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Racism in the Nation's Service

Government Workers and the Color Line in Woodrow Wilson's America

Eric S. Yellin

Publication Year: 2013

Between the 1880s and 1910s, thousands of African Americans passed civil service exams and became employed in the executive offices of the federal government. However, by 1920, promotions to well-paying federal jobs had nearly vanished for black workers. Eric S. Yellin argues that the Wilson administration's successful 1913 drive to segregate the federal government was a pivotal episode in the age of progressive politics. Yellin investigates how the enactment of this policy, based on progressives' demands for whiteness in government, imposed a color line on American opportunity and implicated Washington in the economic limitation of African Americans for decades to come.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xiv

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pp. 1-8

In 1913, several hundred black men and women working as clerks in the nation’s service were a rare reminder of the rights and citizenship African Americans had won nearly fifty years earlier. Between the 1880s and 1910s, thousands like them passed civil service exams, pulled political strings, and traveled to Washington, D.C., to take up work in the executive ...

Part I: THE REPUBLICAN ERA, 1867–1912

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One: No South to Us: African American Federal Employees in Republican Washington

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pp. 11-38

Washington, D.C., was the nation’s most important city for African Americans at the turn of the twentieth century. Black Washingtonians’ cultural and educational institutions, political connections, and prospects for stable employment stood out against the penury, terror, and segregation that plagued black lives elsewhere in the United States. Four decades of decent ...

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Two: The Spoils: Politics and Black Mobility

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pp. 39-60

Political patronage was essential to black rights and mobility in Republican Washington. The job security of African American civil servants depended upon a Republican patronage network of black and white politicians born during Reconstruction. Patronage was more than a party scheme for black Americans; it represented the right to a decent livelihood...

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Three: The Sensibilities of the People: Black Politics in Crisis

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pp. 61-78

Egalitarianism in Washington was fading as Theodore Roosevelt began his second administration in March 1905. White Republicans had begun to acknowledge the disconnect between the southern electorate, by then almost entirely white and Democratic, and the national prominence of black Republicans from the South. The result was a legitimation by...

Part II: A NEW RACIAL REGIME, 1913–1917

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Four: Democratic Fair Play: The Wilson Administration in Republican Washington

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pp. 81-112

Swan Kendrick was ebullient on March 10, 1913. He had spent the week soaking up all the fanfare that accompanied Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. He was elated by the presence of black women in the suffragette parade and by “the colored soldiers (National Guards) and high school cadets, in the inaugural parade.” Howard University, too, had entered its...

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Five: Wilsonian Praxis: Racial Discrimination in a Progressive Administration

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pp. 113-131

In September 1911, after a decade of clerking in the Census Bureau, George Harris Cox decided to make a final push toward finishing his medical degree. He received permission to work temporarily as a night watchman and began attending classes at Howard during the day.1 It was the kind of opportunity that government work in Washington had afforded...

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Six: Resistance and Friction: Challenging and Justifying Wilsonian Praxis

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pp. 132-172

The changes in federal buildings that white Treasury officials viewed as fairly subtle were not at all minor to black workers and civil rights activists. African Americans and their allies went beyond such humiliation to more fundamental questions of citizenship. “There [can] be no freedom, no respect from others, and no equality of citizenship under segregation of...


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Seven: Creating Normalcy: Washington after Wilson

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pp. 175-203

On May 30, 1922, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., was officially dedicated. Gleaming white, the enormous neoclassical marble temple housed a larger-than-life statue of Abraham Lincoln, seated, with huge hands to symbolize the generosity he insisted upon and the bigness of his message. Stretching up to the ceiling along the inner walls were...

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pp. 204-206

At 3 P.M. on August 8, 1925, Imperial Wizard Hiram Evans led 35,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan down Pennsylvania Avenue in downtown Washington. An estimated 200,000 people watched without protest—many cheered.1 The hateful but orderly parade of white-robed men and women in the nation’s capital was a stunning image at the time...


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pp. 207-2062


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pp. 263-290


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pp. 291-301

E-ISBN-13: 9781469608020
E-ISBN-10: 1469608022
Print-ISBN-13: 9781469607207
Print-ISBN-10: 1469607204

Illustrations: 21 illus.
Publication Year: 2013