WWII War Industry Workers Discrimination Files
|Courtesy NARA at SF|
Did someone in your family work in an essential war industry in Northern California, Washington, Oregon or Nevada during World War II? Was this person a racial or religious minority, or from another country?
The Fair Employment Practices Committee was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt by Executive Order 8802 on June 25, 1941. The order banned discrimination in any defense industry receiving federal contracts by declaring … "there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or government because of race, creed, color, or national origin." The order also empowered the FEPC to investigate complaints and take action regarding employment discrimination. Only those cases that involved essential wartime industries were investigated.
It was created by President Roosevelt after A. Phillip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, threatened a march on Washington unless something was done to correct the great injustices in employment discrimination that were occurring, not only among African Americans, but also because of religion and nationality. FDR agreed to have the FEPC prohibit discrimination in defense plants, but he refused to address the issue of segregation in the military, which had been Randolph's original concern.
For the first two years, the Committee existed only in Washington, D. C., with little funding and power. In May 1943, the committee expanded to 13 regional and 5 sub-regional offices with power (and funding) to investigate claims, conduct hearings, and take steps to eliminate discrimination. The regional FEPC office in San Francisco handled all cases on the west coast, including Washington, Nevada, and Oregon, with a sub-office in Los Angeles.
Hiring by wartime industries was done in two general ways:
• Requests sent by a company or a government service (for example, Alameda Naval Air Station) to the USES (United States Employment Service).
• Requests sent to the union by a company with a union contract.
1. Supervisors often gave preference in types of jobs and promotions to whites, giving the African Americans and other minorities more menial jobs and not advancing them to positions which had better conditions and higher pay, although in many cases the complainant had received government training for the better position, and often had moved to the Bay Area from the Midwest or the South to take advantage of the job opportunities. Often minority workers doing the same job as white workers received less pay.
|Report from Richmond Shipyards, Electricians Union B-302. |
Courtesy NARA at SF
3. The other workers wouldn’t tolerate working with minorities. As explained above, companies said they tried to deal with this at great cost and inconvenience. The FEPC often sent a pamphlet “How Management Can Integrate Negroes in War Industries,” or would offer help to the company to deal with the issue.
4. Unions had written into their charters that African Americans and/or women were not allowed to join. The companies, especially the shipbuilding companies, had contracts with the unions and would not hire anyone who did not have a “ticket” from the union.
Once this was challenged, the unions created auxiliaries for African Americans. Although they paid full membership, they did not receive full membership benefits, including insurance, the right to vote, and the right to certain types of jobs – usually the better jobs in terms of conditions and pay.
|Letter to President Roosevelt from Lila James, Thanksgiving Day, 1942. |
Courtesy NARA st SF
The records contain stories of brave men and women who filed complaints with the FEPC. When the situations are described, the discrimination is often so blatant and the opportunities so obvious for retaliation against a complainant, that it is clear that it took amazing courage to come forth with the complaint.
The records produced in the San Francisco office of the FEPC for northern California, Portland, and Seattle had been stored away and rarely investigated until the recent creation of a database by Helen Crisman and Martha Wallace. The database is which is available at the National Archives, Pacific Region and on the SMCGS website.
These files are a valuable resource for those who are researching family history, wartime industry, the labor movement, and civil rights.
- FEPC Database (SMCGS.com). This file includes a longer description of the FEPC files.
- The NARA Databases - Overview and tips for Accessing Records
- Contact NARA, Pacific Region, San Francisco
- Results Form - FEPC Database