NAACP Representative Testimony (Full Text)

Head Note: President Roosevelt sent his Social Security bill, named the “Economic Security Act,” to Congress in January 1935. Congress held committee hearings on the bill. Here, a representative of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a group dedicated to advancing the rights of African Americans, testifies before Congress about how the bill excludes certain groups of people.


Mr. Houston. Mr. Chairman and gentelmen, my name is Charles H. Houston, Washington, D.C., representing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

May I say that Mr. Walter White, who is the next name on your clendar, will not be here. I understand that I am operating under the 5-minute rule, but if I should take 6 minutes, may I have 1 minute of Mr. White's time?

The Chairman. We may grant you that much of an extension.

Mr. Houston. Mr. Chairman, I would like to address my attention first to the old-age assistance as contrased with the old-age annuity. Our understanding is that the old-age assistance is a provision for supplementing income up to a reasonable, decent level. On the other hand, old-age annuity is a substitute for income, because the bill provides that a person who is employed by another is ineligible for old-age annuity.

Mr. Vinson. Is ineligible for what?

Mr. Houston. Old-age annuity. That is my understanding, and I call your attention to section 405 (a) (4).

No person shall receive such old-age annuity unless * * * He is not employed by another in a gainful occupation.

The point that I am making is that in order to qualify for the old age annuity there is a provision that taxes must be paid on behalf of this person prior to the day when he reaches 60 years.

Now, for the benefit of Negroes, I want to inquire who would be benefited or excluded by that provision?

First, and very serious, Negro share croppers and cash tenants would be excluded. I take it that I do not need to argue to this committee the fact that of the Negro population and of the population of the country generally, your Negro share cropper and your Negro cash farm tenant are just about at the bottom of the economic scale. He is not employed. There is no relation neccessarily of master and servant by which he gets wages on which a tax could be levied. Therefore this population is excluded from the entire benefits of the old-age annuity, and that represets approximately, according to the 1930 census, 490,000 Negroes.

Next: Domestic servants are in substance excluded from the act and the benefit of the old-age annuity, because the system of employing domestic servants is so loose that the chances are, from the standpoint of the administration of the act as an excise contributory tax, it would be impossible to make a regulation which would go down far enough to pick up all the miscellaneous wages of your domestic servants who, as you may know, are sometimes employed on the basis of day labor, somtimes employed of hour labor, and less frequently employed by the week or by the month.

In addition to that, from the standpoint of present persons unemployed, likewise this old-age annuity does not provide for these and I take it again I do not need to argue to the committee that Negroes have suffered from unemployment more than any other class of the community.

There was mentioned this morning the fact that this bill does not purport to relieve unemployment, which is true. It was mentioned this morning that the administration has introduced the Public Works Administration bill providing a vast program of public works. But we must call the committee's attention to the experience that the Negro has not received his share of Pulic Works Administration money in the sense of wages for public works.

I refer particularly to the Tennessee Valley Authority, on which I can speak out of personal experience and visits, in July.

I refer also to something which is not exactly in accord, because it is worked out through private corporations, but in substance it is entirely financed by the Government, a project such as Boulder Dam. At Boulder Dam there has been the most persistent fight in order to get Negroes any sort of representation and at one time, when the peak was reached, they had 30 Negroes employed on all of the Boulder Dam project.

Likewise, may I call your attention to this? In many States it is perfectly easy to get negroes employed on Public Works for manual labor. But when it comes to the question of white-collar jobs for Negroes you have a very difficult situation, so far as the Government policy has evidently manifested itself. Negroes have had the greatest difficulty in getting any sort of employment other than manual labor under Public Works.

Therefore, I call your attention to the inadequacies of the bill so far as your Negro population is concerned. That is, on the basis of the agricultural workers, on the basis of your domestic servants, and on the basis of those who are now unemployed.

May I call attention to the unemployment-insurance provisions? As to that, we call the committee's attention to the fact that the definition of those who are to benefit under the unemployment-insurance provision is left up to the respective States. Now, where the Negro population is in the majority, or in largest numbers, you have the Negroes in occupations which, either under workmen's compensation acts or any other sort of legislation or other economic-insurance protection, are excluded from the benefits of the act.

In these States, where your Negro population is the heaviest, you will find the majority of Negroes engaged either in farming or else in domestic service, so that, unless we have some provisions which will expressly extend the provisions of the bill to include domestic servants and agricultural workers, I submit that the bill is inadequate on the unemployment-compensation provision.

May I also call your attention to this, which is just as important? Now I speak to the matter of the care of dependent children, the matter of the whole program of public health.

There are States in which, according to the law, separate insititutions are are maintained for Negro and white citizens. I think that there should be a provision written into the bill in such States at least that where the money is allocated to the States and by law in public institutions you have a separation of races, there must be an equitable distribution between the white and colored citizens.

You have a precedent for that, if it please the committee, in the act of 1890 dealing with the land-grant colleges, which was an amendment to the Morrill Act of 1862, which was introduced into the record, yesterday, by Mr. Haynes. And to show Your Honors that this is not entirely theoretical, we have the experience of the veterans' hospital at Tuskegee, Ala. That hospital is exclusively for Negro veterans, but there only after a most persistent fight in which there was a tenacious attempt on the part of the white professional men of Alabama to retain for themselves the positions in this hospital, were you able to obtain a Negro personnel.

We are not responsible for the system of segregation. The system of segregation is imposed on us in spite of our citizenship before the law. But what we do say is that equality before the law is written into the Constitution as interpreted by your Supreme Court and certainly as it must be manifested by a Congress of the United States, it would demand an equitable distribution of funds, an equitable distribution of benefits where you have separate institutions.

May I ask permission, since I see that my time is about up, to file a brief which is on its way from New York, but which has not got here up to the present moment?

The Chairman. You have that permission.

If there are no questions, we thank you for your appearance and the testimony you have given.

Source: Excerpt from the Statement of Charles H. Houston, representing the NAACP, to the House Ways and Means Committee on the Economic Security bill, February 1, 1935. Washington, D.C.