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The Black Cabinet

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Dr. Watts has delivered a well-researched text on the history of race and politics during the FDR era.

This tome is a prerequisite for anybody studying African-American history, as well as those desiring a closer look at an often missing piece of United States history. The Black Cabinet is a comprehensive study on how the answered Bethune’s clarion call to stand against racial prejudices.
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Filled with so much history, much that is never [or seldom] told [I know that I knew very little of what I read], this should be required reading for everyone. It once again tells of how the white supremacy tried to push people of color down and how they rose and rose and rose and even with much adversity, not only survived, but thrived and grew. Led by Mary McLeod Bethune [who seriously did not know what NO meant, especially when it was a NO because of the color of her skin or because she was a woman or both], The Black Cabinet was an important part of America's history and of the time of FDR.  I was constantly flabbergasted by what I was reading - so many things that are continually hid from America - it is important that we know our history, good or bad. FDR, while doing much good for this country, was very slow in helping black America and the problems of housing, jobs and the hideous practice of lynching. And while we cannot discount all the good he DID do for this country, learning about his unwillingness to address the practice of lynching and decrying it as evil and punishable was extremely disheartening.  And really makes the good he DID do look trivial and inconsequential. 

I highly recommend this book and I also recommend the audiobook, read by the incomparable Bahni Turpin. Ms. Turpin makes this book come alive and brings you right into the time and actions that are going on. It is one of the better narrations I have listened to in a long time. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic/Grove Press for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Jill Watts delivered a well researched and thorough work of nonfiction in The Black Cabinet: The Untold Story of African Americans and Politics During the Age of Roosevelt. The evolution of it's members, the backstory of the Republican and Democratic parties and the vital role The Black Cabinet played in the Presidential elections of that era leading to FDR's tenure and his New Deal.

On more than a dozen occasions, I found myself comparing the political and racial climate of today to that of the 1930s and 1940s. The blantant disregard for black lives until their vote is needed, the publicly racist views of a president and/or his lack of a response to acts of terrorism towards black people speaking volumes to and empowering the racists of the country to freely express their rage without consequence is ever present today. The similarities between 1932 and 2020 do not surprise me. Yet, there's always a voice unafraid to speak for the voiceless. 

As a native of Daytona Beach, Florida, Mary McLeod Bethune and her institution, Bethune Cookman College (University) were engrained in me. I was familiar with her role as an educator and advocate for womens' rights. Her involvement with The Black Cabinet and role as a political influencer has not been given it's just due, until now. Jill Watts beautifully chronicles the successes and failures of The Black Cabinet and how influential this group was in advocating for African Americans while simultaneously battling racism, nepotism and all the other-isms of the day. FDR was a key figure but this story focuses on Mary McLeod Bethune the defacto leader, nurturing and inspiring the other key members of The Black Cabinet: Robert Vann, Bill Hastie, Robert Weaver and Al Smith. Reading about this strong black woman leading this squadron of strong black men during a time when black women were still seen as property to be used and not heard was moving. The bold Black Americans honored in this book is a true gift and a piece of American history that should be told and shared. Black history is AMERICAN history.
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Often history books gloss over the struggles of how major changes were achieved, and the individuals involved in accomplishing those changes. The history of FDR's still-segregated, Depression-wounded America was never simple, although it is often presented as such.

The Black Cabinet, if it is mentioned, is often listed among the progressive accomplishments of the Roosevelts. This book shows the challenges facing Mary McLeod Bethune, Robert C. Weaver, William H. Hastie, and Robert Vann as they battled uphill against FDR's actual cabinet, which was full of white Southerners resistant to change. Rather than presenting them as a collective, the author explores their differing agendas and ideologies. She delves into the bureaucracy of Washington, underscoring how difficult it really is to make change happen. 

This is great reading for the current moment, both in understanding why the current situation is the way it is, and for feeling motivated to connect with the world again.

Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for a digital ARC for the purpose of an unbiased review.
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This is so rich and dense in a history that has been ignored for so long. While it is very easy to get bogged down in all the people Watts references (at times I felt I needed a flow chart of a who's who to remember who was working for what at any give time), that does not mean you should ignore this worthy and important endeavor that reminds us all of how African-Americans have had to struggle for personhood in the US and how very much our narrative of the the history of this country continues to ignore that struggle.
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If you have ever taken an American History course, the topic of the Black Cabinet usually gets a cursory overview. The Black Cabinet is usually described as a group of African American leaders and intellectuals who President Franklin Roosevelt assembled to advise him on issues important to the African American community. That well known description is FALSE. In Jill Watts’ new book, she tells the true story of how the Black Cabinet formed in the FDR years and the successes and failures that the group faced. 

The Black Cabinet is a well-researched book on the history of national African American politics from the early 20th Century through the age of Franklin Roosevelt. Readers will be amazed to learn about the Black Cabinet’s roots and its battles with Presidents of both parties in the first three decades of the 20th Century. However, things began to change during the Depression years and the African American vote which had been reliably Republican since the time of Lincoln was now up for grabs. Lifelong Black Republicans began to flirt with voting for the Democrats and in 1932 Franklin Roosevelt is elected president, with the help of Black votes, promising a New Deal for the American people. However the New Deal was not beneficial to African Americans at the very beginning and throughout FDR’s tenure; progress for African Americans came in fits and starts. The Black Cabinet was influential in pushing and advocating for policies that would help African Americans. Watts’ unveils that the Black Cabinet consisted of over 100 members but had five core influential members: Mary McLeod Bethune, the titular leader of the Cabinet, Robert Weaver, Bill Hastie, Al Smith, and Robert Vann. Many students of African American history may be familiar with Bethune but may not be familiar with her “boys” as they were affectionately called. Watts does a great job covering their lives, their successes and the challenges they faced as Black Cabinet members. All five core members had to fight to be heard and were strong advocates for their causes, all at the risk of losing their jobs, being transferred to other agencies, or being labeled a Communist by Members of Congress. 

Many American historical books put the president as the focal point of the story; however Watts’ book does not do that. FDR is of course an important figure but this book is about the bureaucratic figures behind the scenes that pushed for change. The members of the Black Cabinet were not officially appointed by FDR, neither were they confirmed by the Senate, but these informal leaders and scholars had a major impact on civil rights and economic policies affecting African Americans in the 1930s and 1940s. They were also precursors to the modern Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Many of the policies that they advocated for did not come into fruition during their time in the Roosevelt administration but were enacted in the decades to come. Watts’ phenomenal book sheds light on these figures; they need to be known by more people. Students of history and politics will enjoy reading this groundbreaking work. 

Thanks to NetGalley, Grove Press, and Jill Watts for a free ARC copy in exchange for an honest review.
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First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jill Watts, Grove Atlantic, and Grove Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I stumbled upon this book by Jill Watts a while back and thought that it would make the perfect addition to my collection, as I seek to open my mind about all things related to politics and history, particularly those that were not as well-known. As race clashes rise to the surface once again on America, Watts takes the reader back in time to after the dust of the Civil War, and one president in particular who sought to begin offering a degree of racial equality. Watts explores how the freeing of the slaves and those who were oppressed came slowly to American society, so used to having the inequality in place. Watts hints that some of the post-War presidents flirted with the idea of advisors and those who could speak for the black population, though no one really gave much effort until Theodore Roosevelt during his time in the White House. Teddy opened some doors, but things within the Republican Party began to fray for the African American population, as it soon became apparent that Roosevelt was giving only lip service to the needs and desires of the black population. With the Great Depression and the ushering in of a new dawn with Franklin Roosevelt, there seemed to be hope, particularly when the new President Roosevelt wanted advisors within many of the government agencies who were African Americans, shaping the approach of service delivery as well as a different approach to how America might be run. While not a formal inner circle, there was a loose name given to this group, the Black Cabinet. This group would meet and their quasi-leader, Mary McLean Bethune, was a strong advocate, holding FDR and the larger government machine accountable. While the New Deal was being apportioned out, Bethune liaised regularly with FDR (and his wife) and kept up a rigorous speaking tour to rally citizens towards the rights of blacks in this new and adventurous country. This continued and Bethune stumped for FDR’s re-election happily, helping Democrats toss off the image of the party for slavery, as the roles were reversed. Bethune did all she could, using others within the Black Cabinet to help her, giving hope to a population who were so used to being oppressed. Watts shows how new issues were explored through the Black lens and FDR relied on Bethune and her advisors to offer solutions. However, as war rumbled in Europe, the New Deal began to show weakness, though FDR held firm to using Bethune’s power of drumming up support to ensure an unprecedented third term in the White House. With that, the neutrality that FDR pitched was in name only, as funds were shifted around to support a war effort. Bethune sought to capitalize on this, seeking black participation in all aspects of military life and integration as a key part of the entire process. Military officials balked and pushed back as much as they could, though FDR knew he would have to offer something or turn his back on Bethune and the Black Cabinet, sure to alienate the voting base they controlled. Into the 1940s, American sentiments shifted and there was no longer a New Deal sentiment. Watts closes her book out in the early days after FDR’s 1944 presidential victory. With the win, FDR sought to end the war, though his health ended him first. With his passing, so went the push for the Black Cabinet and strong advocacy for black rights. It did return in the form of other leaders, but Watts argues that none had the ear of or the inner connection to the African American population that FDR held. A powerful book and eye opening for those who enjoy this sort of piece. I’d recommended it to fans of US political history, as well as those who find race relations to their liking. 
I won’t profess to being an expert at all on this subject and read it more out of interest. I enjoyed how Watts took the reader through the backstory of post-Civil War America and how it came together effectively to show the sentiments of the new ‘black’ population, those who mattered and were no longer simply chattel. The rise to importance of this race, seeking equality, can be seen in the early part of the book, though things were slow and somewhat stilted as the population (and politicians) sought to come to terms with this new attempted equality. Watts explores the interest FDR took in the movement and how he was kept in the loop repeatedly by those he felt could offer him a new ‘black’ perspective. Watts breaks things up along the FDR presidential elections, showing how important the black voice and vote became as time contained, with Mary McLean Bethune acting as a conduit throughout the process. With chapters that show the advancement (or reversion) of policies as they play into the hands of the black population, Watts shows how things wax and wane at different times. With decent chapter lengths and a great deal of information, the reader can digest the topics with ease, helped along by a chronological narrative that flows with ease. Watts develops her strong points throughout and shows that FDR was a harbinger for better race relations in the United States, though there was surely much that needed to be done. However, he took the black voice seriously, not pretending to speak for them, but using some of their own to speak to him. Brilliantly penned and something I will return to read again, of that I am sure.

Kudos, Madam Watts, for shedding such a needed light on the topic at hand. I learned so very much from this book and cannot wait to try more of your work.
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The author gives an excellent view of the struggles of the black community during FDR’s administration to improve their lot. As this group of activists tried to end segregation in federal jobs, the military, and federal contractors. 
It does not put the FDR administration in a very good light. 
The Black Cabinet is an excellent read and should be read by every American.
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Most of President FDR's Oval Office staff members were white southerners. His democrat party embraced segregation, disenfranchisement and racial violence. White men served as the federal government's advisor on the economic status of Negros. The Black Cabinet, a group of African American racial affairs experts working throughout the New Deal, formed an unofficial advisory council to lobby the President.
The Black Cabinet assembled to solve the common problems faced by Negros of the time. The Cabinet members mostly fought each other, though, and reluctant FDR never welcomed or enacted their advice. In fact, New Deal leadership stymied the African American struggle by hiring many of black America's most gifted activists and then muzzling them. The burden of national unity also fell on the shoulders of black citizens. It was only after his sudden death that several Black Cabinet members rewrote history to give FDR way more credit for racial desegregation and Negro rights than he deserved. 
This book is well researched and includes tons of information. It does read like a textbook in places, though, and I almost gave up reading several times. However, the last chapter made the book worthwhile for me. It shared how the original members of the Black Cabinet served out their years after the end of their government service. And readers learn how the original Black Cabinet paved the way for the next generation of Civil Rights activists. For this reason, I round up to 3 stars.
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Fantastic book. Read it if you are at all interested in deeper American history. 

Well written and full of heavily researched facts, the narrative takes you along as you watch history unfold and you learn about all these amazing people.

I am a middle aged white woman and I really enjoyed this book, so don't pass it over if you think it is just for people of color. It would be a wonderful companion to college history classes.

It is not super heavy reading, but it's not a light, glossed over book either. For those who really want to learn and not just skim over history then it is a must-read!

I received a free ARC as a reader for NetGalley and this is one of my rare 5 star books.
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Not too much to say. This was a solid book of history though a bit dry at times (as much history books are) and I enjoyed it. I honestly recall hearing about this when I was in college, but had no idea about the "Black Cabinet" during high school. Since I focused most of my studies on Far East Asia, I never really delved deeper into U.S. history after my degree prerequisites. I think Jill Watts does a great job of providing details about the period of time (during the Franklin D. Roosevelt years of 1933-1945). 

I thought that that this book was eye-opening about racism that many of this officials had to deal with. Many were seen as "token" hires and had to deal with discrimination in the cabinets/departments there were working in and or heading up. I think many would want to give Roosevelt some credit here, but you also see how a lot of times he did nothing more than lip service. For example, a lot of African Americans did not benefit at all from many of the New Deal Acts that were passed. Shocking I know. 

One of the most important things about the men and women who belonged to this group was the fact that they laid the foundation to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s in the United States.
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***I was granted an ARC of this via Netgalley from the publisher.***

When we think about the strides made in civil rights for African Americans in the US today, we usually think back to the 1960s and the likes of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Others even further back to WEB Du Bois and Marcus Garvey. However, much or at least not enough attention has been paid to the group known as the Black Cabinet, a group whose exploits are chronicled in the book the Black Cabinet: The Untold Story of African Americans and Politics During the Age of Roosevelt by Jill Watts. In this book, Watts covers the beginnings and decline of this group of black federal employees under the Theodore Roosevelt and its reemergence under the presidency of FDR with the likes of Mary Mcleod Bethune, William Hastie, and others. Watts looks at their struggle to obtain the benefits of the New Deal for African Americans, keep their jobs in the federal government and not look like they were selling out to the black community when at times it looked like their efforts were not successful. Watts does an excellent job of relating their highs and lows bringing the lives of these incredible African American men and women into focus. This book goes to remind the reader that much of the advances in civil rights has been through the vocal and silent efforts of black federal administrators and grassroots organizations demanding changes rather than it being handed to them. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and receiving an education on this part of American history.
Rating: 5/5 stars. Would highly recommend to a friend.
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Best book I’ve ever read. This was a time in history when racism, and the depression ruled and ruined the lives of many. This semi private group of black leaders assisted in the Roosevelt years.  Bravo!  So well written and developed. A must read for everyone
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It was an okay book on a group of African American men and women, especially Mary McLeod Bethune, who worked together in the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on behalf of African Americans. The FDR administration really did not help the African American man and woman, though history writes it as FDR did and even then news reported he was a great helper of them. There was great submission to the white southern democrats who carried at that time strong racial resentment and hate against the African American. But the Black Cabinet worked together to try to change things for their African American family. And because of their efforts they helped to change things for them and help them.
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It’s hard to believe the level of racism present in the United States less than a century ago. From the backroads to the halls of government, there were restrictions so that the races would not have to mix. Stir in the Roosevelt years of the Great Depression and you begin to understand the issues that challenged those who dedicated their time and energy to create equality among all Americans. 

The Black Cabinet was the unofficial name for a brain trust of African Americans during the presidential years of FDR. Initially, a few were given token hires within the government where they were supposed to be able to give their insight and ensure both blacks and whites received aid during the Great Depression. They themselves experienced racism in their departments. Non-whites were not allowed to eat in the department dining room, and at one point, the entire secretarial pool refused to work for one of these pioneers. These were the years when the Democrats and Republicans battled over votes of the African American community, even though both sides promised much and delivered little. Those in the Black Cabinet battled a President who would listen yet hesitated to move forward due to political issues, and administrators who marginalized and blocked their efforts. Yet though there were many setbacks, there were accomplishments that are described in the book.

Author Jill Watts provides deep detail of the people involved, painting a picture of their backgrounds and how they ended up becoming a part of the Black Cabinet. While most of us remember reading the skeletal history of the Great Depression and Roosevelt’s New Deal, never before have I had the opportunity to be able to learn about this slice of history, one that had great effect upon the United States. The author backs up her work with a long section of references as well as an extensive listing of books and pamphlets. The research is impressive and adds many small items that enrich the story. Though the book is long the detail keeps it interesting. Five stars.

My thanks to NetGalley and Grove Press for a complimentary ebook of this title.
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I like that this book shares the history of black people wanting to make change. However this is not where my true intrest lies. I do feel this would be a good book to incorporate into a history lesson as black people made significant moves in America to build the country. Just not my persoanl cup of tea.
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Loved reading this microhistory about Roosevelt's African-American advisors.  The writing made the narrative flow in a very readable way and was throughly research and well presented.  And, the feeling at the end was a hopeful one.
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I loved this book. All the research and history was brought together in a way that told a fascinating story that informed, just as much as it entertained. The tone and pace of the story was engaging and I loved learning all the little known details about the players involved and the history that made up that era. I can easily see this book becoming a movie.
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In the backdrop of early 20th century America, where the African-Americans live an impoverished, heavily segregated, terrorized by the Whites, stripped of all human rights, constantly struggling to survive just another day, The Black Cabinet speaks millions about the rise of headstrong, proud Black society. A group of bright, young minds who represent their community and lobbying the President through an unofficial advisory council formation. This book is extremely conceptually strong. backed by research, gives a vivid history of that complex times. How ironical it is that still minorities all over the world face discrimination and suppressed by the majoritarian in the name of religion, caste, color, race. This book is not just a historical nonfiction book it is a proof on how strong a community can be who have always stand up for their rights, against every wrong, and worked its way up to give their generation and the coming future life to be lived upon, freely, fearlessly. This book is for anyone who wants to go beyond the books of "Native Son",""Black boy" and know more about the Afro-American community. No doubt this has been one of the best non-fiction read of 2019.
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I thought this would start with FDR and the New Deal but this digs back to when blacks were Republican loyalists and shows how the GOP abandoned them.
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