The Bronx Slave Market

Have you ever heard of the Bronx Slave Market? During the Great Depression, many people faced unemployment, foreclosure, hunger and hardship. If you were African-American, you faced the added trauma of having to deal with racism on top of economic hardship. If you were an African-American woman you had to deal with racism, economic hardship and sexism. For some African-American women, the Bronx slave market was a last resort.

Some of the most notable areas of the Bronx slave market include, the areas of Jerome avenue and Simpson avenue in New York city’s Bronx. It was a predominately, white, upper-middle class area, that also had a sizable, middle-class, Jewish population.

Before the Great Depression, many African-American women had worked as full time domestics or worked in the industrial field, such as factories or assembly lines. Others had maintained a stay-at-home life with their husbands. When the Great Depression hit, many sought out day work in the Bronx where they would wait for wealthy, white women to hire them for a few hours or maybe a day to work. They made on average between 15- 30 cents an hour.

Every morning between 8am and 1pm, rain, snow or shine, poor, displaced African-American women stood on the two corners and waited to work for meager pay. Sometimes, a dishonest client would neglect to pay the African-American women or pay them less than what they bargained for. Some clients even set back the hours on the clocks so that the African-American domestic workers had to work longer hours for less pay. The kinder clients would pay a fair price,  pay for the African-American women’s carfare and allow them to have a lunch break.


Sometimes, African-American women who were literally starving were willing to take any amount of pay just to get work and a possible meal for a day. These women who were willing to work longs hours for meager and unfair pay created competition and animosity between the other African-American women who demanded the minimum wage and adequate pay necessary for their labor.

What Kinds of Work Did the African-American Women Domestics Do?

Washing windows, waxing the floors on hands and knees, doing laundry,  doing dishes, washing baby linens, sweeping floors and cleaning bathrooms.

The area in the Bronx had a sizable Jewish community, so often during the Jewish Holidays, more African-American women were hired for the extra help needed. In addition to cleaning duties, some of the African-American women who worked for orthodox Jewish families had to adhere to  Kosher customs and  be mindful when cleaning the dishes to use a different dish cloth for each dish that they washed.

The “Other Kind of Work?” 

Cleaning wasn’t the only kind of the work that some of the African-American women on the Bronx Slave Market did. Sometimes, when well-to-do housewives didn’t come by, husbands and other men did come by. This brand of customer usually wasn’t there to pick up women for cleaning, but instead picked up women for sexual services. Under the radar, many white men had sexual liaisons with the women.

How African-American Women Created a Mini-Union on the Bronx Slave Market:

Eventually, to earn fair wages, the African-American women on the Bronx slave market started a mini-union where every African-American woman who wanted to work from the corner, was required to accept no pay less than 20 cents an hour and 35 cents an hour during the Christmas and various Jewish Holidays due to the higher demand for labor and extra work they had to put in.

African-American women who stood on the corners faced not only economic hardship  but faced the possibility of abuse at the hands of corrupt customers. The Bronx slave market was not an ideal situation for many African-American women, but it was a last resort in a very desperate and discriminatory time.


24 thoughts on “The Bronx Slave Market”

  1. Great post peanut. I was not aware of this and it is very sad to hear. The horrible treatment of African-Americans is beyond belief at times.


  2. This situation could by no means be compared to a ‘slave market’ People may turn up their noses at people who do domestic work, but it is honest work that supported many families. The women who came to polish floors showed up at a different hour than the women who came to polish knobs. Women and men of many nationalities would look for this type of work. Well to do black women in Harlem usually hired the Irish for the same cleaning and cooking jobs.


    1. Not the cleaning. The prostitution certainly can be. Also, these women were working for very little in an environment they were not accustomed to, where there was very little trust in the relationship. Even I have to admit that the Bronx Jewish community are kinda racist.


  3. Prostitution is not known as the world’s oldest profession for nothing. These women were well aware of the situation. You should probably become familiar with the works of Zora Neale Hurston. You may gain better insight of the black lifestyle and way of thinking at the time.
    It can’t be said that Jews are racists. I notice they will hire a West Indian or African even to this day before an African American, but this cannot be termed racism. (There are West Indian sections of the city that were clean, low crime and supported by the Jewish health and home care system.)


    1. I’m a Jew with relatives in the Bronx. I’m not making a claim based on no information. They can be rather annoyingly small-minded, racist, sexist, and Christian- and Muslim-hating (although I do mostly understand that, the former more than the latter). They do not trust any cleaning person not to steal from them. Prostitution is a great, great evil and can certainly be considered slavery, since you are selling your body and soul.


  4. Prostitution is expected of a Jewish woman at the request of her husband, or patriarch. Sex with a married woman was an abomination to the Egyptians, not to Abraham.
    Religionists of any type are small-minded to due to the tenets of their belief. Jews believe that they are the Chosen and everyone else is the goyem. Women in general are unclean to the Jewish male and thus are separated in the synagogue.
    Being wary of an employee of any type is healthy.


    1. This is such shtus that I wonder where you can possibly have heard it. Either partner can demand that the other sleep with them in a marriage, since sex is a sacred duty for both of them. Sex with a woman who is married to you is a commanded practice, whether or not she can conceive. In what way are you saying Avraham would have slept with a married woman? If you mean with his wives, of course he did, and if you mean with other woman, I’d like to hear an example.
      Jews believe that ANYONE can get into the World to Come, so long as they are righteous, but that we were chosen as the ones to spread justice and peace and the ones singled out to follow the Torah.
      Women are tamei when they are in niddah, which is when they have had a period and not gone to mikvah. This makes it assur to sleep with or touch them. Only married women and brides go to mikvah. Women are separated in shul to prevent erotic distraction on the part of the men, who have far more commandments in this regard than do women, since they are prohibited to waste sperm.


    2. Furthermore, “goyim” means “nations”. Jews are a “goy”. The misuse of this term as a racial slur in some areas of the Jewish community offends me deeply.
      Also, in what sense is it “prostitution” when it is consensual sex between married partners?


  5. Abraham asked Sarah to prostitute herself on two noted occasions, for profit and for protection. Abraham had his wife Sarah claim to be his sister rather than his wife in dealing with Pharoah in Egypt and also Abimelech in Gerer. Later Isaac used the same ploy saying that his wife Rebekah was his sister for the same profit and protection.
    There are Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) who inhabit the Earth. God’s covenant was only made with the seed of Abraham


    1. She didn’t sleep with either of them, so in what sense is it prostitution?
      God’s covenant was made with us and with all who join us, and they are likewise considered Avraham’s children. We accept converts, and they are called up for aliyos under the names of the avos.. But because there is virtually no benefit to being a righteous Jew over a righteous Gentile, we have a custom of turning them away three times. We do prevent intermarriage, but we allow women and men to convert in.


  6. Tradition claims that God stopped Pharoah and Abimelech fron having sex with a woman delivered up for sex concerning both Sarah and Rebekah. Abraham and Isaac were both paid an enormous sums for whatever took place in the houses of the men, not their husbands.
    Converts are held at a lower standard, little more than Gentiles.


    1. They were paid large sums of money as BRIBES TO GO AWAY, since God cursed the kings’ households with infertility. They were going to be RAPED, and Jewish tradition says a woman or man may consent to rape if it will save a life.
      Converts are not considered at a lower standard. They are are merely (and unfortunately) subjected to scrutiny as to the details of their conversion. Also, we don’t trust their virginity. A proper convert, who has gone through an Orthodox conversion and follows the mitzvos, is just as Jewish as I am, and can marry anyone but a kohein.


  7. So even considering your double speak, you agree that Jewish women can be prostituted by their husbands and converts to Judaism from the Gentiles are held at a lower standard.


    1. mike where in TZ comments are you getting that she said that she agreed that Jewish women can be prostituted by their husbands?… because I didn’t get that from her comments.


  8. “Jewish tradition says a woman or man may consent to rape if it will save a life”
    Rape is too strong a word when the sex is consentual. Neither Sarah nor Rebekah were threatened with rape when they consented to present themselves as sisters rather than wives.


    1. Did you read the same text I did? Actually, you probably didn’t. As a child, I was taught that he was afraid that they would kill him in order to marry her if they knew that he was married to her. In order to save his own life, he pretended she was his sister and waited for Hashem to do something. And yes, it’s considered rape under law, since she had no choice.


    1. No, she was a PERSON. Seriously, do you have any idea what you’re saying? She could disobey her husband all she pleased. She just had certain duties inherent in the bond of marriage. He had similar duties to her.


      1. TZ, honestly I wouldn’t waste my time going back and forth with Mike, if he doesn’t wanna get it, he’s not going to. i understand your point though.


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