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"Working": article draft by Roosevelt Fitzgerald




1980 (year approximate) to 1995 (year approximate)


From the Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers (MS-01082) -- Drafts for the Las Vegas Sentinel Voice file. On the high rate of Black unemployment.

Digital ID



man001053. Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers, 1890-1996. MS-01082. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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I didn't live through the depression of the 1930s, but a lot of people did. Some of you, who are reading this, remember those years. I've heard about them from my parents and other relatives and I have read about it in history books. The stories are among the most heroic and devastating that you'll ever want to hear.
When the crash first happened, there were many who took their lives because they had lost their life's savings. Others did the same because they had lost their jobs and were no longer able to support their families. Many ran away and took up the life of the hobo. You should recognize that there is a difference between a hobo and a bum. Those men who "skipped out" did so primarily because they were too ashamed of the fact that they were no longer breadwinners. If you look at some of the pictures of some of the faces of those people you'll see despair, anguish, bewilderment and torment. They, however, remembered, as a philosopher once said; "That which does not kill you, makes you stronger."
The 1930s brought yet another phenomena; gangs. In every city and in every part of every city there were gangs. The commodity of the time was alcohol. To protect their turf, gangs waged war against each other. We've seen the movies, the newsreels and some of us even saw them in action. It was common for them to drive by in their 1930s cars with tommy guns blazing and kill their competitors and anyone else who happened to be in the line of fire. The headlines would read; "GANGLAND KILLING."
The gangsters found a ready source of manpower among those legions of the unemployed. To be sure, most resisted because in spite of the hard times that they lived in, they could not resort to becoming crooks. They suffered and they suffered silently. They didn't have much--many times they had
nothing at al 1--save they knowledge that that which they had they had earned.
Did you ever hear of the Dalton gang, the James gang, the Coles and the Clantons and the Cleggs? Frank Nitti and Al "Scarface" Capone? There have always been gangs. Many of them come into existance for similar reasons.
Even as I write this I'm working. When I finish this I'll do a few routine things and then hit the sack. Maybe I'll get four or five hours sleep, wake up, get up, have a cup of coffee, read the newspaper, do the three Ss and go to work.
With some minor differences, for the most part and major differences for the lesser part, I've repeated this ritual since I was seven years old. It was at that age that I started working. Maybe I should rephrase that and say it was at that age that I started earning money. I cannot remember a day since then that I have not earned a dollar or so.
Mine is not an unusual story. I know many of you started working early in life and are still doing it. The jobs we've had have ranged from raking leaves and boxing groceries to professor!ng and running our own businesses. I remember the first dollar that I earned, cutting and selling wood by the bundle--ten sticks--at ten cents a bundle. I was so proud of that dollar that I couldn't spend it. I went out and make another one to spend. The first dollar that I earned for the first five days I kept and at the end of that time I converted them into a five dollar bill. I still have it.
There's something about earning one's own money and paying one's own way, I am certain that getting into those habits at an early age contributed greatly to my development of a work ethic. I should say that the jobs I held between that time and graduation from high school were nothing to write home about. They were dirty, hard, poor paying, without status or future. Remember, we're talking about Mississippi in the 1950s. Even grownup black people worked at demeaning jobs back in those days and that was true not only in such places as Mississippi but in Nevada, California, New York and every
other state of the Union. The only people who worked inside and in air- conditioned comforth, wearing suits and carrying briefcases, in my home state were white. From early childhood, I remember wanting an inside job and a briefcase to carry.
In spite of the "forward discrimination" as opposed to what is now called "reverse discrimination," I learned good work habits and marketplace toughness. Having undergone those gruesome labor initiation rituals, I find that I am not as prone to being terribly upset by what happens at my job site. If I didn't become despondent or stressed or burned-out in the '50s, it couldn't possibly happen now.
Why do I talk about these things? Actually there are two causes. The first was brought on by ABC's Monday Night Movie of July 15. It was called "On Fire." It starred John Forsythe as a 60 year old fire captain who was forced to retire. According to his own testimony, he had been a fireman for thirty years. He took retirement badly. At first he was back at the station almost every day and then that wore out. He then went elsewhere and told anyone who would listen of some of the fires he had fought or had investigated during his years in the arson division. That didn't work for very long. He became beligirent, drank more, had difficulty finding employment due to his age and ended up in jail. This happened to a grown man who had worked most of his life and was a respected member of the community for years and then, out of work, his sense of himself diminished. We've heard this story hundreds of times and have seen dozens of movies on the subject. Policemen who take their lives shortly after retirement, factory workers who become alcoholics, and the thousands of others who just die because of inactivity, boredom, because of having no reason to live.
We have always known how important it is to have a job. It instills pride, creates responsibility and gives one the sense of belonging. Without a job those things are absent and the void is filled with other things. Those
other things sometimes manifest themselves in destructiveness.
Nationwide, the unemployment rate among African Americans is at an all- time high. That unemployment is especially crucial in regards to young males in an age range which approximates mid-teens through the twenties. When we look at gang membership, we're looking at that age group. The problem will not just go away by itself.
Ok. I know. None of this is new. I didn't intend it to be. It is only a visual memory. However, I want you to ask yourselves the question: If this is as well known as we know it to be, why is it that no attention is paid? Many dollars are being spent doing studies, running task forces, and carrying on police investigations. More money is spent on these things than would be spent creating jobs for young African Americans. One is almost forced to believe that solution to the gang problem is really not sought. I am not so naive as to believe that jobs alone will solve it all. I do believe that jobs would cut into the pool of young men from which gangs draw their membership.
I'll tell you what I think--right now black gang members are killing black members of other gangs and other blacks who are not associated with the gangs. The phenomena is negatively affecting only us so it's tolerated.
Its growing and I'm scared to death.