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NAACP Representative Testifies before Congress about the Economic Security Act (1935)

In January 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent the Economic Security Act to Congress. Congress held committee hearings on the bill. Charles H. Houston, a representative of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) testified about the exclusion of Black people from the bill. Serving as the NAACP's head lawyer, Houston would go on to lead the organization's effort to overturn the legal doctrine of "separate but equal." Roosevelt's proposal eventually passed Congress as the Social Security Act, establishing a system of government payments to the elderly, unemployment insurance, and aid for dependent mothers and children and people with disabilities. The Act, however, only provided old-age payments for those who were regularly employed industrial and commercial workers; it excluded domestic and agricultural workers, about half of the U.S. workforce and a majority of African American workers. Beginning in the 1950s, the Act was amended to extend coverage to more categories of workers.

Mr. Houston: 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 necessarily 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 represents approximately, according to the 1930 census, 490,000 Negroes.

Next: Domestic servants are ... excluded from the act ... because the system of employing domestic servants is so loose....

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

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.
Item Type | Government Document
Cite This document | “NAACP Representative Testifies before Congress about the Economic Security Act (1935) ,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 24, 2023,

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