1941 June 25

FDR Signs First-Ever Equal Employment Opportunity Order


President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 on this day, which established a Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) to ensure equal employment opportunity for African Americans in the defense industries. It was the first-ever federal rule prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of race.

FDR signed the Order in return for civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph’s promise to cancel a civil rights march on Washington, planned for July 1. Randolph confronted Roosevelt in the White House on June 18, 1941; when he refused to cancel his planned march, the president agreed to issue the executive order.

The FEPC operated during World War II in the face of hostility from Southerners in Congress as well as from business leaders. When the war ended, President Harry Truman sought to make it a permanent body, but Congress refused to do so. Employment discrimination based on race was not outlawed until the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which President Lyndon Johnson signed into law on July 2, 1964.

FDR’s Order (excerpt): “NOW, THEREFORE, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the statutes, and as a prerequisite to the successful conduct of our national defense production effort, I do hereby reaffirm the policy of the United States that there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or government because of race, creed, color, or national origin, and I do hereby declare that it is the duty of employers and of labor organizations, in furtherance of said policy and of this Order, to provide for the full and equitable participation of all workers in defense industries, without discrimination because of race, creed, color, or national origin….”

Read the full Executive Order 8802: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/print.php?pid=16134

Watch a documentary on the Randolph’s proposed march: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrTd_bXsZVM

Learn more: Paula Pfeffer, A. Philip Randolph: Pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement (1990)

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