- Race riots
- Employment discrimination
Franklin D. Roosevelt assumed the presidency of a nation in which white supremacy was a significant cultural and political force. Many states denied or severely restricted voting rights to African Americans and used their political power to further diminish their status and to deny them the benefits and opportunities of society. One consequence of this was to make African Americans potential victims of lynching, a kind of "people's justice," in which mobs of whites seized and murdered, often in gruesome fashion, African Americans suspected of crimes against whites. Bent on economic recovery and reform and having to work through powerful Southern congressmen, the president hesitated to place civil rights on his agenda.
Civil rights did emerge as an issue because of three related events:
- The movement of African Americans to northern states created a constituency that in some key states could hold a balance of power between the major parties.
- Eleanor Roosevelt, the nation's first activist First Lady, championed equal rights and racial justice.
- Many persons and organizations, the most prominent of which was the NAACP, made federal anti-lynching legislation a major priority.