Visiting Assistant Professor Lauren Kientz Anderson will be traveling to New Haven, CT this weekend to deliver a paper entitled "Interracialism and Black Political Thought in the Interwar Era." She will be presenting at the New England Historical Association's annual conference. The paper conceptualizes the historical context for her book, "This Bond of Mean Service: Black Women, Interracialism, and Internationalism in the Interwar Era," by examining Marion Cuthbert's speech at the 1933 NAACP Convention. This speech divided national reaction to interracialism into three parts: people believed it was a magical device, a nauseating sentiment, or a real insight.
As a political philosophy to end racial strife, interracialism was in vogue during the interwar era. Interracial commissions formed all over the United States following the race riots of 1919 and liberal religious organizations started interracial committees. Adherents believed that if they just brought educated African Americans and whites into the same room and allowed them to discuss life, that the result would be the end of white racism, riots, and lynchings (although not necessarily the end of segregation). Interracialism was very much a product of its era—not yet proposing full integration, but allowing some comingling that would have been scandalous to the prior white generation. Both the positive and negative sides of interracialism had a significant influence on the discussion of race relations in the 1920s, defining the way liberal blacks and whites responded to racial violence, everyday strife, and hopes for a future free of racism. Though it was a major political philosophy during the 1920s, historians have yet to fully examine its impact and how black women drew on this philosophy in their struggles for civil rights.
While one historian has argued that interracial commissions fostered communication and were a factor in the decrease of lynchings, African Americans abandoned interracialism by the beginning of the 1930s. Indeed, Cuthbert’s speech was at the tail end of its influence. This was for several reasons, but most particularly because interracialism focused on elites (and the Depression was the era of the “common man”) and preached patience. The Great Depression and then World War II demanded immediate solutions, not long-term, slow-moving ideas that failed to respond to contemporary realities. These failures have obscured interracialism from the viewpoint of historians. Very few have recognized its leading importance in race relations discussions during the 1920s. This paper is part of my on-going project to demonstrate the significance of interracialism, including its myriad failures and very modest successes, to historians, thereby recognizing its place among major political philosophies regarding race relations.