1920s and ’30s: The numbers of unemployed African Americans during the Great Depression was as much as 25 percent in northern cities, and well over 50 percent in many southern cities, figures that were three to four times higher than the number of unemployed whites. Today: Unemployment among African Americans averages between 10 and 11 percent, higher than the 4.5 to 5 percent among whites.
1920s and ’30s: Blues and jazz flourished from New Orleans to Harlem. Although these indigenous American music forms were the dominant mode of expression for the oppressed black culture, they also attracted a large audience of whites. Today: Rap and hip-hop are the major musical forms that express the unique experiences of black culture in America’s ghettos, but they also have many non-black fans, not only in America, but all over the world.
1920s and ’30s: In the South, Jim Crow laws dictated that blacks and whites use separate drinking fountains, eat in separate restaurants, and learn in separate schools. In the North, although such laws did not exist, blacks were more subtly excluded from better jobs, schools, and neighborhoods, creating black ghettos in the major cities. Today: Affirmative action plans to end discrimination in hiring have been in place for fifteen years, and some are now calling for their abolishment, claiming the goal has been achieved, while others believe there is still a long way to go.
1920s and ’30s: Although many women writers participated in the Harlem Renaissance, they experienced the prejudice of their male counterparts, who excluded all but a chosen few of them from the anthologies and prestigious periodicals. Today: African American women writers are experiencing their own “Renaissance,” as represented by Toni Morrison’s receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. Most contemporary critics agree that some of the most important literature being produced today is from the hands of black women, many of whom claim a direct heritage from Zora Neale Hurston.