For Fair Employment: 1941-50
One of the main pillars for the African American civil rights movement of the 1940s was the creation of a Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) that would insure legal equality in hiring and promotion in the workplace. Other major issues were passage of a federal anti-lynching law and a federal law prohibiting imposition of poll taxes. Of these, only the FEPC achieved partial success in that decade.

The fight for a permanent FEPC was hampered by a split in the civil rights movement between A. Phillip Randolph and his allies and activists allied with the U.S. Communist Party.

Randolph, formerly head of the National Negro Congress (NNC), split with the broad-based group in 1940 over a resolution opposing “imperialist” war in Europe and another moving the group closer to the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Randolph headed the American Federation of Labor (AFL) affiliated Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

Randolph understood that the U.S. was moving closer to intervention in Europe through its build-up of defense industry and sought to pressure the federal government to guarantee non-discrimination in the workplace. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt failed to act, Randolph called for a march on Washington to be held July 1 1941.

Randolph established March on Washington Movement committees in many cities and called for the establishment of an FEPC. The NNC also took up the cry but work was done independently by the two organizations.

Pressure on President Roosevelt built as 100,000 African Americans were predicted to march in Washington, D.C. Such an event would be a major embarrassment for the U.S. since fascist forces in Europe could point to American hypocrisy. A week before the march, Roosevelt agreed to issue an executive order desegregating defense industries and establishing an FEPC. In return, Randolph cancelled the march.

Throughout the war, MOWM and the NNC picketed and pressured the federal government to desegregate. The biggest victory locally occurred at the Glenn L. Martin aircraft factory outside of Baltimore and the biggest defeat at the Capital Transit Company in Washington.

The FEPC terminated with the war’s end in 1945 and activists waged a serious campaign for a permanent FEPC until 1950. The campaign resulted in President Harry S. Truman issuing an executive order desegregating the U.S. Armed Forces in 1948. The House approved a permanent FEPC in 1950, but Southern Democrats staged a filibuster in the Senate and the bill failed.

This largely ended the effort along with the post-World War II red scare that robbed many civil rights leaders of their jobs and some of their freedom.

The civil rights movement of the 1960s ultimately succeeded in this goal through passage of Title 7 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and subsequent Executive Orders.
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