MIA > Archive > C.L.R. James
FEPC Has Failed —
Committee Appointed by Labor Needed
(25 October 1943)
From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 43, 25 October 1943, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for MIA.
Father Haas, chairman of the Fair Employment Practices Committee, has resigned. He is going to become a bishop. The Washington correspondent of the Philadelphia Independent, a Negro paper, writes as follows: “the announcement of Father Haas left members of his committee and the public here stunned.”
Too bad. People with illusions, who put their hope for Negro rights in the FEPC and similar Roosevelt committees, have an inexhaustible capacity for being stunned. Prepare yourselves, gentlemen. You are going to be more and more stunned as time goes by.
A History of FEPC
We propose here briefly to review the history of this committee and then to give an example or two of Father Haas’s special contributions to it.
- The Negroes say that they will march on Washington to bring their grievances forcibly before the public and the government. This threat of action starts the whole business. Remember that.
- Roosevelt suddenly recognizes that there is discrimination in industry. He writes a letter to one of his agencies saying that discrimination is a shame, harms the “war for democracy,” etc., and must stop.
- Negroes pay no attention. They continue to prepare for the march. They sell tickets and they sing:
“We are coming, Father Franklin, One hundred thousand strong!”
- Roosevelt gets thoroughly scared. He sends Eleanor and Fiorello as ambassadors to Walter White and Philip Randolph. It is reliably reported that they have an interview lasting six hours. White and Randolph, those bold leaders, say that they cannot stop the march.
Halting the March
- Roosevelt must now do something to stop the march. He invites our pair of gladiators, White and Randolph, down to Washington. These two are met by Roosevelt in the chair, Stimson of the Army, Knox of the Navy, Knudsen, at that time head of production, Hillman, his co-head, and LaGuardia.
After speaking for half an hour Roosevelt leaves the others to it. The text is Call Off the March. White and Randolph capitulate. They get as a reward the President’s executive order, thundering against discrimination, forming the FEPC and carefully giving it no powers to enforce anything. When Randolph reports to the New York organization on what he has done, they are mad at him but don’t know what to do, and so do nothing.
- Roosevelt appoints Mark Etheridge as chairman of the committee. Mark Etheridge is a distinguished Southern liberal and notorious “friend” of the Negro people. He soon distinguishes himself by resigning from the committee and shows his “friendship” for Negroes by declaring in Louisville that the South will never tolerate Negro equality.
A Few Incidents
- The committee makes investigations all over the place and with great energy discovers that there is discrimination in industry. Reports of its meetings fill the columns of the Negro press. Luckily there is a Negro and a labor press. Otherwise the public would not have heard of the committee at all.
- Meanwhile, the Negroes are getting fed up more and more. The committee can do nothing and never was given the power to do anything. Finally it decides that it will investigate discrimination on the railroads. By this time the committee is a nuisance. Roosevelt dumps it into the hands of McNutt. McNutt dumps it into his wastebasket. The railroad hearings are called off.
But at this the Negroes shout loud and long that the “war for democracy” is a fraud. Roosevelt on his way home from Casablanca visits President Barclay at Liberia. He invites Barclay to Washington. Barclay stays at the White House and in accordance with protocol, i.e., social gymnastics between rulers and high officials of one country and those of another, Barclay is accompanied to the door of his rooms by the President’s wife.
The Negro press says “Wonderful!” and goes into ecstasies on page one. But on page two it says “What about the FEPC?” In a week or two it has forgotten about Barclay. Some of them even call him a tyrannical scoundrel (which he most certainly is). But none of them forget about the FEPC. The general Negro ferment in the country is tremendous and, from being a nuisances the FEPC is now a scandal.
- Dickerson of Chicago takes what is for him a “revolutionary” step (he is an alderman). He announced that the work of the committee will go on. Roosevelt appoints Haas as chairman and fires Dickerson from the committee.
The Committee Under Haas
- Haas takes over and the committee holds the hearings on the railroads which have been reported and commented upon in Labor Action. Let us note some of the contributions of Haas.
(a) He announced at the start that although government contracts stipulated that there should be no discrimination, he was not going to take any steps against those companies which discriminated because that would hamper war production.
(b) Haas, however, gave a new twist to the committee. He discovered that labor was heavily responsible, for discrimination. The railroad hearings reeked with this malicious slander. Both the companies and the FEPC directly and indirectly tried to make it out that the main responsibility was labor’s.
Pointing the Finger at Labor
Last August, in an article printed in the American Federationist, organ of the AFL, Haas wrote:
“In most cases union leaders ‘pass the racial buck’ to their membership, which, they insist, ‘will not stand for Negroes.’”
He also pointed out, according to the Pittsburgh Courier of August 7, that not all unions which bar Negroes and other minority groups are in the AFL. In other directions he tried to cover himself, but he has taken care always to draw the fire from capital by pointing a persistent finger at labor.
Now today the FEPC is leaderless again. Haas quit because, as he admitted, he could accomplish nothing.
Organized labor has a job to do here, a big job. To oppose discrimination in your own union is good. To form labor committees for interracial good will is fine. But labor must rise higher than that. Here, as everywhere, labor must assume full responsibility.
The FEPC is good for nothing? All right. But why not a committee appointed by representatives of organized labor? Such a committee would have power far beyond the powers of law which Roosevelt will not give the FEPC. It would have the moral power of the labor movement; by fearless action and exposure it could achieve astonishing results.
By so doing it would not only win the confidence of the Negro people but inspire labor to fight in its own cause.
Top of the page
Last updated on 10 July 2015