Southern Conference for Human Welfare

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This article is about the New Deal organization. For the first SCHW meeting, see 1938 Southern Conference for Human Welfare meeting.

The Southern Conference for Human Welfare (SCHW) was a Birmingham-based organization promoting the implementation of progressive political reforms in Alabama and the South, largely through the agency of President Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal". As a visible confluence of Southern liberal activism, it displayed vulnerability to right-wing criticism and faded quickly after its public debut.

The conference was organized by Birmingham-born labor advocate Joseph Gelders and Virginia native Lucy Randolph Mason to build on the research conducted by Roosevelt's Report on the Economic Conditions of the South, which found that ambitious federal programs were making little headway in improving human welfare in impoverished regions of the Southern states. Eleanor Roosevelt championed the regional conference and urged it to address broader social problems, including racial injustice. Birmingham native Virginia Foster Durr was also a charter member and served as vice-chair of the Civil Rights committee, which was deeply involved in efforts to abolish poll taxes.

1938 Conference and aftermath

The SCHW held its inaugural meeting in Birmingham November 20-23, 1938 with more than 1,200 attendees participating in discussion of issues ranging from farm tenancy to prison reform and from child labor to railroad freight rates. Guests of honor included First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Governor Bibb Graves and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black.

The racially-integrated meetings on progressive political topics spurred a backlash from conservative interests in the state, including Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor, who attempted to break up one session. Local politicians withdrew from participation amid rumors of Communist association. National labor unions followed suit, and financial struggles forced the SCHW to scuttle plans for a follow-up conference in 1939.

The organization garnered more success raising money for "nonpolitical" educational efforts in the 1940s. The SCHW's Civil Rights committee split off to form the National Committee to Abolish the Poll Tax. The Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF) and its newsletter, the Southern Patriot thrived during the early years of the Civil Rights Movement.

Meanwhile the crippled parent organization weathered increased condemnation and investigations by the FBI Birmingham Field Office and the House Un-American Activities Committee. The conference's officers, divided over their endorsement in the upcoming presidential election voted to disband in 1948.


  • Krueger, Thomas A. (1967) And Promises to Keep: The Southern Conference for Human Welfare, 1938-1948. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press
  • Woodham, Rebecca (October 31, 2012) "Southern Conference for Human Welfare (SCHW)" Encyclopedia of Alabama - accessed March 11, 2014