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Battling the Plantation MentalityMemphis and the Black Freedom Struggle$

Laurie B. Green

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780807831069

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.5149/9780807888872_green

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Where Would the Negro Women Apply for Work? Wartime Clashes over Labor, Gender, and Racial Justice

Where Would the Negro Women Apply for Work? Wartime Clashes over Labor, Gender, and Racial Justice

(p.47) 2 Where Would the Negro Women Apply for Work? Wartime Clashes over Labor, Gender, and Racial Justice
Battling the Plantation Mentality

Laurie B. Green

University of North Carolina Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines how working-class blacks in the urban South perceived their struggles over labor, gender, and racial justice during World War II. More specifically, it considers the indignation among African Americans over black women's exclusion from the “Rosie the Riveter” defense industry jobs open to white women, and their restriction to private work as maids or laundry workers. The chapter also discusses the exclusion of black men from most skilled positions. It explores how the tensions caused by racial discrimination redefined the social meaning of black and white manhood and womanhood, and drove black workers to join trade unions. Finally, the chapter analyzes concerns about the intimidation and terrorism practiced by the Crump machine in Memphis.

Keywords:   urban South, labor, gender, racial justice, African Americans, black women, racial discrimination, trade unions, Crump machine, Memphis

In a letter to Franklin Roosevelt, Altha Sims described a visit to the Memphis U.S. Employment Service (USES) office, where she was “coldly refused by a lady” who informed her that “there was not defense work for Negro woman.” Written in July 1942, a year after the president, under pressure from African Americans, issued an executive order banning racial discrimination in war production industries and creating the FEPC, the letter asked him to confirm this information and explain “why there is no work for” black women, since the news “was hard to beleave coming from local authority.” Sims wondered why black women would be barred from doing their “part to help win the war,” even though her two grown sons would shortly be called to military service, leaving her with three children to support.1

In September, with her case still unresolved by the FEPC, Sims indignantly penned a second letter that exemplifies African American women's frustration with their seeming invisibility in the wartime economy. This time she wrote to Mayor Chandler, protesting being rejected when she responded to newspaper advertisements for defense workers, including one that proclaimed, “So Mother Can Do War Work,” and another that called for black and white laborers. “I want a Job but I dont [want] no cook Job,” Sims insisted, reporting that she had been informed there was “no Job for [her] but a skilet an pan.” “Where would the Negro woman apply for work?” she asked. “I am verry anchous to no.” Chandler's response would not have pleased her: “I know of no positions for unskilled colored women other than domestic work,” he wrote, “and I imagine that is why [the welfare director] told you that he could not give you a place.”2

Letters like the ones Sims sent to Roosevelt and Chandler provide a window into how working-class blacks in the urban South perceived their (p.48) wartime struggles over labor and racial justice. Some of these stories have fallen through the cracks of histories of race and labor during the Second World War because they involve protests from outside unions. But these are the stories that fueled indignation among African Americans over black women's exclusion from the “Rosie the Riveter” wartime industrial defense jobs open to white women, and their restriction to private work as maids or to its public equivalent in government hospitals, military supply depots, and industrial laundries.3 Black men were more likely to find employment in the defense industry, but their exclusion from most skilled positions elicited equally bitter responses.

Men and women's encounters with discrimination, despite the national emergency, paralleled concerns over segregation in the armed forces. Black workers seized on wartime discourse about democracy to demand the elimination of racist practices that prevented them from fulfilling American ideals of citizenship. What may previously have appeared as individual struggles that had little to do with vital matters of democracy and national unity now took on far different significance. With racial tension mounting in southern cities like Memphis, nationally prominent black leaders and the black press demanded “Double V”—victory over fascism abroad and racism at home. They insisted that world democracy could only be achieved if it were based on genuine freedom for African Americans and for people of color in colonized nations.

As these local struggles show, wartime clashes over race and labor in the urban South involved more than demanding that employers comply with the president's executive order against racial discrimination; they also involved redefining the social meaning of black and white manhood and womanhood. In the eyes of many black workers, exclusionary policies and racist job classifications perpetuated degrading racist views of blacks as servile and dependent. While women like Altha Sims refused to be pigeonholed as cooks and maids, men like Clarence Smith, a porter and floor sweeper at Firestone who wanted to work as a riveter, argued that they were as skilled, efficient, and intelligent as whites, as eager to advance, and as essential to the war effort. “What I really want is what a great portions of my race want,” Smith wrote to the War Manpower Administration, “a chance to do something to help win this war and peace to come to every nation, to also win recognition in this our country, as citizens, human, and a important spoke in the wheel of progress.”4

The unprecedented level of federal intervention in matters of labor had contradictory ramifications for wartime daily life. The federal government assumed oversight of major aspects of employment, from the assessment (p.49) of labor needs to mediation in disputes between unions and employers. In the South, however, local USES officials and city administrators frequently worked closely with employers to perpetuate racist hiring practices. Conversely, the presence of FEPC investigators and War Labor Board mediators on the labor scene spurred many workers to protest racist practices and to view individual predicaments in light of greater issues of justice.

During the war, migrants flocked to urban centers across the South to work in the defense industry. White workers typically found it easier to locate skilled or semiskilled jobs in mass production factories than did African Americans. In Memphis, however, this imbalance was exasperated by the city's practice of shuttling African Americans across the Mississippi River for the cotton harvest. Black workers who did find jobs in the city toiled as unskilled laborers in mass production plants, or in cotton compresses, cottonseed oil mills, hardwood processing plants, laundries, or private domestic service.

To protest job discrimination, thousands of black Memphis workers joined unions, appealed for help from the FEPC and other federal officials, or sought assistance from black community leaders. However, the racial parameters of these struggles made them complex, since many black union members were at odds with white union leaders who impeded efforts to eliminate racist job classifications. Class tensions also surfaced among black Memphians. Most dramatically, Boss Crump's success in pressuring black leaders to cancel a mass labor rally featuring national labor and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph, who was a well-known leader of the movement for desegregating the defense industry and the military, provoked a storm of controversy. Jumping into the fray, Randolph denounced black advocates of “racial harmony” as “wellkept slaves” and stressed that freedom, like justice, was unattainable without struggle. Public dramas such as the one involving Randolph called into question conciliatory attitudes toward segregation and the Crump machine.5

Few black laborers emerged victorious from wartime struggles to eliminate discrimination. However, their responses to racist wartime labor practices established a palpable climate of dissent that dovetailed with critical national and international debates about the future of democracy and freedom, not only abroad in the fight against fascism, but at home, in the struggle over racial justice. (p.50)

Where Would the Negro Women Apply for Work? Wartime Clashes over Labor, Gender, and Racial Justice

Workers at a Memphis cotton compress moving a bale that was just compressed, November 1939. (Marion Post Wolcott photo, for Farm Security Administration, courtesy of Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division)

Memphis Defense Contractors and Fair Employment Practice

A broad range of Memphis industries won government defense contracts during the Second World War, prompting unprecedented employment levels and a major expansion of mass production industries in the city. Between September 1942 and September 1943, the number of employees in selected nonagricultural industries soared from 27,269 to 48,857, nearly doubling.6 Ford began manufacturing airplane engines; Fisher Body, a General Motors subsidiary, transformed into an aircraft subassembly plant; Firestone produced rubber rafts, army vehicle tires, and gas masks; and Continental Can began turning out shell cases. Kimberly-Clark and Quaker Oats opened new plants in Memphis during the war with lucrative defense contracts. Manufacturing plants based on regional products also boomed, as facilities such as Procter & Gamble's Buckeye cottonseed oil plants, Plough, Inc., and National Fireworks began filling defense orders. Newly built army and navy supply depots, Kennedy General Hospital, and other military installations also became major wartime employers.7

(p.51) As an “interstate labor market,” the city absorbed thousands of workers from the area. The fact that white migrants could obtain defense jobs with relative ease made it more attractive for them to move to the city on a permanent basis.8 African Americans had different experiences. “Paradoxically, a large number of Negroes who have moved into Memphis from the farms,” the USES reported, “work in seasonal employment on the farms in the tri-state area within a 50-mile radius of Memphis.” Among those black migrants who found jobs in Memphis plants, most wound up in unskilled labor or service jobs.9

Dissatisfaction among black workers helped fuel a massive unionization wave. Beginning in mid-1941, thousands of workers at lumber mills and woodworking plants, cotton compresses and cottonseed oil mills, joined cio unions such as the UCAPAWA, and the International Woodworkers of America (IWA), the United Furniture Workers of America (UFWA), and the National Maritime Union (NMU). Simultaneously, employees in mass production plants also won union recognition, often for the first time. Between fall 1941 and spring 1942, workers at Ford and Fisher Body voted to join the UAWCIO. At Firestone, a vote in April 1942 reversed the December 1940 vote in which the white majority had opted for the AFL over the cio. All told, over 20,000 Memphis workers joined cio unions between 1941 and 1945. The AFL, competing with the cio, began reaching out to more workers, stepping outside its base among white skilled craftsmen to organize workplaces such as laundrydiy cleaning plants.10

In response to black workers' protests and under massive pressure from the March on Washington Movement (MOWM), President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, which banned racial discrimination in the defense industry, on June 25,1941, even before the United States officially entered the war. The MOWM, led by A. Philip Randolph and other civil rights leaders, had threatened to bring 10,000 African Americans—later increased to 100,000—to the nation's capitol on July 1, 1941, if Roosevelt failed to desegregate the defense industry and military. The executive order did not address segregation in the military and, in establishing the FEPC, created more of a scaffolding for vetting complaints than an agency that could mandate compliance. Nevertheless, defense contractors now had to sign a nondiscrimination provision and could be investigated by the FEPC.11

Noncompliance, however, remained rampant in Memphis and elsewhere. Most mass production plants that hired African American men confined them to unskilled and semiskilled jobs. In Memphis, major defense contractors hired thousands of white women yet nearly universally refused to hire black women. The number of white women in the industrial (p.52) sector had nearly doubled by the midpoint of the war, rising from 16.6 percent of manufacturing jobs in September 1942 to 31.3 percent one year later. During this same year, white women employed at Firestone alone rose from 18.9 percent to 33.8 percent of the workforce or an increase of 5,752 workers.12 Later in the war, Firestone opened a small number of jobs to black women but placed them in work wholly distinct from production jobs assigned to white women. Black women at Firestone toiled outdoors in a field sorting tires or indoors sweeping the plant, cleaning machines and restrooms, or throwing rubber in trays, according to worker Evelyn Bates. Elsewhere, the majority of black women continued to labor in service positions as maids and cooks, or in laundries, dry cleaners, hotels, and restaurants. Only in the low-wage, labor-intensive manufacturing sectors, such as cotton processing and woodworking, where African Americans made up a sizable portion, if not the majority, of the employees, did black women enter the workforce in more significant numbers, to replace black men entering the armed forces.13

During a May 1942 visit to Memphis, FEPC field examiner John Beecher and Office of Production Management (OPM) investigator Cy Record documented egregious violations of the president's executive order.14 At Fire-stone, black men comprised about a quarter of the workforce in 1942, but few held production jobs. The company planned to employ white women to produce gas masks; however, personnel manager Cliff Reynolds flatly stated that he could not hire black women to work in the same plant with white men or white women, adding that, in any case, the plant had no toilet or bathing facilities for black women.15 Similarly, Fisher Aircraft had hired 700 white women as riveters and expected to employ more but had no plans to hire black women. In addition, after the company's conversion from auto body production, management had failed to rehire 166 (15 percent) of its black workers, including many with long service records, claiming that they were too old or could not be trained for complicated jobs. Workers, however, insisted that many of those laid off had histories of union support. While touring the plant, Beecher and Record observed black men doing jobs they believed were as complex as those performed by white women riveters, but for lower pay at lesser classifications.16

Ordnance plants in the area hired only a few African Americans. Chickasaw Ordnance Works in Millington, operated by DuPont, produced gunpowder under government contract. The plant employed a labor force of 3,000, only 45 of whom were African Americans, working in janitorial, laundry, or garage positions. At National Fireworks Company in Cordova, which produced ammunition, the workforce of 629 included 16 blacks, (p.53) who worked as porters and maids. Chickasaw expected to begin employing white women, while National Fireworks anticipated expanding its white female workforce from one-half to two-thirds of the total. Neither plant had plans to hire more African Americans, OPM investigator Record described National Fireworks's policies as the “most brazen and bare-faced violations of contract provision and national policy” he had seen and characterized Chickasaw's practices as a “gross and systematic discrimination on account of race.” After visiting the plants, he wondered whether “Tennessee [was] still a part of the United States and subject to the national policy as outlined by the President.”17

At National Fireworks, a Massachusetts-based company, General Manager E. H. Luce claimed that when the plant operated in Memphis, before movingto Cordova, it employed only African Americans, includingwomen, but his new policy reflected the concerns of the Cordova Civic Club, an organization of businessmen-landowners who insisted that the company not “disturb the Negro supply of farm labor.” Luce invoked a panoply of racial stereotypes to further explain his policy. “He is under the impression that Negroes of the area are largely infected with venereal diseases,” Beecher reported, “and says that persons who have had such diseases are very allergic to the high explosive tetryl which is used in loading shells. He says, however, that he considered the use of Negroes as operators of tetryl because this is very laborious work which Negroes can perform better than whites on account of the fact that they can stand hot weather better. This plan was dropped, however, when the company's attorney advised against it, since white women were employed in the same room, and some sort of sexual outbreak might be feared.”18 Luce presented himself as a victim of circumstances rather than a violator of the president's orders, forced to exclude blacks by local leaders who used these supposed physiological differences between the races to claim blacks as field hands.

The Crump Machine and the USES

The “flagrant examples” of discrimination the FEPC examiners encountered in Memphis roughly mirrored those they found throughout the Deep South; however, in Memphis, the direct intervention by public officials on behalf of employers was more extreme than in other cities, and it frequently took the form of intimidation.19 Officials also influenced appointees to local offices of such powerful federal agencies as the USES.

The 1940 “reign of terror” and events leading up to it had taken their toll on black leaders, according to John Beecher and Cy Record. During their May 1942 trip, they learned that organizations such as the Community Welfare (p.54) League would not be sending representatives to regional FEPC hearings in Birmingham in July, due to concerns about the “intimidation and terrorism practiced by the Crump machine.” Beecher and Record reported that L.J. Searcy, executive secretary of the Community Welfare League, and Louis Swingler, editor of the Memphis World, felt they were “in no position to act because of the positions they hold and because of the real possibility of actual physical violence to their persons if they made the effort.” Memories of how police officials had crushed the league's efforts to help black skilled workers in 1939 still concerned Searcy.20 FEPC officials determined that the CIO offered the strongest force against racial injustice. However, they felt that because the cio had limitations on what it could accomplish, even a small number of outspoken black leaders, willing to risk the consequences, could make an enormous difference. Significantly, they did not comment on the NAACP. The membership of the local branch rose during the war, with a campaign in spring 1943 netting 1,541 new members; however, not until the end of the war did the organization play a major role in working-class leadership when its involvement in police brutality struggles attracted thousands more working-class members.21

Officials representing Crump's Memphis and Shelby County Democratic machine pressured corporate employers who were not indigenous to the region to adhere to local employment practices. In June 1943, for example, Mayor Chandler sent welfare administrator Aubrey Clapp to chat with local Ford manager M. C. Boone about the labor force Ford planned to hire upon completion of its conversion to defense production. Ford planned to pay its new employees, including white women, at the highest wage scale of any Memphis plant. Clapp reported that he had “discussed the negro women situation thoroughly” and learned that “we have nothing to fear from this source of anticipated trouble.” Boone had confided that “pressure has been brought to bear to put negro women to work but that under no circumstances or conditions would it be sanctioned or allowed.”22 Ford's Memphis approach differed from its practice in Dearborn, Michigan, where the company hired black women, although even there it placed them in the least desirable jobs.

Crump allies in Washington also intervened with wartime federal labor mediators. Senator Kenneth McKellar and Congressman Clifford Davis, for instance, contacted U.S. Department of Conciliation director John Steelman on behalf of Memphis Furniture, which produced bomb racks, army beds, and lockers during the war and employed a majority black and female workforce. After the company refused for months to negotiate a contract with Local 282 of the UFWA and a federal mediator was assigned (p.55) to the case, the company protested the mediator's apparent support for Local 282's request for union security through “maintenance of membership” and dues checkoff clauses in the union's contract. In a letter to Steelman, McKellar described Memphis Furniture as “one of the oldest concerns in Memphis,” arguing that its owners were “high class, honorable men” whom he hoped would not be “blackjacked in this situation.” Steelman assured him that the mediator was impartial and that union security was, as a rule, supported by the War Labor Board; ultimately, however, the union agreed to drop its request in exchange for a wage increase of four cents an hour.23

Similarly, in November 1943, Mayor Chandler attempted to stall an “adverse ruling” by the U.S. Conciliation Service involving complaints of discriminatory job classifications at Fisher Aircraft. Upon request from Chamber of Commerce president Phil Pidgeon, Chandler sought Congressman Davis's assistance. In a letter to Davis suggesting how to approach the issue, he warned that federal officials might not understand the South's problems. “Naturally, if wage differentials which have existed in the South because of the superior mental ability of the white worker are to be destroyed, I fear for the negro's welfare here,” Chandler wrote. “He has kept his job because he has not competed with the white worker in character of work or rate of pay, and, when work is not so plentiful as it is now, he will be laid off indefinitely and become a charge on the public.” “It is to the interest of the negro that some differential should exist,” he concluded. “His rate of pay has increased very steadily in the last four or five years, and the present rate of progress should not be stepped up lest it destroy the negro's own advancement, and cause him to lose the gains that he has made. We must not let war extremities destroy our peace-time economy.”24 Chandler both presented white officials as guardians of African Americans and justified dual wage rates based on the presumed natural superiority of whites. He hoped it would take “a long time to decide this highly dangerous question.” Davis did, in fact, speak to Steelman, reporting back that the latter had “shudder[ed] to think of the difficulties which we approach in connection with negro labor standards in the South.” He believed that the case had been buried “on the bottom of a very heavy stack of pending matters,” although that this was the case cannot be verified. Not until 1945 did the Υ AW win an agreement on Fisher job classifications.25

Because the USES handled work orders for defense contractors, the agency constituted another formidable force in wartime employment. FEPC examiners, called upon to scrutinize another federal agency, reported that southern USES offices engaged in discriminatory employment (p.56) practices and that personnel refused to cooperate with investigations. In Tennessee, the USES's discriminatory practices were particularly egregious. Elsewhere in the South, with the exception of Jacksonville, Florida, USES managers divided their offices into “white” and “colored” areas with separate entrances. In Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga, however, the USES established black and white offices in entirely separate locations. Black job applicants in Memphis went to a location on South Second in the Beale Street area but were barred from entering an office on Union Avenue, in the downtown business district. By establishing different addresses, the local USES could separate work orders intended for whites from those slated for African Americans without using explicitly racist language in its on-site job listings or in advertisements. The result of this strategy differed little from the outcome of newspaper advertisements from private employers that explicitly advertised for “whites” or “colored.” These practices assigned racial meaning to people, jobs, and urban geography itself.26

A complaint sent to the FEPC by George Townsel Sr., a tradesman skilled in drafting, tool designing, and metal machine operations, indicates that as late as November 1945, the USES was still infuriating black applicants by maintaining job descriptions for skilled workers at its Union Street office while advertising only for “common labor job[s]” at the South Second Street office. When Townsel refused to accept a laborer job, he found that his unemployment benefits were terminated. “[T]he law of the constitution of the United States give the commissioner of the state the rights [to s]ay a common labor job are suitable for you,” he wrote, “and you have no right to say it is not suitable for you regardless of what your skill trade are, or how high you skilled trade are here.” Townsel called upon the FEPC to investigate this troubling interpretation of states' rights.27

Black applicants also complained about USES staff. In 1942, directors of the Community Welfare League, Dr. J. E. Walker, M. S. Stuart, and M. W. Bonner, all successful insurance executives, protested the derogatory treatment of applicants, which, in the case of Louis Harold Twigg, whom they described as “a highly respected, well-educated young colored man who was born and reared in Memphis,” had led to police brutality. Twigg had been beaten by police and arrested on orders of John Guinozzo, USES manager, after he complained to Guinozzo that he had been addressed “in an abrupt and humiliating manner.” The men asserted that “harmonious relations” would best be served by replacing Guinozzo with a black manager. A year later, Benjamin Bell, the executive secretary of the Memphis Urban League (MUL), which emerged out of the Community (p.57)

Where Would the Negro Women Apply for Work? Wartime Clashes over Labor, Gender, and Racial Justice

Downtown and Beale Street Area of Memphis

(p.58) Welfare League, complained that the office was still under Guinozzo's supervision and “staffed for the most part with interviewers and Placement Secretaries who from their reactions are more prejudiced than some of the industrialists.”28

Maids and Laundry Workers

As Altha Sims's letters showed, black women's exclusion from industrial defense jobs associated with popular images of “Rosie the Riveters” became a crucial focal point for dissent during the war. Many women tenaciously strived to locate jobs outside private households. And those who did find work outside households in the city's laundry and dry cleaning facilities, where African American women had labored in large numbers since the late nineteenth century, battled racist job classifications that slated black women for certain kinds of work and white women for others.

As black women strived to escape domestic service during the war, some white Memphians feared a genuine servant uprising. Congressman Clifford Davis reported to Mayor Chandler in 1942 that he had heard rumors about “Eleanor Clubs,” alleged organizations of domestic workers, named after the First Lady, that purportedly urged black women to refuse to work in white women's kitchens. However, Davis declared that he had found no concrete evidence of organizing by black maids. “I really believe that a few citizens have so thoroughly worked themselves up over their antipathy to Mrs. Roosevelt, and the loss of cooks,” Davis observed, “that they have been honestly mislead [sic] and are possibly responsible for the rumors.”29 The rumors persisted, however. In 1945, a white citizen wrote to the Memphis World, a black newspaper, condemning purported clubs scheming “to disappoint white women regarding maid service” and “Sidewalk Clubs” aimed at humiliating white women by forcing them off sidewalks. The potential “loss of cooks,” he argued, threatened white women, southern traditions, and God's plan of determining people's natural places based on color.30

Letters to President Roosevelt and federal officials offer evidence of how African American women themselves perceived domestic service. Mrs. Ella Rose Dotson, who lived a few blocks from Altha Sims on Vance Avenue, first wrote President Roosevelt in October 1942, seeking help in getting a defense job. She continued to write to him for the next year and a half before she finally received a referral to a small Memphis plant. In a letter to the president in January 1943, she described visiting the USES offices, armed with a letter from the War Manpower Commission instructing (p.59) her to apply for work with the agency. The letter was sent to her after she requested some kind of document from Roosevelt or a top federal official that would help her get a job. Dotson first went to the South Second Street location and then to the one on Union. At Union, she reported, she was sent back to South Second, but upon returning there, she wrote, “they didn't give me any work, only said they could give me white lady day work in their homes which they have alway gave me that but that is not defence work to help my country.”31 Dotson's letters prompted an FEPC investigation of local USES operations, which concluded that the agency did not provide duplicate copies of work orders that arrived in the “white” office on Union to the “colored” office on South Second, as required by federal guidelines.32

In her letters to the president, Dotson focused on her desire to work at Fisher Aircraft, Anderson Tulley Mill, or another plant, rather than clean private homes for five dollars a week, an amount so low she could not afford to buy a defense bond. Indeed, all her letters underscored her dedication to the war effort. “I have people who are sheading [sic] their blood for our country and god knows I should help,” she wrote in January 1943, telling the president she had heard his radio address that morning and hoped God would care for him “until we are all safe again in our world of freedmen.”33 Yet Dotson's “world of freedmen” differed from that of USESand even some FEPC officials: In early 1944, Dotson received a referral for work outside private household service, but she turned it down. The job as a charwoman—the equivalent of a maid, but in a mill—would have required her to relocate to Knoxville, Tennessee. When FEPC regional official A. Bruce Hunt admonished her for not taking this job and reminded her that she was only qualified as a maid, Dotson wrote back describing the emotional pain his message had caused her: “Mr. Hunt, you will find me to state the truth about things of it hurt me, because it is the only way in life.” Eventually, she was referred to a job in a small Memphis plant, likely as a result of her persistence. While federal officials considering Dotson's case suggested that black women who had been maids could only be maids in the future, Dotson and other women adamantly rejected this logic.34

It is not clear whether Memphis women who wrote such letters knew each other, but many resided within a few blocks of each other in south Memphis near Booker T. Washington High School, or in north Memphis near Manassas High School. Their shared language and interpretations of their experiences suggest that black working-class women traded stories about their job-hunting plights and together distilled their meanings. Mrs. Susie Brister, for instance, a neighbor of Dotson and Altha Sims, (p.60) told Roosevelt she had a son registered for the draft yet had been barred from all jobs but private household work. “They have built a fence around the jobs here against Colored people, and if it's any way you can tear it down and let me into the work I would appreciate it,” she wrote.35 Margaret Jackson, another neighbor, objected to newspaper advertisements for war workers that turned out to apply only to white women. After being turned down from Firestone and Fisher in 1942, she wrote to Roosevelt, describing herself as “very bitter and disappointed this morning” after “a long hot tramp of trying to get work.” “Our men have to go an fight as well as the white,” she wrote. “I cannot understand why our men should fight for a country that starves their womenfolks. Any decent job the whites get them.”36 Angry at being excluded from a decent wage and the call to help defend democracy, some women seized upon formal complaint channels. A few won concessions. More commonly, women's informal conversations contributed to a climate of resistance inspired by the bitterness and disappointment evoked by their job searches.

Simultaneously, civilian laundries and those attached to military hospitals became sites of heated racial struggles. Jobs at these facilities combined the service tasks of domestic work with the arduousness of sweatshop labor and the management style of field gangs. However, such positions removed women from the personal oversight of individual white employers, and even the worst institutional pay rate was higher than the roughly five dollars a week that domestic workers made. Wartime federal oversight appeared to extend at least the possibility of new leverage to laundry workers, who had been exempted from minimum wage and maximum hour requirements established by the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938).37

Laundry workers at Kennedy General Hospital, which opened in late 1942 under the Army Service Forces Fourth Service Command, organized a protest against the discriminatory wage and classification system. Because two women employees later brought their concerns to the FEPC, we have available to us rich details of this struggle.38 In December 1943, Gertrude Carter and Katie Hall, who worked as a team checking ironing presses and keeping track of finished items, circulated a petition requesting wage increases to other black employees, thirty-five of whom signed it. In response, the laundry manager, Albert Hattendorf Jr., called the black employees to his office and demanded to know who had initiated the petition, at which point several workers insisted they knew nothing about it. In contrast, Carter, while not confessing, declared that if Hattendorf wanted to know who wrote the petition, he could compare the handwriting to the signatures. Shortly thereafter, he called a meeting of all laundry employees, (p.61) black and white, at which he pledged to secure a raise for them, and in April 1944, Mrs. Carter learned from white coworkers that they had received a pay increase. Meanwhile, the two women continued to be classified as press operators on flat piece work (ironing items such as sheets)—a job typically assigned to black women—for which they were paid a wage of 41 cents per hour, five cents less than what white women were paid for performing the same duties but with higher classifications. Indeed, FEPC examiner John Hope later confirmed that not a single job classification was shared by both black and white employees.

At a meeting in May of the black employees, Hattendorf declared they would get no raise. According to Thelma Mitchell, as well as other employees later interviewed by FEPC examiner John Hope, Hattendorf declared that they “weren't going to get a raise there and if they didn't like it they could get out.” He also threatened to “get German prisoners for ten cents an hour” to replace them. Hattendorf concluded by calling for any employees who still felt dissatisfied to see him in his office. After Carter and Hall did so, they were fired. In their complaints to the FEPC, the women expressed ire at Hattendorf's demeaning treatment of black employees. Hall, for example, reported that black women were required to ask higher ranked white employees for permission to use the restrooms. Carter accused Hattendorf of using Kennedy employees as personal servants in his own home to prepare for evening parties.

Hope's investigation suggested that Hattendorf and Mr. Thorpe, the plant supervisor, valued Carter and Hall as efficient, conscientious employees who helped the laundry run smoothly, but since the women had asked for wage increases, they categorized them as, in Thorpe's words, “uppish niggers” who were hard to handle. As Hope put it, “The attitude of both Mr. Thorpe and Capt. Hattendorf toward the petition for a wage increase … was one of deep resentment that these workers should engage in direct concerted action to attain an objective.” He added that since no union was involved, their attitude “reflects a Southern pattern with regard to Negro workers.” All black workers received a raise from forty-one to fifty cents per hour after Carter and Hall were terminated, making it likely that the two women lost their jobs simply because they challenged Hatten-dorf's control.

Outside militaiy facilities, many of the city's 3,000 laundry workers joined the Laundry Workers International Union, Local 263, an AFL affiliate, and struck during the war, in concert with organizing by laundry workers in other southern cities. The black and white women and men who labored in Memphis's largest laundries endured steamy, hot conditions, (p.62) slippery floors, and unsanitary workrooms without chairs, drinking fountains, or adequate restrooms. Black women laundry workers, who generally ran the presses, received the lowest wages, averaging from twenty to twenty-eight cents an hour during the war. Those paid on a piecework basis pressed up to 500 shirts a day to earn the higher rates. In 1943, however, the federal government designated commercial laundry business as an essential war industry because it provided services to military camps. The designation increased the likelihood of government intervention in its labor disputes.39

Among African American women in the South, commercial laundries had long been a target of unionization and a site of racial contestation. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, such establishments began to replace the work of independent black laundresses; however, they became more prevalent during the early twentieth century.40 During the First World War, a confrontation erupted in Little Rock, Arkansas, 200 miles west of Memphis, between the employees and managers of commercial laundries that served military bases, requiring extensive intervention by National War Labor Board officials.41 Such conflicts took on racial parameters when African American women complained that they were paid less and treated worse than white women in comparable jobs. In New York, a major break-through occurred in the 1930s when tens of thousands of African American, Caribbean, and Puerto Rican laundry workers joined the United Laundry Workers, which became part of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (CIO).42 During the Second World War, thousands of women laundry workers in the South, most African American, joined unions.

In Memphis between 1941 and 1945, workers struck for union recognition at Crescent Laundry, Model Laundry-Cleaners, and Kraus Cleaners, each of which employed hundreds of workers. Even at Loeb's Laundry, the family business of Henry Loeb, who later gained notoriety as mayor during the 1968 sanitation strike, some 200 employees walked off their jobs in 1945, for the first time since the plant's opening in 1887. In some cases, white male drivers and black women seamstresses and pressers walked off their jobs together. At Kraus, for example, twenty-three drivers, members of the Teamsters and Chauffeurs Union, along with 183 black women members of the Laundry Workers International Union, struck for union recognition in July 1943. The National Labor Relations Board responded to these laundry strikes by ruling that service industries not involved with interstate commerce fell outside its jurisdiction; therefore, the Department of Labor's U.S. Conciliation Service stepped in to help avert or settle strikes and oversee union elections.43

(p.63) In Memphis and other southern cities, such struggles took on significance that reached beyond plant walls. In poor, working-class black neighborhoods, the plight of workers who engaged in these struggles became well-known in their communities, symbolic of larger issues of racial injustice. In Miami, for example, when the Laundry Workers International Union threatened to trigger a general laundry strike in 1942, leaders warned that it would spread to the “general Negro population, who are acquainted with the situation” and experienced similar working conditions.44 Similarly, in Atlanta, when 1,400 laundry workers struck for over a month in fall 1943, they held daily mass meetings at the Wheat Street Baptist Church and won support from the NAACP and the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance.45

In Memphis, as in Atlanta, organizing by workers in several of the city's fourteen major laundries grabbed headlines in the black press, which reported in far more detail than did the white daily newspapers about the issues that had particularly embittered workers. Although the laundry strikes primarily addressed union recognition, wages, and working hours, participants also spoke out about other problems on the job, in an unusual public airing of complaints. Women interviewed by the Memphis World criticized Loeb's Laundry's practice of keeping them in the dark about weekly earnings until they received their pay envelopes. They also denounced the restriction of “vacation time” to Christmas and Independence Day. Perhaps most indicative of women laundry workers' complaints was a Kraus worker's comment during a mass meeting at Labor Temple that she “resented the fact that Kraus officials practiced the habit of searching their pocketbooks, as if they were suspects.” Workers responded to her statement by pledging their “hundred percent” support for the union.46

Tensions over the portrayal of the woman laundry worker resonated beyond the immediate workforce, suggesting that the laundry worker had become iconic for working-class black women more generally.47 In October 1942, the Memphis Negro Chamber of Commerce and its affiliate, the Housewives League, sent a vehement letter of protest, signed by hundreds of black Memphians, to owners of the White Rose Laundry. They charged that White Rose's new “mechanical sign” on Linden Avenue, picturing “a Negro washer-woman” washing a pair of underwear was “a complete effrontery to Negro people, in its subtle although effective ridicule of the race.” The petitioners, who understood that “most colored people have to work hard for a living,” felt that “the many servile tasks that they have to perform should [not] be held up in ridicule and be made a public laughing stock on the highways and streets.”48

(p.64) So embedded in American popular culture had the “washer-woman” image become that not only the laundry owners but even the petitioners accepted its use to display meaning, yet they disagreed about its message. The laundry owners, responding to a letter from Mayor Chandler, argued that the sign “represented the kindly old negro mammy who is loved by people of both races such as the one featured by Aunt Jemima.” The petitioners, in contrast, perceived the image as mocking the laundry worker by sexualizing her. They insisted that White Rose should have instead presented “a symbol of the hundreds of thousands of poor Negro mothers—who, with a prayer in their humble hearts and a song on their lips, toiled long hours daily, to help support their families, to educate their children—and to make of them worthy and respectable citizens of a great countiy.” Their letter demanded that the “washer-woman” image be stripped of its sexualization and made respectable. Yet their romanticized version of the laundry worker did not necessarily fit the actual workers at White Rose and elsewhere who not only were faithful American mothers but also demanded union representation, higher wages, and respect.49

An editorial cartoon in the Memphis World, drawn by black artist Charles Alston for distribution to the black press by the Office of War Information (OWI) and published shortly after laundry work was declared essential to the war effort, offered a portrait of the laundry worker and other black women workers that inverted the “mammy” image. Captioned “They also serve!,” it shows four black women labeled “laundry worker,” “railroad worker,” “farmworker,” and “other essential civilian workers.” The laundry worker, a slim, neatly dressed young woman with a resolute expression on her face, strides toward the viewer beside her counterparts. An American flag forms the backdrop of the cartoon. The illustration forged a new image of the laundry worker—still iconic, yet altered—who could take her place beside other American defense workers essential to national purposes.50

Outside these competing representations, real laundry workers rejected their sexualization by white employers, which could have serious consequences.51 Black women had long struggled to protect themselves from sexual abuse by white male employers. Previously, women had few options besides quitting their jobs when threatened by sexual assault or unwanted sexual advances; however, in the wartime context some attempted—not necessarily successfully—to retain their jobs by requesting government assistance. In 1945, as the war finally ended, Veteran's Hospital laundry workers protested to the FEPC that they had been fired because they refused to concede to their white male supervisor's demands for sex. By summer 1945, however, the FEPC's funding had been slashed (p.65)

Where Would the Negro Women Apply for Work? Wartime Clashes over Labor, Gender, and Racial Justice

“They Also Serve!” published in Memphis World, August 6,1943. (Charles Henry Alston cartoon, for Office of War Information, National Archives photo no. 208-COM-129)

and its future as a permanent, postwar agency was already in jeopardy; thus no agency official ever investigated this case through a trip to Memphis, leaving it permanently unresolved. For several months, however, the case provoked extensive correspondence and heated debate over whether or not the women had actually suffered from racial injustice.52

Gertrude Carter, a leader in the laundry worker protest at Kennedy General Hospital a year earlier, again played a key role at the Veteran's Hospital, where she had received a new civil service appointment in January 1945. By late spring, she, Mrs. Dovie McManius, and Mrs. Mammie Hollo-way had been dismissed, ostensibly for poor ratings on their jobs. All three asserted in letters to the FEPC that they had always received excellent ratings in the past and that the real reason for their being fired had been their unwillingness to “date”—i.e., have sexual relations with—laundry supervisor (p.66) Albert Miller. Dovie McManius wrote that her ratings had plunged from “Very Good” or “Excellent” to “Just Fair” after Miller was hired and she refused his advances. The women accused Miller of establishing a favoritism system in which black women who had sex with him evaluated other black employees. Mammie Holloway added that when she reported Miller's demands to the plant manager, Dr. H. C. Dodge, he had discharged her. Writing to the FEPC on May 23, she pleaded with officials to help her retain her job, since she supported her children. Carter also begged the FEPC for immediate intervention, even telegraphing the regional office for help when she received notice to not return to work. She detailed Miller's harassment, including one instance in which he asked her how much she “would charge him for a date” and another in which he laid down a blanket in the laundry dressing room and “got angry because [she] would not go in there with him.”

For the three women, writing to the FEPC made sense because they perceived this abuse as racial injustice. Holloway and McManius stated that Miller assessed the white women's work himself in order to make “sure they get what is due them,” but he didn't “care enough about the colored people's work to try to take care of [the ratings].” While not caring about the black women, Miller demanded sexual favors of them. He tried to justify these requests by presenting himself as “a Northern man” who “like[d] colored women,” rather than a southern supervisor threatening his employees with dismissal if they refused to “date him.” Carter recalled telling him that she “was afraid…. [Y]ou know they don't mixed in the South,” thus trying to shield herself through reference to southern antimiscegenation laws. To the women, Miller's appeals for sexual favors meshed with his “not caring” about them as black women.

Federal officials had sharply divergent perspectives on the case. G. H. Sweet, personnel director at the Veterans Administration in Washington, simply informed the FEPC that the “alegations” were “without foundation,” since the women were poor workers and fired for this reason. Ο. E. Myers, director of the Fifth U.S. Civil Service Region, declared that the cases “do not constitute racial discrimination.” FEPC regional director Witherspoon Dodge shot back that Miller's behavior might not technically fit the government's definition of racial discrimination but some government agency must be able to “afford job protection for decent people of all races against the personally immoral and socially economic depreda-tions” in the case. Dodge, a southern white Congregational minister who had been a cio organizer, was unable to initiate an investigation before the FEPC closed.

(p.67) Even Dodge's thinking did not entirely mirror that of the women complainants. McManius, Holloway, and Carter's comments drew no distinction between sexual abuse and racial discrimination. Paralleling the White Rose incident, laundry workers struggled with the consequences of the sexualized washerwoman image in real life. They presented themselves as hard-working government employees with years of work experience, as dedicated Americans, and as mothers responsible for supporting their families. Unlike the White Rose petitioners, they portrayed themselves as far from helpless, attaching images of respectability to their cause.

Race, Riveting, and Manhood

Paralleling these conflicts over the roles of maids and laundry workers, heated battles took place over black men's exclusion from skilled jobs. Employers and public officials worked strenuously to maintain distinctions between white and black men's work, even in plants that hired white women to fill skilled production positions considered white men's work. Men bitter over these issues talked with other workers, wrote letters, filled out federal complaint forms, demanded action by union representatives, and initiated wildcat strikes that overrode union authority. They strongly rejected language that assigned dependence and lack of aptitude to black men while categorizing white men as independent workers capable of advancement.

Construction work, a locus of conflict before the war, continued to generate controversy, especially around the building of Kennedy General Hospital, a multimillion-dollar project at Park and Getwell Streets in east Memphis. Henke Construction Company, with a workforce of 1,888, employed 886 black workers, none of whom were carpenters. A concerned black minister, Rev. George Bell, alerted Dr. Robert Weaver, director of the Negro Manpower Service in Washington, that white migrants were finding work as skilled tradesmen but black carpenters were being referred out of state for jobs. Shortly thereafter, members of the black United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Local 1896 began lodging FEPC complaints after submitting applications and being turned down.53 “There seems to be so many reasons for Negro carpenters not being able to get on Defense Jobs in this section,” wrote Robert F. Jones, a carpenter and the local's business agent. “Sometimes we are told it will cause a Race Riot, or there is no place for Negro carpenters to live in a white settlement, or that there is plenty of other work Negroes can do besides carpenter work.” In a complaint against Lee Construction, he reported that the personnel manager had told him he “did not like Negroes.” “He says Negroes are not (p.68) qualified, and not dependable,” asserted Jones. Lee hired several black carpenters following the FEPC investigation, reinforcing the view that the federal complaint process could provide some relief, however small.54

In industrial plants, black workers took particular offense at being barred from riveting positions, which were emblematic of America's effort to build planes and ships for the Allies. James Smith, a riveting training graduate, complained to the War Manpower Commission in 1943 that Fisher Aircraft had “the notices of the president's 8802 FEPC sticking on the wall, but it don't mean a thing as far as the hiring is concern its just some more paper on the wall.” He was “told by the employment head they did not have any jobs like that open for colored but I saw him hire a white man right there for the same kind of work.” Smith placed his concerns as an individual within the larger context of the war. “We have a war on, and that goes double with me,” he wrote, in words that echoed the language of the Pittsburgh Courier's popular “Double V” campaign for victory against fascism abroad and racism at home. “We have a war to win with General MacArther [sic] pleading for airpower, and Lord Halifax said in a speach here they needed more airpower. So in my estimation every rivit counts. And to have an all out war effort we don't have any room for discrimination in the war plants.”55

Various black Fisher Aircraft employees filed grievances with their union, UAW-CIO Local 988, or complained to the FEPC that, despite having been trained as riveters, they were placed in unskilled classifications and paid as common laborers. “During my employ at Fishers,” stated Lawrence B. Matlock in October 1943, “many whites have been employed as riveters with nothing more than the training experience in a government sponsored school as I had,” yet no blacks had ever been hired in such positions. Both Matlock and James L. Jackson had been hired as file-burr men and classified as common laborers. However, after three additional workers, assisted by Benjamin Bell, executive secretary of the Memphis Urban League, filed similar complaints, all five men received upgrades to semi-skilled positions as bench assemblers—jobs that included riveting.56

However, the problems at Fisher Aircraft did not end there. Even as Mayor Chandler and U.S. congressman Clifford Davis collaborated to stave off an “adverse ruling” by the U.S. Conciliation Service regarding UAW charges about discriminatory job classifications at Fisher Aircraft, workers there continued to press their complaints. In mid-March 1944, forty-four African American men signed a petition to Local 988 stating that they had been unfairly classified as bench assemblers even though they were performing skilled tasks, such as “Drilling, Riveting, Dimpling, CounterSink, (p.69) Spotfacing and assembling.” Frustrated with the lack of response by Local 988 leaders, several of these men met in April with FEPC examiner John Hope and Benjamin Bell, continuing the meeting the next day at the home of Lawrence Matlock, now a union district committeeman. Matlock had worked as a clerk and first sergeant in the Civilian Conservation Corps and as an adult education instructor and insurance agent prior to his job at Fisher. At the meeting with Hope, the men explained that as bench assemblers they made sixty-nine cents per hour while white women recently hired to conduct the same tasks made eighty-nine cents per hour as “SubAssemblers.” They protested their subordination to white men and to the white women hired to fill in for them, a situation that doubly excluded them from categories of skill and manhood. It was more palatable for employers to hire white women to temporarily fill in for white men than to hire black men who staked claims to manhood on a permanent basis.57

A few months after this meeting, black male heat treat operators at Fisher filed FEPC complaints after they were relieved of the technical aspects of their jobs and reclassified at a lower level, with their sole task restricted to placing products in the ovens. Osie A. King complained that although he had been working in this job for nearly three years, his foreman had informed him that “the white man with him would relieve me of all tabulating and chart reading.” King and others believed Fisher management wanted to ensure that whites were in this position before it was upgraded to a skilled status.58 As with the bench assemblers, the men felt that the local UAW-CIO leadership had not responded to their grievances. Workers pursued an alternative complaint mechanism with the support of emerging in-house leaders such as Matlock, black community leaders such as Bell, and the FEPC.59

African American workers at Procter & Gamble's Buckeye Cotton Oil Company plants in Memphis diverged from union leaders on the job classification issue, although in this case the union had the reputation of being militant and antiracist, with Communists among its leaders. The UCAPAWA Local 19 represented workers in over twenty different low-wage Memphis plants, including cotton compresses, cottonseed oil plants, and other concerns, many with majority black labor forces. Local 19's Buck-eye members, who in October 1941 chose UCAPAWA over a company union with mostly white members, comprised one of the union's largest workforces.60

Procter & Gamble's Buckeye Memphis facilities were among the region's most important suppliers of cottonseed oil and cotton linters. The (p.70) Hollywood plant, a cottonseed crushing mill, employed 250 workers, 90 percent of whom were African Americans, all male. The Jackson Avenue plant included a soybean expeller mill and a pulp mill and maintained a workforce that ranged from 750 to 950 workers, 70 percent of them African Americans. The company hired as many as fifty women toward the end of the war. Roughly half of the Jackson Avenue plant's output of cotton linters, a fiber removed from cottonseeds, went to defense plants run by the army or DuPont for the production of gunpowder used in explosives.61

Even the most straightforward problems at Buckeye, such as wage rates, reflected racial and regional tensions. A report prepared for the National War Labor Board (NWLB) by Arthur Weimer, dean of Indiana University's School of Business, concluded that rates at Buckeye compared favorably to those at similar Memphis plants; but he did not measure them against manufacturing wages nationally. Furthermore, the union argued, Weimer had not addressed the discrepancy between wages paid at Procter & Gam-ble's northern and southern plants. In addition, John Green, a mediator representing the employees' position in an NWLB hearing in June 1942, argued that a dual-wage system was an “untenable practice” that could not be “condoned by the fact that it is the custom in the area.” Indeed, the annual incomes of black workers at Buckeye were so low, the mediators' report stated, that “they are unable to purchase sufficient food and other necessities without falling into debt. Consequently, an increasing number of men are being garnished every pay day.” Arguing that reducing these “racial differentials” would be “a step in the direction of a greater national unity,” he supported a wage increase that would be formulated to decrease these differentials. Company officials justified current wages by claiming that Procter & Gamble had the most modern cottonseed crushing technology in the region, where workers were employed year-round, not just during the cotton harvest. The company, they argued, already paid wages that were among the highest in comparable plants in the area.62

Union officials had a different impression of Procter & Gamble's impact on local and regional labor relations. At the NWLB hearing, they argued that the company had bribed workers to implement a company union, a strategy it used in other parts of the country. Buckeye had also colluded with the Crump machine, which had sent plainclothes policemen to the homes of black workers “to obtain admissions from them that the cio advocated racial equality.” Buckeye had attempted to provoke white workers into opposing UCAPAWA Local 19, headed by black radical unionist John Mack Dyson, a worker in Buckeye's Hollywood plant, by branding it as “just a nigger union.” Procter & Gamble clearly contributed to local and (p.71) regional tensions by drawing on local racial practices and implementing measures it carried out elsewhere in the country, such as the company union.63

Black Buckeye employees repeatedly filed union grievances and FEPCcomplaints protesting discriminatory job classifications and the dual-wage system, which together resulted in low pay and fed stereotypes of black men as unskilled and servile. Men who assembled and disassembled machines and did general repair work vehemently protested their classification as mechanics' helpers while white workers performing the same tasks were considered “apprentices” or “learners.” Several complained that, even after working at Buckeye foryears, they had never advanced past “helper.” Eldridge Westbrooks, who was hired at the Jackson Avenue plant in 1925, was still classified as a “millwrights' helper,” although he did “everything a millwright does.” Harry Owens, an employee at the Hollywood plant since 1922, still worked as a mechanics' helper for fifty cents per hour while white apprentices earned over ten cents more an hour. In April 1944, at a meeting held by FEPC examiner John Hope just before he met with Fisher employees, Edward Johnson, a mechanics' helper and president of the Jackson Avenue unit of the union, related an extreme case of discrimination. “Mr. Johnson states that Mr. Will Anderson, as a mechan-ic's helper, carried tools for Mr. W. F. Bowld 20 years ago when he was a mechanic,” Hope reported. “Mr. Bowld is now President of the Buckeye Cotton Oil Company and has recently been appointed as vice president of Procter and Gamble Company. Mr. Anderson still receives the common labor wage rate of 50c: per hour, and is now engaged in handling chemicals and keeping records of this.” Johnson's account exemplifies the kind of racial subordination that all black workers experienced.64

Black Buckeye workers demanding changed job classifications encountered resistance from top white Memphis cio officials like William Copeland, regional cio director. At the end of 1944, during a NWLB hearing about contract renewal, black committeemen refused, over Copeland's objections, to concede to a company offer to grant a four cents an hour raise in exchange for a pledge that the union would not reopen the job classification issue for the duration of the contract. “The race issue is very much alive within this plant,” noted Conciliation Service commissioner W. M. Whorton. “The negro committeemen were not concerned with wages They have claimed that in the question of classification the negro has been discriminated against.” Whorton commented that “the white cio representatives made every effort to get the committee to agree to the wage increase offered and not reopen either question for the duration.”65

(p.72) Buckeye plant managers' claims that they placed white workers in higher job classifications because they were more intelligent, or worked more efficiently, particularly irked black workers. Lucius Jones and Charles Burton complained that once the company installed expeller machinery, black men were informed that they were going to be replaced by “men with more intelligence.” In May 1942, management assigned white workers to these jobs, paying them ninety to ninety-five cents per hour. Several months later, black workers returned to these positions, at 60.6 cents per hour. Likewise, in a 1943 case arbitrated by the Regional War Labor Board, the union reported that black wash tank operators had been replaced by white workers after being told they were not working efficiently. These white workers received sixty-four cents per hour, while black workers conducting similar tasks as bleach tub operators made 53.5 cents per hour. Individuals who were removed from the wash tank jobs insisted that they had taught the whites how to operate the tanks properly. The arbiter's decision, May 28,1943, ruled against the union's demand that the bleach tank operators be paid at the higher rate.66 In response to the decision, on June 7, 1943, sixteen workers at the Jackson Avenue plant walked off their jobs in an unauthorized wildcat strike. Only after union officials and Whorton pledged to seek a review by the Regional War Labor Board did strikers agree to return to work. However, on June 22, the board ruled not to reconsider the arbitration decision.67

African American workers at both Buckeye plants threatened repeatedly to strike and conducted several unauthorized walkouts. Indeed, Commissioner Whorton described workers at the Jackson Avenue plant as having a “smoldering desire to strike.”68 Strike threats and actual walkouts demonstrate workers' resistance to wartime no-strike pledges made by many unions, including UCAPAWA. Black workers' wildcats against racist job classifications temporarily pitted strike participants against union leaders and officials, who pressured workers to return to work. In September 1942, less than a year after the union election at Buckeye, a one-hour wildcat at the Jackson Avenue plant prompted disciplinary actions by Local 19's executive committee against Edward Johnson and a coworker.

These tensions dramatically resurfaced in 1944, making headlines in the black press, after union members, led by Edward Johnson, conducted an unofficial strike vote. Opposing perceptions of patriotism, racial justice, and labor unity emerged as this conflict unfolded. Shortly after the March 17 vote, Edward Johnson wrote directly to President Roosevelt, informing him that workers had “voted unanimously for a strike Ballot effective thirty (30) days from said date.” He reminded Roosevelt that the (p.73) plant had won two army and navy “E” Awards for its excellent production, and warned that “unrest is steadily growing” among the workers because their wages were not keeping up with the cost of living, UCAPAWA Local 19 business agent Reuel Stanfield, the Memphis World reported, urged workers to drop their plans, declaring that “an unauthorized strike there by the union members, a large percentage of whom are colored, would be a strike against the government and not against the company, and would do more harm than good to the workers themselves.” Stanfield counseled them to await an NWLB decision on wages. Privately, Local 19 officials branded Johnson as a “trouble maker.” At this point, Johnson and other workers also held meetings with John Hope about the job classification issue. In September, in response to the company's transfer of Edward Johnson off his regular job, nearly 900 workers at the Jackson Avenue plant, both black and white, walked off their jobs for five days, in the most disruptive wildcat of the war. Only with pressure from labor and mediation officials and a promise from the company that it would reconsider a wage increase did participants vote to return to their jobs.69

Black carpenters, Fisher Aircraft employees, and Buckeye cottonseed oil workers all engaged in wartime struggles that targeted not only wages but underlying job classification systems that sorted out workers according to purported inherent differences between blacks and whites. At the core of these struggles were beliefs about masculinity, since skill itself denoted independence, intelligence, and at least a minimum amount of power to control one's own labor. At both Fisher, a modern mass production plant, and Buckeye, a cotton-based manufacturing facility, black workers staked claims to identities different from those imposed upon them by humiliating job classifications, with some becoming indigenous leaders. Even as members of antiracist cio unions with radical leaders, they encountered barriers to their pursuit of racial justice and forged different understandings of labor and American freedom.

Crump's “WellKept Slaves”

A series of highly public confrontations beginning in late 1943, including verbal sparring between A. Philip Randolph and Boss Crump, thrust issues of labor, power, and freedom into the limelight. These events dramatically illuminated problems being addressed on a daily basis by working-class black Memphians. They also placed a number of black leaders on the spot with both the Crump machine, on the one hand, and working-class black Memphians, on the other. In 1943, the local chapter of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters made plans for a “mammoth labor (p.74) rally” on November 7 featuring Randolph, touting it as the “most widely-heralded [meeting] ever scheduled by Negro labor groups in Memphis.” During his trip to Memphis, Randolph also planned to address a Brother-hood of Sleeping Car Porters banquet and the STFU's annual convention. Randolph had first gained prominence as coeditor with Chandler Owen of The Messenger, founded in 1917 as the “only radical Negro journal in America.” In 1925, he became president of the newly established Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, organized to address the railway brother-hoods' exclusion of blacks. After the union affiliated with the AFL in 1929, Randolph continued to pressure the AFL to accord equal rights to black workers. Randolph's national visibility greatly increased with his leader-ship of the March on Washington Movement.70

The day before the scheduled 1943 rally, the Crump machine pressured African American community leaders into canceling the event, provoking a storm of controversy. As the Memphis World reported, “Approximately twenty Negro leaders received orders direct from the Sheriffs office to be present at a meeting Saturday afternoon at three o'clock. No indication as to the purpose of the meeting was given until their arrival.” The newspaper asserted that “virtually behind jail bars these men were impressed with the fact that should Mr. Randolph speak in Memphis it would likely be the signal for a race riot.” Sheriff Perry, Attorney General Will Gerber, police commissioner Joe Boyle, Shelby County commissioner E. W. Hale, and Shelby County attorney Charles Crabtree addressed the group, with Boyle announcing that he had a list of whom to seize should a riot erupt. Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters local president H. F. Patton and other leaders present, including Lt. George W. Lee and Booker T. Washington High School principal Blair T. Hunt, agreed to cancel the rally. In response to criticism after the so-called jailhouse meeting, Hunt stated in the Memphis World that he had intended to “promote the larger good for all concerned.”71

Randolph delivered his speech to the STFU convention anyway. Situating the Memphis conflict in the context of national and global questions about the meaning of democracy, he assailed Crump, declaring that the “fascists are represented not only by Mussolini, Hitler, and Hirohito, but by local politicians.” “Labor's mouth has been muzzled in France, Italy, and Germany,” he continued. “It was attempted in Memphis by the political machine, but it must not and will not succeed.” Randolph argued that the “one answer to fascism in Memphis” would be a “public meeting of white[s] and Negroes exercising the right of assembly and expression.” After leaving Memphis, Randolph continued to make headlines for his (p.75) statements about home-front fascism, and March on Washington Movement leaders sent protest letters to Mayor Chandler.72

Meanwhile, AFL president William Green, under pressure from Ran-dolph and eager to wrest votes from the cio, ignited further controversy by directing southern AFL representative George L. Googe and local AFL organizers to arrange a return trip to Memphis for Randolph. Memphis Trades and Labor Council president and Crump friend Lev Loring reacted by attacking Randolph as “a demagogue of front rank” whose appearance would not be “good for this section of the country” or “beneficial to the relationship between the races.” In turn, black AFL organizer Cornelius Maiden denounced Loring, despite his AFLaffiliation, and Green issued a rebuttal reproduced in the advertisement for the mass meeting, AFL leaders also pilloried efforts to block the meeting by two black Memphians, former school principal T. J. Johnson and businessman G. L. Young, who visited William Green in Washington. Benjamin Bell joined Maiden in rallying support from AFL locals, and Rev. George Long offered Beale Avenue Baptist Church as a meeting site. As the day of the event approached, Lt. George Lee, in a letter to Republican leader Robert Church, now living outside Memphis, warned that “Randolph will be here Friday and this town is hot as a … stove and newspapers are fanning the flames. Anything is liable to happen.”73

Randolph's speech, on March 31,1944, which drew over 1,000 black and white participants, hammered home the idea that fascism was a problem not just abroad but at home as well, a theme central to his message since the start of the March on Washington Movement. Randolph castigated Crump for undermining freedom, declaring that Mr. Crump “outHitlers Hitler.” Significantly, he also challenged black leaders. As the Memphis World reported, he “scor[ed] local Negro leaders and berat[ed] the circumstances and personalities which stood in the way of his delivering an address here last November.” Randolph ridiculed the language of “racial harmony,” including Crump's claims that blacks were content. “Pointing to the establishment of schools and playgrounds by the city for Negro citizens is no proper justification for denying them or anybody else freedom of speech,” Randolph declared. “Negroes do not want to be well-kept slaves. Like white people they, too, want to be free.” By comparing Crump's paternalism and black complacency with slavery, he threw down the gauntlet not only for Crump but also for black Memphis leaders, whom he posed as obstructions to, rather than vehicles for, genuine freedom.74

Randolph's statements in Memphis expanded upon his arguments in national debates about America's participation in the war and the challenges (p.76) facing African Americans. As early as September 1942, Randolph contributed to a special “Victory” supplement in the Chicago Defender, in which white and black leaders and scholars, ranging from President Roosevelt and General Douglas MacArthur to W. E. B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes, addressed top issues they saw at stake in the war. Randolph's statement, titled “Freedom on Two Fronts,” demanded that blacks “call for freedom now.” It anchored the challenge of freedom and democracy in both “the problem of the Negro” in the United States and the problem of people of color under colonial rule, particularly in India.75

Randolph elaborated on this international perspective on freedom in 1943, first in a column reprinted in the Memphis World and then in a rejoinder to critics of the March on Washington Movement, published in the Defender. In these writings, he further underscored the need for African Americans to reconsider their own role in defining and winning freedom. Randolph proclaimed that “Negroes are at the crossroads,” arguing that the “decisive challenge” faced by the “darker races” internationally was assuming responsibility for their own freedom. “Freedom is never given; it is won,” he insisted. “Justice is never granted, it is exacted. It is written in the stars that the darker races will never be free until they make themselves free.” To do so required a “welldeveloped philosophy of thought and struggle,” the lack of which had led some black leaders to endorse Jim Crow policies. Segregation must be a primaiy target, he concluded, as the “main pillar” of racial oppression.76 Randolph's words reverberated in the Memphis context, in his critiques of both Crump and local black leaders. He also articulated what some black Memphis workers had been expressing, whether in comments linking their protests to the global war against fascism, or in their complaints about labor contracts that conceded to segregated job classifications.

Crump's rebuttal reasserted his view that city officials played the role of benefactor to black Memphians, who remained dependent on them. “Randolph scoffs at what has been done for the Negroes in Memphis and Shelby County in the way of schools, parks, playgrounds, swimming-pools, health facilities and housing,” he fumed. “I would hate to think that he voices the sentiment of the colored citizens of this community in his belittling the many things that have been done for them, notwithstanding the fact they only pay 5 per cent of the taxes.” City police had protected the black community from itself, he announced, “cleaning up Beale Street dives that were harboring criminals with pistols and longbladed knives.” Crump accused Reverend Long of “spreading race hatred,” asserting that if a riot erupted, “the blood of his race is on his altar in the House of (p.77) God.” He also declared that Memphis would be “better off without … the preacher who gave permission to hold that meeting in his church.”77

Although Randolph's speech received “wide acclaim by his hearers, white and colored,” according to the Memphis World, outside Beale Avenue Church it elicited conflicting responses. Several preachers dissociated themselves from Randolph and reaffirmed their allegiance to Crump: “Did the speech delivered by Randolph in which he lambasted and vilified E. H. Crump represent the attitude of the colored people of Memphis? We say NO.”78 A Memphis World editorial struck an ambivalent note, insisting that it “deplor[ed] the action of Memphis leaders in bringing about a cancellation of Mr. Randolph's appearance” yet did not support his March on Washington Movement. The paper asked for “the matter to be forgotten” and for “the best elements of responsible citizens [to] continue their efforts for harmony and democracy for all.”79

Reverend Long, for his part, greeted Crump's warning with the declaration that “Christ, not Crump, is my Boss.” Printed in the Memphis PressScimitar, Long's response reinforced Randolph's own themes. “The issue raised by Mr. E. H. Crump in Memphis is the issue around the world—Freedom,” he argued. “Thousands of my group are dying around the world for that freedom. If they can take it there, I can take it here, although I must take it unarmed, but the pity of it is that men should have to die there for what is denied here.”80 In fact, Long hosted several labor gatherings at his church, including public meetings of both the STFU and the UCAPAWA.81 Concomitantly, conflicts within the MUL, successor to the Community Welfare League, drew further attention to differences among blacks over labor and politics in early 1944, when the MUL fired Executive Secretary Benjamin Bell because of his involvement in Memphis labor struggles. Hired in May 1943 following the death of Lucien J. Searcy, Bell, a Chicagoan, had received a master's degree in social work from Atlanta University and worked as a social worker, journalist, and researcher, including for Gunnar Myrdal's study on blacks in America. By fall 1943, MUL officers had become anxious about his high profile, prompting an investigation by the Urban League's southern regional office.82 The final straw for the MUL came in January 1944, with Bell's publication of an article in the Chicago Defender about Memphis labor problems. “Memphis has leviathan plans for the post-war period,” Bell asserted, yet “no information has been divulged bearing on employment opportunities for the Negro worker.” Bell also attacked police brutality and other problems black Memphians faced.83 A week later, the Defender's front page declared, “Crump Wrath May Oust Urban League Leader in Memphis.” The article decried the (p.78) Crump machine's threat to pull all Community Chest funding from the MUL if Bell continued as executive secretary. It also assailed MUL directors who were most intent on removing Bell, including Dr. J. E. Walker, M. W. Bonner, and Blair T. Hunt, referring to them as representatives of the “local Negro appeasement bloc which believes in the ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ approach to race relations.”84

Ultimately the MUL replaced Bell with Rev. James A. McDaniel, minister of Bethel Presbyterian Church and a member of the Negro Chamber of Commerce. Whereas Bell, after he was fired, began to work formally with the AFL's laundry workers union, McDaniel, as the new MUL executive secretary, helped the USES advertise for African Americans to work as common laborers and domestic workers. “No one can afford to dissipate his or her energies in idleness,” he declared in a typical announcement, emphasizing black workers' need to obtain jobs. Yet even McDaniel assured John Hope that he would refer complainants to the FEPC and stressed that USES policies were “definitely dangerous, both for the present and the post-war world when Negroes return in search of jobs.”85

Other Memphis leaders eschewed any note of protest, urging black workers to develop workplace efficiency in Memphis plants and in the cotton fields. Dr. J. E. Walker, who headed the black Democratic organization in Shelby County and the Universal Negro Life Insurance Company, issued radio announcements that encouraged African American men to take jobs in the cotton compresses and named the cotton economy “one of the pillars of the economic life of Memphis.” The Memphis Junior Negro Chamber of Commerce posted placards in streetcars instructing blacks to develop good work habits, to “pay no attention to rumors,” and to do their part in the war effort. And the Colored Methodist Center sponsored a “Workers Clinic” that emphasized that to be a good “Christian, citizen, family member,” one must learn how to do a full day's good work.86

These clashing perspectives on black labor, racial identities, and urban politics all existed prior to A. Philip Randolph's visits to Memphis and E. H. Crump's public posturing against the New York-based labor and civil rights leader. Yet this confrontation stirred various black community leaders to take a public position on these issues. Nevertheless, the incendiary words on both sides that surrounded Randolph's Memphis speeches would have had little significance outside the unique context of the war-time urban South. Daily confrontations provoked by African American male and female workers over the meaning of the war itself and racial justice prompted these leaders to vie for particular standpoints on labor and their relation to the Crump machine.

(p.79) Thousands of black migrants who arrived in Memphis found it difficult to avoid seasonal work in the region's cotton fields and discovered that they were considered field hands even after permanently relocating to the city. At the same time, both newcomers and established residents who succeeded in locating work in Memphis were subject to racist labor distinctions that cast them as dependent and servile, preventing them from advancing beyond domestic work or unskilled labor. By excluding blacks from skilled industrial production jobs at a time when Roosevelt had recast the American economy as an “Arsenal of Democracy,” such practices placed them outside the markers of American progress and democracy.

African Americans living in Memphis during the war seized upon new openings created by the wartime context itself. In particular, they took advantage of contradictory state interventions in their efforts to combat discrimination and alter powerful racial perceptions. Competing aims of federal agencies such as the USES and the FEPC, for example, enlivened debate about racial justice and created openings for protest. For thousands of workers, the first order of protest was unionization. Many facing severe barriers in employment and wages also sought out other routes, whether that meant filing government complaints or pressing community leaders for help.

Black women struggled with the anachronistic image of “mammy,” the happy-go-lucky household servant in white households, ascribed to them. In the context of the “Arsenal of Democracy,” women like Altha Sims, Ella Rose Dotson, Susie Brister, and Margaret Jackson rejected their role as servant. As white women entered nonfarm paid labor in record numbers during the war, purported racial differences might have collapsed had they labored side by side with black women. But city officials and employers shored up these boundaries through racist hiring practices. Black women working in industrial laundries and similar sites also protested classifications and wage scales that distinguished them from their white women coworkers. In non-military workplaces, women joined unions in massive numbers, while those laboring in non-union military facilities formed self-styled groups that complained about job discrimination to their employers and the federal government. These women also protested their sexualization, which added to perceptions of black women as outside the category of normal womanhood and made them vulnerable to sexual abuse by employers. While individuals who initiated the White Rose Laundry protest sought to substitute the existing image with that of a desexualized, ennobled war worker and mother, laundry workers cast themselves (p.80) as activists on behalf of a changed American democracy that would eradicate racial injustice.

Black male workers in mass production factories such as Fisher Aircraft and cotton-based manufacturing plants such as Buckeye battled over racist job classifications and the dual-wage system. They rejected being cast as dependent, subordinate, and inferior to white men. Some of the most energetic protests were against black men's exclusion from skilled jobs that were being assigned to white women. At the same time, black men drew on a notion of agency missing from the racialized persona of the dependent laborer. As Clarence Smith stated in his effort to get a job as a riveter rather than continue as a porter and floor sweeper, he wanted “to … win recognition in this our country, as citizens, human, and a important spoke in the wheel of progress.” Benjamin Bell drew attention to this issue when he demanded to know why black workers were absent in discussions of postwar Memphis.

These wartime struggles did not reverse racist practices, although by the end of the war, African Americans had been hired into many jobs from which they had previously been excluded, largely due to the pragmatic need for more defense workers. Nevertheless, blacks' protests helped establish a climate of dissent that continued into the postwar period, both locally and nationally. Public dramas such as those involving A. Philip Randolph, Rev. George Long, and Benjamin Bell, in which issues of agency, power, and identity were writ large, contributed to this atmosphere of resistance. The Crump machine had suppressed the “mammoth labor rally” featuring Randolph just months after race riots occurred in several American cities. On the heels of these riots, Randolph aroused ire with his declaration that “racial harmony” was based on sustaining “wellkept slaves” within a segregated world. The concept of “racial harmony,” an ideological accompaniment to plans for Memphis's progress, represented the opposite of Randolph's view of having to win freedom rather than having it handed over. Most importantly, it countered the kind of subjectivity being seized by many working-class African Americans.


(1) . Altha Sims to President Franklin Roosevelt, July 9, 1942, reel 34, file: Complaints to Government Agencies, Office of Budget and Administration, Region VII, FEPC Records.

(2) . Altha Sims to Mayor Walter Chandler, September 1, 1942; and Chandler to Sims, September 2, 1942, both in Chandler Papers, box 11, folder: Correspondence S, 1942; FEPC Assistant Executive Secretary George M. Johnson to Altha Sims, reel 34, file: Complaints to Government Agencies, Office of Budget and Administration, Region VII, FEPC Records.

(3) . For nationally based analyses of how gender and sexuality figured into wartime (p.307) racial labor conflicts, see Boris, “‘You Wouldn't Want One of ‘Em Dancing with Your Wife,’” 77–108, and “‘Right to Work Is the Right to Live!’” On black women workers during the war, see Korstad, Civil Rights Unionism. On black women in the World War II defense industry, see LemkeSantangelo, Abiding Courage; Karen Anderson, “Last Hired, First Fired,” 82–97; and Maureen Honey, Bitter Fruit.

(4) . Clarence W. Smith to War Manpower Administration director Paul V. McNutt, May 3, 1943, reel 25, file: Complaints Not against Particular Companies, Office of Budget and Administration, Region VII, FEPC Records.

(5) . “Randolph Scores Attitude of Memphis Labor Leaders,” Memphis World, April 4, 1944; Rev. George A. Long, “Christ, Not Crump, Is My Boss,” Memphis PressScimitar, April 3, 1944, 1.

(6) . War Manpower Commission Labor Market Development Report, August 15, 1943, Chandler Papers, box 14, folder: Labor—1943.

(7) . Field Report by John Beecher, [May 1942], reel 77, Office Files of John Beecher, file: Memphis, Tennessee, FEPC Records; Correspondence in box 13, folder: Housing Authority, 1943; box 5, folders: Fisher Body Company and Ford Plant; and Labor Market Report for Memphis, November 15 to December 15, 1942, box 8, folder: Labor, all in Chandler Papers; Michael Honey, Southern Labor and Black Civil Rights, 178; Sigafoos, Cotton Row to Beale Street, 207.

(8) . A 1942 USES survey found that 13.7 percent of white job applicants for defense jobs came from Arkansas or Mississippi. Sixteen percent of the 10,000 current employees of the four largest defense contractors in Memphis also came from Arkansas or Mississippi, in addition to those who came from west Tennessee. See United States Employment Service for Tennessee, “Preliminary Study of Memphis as an Interstate Labor Market Area,” June 23, 1942, RG 183, box 357, folder: Memphis, NARA.

(9) . United States Employment Service for Tennessee, “Preliminary Study of Memphis”; Letter from Benjamin Bell to Paul McNutt, USES director, box 7, file: USES, 7-GR-60, 62, 82, 110, 113, FEPC-Region VII.

(10) . Michael Honey, Southern Labor and Black Civil Rights, 179–86 passim; “Appraisal of Wages in the Memphis, Tennessee, Plants of the Buckeye Cotton Oil Company,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, unpublished report to the Wage Investigator of the National War Labor Board, May 1, 1942, reel 76, Division of Field Operations, Office Files of Will Maslow, September 1943–January 1945, FEPC Records.

(11) . See Garfinkel, When Negroes March; and Reed, Seedtime for the Modern Civil Rights Movement.

(12) . War Manpower Commission, Labor Market Development Report for August 15, 1943, Chandler Papers, box 14, folder: Labor, 1943.

(13) . Ibid.; Evelyn Bates interview by author; Carter, “Local Labor Union,” 44; Memphis Furniture, Mediation and Conciliation Service File 464–125, RG 280, NARA.

(14) . The OPM was created by Roosevelt in January 1941, partly to quell rising sentiments over discriminatory hiring procedures in the defense industry. The FEPC was initially administratively linked to the OPM. See Reed, Seedtime for the Modern Civil Rights Movement, 13, 21, 26. Beecher, an FEPC field examiner until the committee (p.308) was reorganized in early 1943, was a white southern liberal and descendent of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Personal accounts of his FEPC experiences are in Beecher Papers.

(15) . Firestone's May 1942 workforce of 2,200 included 683 blacks, out of which 451 held jobs classified as unskilled; 181 worked in semiskilled service jobs such as tire cleaner or shipping and receiving, and only 51 worked in skilled positions as machine operators and mill men. See Field Report by John Beecher [May 1942] and Memo from Cy A. Record to Robert C. Weaver [May 1942], both in reel 77, Office Files of John Beecher, file: Memphis, Tennessee, in FEPC Records.

(16) . Field Report by John Beecher [May 1942] and Memo from Cy A. Record to Robert C. Weaver [May 1942], both in reel 77, Office Files of John Beecher, file: Memphis, Tennessee, in FEPC Records.

(17) . Field Report by John Beecher [May 1942] and Memo from Cy A. Record to Robert C. Weaver [May 1942], both in reel 77, Office Files of John Beecher, file: Memphis, Tennessee, in FEPC Records.

(18) . Field Report by John Beecher [May 1942] in reel 77, Office Files of John Beecher, file: Memphis, Tennessee, in FEPC Records. Eileen Boris discusses this trend of employers to explain their exclusion of black workers based on false assumptions about syphilis rates in “‘You Wouldn't Want One of ‘Em Dancing with Your Wife,’” 94.

(19) . Field Report by John Beecher [May 1942] and Memo from Cy A. Record to Robert C. Weaver [May 1942], both in reel 77, Office Files of John Beecher, file: Memphis, Tennessee, in FEPC Records. On the FEPC, see Reed, Seedtime for the Modern Civil Rights Movement.

(20) . Field Report by John Beecher [May 1942] and Memo from Cy A. Record to Robert C. Weaver [May 1942], both in reel 77, Office Files of John Beecher, file: Memphis, Tennessee, in FEPC Records; John Beecher to Virginia Beecher, May 21, 1942, Beecher Papers, box 14, folder: 1942, April–June. Black FEPC examiner John Hope II learned that he was closely monitored during his Memphis trips. See Reed, Seedtime for the Modern Civil Rights Movement, 226.

(21) . Report on Memphis, from Dr. Alva W. Taylor, [May 1944], Records of the Committee on Fair Employment Practice, RG 228, box 3, file: Buckeye Cotton Oil 7-BR-292, Regional Files, FEPC-Region VII; Memo from Cy A. Record to Robert C. Weaver [May 1942], reel 77, Office Files of John Beecher, file: Memphis, Tennessee, in FEPC Records; “1,541 Members Added to NAACP Branch,” May 28, 1943, Memphis World; Melton, “Blacks in Memphis, Tennessee,” 252–53.

(22) . Aubrey Clapp to Mayor Walter Chandler, June 18, 1943, Chandler Papers, box 17, folder: Welfare Department 1943.

(23) . Mediation and Conciliation Service Files 301–6897, 452–171, and 464–125, RG 280, NARA. As of October 1943, Memphis Furniture's workforce consisted of 220 men and 450 women.

(24) . Mayor Walter Chandler to Honorable Clifford Davis, November 13, 1943, box 15, folder: Labor-1944; and minutes, Committee for Economic Development, July 1, 1943, box 12, folder: Economic Development, Committee for, 1943, both in Chandler Papers.

(25) . Honorable Clifford Davis to Mayor Walter Chandler, December 1, 1943, Chandler Papers, box 15, folder: Labor-1944; Weekly Report memorandum from Witherspoon Dodge, FEPC Region VII Director to Will Maslow, FEPC Director of Field Operations, for the week ending July 27, 1945, regarding cases 7-BR-287, 2-BR-472, reel 52, Central Files, Office of Budget and Administration, Weekly Reports by Region, file: Region VII, Reports, 1945, FEPC Records. See also mention of this case in Michael Honey, Southern Labor and Black Civil Rights, 194.

(26) . Memorandum from A. Bruce Hunt, Director, Region VII, to Will Maslow, Director of Field Operations, June 21, 1944, reel 52, Central Files, Office of Budget and Administration, file: Weekly Reports By Region, Region VII, October 1943–June 1944; and Annual Report memorandum from John Hope II to John A. Davis, Director, file: Office Files of Eugene Davidson, FEPC Asst. Director, October 1941–April 1946, Division of Review & Analysis, both in FEPC Records; Benjamin F. Bell Jr. to Paul V. McNutt, July 28, 1943, RG 228, box 7, Closed Cases T–U, folder: USES, 7-GR-60, 61, 82, 110, 113, NARA. On newspaper advertisements by private employers, see, for example, National Fireworks's daily advertisements for “White Women” in July 1943, in both the Memphis Commercial Appeal and the Memphis PressScimitar.

(27) . George Townsel Sr. to Chairman of the FEPC, box 2, Active Cases S–Z, folder: USES, Memphis, TN 7-GR-639, FEPC-Region VII.

(28) . J. E. Walker, M. W. Bonner, M. S. Stuart to USES, September 5, 1942, reel 34, file: Complaints to Government Agencies, Office of Budget and Administration, Region VII, FEPC Records; and Benjamin F. Bell Jr. to Paul V. McNutt, July 28, 1943, RG 228, box 7, Closed Cases T–U, folder: USES, 7-GR-60, 61, 82, 110, 113, NARA.

(29) . Welfare director A. B. Clapp reported that a reputable source had informed him that there would be an “uprising among the negroes on Tuesday night of this week.” See Honorable Clifford Davis to Mayor Walter Chandler, October 9, 1942; and A. B. Clapp to Chandler, October 3, 1942, both in Chandler Papers, box 9, folder: Negroes, 1942.

(30) . T. L. Ward, “White Man's View on Reputed Clubs to Create Race Trouble,” Memphis World, June 29, 1945.

(31) . Ella Rose Dotson to President Roosevelt, January 7, 1943, RG 228, box 7, Closed Cases T–U, folder: USES 7-GR-1, 3, 4, 9, FEPC-Region VII.

(32) . Correspondence from and about Ella Dotson, January 1943–February 1944, RG 228, box 7, Closed Cases T–U, folder: USES 7-GR-1, 3, 4, 9, FEPC-Region VII.

(33) . Ella Rose Dotson to President Roosevelt, January 7, 1943, RG 228, box 7, Closed Cases T–U, folder: USES 7-GR-1, 3, 4, 9, FEPC-Region VII.

(34) . Correspondence from and about Ella Dotson, January 1943–February 1944, RG 228, box 7, Closed Cases T–U, folder: USES 7-GR-1, 3, 4, 9, FEPC-Region VII.

(35) . Susie Brister to President Roosevelt, July 2, 1942, reel 27, file: Complaints against a Particular Company, in Office of Budget and Administration, Region VII, FEPC Records.

(36) . Margaret Jackson to President Roosevelt, June 5, 1942, reel 27, file: Complaints against a Particular Company, in Office of Budget and Administration, Region VII, FEPC Records.

(37) . The 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)'s minimum wage and maximum hour requirements initially did not apply to laundry and cleaning establishments, regardless of their annual gross volumes. The FLSA initially also excluded agricultural and domestic workers, and restricted regulation of cotton compress and cottonseed processing workers' wages and hours to only fourteen weeks per year. A disproportionate number of black Memphis workers were thus excluded from FLSA provisions. See FLSA legislation and amendments and testimony by Dolly Lowther, Laundry Workers' Division of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Unit, CIO, to the 1949 Senate Subcommittee on FLSA Amendments, in “‘Among the Most Exploited’: Fair Labor Standards Act and Laundry Workers,” History Matters, <http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/6262> (accessed February 12, 2006). Lowther declared, “Laundry workers have been among the most exploited of all groups of workers. Unprotected by the Fair Labor Standards Act, they have been afforded little protection by existing State legislation.”

(38) . This account of Gertrude Carter and Katie Hall's struggle at Kennedy General Hospital between 1943 and 1944 is based on correspondence in the file on Kennedy General Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee, 7-GR-485–487, RG 228, box 1, Active Cases A–S, FEPC-Region VII.

(39) . “Laundry Workers Essential to War,” July 9, 1943; and “Loeb's Laundry Workers Strike,” August 21, 1945, both in Memphis World; D. K. Jones, Commissioner of Conciliation, Progress Report re Model Laundry, July 24, 1942, Mediation and Conciliation Service Files 209–3424, RG 280, NARA.

(40) . Hunter, To ‘Joy My Freedom, 207–8; Jones, Labor of Love, 177–78, 209–10; KesslerHarris, Out to Work, 112.

(41) . “Laundry Employees v. Employers,” Little Rock, Arkansas, Docket No. 233, September 3, 1918, National War Labor Board, RG 2, NARA. Discussed in Green, “‘Out of This Land of Sufring'”; and Haiken, “‘Lord Helps Those Who Help Themselves.’”

(42) . Orleck, Common Sense and a Little Fire, 160–63. See also Jones, Labor of Love, 212; and Galenson, CIO Challenge to the AFL, 286–87.

(43) . “Laundry Workers Being Organized,” July 2, 1943; “Laundry Workers Meet Wed. Night,” July 6, 1943; “Kraus Employees on Strike, Backed by Laundry Union,” July 23, 1943;“Second Week of Kraus' Strike,” July 30, 1943; and “Loeb's Laundry Workers Strike,” August 21, 1945, all in Memphis World; “206 Walk Out at Kraus Firm,” July 21, 1943; and “Pickets on Job at Kraus Plant,” July 26, 1943, both in Memphis PressScimitar; Mediation and Conciliation Service Files 209–3424 on Model Laundry and 199–7432 on Crescent Laundry, RG 280, NARA.

(44) . James Nimmo, President, Miami Laundry Workers Union to U.S. Department of Labor, November 18, 1942, reel 25, file: Miami Laundry Workers Union, Office of Budget and Administration, Complaints Not against Particular Companies, Region VII, FEPC Records.

(45) . “1,200 Laundry Workers Strike for Higher Pay,” October 8, 1943; “Atlantans Told to Get Dirty Clothes,” October 10, 1943; “Laundry Strike No Nearer Settlement,” October 14, 1943; “Ministers Tell Strikers to Hold Out to the End,” October 15, 1943; “Laundry Strike in Second Week,” October 19, 1943; “Laundry Union Favors League (p.311) Strike Program,” November 5, 1943; “Injunction Bars Laundry Pickets,” November 10, 1943; “Laundries Fail to Open, Workers Fail to Appear,” November 11, 1943; and “Ask for U.S. Aid in Laundry Strike,” November 13, 1943, all in Atlanta Daily World.

(46) . “Loeb's Laundry Workers Strike,” August 21, 1945; “Laundry Workers Being Organized,” July 2, 1943; “Laundry Workers Meet Wed. Night,” July 6, 1943; “Kraus Employees on Strike, Backed by Laundry Union,” July 23, 1943; and “Second Week of Kraus' Strike,” July 30, 1943, all in Memphis World; “206 Walk Out at Kraus Firm,” July 21, 1943; and “Pickets on Job at Kraus Plant,” July 26, 1943, both in Memphis PressScimitar.

(47) . Historian Tera W. Hunter discusses the washerwoman as both the archetypal domestic laborer and one who had more independence than cooks and maids. Once industrial entrepreneurs succeeded in moving laundry work into industrial settings, women laborers lost most of this autonomy. See To ‘Joy My Freedom, 57, 207.

(48) . Memphis Negro Chamber of Commerce and Housewives League to White Rose Laundry Cleaners, October 5, 1942, Chandler Papers, box 9, folder: Negroes—1942. See also the discussion of this dispute in Melton, “Blacks in Memphis, Tennessee,” 203–4.

(49) . Memphis Negro Chamber of Commerce and Housewives League to White Rose Laundry Cleaners, October 5, 1942; Mayor Walter Chandler to Walter Klyce and Arnold Klyce, October 6, 1942; and Walter Klyce and Arnold Klyce to Mayor Walter Chandler, October 14, 1942, all in Chandler Papers, box 9, folder: Negroes—1942.

(50) . “They Also Serve!” cartoon, Memphis World, August 6, 1943.

(51) . Roosevelt's Executive Order 8802 did not ban discrimination on the basis of sex or gender, yet as Eileen Boris has pointed out, racialized conceptions of gender became central to wartime struggles. See “‘You Wouldn't Want One of ‘Em Dancing with Your Wife.’”

(52) . The following account is based on the FEPC's extensive file on this case, May 5–October 9, 1945, reel 80, file: Veteran's Hospital, Memphis, Division of Field Operations—Active Cases, June 1943–April 1946, Region VII, FEPC Records.

(53) . Files on Henke Construction Company, Lee Construction Company, and Mayfair Construction Company, reel 27, Office of Budget and Administration, Complaints against a Particular Company; and Rev. George A. Bell to Dr. Robert Weaver, August 5, 1942, reel 34, Office of Budget and Administration, Complaints to Government Agencies, both in FEPC Records.

(54) . Files on Henke Construction Company, Lee Construction Company, and Mayfair Construction Company, reel 27, Office of Budget and Administration, Complaints against a Particular Company, FEPC Records.

(55) . James Smith to Paul McNutt, April 24, 1943, reel 25, file: Complaints Not against Particular Companies, Office of Budget and Administration, Region VII, FEPC Records. On FDR's decision to place the FEPC under WMC control in July 1942, see Reed, Seedtime for the Modern Civil Rights Movement, 74–75. See also Reed's lengthier discussion of Roosevelt's May 1943 Executive Order 9346 reestablishing and restructuring the committee (77–143 passim).

(56) . Correspondence and complaints in RG 228, box 4, Closed Cases D–J, folder: Fisher Memphis Aircraft (Division of GMC), 7-BR-109, 7-BR-130, 7-BR-287, FEPC-Region (p.312) VII. On Bell's role as executive secretary and the origins of the Memphis Urban League, see Nat D. Williams, “Focussing the News: An Urban League for Memphis,” Memphis World, August 6, 1943.

(57) . Correspondence and complaints in RG 228, box 4, Closed Cases D–J, folder: Fisher Memphis Aircraft (Division of GMC), 7-BR-287, FEPC-Region VII.

(58) . Correspondence and complaints in RG 228, box 4, Closed Cases D–J, folder: Fisher Memphis Aircraft (Division of GMC), 7-BR-472, 7-BR-109, 7-BR-130, FEPC-Region VII.

(59) . Newspaper clipping, n.d., in reel 76, Tensions Files, file: Tennessee, Memphis, FEPC Records.

(60) . “Appraisal of Wages in the Memphis, Tennessee, Plants of the Buckeye Cotton Oil Company,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, unpublished report to the Wage Investigator of the National War Labor Board, May 1, 1942, reel 76, Division of Field Operations, Office Files of Will Maslow, September 1943–January 1945, FEPC Records. At its 1944 convention, UCAPAWA changed its name to the Food, Tobacco and Agricultural Workers Union (FTA). See Michael Honey, Southern Workers and Black Civil Rights, 201. Here, to avoid confusion I will use the UCAPAWA acronym.

(61) . “Appraisal of Wages in the Memphis, Tennessee, Plants of the Buckeye Cotton Oil Company,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, unpublished report to the Wage Investigator of the National War Labor Board, May 1, 1942, reel 76, Division of Field Operations, Office Files of Will Maslow, September 1943–January 1945, FEPC Records.

(62) . Mediators' Report, NWLB, June 18, 1942, Case No. 59, in Mediation and Conciliation Service File 196–8955, RG 280, NARA.

(63) . Ibid.

(64) . John Hope II to A. Bruce Hunt, [ca. April 27, 1944], RG 228, box 3, Closed Cases B–D, folder: Buckeye Cotton Oil, 7-BR-292, FEPC-Region VII. Quote on p. 6.

(65) . W. M. Whorton, Progress Report, December 9, 1943, Mediation and Conciliation Service File 301–3446, RG 280, NARA. For more on Copeland, see Michael Honey, Southern Labor and Black Civil Rights, 143–44, 210–12.

(66) . Reuel Stanfield, UCAPAWA Local 19 business agent, to A. Bruce Hunt, May 5, 1944; and Arbitration Decision in the Matter of the Buckeye Cotton Oil Company and UCAPAWA, May 28, 1943, both in RG 228, box 3, Closed Cases B–D, folder: Buck-eye Cotton Oil, 7-BR-292, FEPC-Region VII.

(67) . Mediation and Conciliation Service File 300–6436, RG 280, NARA.

(68) . Mediation and Conciliation Service Files 442–620, 442–2182, RG 280, NARA. Five wildcat strikes, two averted strikes following votes to strike, and reported threats of strikes at both the Hollywood and Jackson Avenue plants are documented in the Mediation and Conciliation Service Files on Buckeye, RG 280, NARA. The Whorton quote is from U.S. Conciliation Service Progress Report, April 28, 1944, File 472–572, RG 280, NARA.

(69) . “Union Official Issues Appeal against Threatened Buckeye Wage Increase Strike Action,” Memphis World, March 21, 1944; Mediation and Conciliation Service Files 442–620, 442–2182, RG 280, NARA; John Hope II to A. Bruce Hunt, [ca. April 27, 1944], RG 228, box 3, Closed Cases B–D, folder: Buckeye Cotton Oil, 7-BR-292, FEPC-Region VII.

(70) . “A. Philip Randolph Noted Labor Leader Speaks Here Sunday,” November 5, 1943, 1; “A. Philip Randolph Speaks in Memphis November 7th,” October 29, 1943, 1; and “Memphis Calls Off Randolph Mass Meet,” November 9, 1943, 1, all in Memphis World; Harris, Harder We Run, 40–48, 72; Reed, Seedtime for the Modern Civil Rights Movement, 13–15; Garfinkel, When Negroes March, 63–77.

(71) . “Randolph Speaks at STFU Conclave—Mass Meeting Canceled,” November 12, 1943; “Washington Hi Principal Answers Critics: Echoes of Canceled Meeting Contained in Principal's Letter to Friends and Press,” November 23, 1943; “Randolph Scores Attitude of Memphis Labor Leaders,” April 4, 1944; and “Crump Issues Comment,” April 4, 1944, all in Memphis World; Blair Hunt to unspecified recipient, November 19, 1943, Chandler Papers, box 14, folder: Negroes; Tucker, Lieutenant Lee of Beale Street, 139–42. Various sources differ on the exact number of black leaders present and whether the meeting actually took place in a jail cell.

(72) . “Randolph Speaks at STFU Conclave—Mass Meeting Canceled,” November 12, 1943, 1; “Randolph Sees March On D.C. for Next Spring: Says Fascism and Discrimination Are Increasing,” November 12, 1943, 1; and “Opinion Divided on Projected Visit of Randolph to Memphis,” March 14, 1944, 1, all in Memphis World; Layle Lane to Mayor Walter Chandler, November 19, 1943, and Reverend L. J. Sullivan to Mayor Walter Chandler, November 23, 1943, both in Chandler Papers, box 14, folder: Negroes; Jervis Anderson, A. Philip Randolph, 269–70.

(73) . “Randolph Speech Defended by Negro Labor Leader: Opinion Divided on Projected Visit of Randolph to Memphis,” March 14, 1944, 1; “Randolph Ban Lifted Memphis Leaders Say,” March 24, 1944, 1; “Randolph to Speak Friday Night at Beale Avenue Bapt. Church Labor Meet,” March 28, 1944, 1; “Randolph Meeting to Be Held as Local Negro Saboteurs Are Named in Effort to Stop Rally,” March 31, 1944, 1, all in Memphis World. An advertisement for the “Special Mass Meeting” lists as sponsors “the Pullman Car Porters, Memphis Division; the Teamsters Union, Local 667; the Longshorem[e]n, the United Textile Workers, the Laundry Workers, Local 263, the Freight Handlers, the Coopers Union, the Tobacco Workers and many others.” See Memphis World, March 28, 1944, 1. The Lee comment is quoted in Melton, “Blacks in Memphis, Tennessee,” 218.

(74) . “Randolph Scores Attitude of Memphis Labor Leaders,” Memphis World, April 4, 1944.

(75) . A. Philip Randolph, “Freedom on Two Fronts: March on Washington Leader Sees Danger of Race Losing the Peace,” in “Calling America to Victory,” Chicago Defender, September 26, 1942.

(76) . A. Philip Randolph, “This Is a Crucial Year for the Darker Races,” Memphis World, January 5, 1943; A. Philip Randolph, “A Reply to My Critics: Randolph Tells Philosophy Behind ‘March’ Movement,” Chicago Defender, June 19, 1943.

(77) . “Crump Issues Comment,” Memphis World, April 4, 1944.

(78) . Quoted in Jervis Anderson, A. Philip Randolph, 270.

(79) . “The Randolph Speech,” Memphis World, April 4, 1944, 6. Even earlier, in response to Randolph's January 1943 column republished in the newspaper, a Memphis (p.314) World editorial had excoriated Randolph's support for Gandhism and civil disobedience. See “On Mr. Randolph's Proposal for Negro Action,” Memphis World, January 22, 1944.

(80) . Rev. George A. Long, “Christ, Not Crump, Is My Boss,” Memphis PressScimitar, April 3, 1944, 1.

(81) . “Rev. Long Welcomes CIO Local 19”; “Noted Speaker Lauds Roosevelt, Blames Local School Teachers”; and “Rev. Fisher Stirs Labor Meeting,” all in Memphis World, October 20, 1944.

(82) . “Prof. Searcy's Passing Stuns Community,” February 5, 1943; “Community Welfare League Selects Executive Secretary,” May 25, 1943; and “Urban League Regional Director Makes a Study of Memphis Negro Status,” January 21, 1944, all in Memphis World. See also Melton, “Blacks in Memphis, Tennessee,” 214–18.

(83) . Benjamin F. Bell Jr., “Dixie Ways Rule Memphis; Skilled Jobs for White Only,” Chicago Defender, January 22, 1944.

(84) . “Crump Wrath May Oust Urban League Leader in Memphis,” Chicago Defender, January 29, 1944.

(85) . “Job Discrimination Charged against US Employment Service,” August 24, 1943; “Urban League Head Is Back from Chicago Meet,” October 8, 1943; “Janitor Frozen on Job Is Released,” October 26, 1943; J. A. McDaniel, “League Secretary in Call for More Workers,” May 1, 1945; and “Good Domestic Jobs Are Now Available,” June 15, 1945, all in Memphis World; Witherspoon Dodge, Weekly Report, December 23, 1944, reel 52, Division of Field Operations, file: Weekly Reports, September 1943–May 1944, FEPC Records; Melton, “Blacks in Memphis, Tennessee,” 215–18.

(86) . On the radio announcements, see Radio Announcement for WHBQ, June 30–July 7, 1944, Chandler Papers, box 15, folder: Negroes, 1944; on the streetcar placards, see Mayor Walter Chandler to John Arnold, Negro Junior Chamber of Commerce, and “car cards,” July 15, 1943, Chandler Papers, box 14, folder: Negroes, 1943; on the Colored Methodist Center see “Workers Clinic to Open Here July 9th,” Memphis World, June 29, 1945. See also Thelma N. Watson to Mayor Walter Chandler, January 9, 1946; and “Syllabus for the Working out of an Inter-Racial Commission on Domestic, Farm, and Unskilled Labor,” n.d., Chandler Papers, box 25, folder: Negroes, 1946.