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Discrimination in Employment: Background - Fair Employment Practices

This guide accompanies the 2022 exhibit "Step by Step: The March Towards Equal Employment Opportunity" in the Industrial Relations - Reading Room to offer additional resources for scholars.

Three Executive Orders impacting issues of race in 1940's - Seeds to Civil Rights

Executive Order 8802: Prohibition of Discrimination in the Defense Industry (1941) issued by President Roosevelt, banned discriminatory employment practices by Federal agencies and all unions and companies engaged in war-related work. The order also established the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) to enforce the new policy and investigate incidents of discrimination. 

Executive Order 9808: Establishing the President's Committee on Civil Rights (1946) issued by President Truman, charged to determine what Federal, State, and local governments may be strengthened and improved to safeguard civil rights of the people. The committee recommended "more adequate means and procedures for the protection of the civil rights of the people of the United States." In their report, To Secure These Rights, in October 1947 the committee proposes anti-lynching and anti-poll tax laws, a permanent FEPC, and strengthening the civil rights division of the Department of Justice. 

Executive Order 9981: Desegregation of the Armed Forces (1948) issued by President Truman stated that "there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed forces without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin." The order also established an advisory committee to examine the rules, practices, and procedures of the armed services and recommend ways to make desegregation a reality.

State-Level Legislation - New York's legacy

After FEPC dissolved at the federal-level, it was up to states and local governments to have find their own legislative solutions. New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts were among the first states to pass the state-level legislation. 

New York State Law Against Discrimination is credited was the first state law to address discrimination for private employers. Yale Law Journal and Cornell Law Review both provide a thorough overview of the importance of this law.

Five years after FEPC was established in 1941, eights states, three municipalities passed enforceable FEP las while two other states recognized the principle of FEPC without providing legal implementation. By 1955, after constant and consistent effort on the part of the labor movement, 14 states had passed FEP legislation.

Labor Organizations

The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was a black-led labor organization that influenced Roosevelt's issuance of Executive Order 8802. The archive of the organization is held at the Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archive at Cornell University Library. Guide to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

Fair Employment Practices

Resources on Fair Employment Practices at Princeton University Library

Working Papers

NBER Working Paper by Orley Ashenfelter and James J. Heckman, titled: Measuring the Effect of an Anti-Discrimination Program

Abstract: Since 1941, six Executive Orders have been issued forbidding Federal government contractors from discriminating against minority workers. In principle, all prospective contractors are required to demonstrate compliance with the law before a contract is let. The potential penalties are severe: failure to comply with the law may result in revocation of current contracts and suspension of the right to bid on future contracts. Despite these provisions, doubts have been raised about the effectiveness of the Orders. Defenders of the Orders cite cases in which contract award dates have been postponed until firms have taken steps toward compliance with the law. In this paper, we investigate these competing claims using data from 40,445 establishments sampled in 1966 and 1970. In the first section of this paper, we distinguish what can be measured from what cannot. We develop a framework to measure and interpret program effects. In the second section we discuss the design of our sample and present results of an analysis of the randomness of this sample. In the third and concluding section, we present the estimates and discuss their plausibility.