The broad social, political and international forces that the New Deal and World War II unleashed pushed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People beyond its long-time goal of opening an office as a “watch dog in the national capital” for monitoring hostile efforts against blacks in Congress. This it did in 1942. The papers of Clarence Mitchell, Jr., document these extensive activities, especially the legislative phase of the modern civil rights movement when the principal laws and programs that today bar discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, sex, and age were enacted. Other laws barring discrimination against homosexuals and the physically handicapped came from that template.
In effect, the papers show the extent to which legislative strategies currently being utilized by social and political groups are carbon copies of those Mitchell developed.
The reports cover his years in Washington when, from 1942 to 1946, he was principal fair practice examiner, associate director of field operations, and director of field operations at the Fair Employment Practice Committee; from 1946 to 1950 when he was NAACP labor secretary; and from 1950 to 1978 when he was director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and legislative chairman of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
The FEPC was created under President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 8802, which was issued on June 25, 1941. It was subsequently strengthened by Executive Order 9346, issued on May 27, 1943. It’s jurisdiction now covered federal government establishments, employers holding government contracts with anti-discrimination clauses, other employers who were engaged in production related activities or the utilization of war materials, and labor organizations whose activities affected those employers.
Volumes I and II, which comprise the FEPC reports, show the formative stages of the struggle for leadership from the Executive Branch to end discrimination in employment, a goal that defined the modern civil rights movement. The FEPC’s Final Report, which Mitchell helped prepare, noted:
The Committee’s wartime experience shows that in the majority of cases discriminatory practices by employers and unions can be reduced or eliminated by simple negotiations when the work of the negotiator is backed up by firm and explicit National policy.
FEPC’s unsolved cases show that the Executive authority is not enough to insure compliance in the face of stubborn opposition. Only legislative authority will insure compliance in the small number of cases in which employees or unions or both refuse after negotiation to abide by the National policy of nondiscrimination.
The papers shows how Mitchell, building on this foundation, used the NAACP and the LCCR as vehicles for implementing that lesson by mobilizing in the White House and Congress leadership and support for passage of laws to enforce the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education and to end other forms of discrimination. Brown reasserted the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The reports chronicle the arduous, repetitive and incremental nature of the long but revolutionary legislative struggle. They document the roles of the principal lawmakers and committees in Congress that were involved. Furthermore, they document the contributions of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, and Jimmy Carter.
Mitchell explained there were three basic areas in which groups such as the NAACP make contributions to legislative activities:
- Mobilizing public opinion and public support for broad national and international programs that would benefit the country.
- Building a more informed electorate by providing information on important issues and where members of Congress stood on them.
- Assisting members of Congress in promoting good legislation, defeating bad ones, and strengthening others with amendments or clarifying the intent of Congress.
The first phase of his reports is a window to the broader social ramifications of the war and the subsequent demobilization. The opportunity for blacks to seek equal employment opportunity was provided by critical labor shortages in the principal war production regions and by America’s defense of western democracy abroad. The FEPC struggle was waged simultaneously with the NAACP’s. From its overriding focus on lynching and other violence against blacks, the NAACP expanded its struggle to include a quest for a more efficient use of the nation’s manpower regardless of race in the war production industries. One of the NAACP’s primary goals was getting Congress to pass a permanent FEPC law.
The FEPC was a federal affirmative action program that operated under the direction of the Executive Branch. It was the first government agency in which blacks were all line officers. Previously, they were only racial advisers. Therein lay its historical promise.
At the same time, the NAACP struggled for laws to end the poll tax, discrimination in federal spending and public housing and by such agencies as the U.S. Employment Service, the Office of Price Administration, the Government Printing Office, the War Department, the United States Post Office, the Treasury Department, the Civil Service Commission, and the United States Public Health Service. The NAACP’s battles for an anti-lynching law and to end school desegregation reinforced those struggles.
Several problems, such as discrimination by federal agencies, remained paramount concerns until passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the1968 Fair Housing Act. Poll taxes were abolished by the Twenty-fourth Amendment, the Supreme Court in 1966, federal court decisions and by state law.