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The “Negro Market” and the black freedom movement in New York City, 1930–1965

Julia L Sandy-Bailey, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation examines the "Negro market" and consumer activism within the context of the black freedom movement in New York City from 1930 to 1965. The "Negro market," a term used by the advertising industry to indicate a racially defined consumer market that was separate from the mainstream one, first emerged during the Great Depression. It expanded during World War II when the government gave more attention to racial matters and actively supported corporate attention to black consumers. In its first three decades, "Negro market" advertisers sought to reach African Americans without alienating whites, and strategies were shaped by advertising agencies, corporations, black media, and black marketing experts. During these years "Negro market" campaigns were conducted solely in black media. Although this reinforced the segregation of the consumer market, it did result in positive advertising images of blacks in the black press. Black protests in the early 1960s resulted in the integration of a small number of ads in mainstream media, changing the exclusively segregated approach of advertisers. Black New Yorkers used their consumer power as a tool in the black freedom movement, a movement that included campaigns for employment, integration, and positive black cultural portrayals. They also worked for consumer rights such as integrated commercial spaces, fair prices, and quality merchandise, and understood these rights as an important part of their struggle for racial equality. Groups from a variety of political perspectives---including housewives leagues, the NAACP, CORE, the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement, and the National Negro Congress---took part in these activities. Consumer weapons such as picketing and boycotts were only one aspect of black rights campaigns, and were often very effective. But there were limits to the usefulness of consumer action. By looking at business trade journals, the black press, advertisements, and the records of civil rights organizations, advertising agencies, corporations, and governmental agencies, this study traces the early history of the "Negro market," demonstrates the importance of consumer rights to black New Yorkers, and also shows the limitations of consumption as a method for achieving racial equality.

Subject Area

American history|African Americans

Recommended Citation

Sandy-Bailey, Julia L, "The “Negro Market” and the black freedom movement in New York City, 1930–1965" (2006). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3216961.