These socio-economic changes in Hartford reflect national trends, but that does not mean they were forces that were entirely beyond human control. The twentieth-century is a time of mass politics, and so the trends, whether to good or ill, necessarily linked Hartford's growing Black population to the City's political life. Increasingly, politics mediated the relation of Black families to the city environment, and so it is necessarily to discover to what extent that resulted in constructive changes.
With the development of mass politics after the Civil War and universal male suffrage, the Black vote started to become significant. In the 1915 Courant article discussed before it was pointed out that Governor Marshall Jewel (1869, 71, 72) cultivated the Black vote and was therefore "considered a warm friend of the colored people and is said to have attributed the success of his election to them." Blacks at the time of the Civil War were usually Republicans, and they strongly supported the Republican Governors Jewel and Hawley (1866-67). However, in light of the fact that the first wave of migration had not begun and the limited political participation of Blacks at the time, one wonders just how significant the Black vote could really have been. More likely these two governors simply represented themselves as the friend of Blacks, even to the extent of one dragging Rollin Bowser in his train, in order to identity with the causes of the War to curry the white vote, not the Black. And then arose "scientific" racism, which tended to isolate Blacks politically. For these reasons, serious Black political participation had to await the twentieth century.
It is worth emphasing this context for Black politics. In 1896, in Plessy vs. Ferguson, the US Supreme Court ruled that "separate but equal" facilities were constitutional. So a kind of Apartheid entered American life that lasted until the Civil Rights struggles of the 60s. It represented significant barriers, both tangible and psychological, for both ordinary Black working people and the Black bourgeoisie. In 1901, George White, the last Black congressman, gives his farewell address on the floor of the House of Representatives. In 1913, President Wilson segregated the Capital. During World War I, four Black regiments were barred from fighting by General Pershing, but served the French instead and in 1918 were awarded the Croix de Guerre. Black folk weren't blind; anyone with a shred of dignity or pride had to take a stand and perhaps even do something about these human rights abuses. The obvious places to turn to combat this racism were Black institutions and Black politics.
Black politics meant an independent Black political organization, and in the Third Ward, there was created an Independent Republican Party. In 1906 this party ran Dr. Henry Clay Arms, shown here, for major. Although it was not until Thirman Milner succeeded in recent times that a Black mayoral candidacy was successful, this early attempt does show that people recognized that where there is a distinct shared private interest, that interest needs to be manifested politically. The argument that such politics are only devisive is obviously not true as long as there were in fact signficant private inequities among Hartford's people, and it is the consensus of Black people throughout our century that these divisions have in fact existed and, indeed, continue to exist. Independent politics is simply a reflection of the failure of dominant institutions to address real social inequities and is certainly not their cause.
However, events were to show that the powers that be in Hartford were not about to let politics become the vehicle of private needs. This is also illustrated by the Bolden Drum Corps. It marched in parades in the 1890s and was often praised as the best dressed and the best drummers. Finally in October 1908 they marched at the opening of the Bulkeley Bridge, but later that year they were combined with the Allyn Corps, a white drumming unit. Not surprising, for this quasi-military organization, like the coming War, tended to submerge private distinctions under a political order dominated by whites.
The obvious way to reconcile the need to articulate one's own real needs while not ending up in isolation is to find a common ground of private interest with others in the City, but those conditions did not exist at the time of the Arms campaign. In 1909 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded, and so was Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association. Both had great impact on the Black community in Hartford, and both deserve study. Broadly it seems that the NAACP tried in various ways to forge a broader alliance, which weakened as it lost its working-class character, while the Garvey movement contributed to the articulation of Black needs, but in terms of a program that most today would probably say had little chance of success. While it is easy to criticize both organizations, nothing really emerged that rested on firmer foundations with a possible exception or two to be discussed later.
These unhappy looking fellows are World War I draftees standing before the Hall of Records in about 1915 (from Wilson Faude, Harford Picture Book). The war was of enormous importance, for it created a political culture to which people were expected to hitch their aspirations and sense of pride while downplaying their private needs. What was important was that one was an American citizen fighting for a good cause, not that one was a member of the working class, poor or Black. This political culture, which lasted through World War II, made it almost impossible to pursue one's personal needs through the political system without appearing divisive or disloyal. So politics was out, and people had to look instead to private organizations to express their personal needs.