1941 July 1

March on Washington Cancelled After FDR Issues EEO Order

 

Civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph had proposed an African-American March on Washington to demand an executive order banning race discrimination in the defense industries (full employment had returned because of the war in Europe). The march was cancelled on this day after a dramatic confrontation between Randolph and President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the White House, on June 18, 1941.

FDR had invited Randolph to the White House to persuade him to cancel the march, arguing that it would set back the cause of civil rights. When Randolph refused, FDR caved in and agreed to issue what became the historic Executive Order 8802 creating a Fair Employment Practices Committee (June 25, 1941).

Having achieved his basic goal, Randolph cancelled the march. Some of Randolph’s more militant allies criticized him for doing so, but he realized that he had won a great victory. There is no other known incident in which someone directly confronted Roosevelt and forced him to change his mind on a policy issue.

Randolph had an incredible career of confronting U.S. presidents in the White House. He first confronted President Roosevelt in the White House on September 27, 1940, when president refused to enforce the non-discrimination clause in the 1940 selective service law. He clashed with President Harry Truman on March 22, 1948, warning that if the armed forces were not desegregated he would advise young African-American men not to cooperate with the new draft law that was then under consideration. Truman ordered the military desegregated on July 26, 1948. And on June 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy attempted to persuade civil rights leaders to cancel their planned March on Washington. Led by Randolph, they rejected his plea, and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, held on August 28, 1963, became one of the iconic moments of the civil rights movement.

Read about all of Randolph’s confrontations with presidents: Samuel Walker, Presidents and Civil Liberties From Wilson to Obama (2012)

Read: Andrew Kersten, A. Philip Randolph: A Life in the Vanguard (2007)

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

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