How African Americans Lived in the 1940s

Written by susan c. olmstead
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How African Americans Lived in the 1940s
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Life in the 1940s was very different from life today for African Americans. Most states had Jim Crow laws on their books, meaning that blacks and whites lived very separate lives. The Civil Rights movement would not reach its peak until the 1960s.

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Jim Crow Laws

Jim Crow laws forbade African Americans (then commonly called "Negroes" or "coloured people") to interact with whites in many settings. Black children and white children attended separate schools. In many areas (especially in the South) drinking fountains, lunch counters and laundromats were segregated. Whites and blacks were not permitted to marry.

Civil Rights

In 1940s America, blacks did not have the same civil rights as whites. Employers could legally refuse to consider black applicants for jobs. Landlords could refuse to rent houses to black people. Blacks and whites lived in separate neighbourhoods. Often, blacks were barred from registering to vote.


African Americans' opportunities for advancement in education and employment were far more limited than those of whites. However, some colleges provided African Americans with high-quality educations. In 1944, the United Negro College Fund was founded to help fund historically black colleges and universities.

Northern Artists

The time period between World War I and the 1940s saw a migration of African Americans to northern cities, including Chicago, Detroit and New York. In the 1940s, African Americans living in Chicago produced exceptional literature and music. Richard Wright, the author of "Black Boy," and blues musician Muddy Waters were active in Chicago during this period, while musicians Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald were performing in New York City.

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