Southern Conference for Human Welfare

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The Southern Conference for Human Welfare (SCHW) was formed in 1938 as the product of an alliance of southern liberals and radicals, black and white, who sought to bring the full force of New Deal reforms and Popular Front ideals to the South. It dissolved in 1948.[1]


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The 1938 Southern Conference for Human Welfare meeting was a landmark political meeting held in Birmingham from Sunday November 20 to Wednesday November 23, 1938. It was organized by the Birmingham-based Southern Conference for Human Welfare.

Publicity for the meeting heralded that, "the Conference, by providing a meeting ground for all Southern progressives, will promote mutual trust and cooperation between them for greater service to the South.” Fisk University sociologist Charles S. Johnson reported that the 1,200-plus attendees were a "curiously mixed body which included labor leaders and economists, farmers and sharecroppers, industrialists and social executives, government officials and civic leaders, ministers and politicians, students and interested individuals.

Guests of honor included First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, and Governor Bibb Graves. Also among the attendees, a fourth of whom were African-American, were the Works Progress Administration's Aubrey W. Williams, educator Mary McLeod Bethune, Avondale Mills president Donald Comer, Methodist minister James Dombrowski, Senator Claude Pepper, and SCHW co-founder Virginia Durr.[2]

Southern Conference Educational Fund

Financial woes forced the cancellation of the 1939 meeting, and the Southern Conference for Human Welfare continually struggled to pay the modest salaries of its small staff. Not until the months after World War II, when the organization held a series of fundraisers that often featured celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and Orson Welles, did its finances begin to improve significantly. Bolstered by their success, the officers voted in 1946 to create the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF), which would be the educational arm of the SCHW. James Dombrowski of the Highlander Folk School became director of the SCEF and edited its newspaper, the Southern Patriot. The following year, the SCEF became a separate organization and actually survived the SCHW by a number of years; it was particularly active during the civil rights movement. The SCEF differed from the SCHW primarily in that it was nonpolitical; whereas the SCHW tended to work through political channels, the SCEF worked largely through teaching and publishing. The main thrust of its work was to eradicate segregation in the South's schools and colleges.[3]