Fair Employment Practices Commission

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The Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) implemented US Executive Order 8802 in 1941, requiring that companies with government contracts not discriminate on the basis of race or religion. It was intended to help African Americans and other minorities obtain jobs in the homefront industry during World War II.

History[edit]

On June 25, 1941, President Roosevelt created the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) by signing Executive Order 8802, which stated, "there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or government because of race, creed, color, or national origin." This was due in large part to the urging of A. Philip Randolph, who was the founding president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Randolph was demanding for change in employment practices in the defense industries. Since African-Americans and other minority groups were turned away from these jobs based on their race, Randolph was determined for a change in these industries to permit people of color to work. Randolph demanded that President Roosevelt to issue an ordinance that would make it mandatory for African Americans and other minority groups to be permitted work in the defense industries. Randolph was working with other activists at the time and organized the 1941 March on Washington to protest the governments use of racial discrimination in employment opportunities in the military and defense industries. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, out of fear that the march would actually occur, thus issued Executive Order 8820 and created the Fair Employment Practices Committee to “enforce the order and recommend any measures 'deemed necessary or proper to effectuate' its provisions”[1] Randolph and others believed that the effectiveness of this new committee would be dependent on workers vigilantly keeping records at their work places and presenting each individual case to the committee.

FEPC press conference
An FEPC press conference, ca. 1942.

Beginning of FEPC[edit]

After the executive order was signed, there were still many defense industries that refused to acknowledged the ordinance and failed to employ African Americans. As Roosevelt's first appointed member to the FEPC, Mark Etheridge, a liberal editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, was selected. Etheridge was selected as a member because he brought “important political connections and public relations expertise to the job” but he “emphasized interracial cooperation over equality and refused to challenge the southern system of segregation.”[1] President Roosevelt had only chartered the Fair Employment Practices Commission only $80,000 in its first year which limited the amount of work that could actually be done so Etheridge was contained to a few activities in certain areas of the country. The first of these hearings was held in Los Angeles later that year in October 1941. Despite the several companies coming clean and saying that they were discriminating based on race when hiring for new job positions and continued to do so even after Executive Order 8820 was issued, Etheride did nothing to change the employment practices at hand. This lack of enforcement caused doubt in many union leaders, civil rights leaders, government officials, and employers as to the reasons for the FEPC and the President's order resulting in actual change.

Second Hearing[edit]

There were several proponents and supporters of the Fair Employment Practices Commission during the second round of hearings held in Chicago and New York in January and February of 1942. support for the commission was high in these cities for several reasons as opposed to the first round of hearings. To begin, members in office of the FEPC in these cities were held by influential black attorneys who also worked closely with activists from the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the NAACP, and other influential groups. Also, both cities had “activists formed Metropolitan Fair Employment Practice Councils to help workers document discrimination and bring complaints before the FEPC and push local officials to implement Roosevelt's order.”[1] Mark Etheridge actions also took a drastic change in comparison to the first hearing in Los Angeles the prior year. This time around, he began by stating his opinions against discrimination in the employment practices of companies who disobey the executive order. Unlike the Los Angeles hearings, Etheridge took action against those companies that were on trial for going against the ordinance. For companies in Chicago and Milwaukee, he demanded that all the companies on trial update their employment policies. To confirm this change, the companies were made to document the changes made and send their updated information to employment agencies as well as send in reports about their employment status to the Fair Employment Practices Commission.[1] Although the FEPC did not directly end racial and cultural employment discrimination in New York or Chicago, they did play some role. Those that did the most work to reduce the employment discrimination that was occurring were those government officials and local activists who joined forced and worked together to enforce President Franklin D. Roosevelt's executive order.

Employment[edit]

Less than a year from being issued, the Fair Employment Practices Commission did not fully end discrimination in companies employment services but there were more African American and other minority groups being employed by the defense industries in the United States such as in shipbuilding and aircraft plants. The area with the most significant change in employment of African Americans was in the automobile plants. This was due to the many activists and officials in the Congress of Industrial Organizations, CIO, pressuring the companies and threatening white union members of risking getting fired from their job if they refused to work along side other African Americans.

Challenges[edit]

The Fair Employment Practices Commission received great resistance in the South since this is where opposition came from local employers, elected officials, and also where the civil rights organizations were weaker in comparison to the rest of the nation. The only places where the executive order was actually put n place was in places where there were black activists who could get their local officials to address the problem at hand, discrimination in employment. Roosevelt set up the FEPC to quell demands for equality, and the organization was given little power to regulate employment practices. The FEPC was given a very low budget, a low number of personnel, and little means for reinforcement,[2] leading many historians to claim that it was set up for failure. Federal authorities in Washington actively frustrated the FEPC’s efforts; for example, the Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles advised President Roosevelt that the State Department was “strongly opposed" to the public hearings that the FEPC was planning to hold in June 1942.[3] During the first year, the Fair Employment Practices Commission had only received $80,000 from the government as their budget. Over time, the committee's employment went up but even then, the total budget was $431,609 which by governmental fundings was still below the average spending on other governmental positions.[4] Those that opposed the FEPC did so in many ways. Many efforts were taken to discredit the committee by addressing the constitutionality of the commission and accusing the FEPC of communism. Many attacks on the agency centered in Congress in hearing in from of a House of Representatives Committee to discredit the agency entirely. Other oppositions went to the Senate to get all executive agencies that were created from executive orders, targeted specifically to the Fair Employment Practices Commission, to only have money for spending if that money was appropriated to them by Congress.[5] This action was to further attempt to limit the money the FEPC would have to execute hearings and other actions that would enforce the executive order. Another problem relating to the FEPC was that the agency did not have the legal power it needed in order to fully address employment discrimination. Critics of the FEPC argue that the agency that was created in response to President Franklin D Roosevelt's executive order was developed to appease Randolph and the other march organizers into canceling the march on Washington that they were advocating. The FEPC did not have any legal authority to enforce equal employment in regards to race but instead only could act through hearings and such to fix what has been presented to them through these hearings. At large, the commission only had a limited range of power and could not offer a widespread solution. Since the Fair Employment Practices Commission was created to enforce Executive Order 8802, the agency was only limited to the defense industries and had no power in other industries of employment where “numerous Negroes were employed or sought employment.”[6]

Within the private sector of the Northern region of the United States, the FEPC was generally successful in enforcing non-discrimination. In the border region, its intervention led to hate strikes by angry white workers. In the South, hate crimes and corruption among Southern government officials contributed to the FEPC's policies being relatively ineffective.

Overall, the FEPC itself was relatively ineffective in its efforts to address the issue of racial discrimination throughout World War II.

Changes with the FEPC[edit]

In August of 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and others noticed that the movement of the FEPC was reaching a halt and so the agency was put under control of the War Manpower Commission with Executive Order 9040 after giving into pressure from southern Democrats. In response to this transfer, FEPC Chairman MacLean accused Roosevelt’s administration of reducing the FEPC to “a small Federal bureau without power,” and A. Phillip Randolph asserted that the White House was pursuing a policy that was completely "emasculating" the usefulness of the committee.[7] The move was described by Roosevelt as an effort to support the anti-discrimination agency but instead had different results. As a start, the chairman of the War Manpower Commission “slashed its budget, denied requests for office space, and reused to aid int in conflicts with discriminatory contractors.”[1] In May, 1943, Roosevelt greatly strengthened the FEPC with a new executive order, Executive Order 9346. It required that all government contracts have a non-discrimination clause and broadened the jurisdiction of this agency to include federal government establishments. During World War II the federal government operated airfields, shipyards, supply centers, ammunition plants and other facilities that employed millions. The FEPC was now reinstated as an independent committee following Executive Order 9346 that would keep the agency running until the end of the war for defensive industries. Under the addition of the new executive order, the Fair Employment Practices Commission expanded its jurisdiction and now included “federal government departments and agencies as employers now were explicitly covered along with war industries, unions and war-training programs.”[8] To promote a permanent FEPC, A. Phillip Randolph recruited Anna Arnold Hedgeman, a young feminist, in 1944 to handle the movement of a National Council for a Permanent FEPC. Hedgeman's efforts to establish a permanence in FEPC include hiring a staff of only women since hiring professional lobbyists was out of the question and hire college students to help with the publicity and fundraising for the FEPC. She wanted the FEPC Councils to promote fair employment policies in both state and local governments. Laws were introduced to almost every state but not many states supported the FEPC laws. A bill for a nationwide FEPC law made its way to Harry S. Truman after the death of President Roosevelt in 1945, who wanted to lobby the bill. The bill was still up in the air by the time the second World War ended in August and so Congress “provided some additional funding but ordered the FEPC to cease all operations by June 30, 1946.”[1]

Legacy[edit]

The Fair Employment Practices Commission did not end racial discrimination in employment practices during World War II but it did have a lasting impact in that era. From the very onset of the issue, Executive Order 8802 was signed into action because PresidentFranklin D. Roosevelt did not want a march on Washington to occur. The fear of large amounts of protestors against the governments employment policies scared Roosevelt and promoted action. The FEPC although did not result in immediate and drastic change, it did support the idea that “economic rights can be obtained principally by activity in the economic sphere: through education, protest, self-help, and, at times, intimidation” and did so by gaining the support of states and government to eliminate racial discrimination in employment practices.[9] Even though the Fair Employment Practices Commission had a short run from 1941 to 1946, the actions before it was suspended allowed for other groups such as the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights to sustain the National Council for a Permanent FEPC and other workings on the FEPC. In 1948, President Truman called for a permanent FEPC, anti-lynching legislation, and the abolition of the poll tax. A Democratic coalition, however, prevented the legislation's passage. In 1950, the House approved a permanent FEPC bill, but Southern senators filibustered and the bill failed. Thus, Congress has never enacted the FEPC into law. A lack of permanent legislation to reinforce the FEPC and the controversy plaguing the bill inherently contributed to the FEPC's ineffective implementation. However, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Washington successfully enacted and enforced their own FEPC laws at the state level.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Jones, William P. (2013). The March on Washington : jobs, freedom, and the forgotten history of civil rights (First Edition. ed.). New York: W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 9780393082852. 
  2. ^ Takaki, Ronald T. Double Victory: A Multicultural History of America in World War II. Boston: Little, Brown and, 2000. Print.
  3. ^ Takaki, Ronald T. Double Victory: A Multicultural History of America in World War II. Boston: Little, Brown and, 2000. Print.
  4. ^ Takaki, Ronald (2000). Double victory : a multicultural history of America in World War II (1st ed ed.). Boston, Mass. [u.a.]: Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316831550. 
  5. ^ Brazeal, B. R. (July 1, 1951). "The Present Status and Programs of Fair Employment Practices Commissions-Federal, State, and Municipal". The Journal of Negro Education 20 (3): 378–397. doi:10.2307/2966012. 
  6. ^ Kesselman, Louis C. (January 1946). "The Fair Employment Practice Commission Movement in Perspective". The Journal of Negro History 31 (1): 30–46. doi:10.2307/2714966. 
  7. ^ Takaki, Ronald T. Double Victory: A Multicultural History of America in World War II. Boston: Little, Brown and, 2000. Print.
  8. ^ Brazeal, B. R. (July 1, 1951). "The Present Status and Programs of Fair Employment Practices Commissions-Federal, State, and Municipal". The Journal of Negro Education 20 (3): 378–397. doi:10.2307/2966012. 
  9. ^ Kesselman, Louis C. (January 1946). "The Fair Employment Practice Commission Movement in Perspective". The Journal of Negro History 31 (1): 30–46. doi:10.2307/2714966. 
  • William J. Collins, "Race, Roosevelt, and Wartime Production: Fair Employment in World War II Labor Markets," American Economic Review 91:1 (March 2001), pp. 272–286. in JSTOR
  • Finley, Keith M. Delaying the Dream: Southern Senators and the Fight Against Civil Rights, 1938-1965 (Baton Rouge, LSU Press, 2008).
  • Herbert Garfinkel. When Negroes March: The March on Washington and the Organizational Politics for FEPC 1959.
  • Fritz Hamer, "The Charleston Navy Yard and World War II: Implementing Executive Order 8802. 1941-1945" 2003 scholarly paper
  • Michael K. Honey. Southern Labor and Black Civil Rights: Organizing Memphis Workers (1993)
  • Andrew Edmund Kersten, Race, Jobs, and the War: The FEPC in the Midwest, 1941-46 (2000)
  • Merl E. Reed. Seedtime for the Modern Civil Rights Movement: The President's Committee on Fair Employment Practice, 1941-1946 (1991)
  • Santoro, Wayne Arthur. "The Civil Rights Movement's Struggle for Fair Employment: A "Dramatic Events-Conventional Politics" Model"
  • Social Forces - Vol 81#1 (September 2002), pp. 177–206 in Project Muse.
  • Abel, Joseph. "African Americans, Labor Unions, And The Struggle For Fair Employment In The Aircraft Manufacturing Industry Of Texas, 1941-1945." Journal of Southern History 77.3 (2011): 595-638. Academic Search Complete. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.
  • Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States: 1492–present. New York: Harper Collins, 2003. Print.

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