I am very happy to welcome you to Baltimore and Maryland, a city and
state that have been in the vanguard of the struggle for freedom.
—JuAnitA JAckSon mitchell
When Juanita Jackson Mitchell, a veteran Black1 freedom movement leader,
welcomed a conference of oral historians to Baltimore some years ago, she
greeted them with this perhaps surprising statement. She was right, though,
for as this book will endeavor to show, the Baltimore metropolitan region has
been integral to struggles for freedom of various types in the United States,
especially during the Great Depression and the early years of the Second
World War. Juanita Jackson Mitchell knew this well, because from 1931 on
she was a major leader of these struggles.
This is a study of race, class, and social struggle in Baltimore, and in
Maryland more generally, from the late 1920s to the early 1940s. During this
period, contradictions of race and class in the region generated powerful so-
cial movements that challenged the established order and effected significant
social change. The key movements of the era were the workers’ movement, the
Black freedom movement, and a few smaller progressive and radical move-
ments. All of these developed in a complex web of interrelationships: some-
times they allied, sometimes they interpenetrated, always they influenced
each other. Since the upsurges of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s reawakened
historians of the United States to the central importance of social struggle,
many valuable accounts of social movements have been produced, but most
of these histories have focused primarily on a single social movement. The
labor movement, Black freedom movement, women’s movement, gay and
lesbian movement, and student movement have generally been investigated
in near- isolation from each other. This, however, is a study of social move-
ments in the plural. The perspective here is that, within a given social context
and period, the social movements that arise, like the social contradictions
that produce them, are deeply, complexly, and subtly interconnected, and
that these movements are best examined together.
The Depression era is widely known, of course, as a period of intense class
struggle that resulted in the rise of modern industrial unionism in the United
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