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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

NARA Databases: Fair Employment Practices Committee

WWII War Industry Workers Discrimination Files

By Martha Wallace

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.

 The records contain stories of brave men and 
women who filed complaints with the FEPC

Complaints could be lodged against a busi­ness, union, or gov­ernment agency and fell into the categories of race, relig­ion, na­tional origin, and citi­zenship. Complaints devel­oped from four gen­eral types of griev­ances:

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.
2. Company policies and practices did not al­low the hiring of certain groups. Often the excuse was that the whites, or whites from the South, would not tolerate working with the minorities. This trans­lated into a need for separate facilities (changing rooms, more offices, etc.) leading to greater cost and space problems.

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.
A California Supreme Court Case, James vs. Marinship and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (February 1944) dealt with union dis­crimination. The decision held that aux­iliaries were il­legal and that unions could not ex­clude African Ameri­cans when there was a closed shop in the industry. It effec­tively vacated the union’s practice of re­quiring auxiliary member­ship for African Ameri­cans who worked in the shipyards and ordered the union to grant them equal mem­bership with other shipyard workers.

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.

Check the FEPC Index (link below) If you find a file of interest fill in the research form and contact NARA to set up a time to view the files, which need to be brought from the stacks. The thrill of reading the whole story and perhaps finding a letter with your ancestor’s signature is not to be missed!

Betty Reid Soskin 3376
NPS Photo

During World War II Betty Reid Soskin worked as a clerk for Boilermakers Union A-36, an Afri­can-American auxiliary. Today she is a park ranger at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Rich­mond, which explores and honors the role of women and African-Americans in war industries

The National Archives, Pacific Region, San Francisco
1000 Commodore Drive, San Bruno, CA 94066-2350
(650) 238-3501

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