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Forging a Laboring RaceThe African American Worker in the Progressive Imagination$
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Paul R.D. Lawrie

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781479857326

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479857326.001.0001

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The Negro Is Plastic

The Negro Is Plastic

The Department of Negro Economics, Sociology, and the Wartime Black Worker

(p.39) 2 The Negro Is Plastic
Forging a Laboring Race

Paul R. D. Lawrie

NYU Press

Total war militarized industry at the same time that war was becoming increasingly industrialized. Chapter Two establishes the wartime state as a key mediator in African American proletarianization. The establishment and workings of the Department of Negro Economics (DNE)—the first federal agency devoted exclusively to black labor since reconstruction—was an attempt to reconcile the “Negro problem” with the “labor problem” within the institutional nexus of early twentieth century sociology. DNE officials—many of whom were black—drew on Chicago school sociology to chart and acclimatize black migrants shift from rural to modern industrial life. DNE officials sought to incorporate African American workers into the wartime labor economy through the development of black labor expertise, instilling migrants with a new industrial consciousness through worker efficiency campaigns and establishing stronger links between white capital and black labor. DNE officials fused vocational uplift with sociological expertise to counter prevailing narratives of congenitally unfit Negro industrial laborers while imagining the fit black worker into existence.

Keywords:   African American, labor, expertise

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