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By Daniel Lewis, ProQuest Product Manager
In the 1920s, the relationship between Black workers and American corporations changed dramatically with the formation of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), led by A. Philip Randolph.
In 1935, the BSCP reached an important milestone when the American Federation of Labor (AFL) granted the BSCP an international charter. At the same time, the NAACP began to increase its activity pertaining to employment discrimination. In the 1930s, the NAACP worked to influence race relations in federal employment.
In 1941, as the United States prepared for entry into World War II, A. Philip Randolph and the BSCP announced plans for a March on Washington to force an end to discrimination in war-related employment. Randolph reached out to the NAACP as well as Eleanor Roosevelt and others as he formed the March on Washington Movement. In response to Randolph’s March on Washington Movement, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, which outlawed discrimination in unions and in companies doing business with the government.
The pressure brought by Randolph and the March on Washington Movement in 1941 was indicative of how protest efforts could spur legal change. Perhaps the most well-known single event in this regard is the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. While the March is today remembered primarily for Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, employment issues were a central concern of the march.
Less than one year after that second March on Washington, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination “under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance” (Title VI) and applied all federal equal employment opportunity regulations to labor organizations, as well as employers. A year later, President Johnson further strengthened legal regulations against employment discrimination with Executive Order 11246. Johnson’s order specifically prohibited racial discrimination in all executive branch departments and agencies, as well as by government contractors, and on federally-assisted construction projects.
Following the passage of these two important pieces of legislation, the NAACP redoubled its efforts against employment discrimination. In the 1960s and early 1970s, the NAACP brought numerous employment discrimination cases against employers and labor unions.
All of these efforts, beginning with the BSCP and the NAACP in the 1920s and continuing through the NAACP legal cases of the 1930s and through the early 1970s, are well-documented in many of the manuscript and archival collections digitized since 2011 in the ProQuest History Vault. The Records of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, as well as the Papers of A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin can be found in History Vault’s Black Freedom Struggle in the 20th Century: Organizational Records and Personal Papers, Part 1, along with SCLC records pertaining to the 1963 March on Washington.
The NAACP’s efforts against employment discrimination are just one of the themes addressed in the six modules of The NAACP Papers, recently recognized by Library Journal as a Best Reference Pick for 2014. The Black Freedom Struggle in the 20th Century: Federal Government Records contains records on employment and many other civil rights issues from the Franklin D. Roosevelt through the Nixon administration, as well as records from the Carter and George H. W. Bush administrations.
The latest History Vault module, The Black Freedom Struggle in the 20th Century: Federal Government Records, Supplement, which went online on April 20, 2015, adds records from the Ford and Reagan presidencies to History Vault, allowing researchers to trace employment issues from the turn of the 20th Century through to the early 1990s.
The employment-related records from the Reagan administration pertain to President Reagan’s consideration of several controversial proposals to revise President Johnson's Executive Order. The correspondence in this module reveals the depth of feeling engendered by affirmative action. A commissioner in the New York State Division of Human Rights asserted, for example, that it would be "a tragedy" if Ronald Reagan repealed President Johnson's executive order: "Repeal of Executive Order 11246 would be seen as a retreat, both symbolically and in practice, of the national commitment to equal opportunity for all. To some, it would signal permission for a return to an era in which blind and indifferent government allowed discrimination to fester and to poison relations between Americans" (105502-001-0316).
The coverage of affirmative action and employment issues is just one of the themes traced via The Black Freedom Struggle in the 20th Century: Federal Government Records, Supplement. Other topics covered in the Reagan administration files in this module are school desegregation and busing, housing, the Civil Rights Restoration Act, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Voting Rights Act of 1982, the cases of Grove City College v Bell and Bob Jones University v U.S.
Primary sources, such as those in ProQuest History Vault, provide access to profoundly personal documents that help to develop critical thinking. With real knowledge of the past, we can influence history moving forward.
Librarians: Learn more and sign up for free trials of ProQuest History Vault and other ProQuest resources, including ProQuest Executive Orders and Presidential Proclamations, Black Studies Center, Black Historical Newspapers, and ebooks.