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Domestic Work

Many women who live in slum ghettos work as domestics in the homes of white persons in other neighborhoods.1 In Cleveland, the Commission heard Mrs. Geraldine Roberts describe their condition.

Mrs. Roberts-herself a domestic worker since the age of eight 62. had attempted to organize domestics in Cleveland. She testified that Negro women become domestic workers for various reasons, including lack of training for other types of work and discrimination against Negroes who migrate to the city and cannot find other employment even though they may be qualified. In addition, she said: "Some people just don't like to get welfare so they rather take a chance trying to work, even though they know it's not much security." » 63 She suggested that since domestic workers are not covered by minimum wage laws, employers pay them as little as possible.

Mrs. Roberts estimated that the average domestic worker's salary in Cleveland was $35-$40 per week, but she added that it was quite normal for women to work for $25. Asked how many hours a week this work involved, she replied:

Sometimes you just stay until you are told to go

home.... Usually, they ask for five days or five and a
half days.**

She said that at the end of the month, when her rent is paid, she "sometimes [has] no more than a couple of dollars left." "


The low pay is accompanied by lack of even the most elementary security. Many domestic workers don't pay Social Security "because the pay is so low." They receive no sick or vacation pay, and have difficulty obtaining credit.

Domestic workers meet large obstacles in trying to improve their condition. Efforts to organize meet employer resistance; Mrs. Roberts testified that she was fired when she attempted to unionize other workers and many fear the same fate. Individual efforts such as attending night school after work also are difficult to sustain:

Often, we attempt night school but then if the employer
asks a domestic worker to stay late even though it might
be a class night, they have no choice but to stay....



Residents of slum ghettos often are exploited as a result of their race and poverty. For example, because racial discrimination limits the supply of housing available to Negroes, landlords can and do charge

them artificially high prices for inferior housing. Mrs. Velma Woods, the second Negro to move into the Clevelander, an apartment building in Hough, testified that when she moved in she paid $104 a month for three and a half rooms. This was more rent, she stated, than white tenants were paying for apartments of the same size:

Well, the white neighbors had been living there 25 or 30 years, and they didn't want to move and they said they never paid over $60 a month for no apartment in there. The largest apartment was renting for $60 a month. He said, "You colored people should get together and do something about it." At that time Cleveland was overcrowded and there was nowhere for colored people to live. A lot of people wanted a decent place to live. Because they lack ready cash, slum residents often are forced to seek credit at exorbitant rates in order to purchase necessary items. Several witnesses confirmed the statement of a Negro pastor in Newark that people in the ghetto


... are exploited by the merchants . . . . They cannot
pay right out because they do not have the monies in
circulation. So, therefore, they have to pay on time. And
because of this, they pay double for items.


Similarly, Mrs. Friels told the Indiana State Advisory Committee that because welfare mothers in Gary cannot get credit from large chain stores to purchase such necessary items as a gas heater, they generally have to patronize small furniture stores which "charge you twice the thing they cost." And Mrs. Lenoir said:

99 70

Just last night I went to price a used refrigerator at the
stores right in this area that will let welfare people have
credit. And there was one particular store that had a re-
frigerator, $160 credit, $129 cash. $18... down payment,
$12 a month for 18 months plus $35 carrying charge, if
you would get it on credit [you would pay] double the
amount that it's really supposed to cost.



Exploitation assumes other forms. Welfare mothers in Cleveland and Gary said that merchants raised prices when welfare checks were issued. Mrs. Ella Kershaw in Cleveland stated that prices usually drop near the end of the month when the welfare money has been spent." Mrs. King told the Commission that stores usually run sales at the time of the month when the welfare money has been exhausted and suspend the sales on the day the welfare checks come due.73

Business and Property

Economic conditions in the slums make it difficult to own or maintain property. Mrs. Genevieve Jefferson testified that after her neighborhood in San Francisco had shifted from white to predominantly Negro, her neighbor


... came over quite upset one day. Her insurance had
been cancelled. . . . [T]he man who had handled her
insurance was very apologetic and in order to ex-
plain the reason ... for this he enclosed a little note
from the-I don't know whether it was a broker or an in-
surance company or who-with whom he had placed the
insurance, and the gist of it was that “[w]e don't want to
insure in that neighborhood any longer. Frankly, we
don't want their business." That was the line I still

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Similarly, many insurance companies will not insure businesses in slum areas." Lack of insurance depresses property maintenance and business investments.

The owner of the Alhambra apartment house in Cleveland testified that obtaining insurance was one of his major problems in operating the building." Testifying before the 1966 riot in Cleveland's Hough area, Mr. Thorington described his problems in attempting to insure his grocery store in Hough:

My first year in business, I obtained insurance at a reason-
able rate. At the end of the year, I was notified without
any reason whatsoever that they were canceling it, they
just said they weren't carrying insurance in that area any
more. No prior notice. . . . I shopped around and I
found out it is no longer a case of shopping around for
insurance companies, it is a case of an insurance company
who will accept you. Burglary insurance, window insur-
ance, this type of thing is practically impossible to get
unless you have been there for a long period of time and
you had it and kept it. But obtaining it now is practically


Obtaining insurance is not the only problem of the small businessman in a slum area. Mr. Thorington described the credit problems of a small businessman in Hough:

[T]he primary problem is always financing. Every bus-
iness, particularly a small business, a Negro business in a

deteriorated area, runs into financial problems at one time or another and it is necessary to obtain a quick small loan.T Loans through Federal programs take too long to be processed, according to Mr. Thorington:

I think the need is for a type of agency where a merchant,
a businessman, can go the same as he would go to a bank
or loan company and get a loan within a week or ten
days because if a business is hurting enough that he needs
a loan and it takes three or four or five months to get that
loan, by the time the loan comes through, he is either
dead or it doesn't matter any more."


Because Mr. Thorington's store is located in a slum, he has difficulty obtaining credit although he, in turn, must extend credit to his customers. He testified:

Credit for any merchant in an area of this kind is essen-
tial. It is not only essential, it is almost the backbone of it.
Because most of the people in the area are living on ADC
checks, welfare checks, old age checks, construction work,
seasonal work. Their income comes in at certain fixed


Mr. Thorington testified that three out of five customers do pay their bills but with the other two, "you are stuck":

It is a hard thing with credit because here is a person who
has been doing business with you right along. They
always come up, they always pay you and one day they
come up and say: "I am a dollar short. I need some food.
Can you let me have it?" You got to go along with them.
They come in the next day and say: "That check I was
looking for didn't come. Could you give me another
dollar?" Finally you wind up, you've got a bill for about
$10 and they pay it.


The next month they will come in and the same story,
they will run up to $15. They pay it. So you say, this
guy's pretty good, he'll pay me. So you open the door and
say: "Okay. Well, when you need something, come on in.'
He runs up a bill of $30. The day his check comes in, the
day he usually pays you, you look for him. You don't see
him. Finally his friends come in. "Hey, you know Bob
moved-he's gone." There you are, you're stuck. No
recourse. That is your problem with credit there.81

In San Francisco, Dr. Goodlett, owner of a Negro newspaper, was asked what factors impede the growth of Negro businesses:

Well, Negro business in the main, as other forms of busi-
ness, require capital and experience... and most
Negro businesses are first generation businesses and,
moreover, in a very competitive city, such as San Fran-
cisco, traditional businesses in which Negroes engage,
such as cafes, barber shops, etcetera are monopolized by
other groups, and a Negro cafe in the main caters only to
Negroes. If you cater to a poor clientele, you in the main
will conduct a very poor and insecure business.82

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