After the Daughters of the American Revolution bar Marian Anderson, a black contralto, from singing in Washington, D.C.'s Constitution Hall, Eleanor Roosevelt publicly resigns from the organization. The NAACP obtains permission from the Department of the Interior to have an outdoor concert at the Lincoln Memorial at which Marion Anderson performs. The event becomes a symbol for racial equality. Nevertheless, neither Eleanor nor Franklin Roosevelt publicly speak out against Jim Crow. Civil rights advocates throughout the 1930s fail to achieve anti-lynching legislation, the abolition of the poll tax, and full inclusion of blacks in a variety of New Deal programs.

In Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337 (1938), the Supreme Court decides in favor of Lloyd Gaines, a black student who had been refused admission to the University of Missouri Law School. The Court holds that the state must furnish Gaines "within its borders facilities for legal education substantially equal to those which the State there offered for the persons of the white race, whether or not other Negroes sought the same opportunity."