Don't Buy Where You Can't Work Movement

views updated


The "Don't Buy Where You Can't Work" movement, also known as the "Buy Where You Can Work" movement, emerged in major northern U.S. cities during the Great Depression to protest black unemployment rates that often were double or triple the national average. In 1929 the Chicago newspaper the Whip, under editor Joseph Bibb, sponsored a campaign to boycott Chicago stores that refused to hire blacks. Supported by the Reverend J. C. Austin of the Pilgrim Baptist Church, the program resulted in the hiring of more than two thousand blacks, mostly as clerks in Chicago department stores.

The movement spread rapidly to other cities, drawing support from the major civil rights organizations. In 1931 black ministers, politicians, and businessmen published appeals in Harlem newspapers to follow Chicago's example. Calls for boycotts came from the Harlem Business Men's Club and from supporters of the black nationalist Marcus Garvey. Harlem Reverend John H. Johnson of Saint Martin's Protestant Episcopal Church formed the Citizens League for Fair Play and used Harlem newspapers to promote its picketing efforts. In 1933 in Washington, D.C., the New Negro Alliance, Inc., created the motto "Buy Where You Work—Buy Where You Clerk." Responding to layoffs of black workers at a Washington hamburger grill, the alliance targeted such black district stores as Kaufman department stores, the A. & P., and the High Ice Cream Company stores. Overall, the alliance developed a comprehensive agenda advocating increased black employment, opportunities for black advancement and promotion, combined African Americans' purchasing power, and the creation of larger black businesses.

The "Don't Buy Where You Can't Work" movement had several legacies. In some cities such as New York, it helped to create hiring programs that were among the first affirmative action programs in U. S. history. The movement also provided a model for 1960s direct-action civil rights protests, such as lunch counter sit-ins, and led the way for later federal efforts to address structural unemployment and equal purchasing and earning power in black communities.



Bunche, Ralph J. "Negroes in the Depression: Ralph J. Bunche Describes a Direct-Action Approach to Jobs." In Black Protest Thought in the Twentieth Century, edited by August Meier, Elliott Rudwick, and Francis L. Broderick. 1971.

Drake, St. Clair, and Horace R. Cayton. Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City. 1993.

McKay, Claude. "Harlem: Negro Metropolis, 1940." In Negro Protest Thought in the Twentieth Century, edited by Francis L. Broderick and August Meier. 1966.

Naison, Mark. Communists in Harlem during the Great Depression. 1983.

Trotter, Joe William, Jr. "From a Raw Deal to a New Deal? 1929–1945." In To Make Our World Anew: A History of African Americans, edited by Robin D. G. Kelley and Earl Lewis. 2000.

Bill V. Mullen

About this article

Don't Buy Where You Can't Work Movement

Updated About content Print Article