on the law is “replete with references to “unattached migratory workmen”, “itinerant labor”, “cheap bootleg labor”, and “labor lured from distant paces for competition with white labor throughout the country.” Will also says that:
In 1931, the unemployment rate of blacks was approximately the same as the rate for the general population. Davis-Bacon is one reason the rate for blacks began to deviate adversely . In 1932 there were about 3,500 workers building what became Hoover Dam. Never more than thirty were black.
The law is still in effect today and in 2011 a Heritage Foundation study estimated that the Davis-Bacon law would add about $11 billion to that year’s construction costs. If we increase infrastructure spending in the next few years, it will add even more at a time we should be trying to decrease our deficit. And it was apparently introduced by a Northerner for racially biased reasons. That might be one historic monument that could be destroyed. And who would have thought that a Northerner from Long Island would ever had any racial bias. But in fact, we are all biased in some way, which is why there are numerous articles being written today saying that our society has become Tribal. We like to associate with people like us – either based on political thinking or race, or religion, etc. We are in different “tribes” which can lead us to not get along. But the way to getting along is not for one tribe to attack another, but to sit down with a “peace pipe” and to talk and understand each other. Attacking people’s monuments and beliefs without understanding how they think or feel and why, will only lead to fighting. I think we can learn a lot from each other. If we understand each other and why we might believe as we do. We might be able to distinguish fact from theory – what can be proved and what is only opinion. And because a lot of things are based on theories, we might continue to disagree. But we would still be friends.