JUNE 18, 1941
WASHINGTON, Tuesday—I asked Mr. John Collier, of the Office of Indian Affairs, to come in late yesterday afternoon to tell me something about the Navajo situation, about which I wrote in my column a few days ago.
It appears that the land on the reservation, in eighty-one years, has completely changed because of over-grazing. What was once meadow land with plenty of water and beautiful grass, is now practically desert. The wooded slopes have disappeared, floods wash away the top soil and the grass no longer exists. It is quite evident that, in order to bring it back, there must be a drastic curtailment of cattle, wild horses, goats and sheep.
This means that a people, whose average cash income is only about $120 a year, must either go on relief, which they want at all costs to avoid, or starve to death. The only other solution seems to be the possibility of carrying through an irrigation project which will allow them to irrigate enough land so they can raise crops to feed their cattle at certain times, and also to grow some cash crop if the difficulty of transportation can be overcome.
The decision on the irrigation is, of course, up to Congress. At the present time, I can quite understand the argument against putting money into anything which can be set aside to be done when the defense period is over. Still, if Congress decides that this is necessary, it seems to me that they have a joint responsibility with the Office of Indian Affairs to devise some means by which these naturally independent American citizens can earn their living and not feel dependent upon the Government for a chance merely to survive.
Here is another problem which has come to me. You know and I know how bitterly the Negro people are disturbed over their inability to participate in national defense, or to obtain employment in defense industries. Here again, there are many difficulties and complications. But there is just one little item into which I think all of us could look in our respective communities.
In New York City there are 2,845 Negro youth workers on NYA, of whom 1,245 are girls. This group comprises 15.6 percent of the program in New York City. There is no discrimination in training and it is open to all girls. It has been found that the Negro girls are fitted to take training in as many different fields as the white girls, but in New York City and the State, the greatest number of employment opportunities for Negro girls are in domestic service.
The next employment opportunities lie in the operation of power sewing machines, because the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union allows no race discrimination. In all the other fields of training, employment opportunities for Negro girls as against white girls, are extremely limited.
This living in a democracy is a problem, isn't it?