The Black Cabinet was a group of appointed Black government workers with firsthand experience of the plight of the Black community during the Great Depression. Their primary organizer was Mary McLeod Bethune.
Mary McLeod Bethune Was born in 1874; her parents and eight siblings were born enslaved, and Mary worked in the fields as a sharecropper very early in her life. She was a natural leader, became a teacher, married, then had a son. After a year as a housewife she decided to move the family to Palatka, FL, to teach. She eventually moved to Daytona Beach to open a school and then a college. This college merged with FL’s oldest HBCU to form Bethune-Cookman College. Mary ran it.
She started touring the country helping to organize other Black Colleges, and expanding her contact base. She used her clout to benefit women’s suffrage, arts and anti-lynching laws. Her power base was Black Women organizations and the Republican Party sought her endorsement.
But things change. She endorsed Hoover in 1932, but the Great Depression gripped the country. By 1934, Eleanor Roosevelt began to notice their common goal of helping the poor. Mary began to educate Eleanor of the specific problems the New Deal was creating for the African American community. At a Commerce Department meeting for Black education, Eleanor spoke about her intention for improvements. After speaking she walked directly to Mary and took her hand! It’s hard to believe now, but The First Lady formally touching a Black Woman made headlines.
The Black Cabinet, while never officially endorsed by FDR, exerted tremendous influence on administration policy for Black Americans. Eleanor was the conduit for much of the communication, but Mary met with FDR often enough for him to worry about Southern Democrat support.
At their peak, they were 134 active members. One of the most influential members, Robert C Weaver, became the first Black appointed Cabinet Member. He was nominated in January 13th, 1966.
Mary McLeon Bethune went on to be a member of the American delegation helping to create the United Nations. Ebony Magazine named her The First Lady Of Negro America.
She died on May 18th, 1955. Both the Black and White press praised her for her contributions to America.