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Winning the War for Democracy

Winning the War for Democracy: The March on Washington Movement, 1941-1946

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Winning the War for Democracy
    Book Description:

    Scholars regard the March on Washington Movement (MOWM) as a forerunner of the postwar Civil Rights movement. Led by the charismatic A. Philip Randolph, MOWM scored an early victory when it forced the Roosevelt Administration to issue a landmark executive order that prohibited defense contractors from practicing racial discrimination. Winning the War for Democracy: The March on Washington Movement, 1941-1946 recalls that triumph, but also looks beyond Randolph and the MOWM's national leadership to focus on the organization's evolution and actions at the local level. Using the personal papers of previously unheralded MOWM members such as T.D. McNeal, internal government documents from the Roosevelt administration, and other primary sources, David Lucander highlights how local affiliates fighting for a double victory against fascism and racism helped the national MOWM accrue the political capital it needed to effect change. Lucander details the efforts of grassroots organizers to implement MOWM's program of empowering African Americans via meetings and marches at defense plants and government buildings and, in particular, focuses on the contributions of women activists like Layle Lane, E. Pauline Myers, and Anna Arnold Hedgeman. Throughout he shows how local activities often diverged from policies laid out at MOWM's national office, and how grassroots participants on both sides ignored the rivalry between Randolph and the leadership of the NAACP to align with one-another on the ground.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09655-6
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    A. Philip Randolph’s call for somewhere between ten and one hundred thousand African Americans to arrive at the Lincoln Memorial to protest on July 1, 1941, is well known as a landmark in African American history.¹ Indeed, this nonevent has even gained a reputation as “the most famous demonstration that never happened.” Ironically, the march that never occurred established a precedent for successful protests that used coalitions, mass mobilization, and explicit confrontation in order to press for moderate reform through aggressive tactics. At the time, Randolph’s plans to march on Washington were a novel idea that had been done only...

  5. 1 What Happens When Negroes Don’t March?
    (pp. 23-47)

    A. Philip Randolph claimed that he originally thought of sponsoring a march on Washington while traveling through the Deep South on an organizing and speaking tour for the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.¹ According to Milton Webster, one of Randolph’s companions on that trip, the ambitious plan for a massive demonstration in the capital on July 1, 1941, was first articulated in Savannah, Georgia. Another BSCP member and close associate of Randolph, Benjamin McLaurin, remembers that it initially “scared some of them to death . . . including myself,” and he was surprised that in less than a month “it...

  6. 2 “We Are Americans, Too”: MOWM’s Institutionalization
    (pp. 48-73)

    African Americans mobilized in the first half of 1941 to support Randolph’s call to march, and many of them remained affiliated with MOWM for the war’s duration. “Once the FEPC order was issued,” Bayard Rustin recalled some thirty years after MOWM’s heyday, “the real activity began.”¹ Randolph’s threat to “stun the government, shock business and astonish organized labor” inspired many, and MOWM shifted its focus toward local organizing.² In the message canceling the march, Randolph advised MOWM’s local branches to “remain intact in order to watch and check how industries are observing the executive order.” ³ MOWM encouraged grassroots activists...

  7. 3 Wartime St. Louis and the Genesis of MOWM in the Gateway City, 1942
    (pp. 74-100)

    It had been about a year since Franklin Roosevelt warded off A. Philip Randolph’s threat to march on Washington by creating the Fair Employment Practice Committee, but Executive Order 8802 seemed to make only a negligible impact in many cities. Nationwide in 1942, African Americans accounted for only 1.8 percent of the federal employees above entry-level or custodial job classifications, and those who had more lucrative occupations usually held temporary positions that would be eliminated after the war.¹ The federal government invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in construction projects for defense production facilities in and around St. Louis, but...

  8. 4 Pickets, Protests, and Prayers: St. Louis MOWM’s Campaign to Integrate the Defense Workforce
    (pp. 101-128)

    On August 14, 1942, St. Louis MOWM held a major rally at Kiel Auditorium, a city-owned space named in honor of former mayor Henry Kiel.¹ An event of this magnitude had never happened before in St. Louis, but a mass layoff of 145 African American workers at Carter Carburetor served as “a crystallizing event” in wartime protest that led to St. Louis MOWM’s maturation.² With a budget of less than $ 1,000, the rally drew approximately 10,000 attendees, garnered the support of the city’s African American newspapers, and presented a program that unmistakably demonstrated the indignation of St. Louis’s black...

  9. 5 “These Women Really Did the Work”: Marching on More than Defense Plants
    (pp. 129-149)

    St. Louis MOWM built on momentum gained from demonstrating at Carter Carburetor and U.S. Cartridge by directing its energies toward gaining jobs in public utilities and municipal services. These were employment opportunities that, unlike defense jobs, were likely to remain steady for years to come. This new strategy put African American women at the center of MOWM’s campaigns.¹ Nationally, about one hundred thousand African American women gained white-collar jobs during the war. One in three white women held wartime jobs such as switchboard operators, sales clerks, and secretaries, but only about one of every thirty women in these fields was...

  10. 6 “An Economic D-Day for Negro Americans”: MOWM’s Transition and Dissolution, 1944–46
    (pp. 150-174)

    As the war wound down after the D-Day landings and V-J Day, MOWM spent much of 1944 searching for ways to help African American workers obtain jobs in industries that were expected to thrive in the postwar economy. By the war’s end, manpower shortages, efforts of pressure groups such as MOWM, and the FEPC’s increasing visibility all combined to result in an “all-time high” of 6 million African Americans being gainfully employed throughout the United States.¹ Conversely, the number of unemployed African Americans plummeted from nearly 1 million in 1940 to around 150,000 in 1944.² To secure these gains, the...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 175-192)

    Activism in World War II unfolded throughout the country, and MOWM was hardly alone in waging a fight against Jim Crow. As part of an upsurge in African American protest during the war years, MOWM’s place in the loosely organized Double V campaign demonstrates that social and political movements have the capacity to effectively confront multiple issues through a variety of organizations. Writing of wartime campaigns for racial equality in New York City, Martha Biondi remarked, “It was not a single struggle, coordinated by a single organization.”¹ The same can be said about protests on a national level during this...

  12. APPENDIX A: MOWM Chapters and Local Chairpersons
    (pp. 193-194)
  13. APPENDIX B: Approximate Racial Composition of Major St. Louis Defense Contractors during World War II
    (pp. 195-196)
  14. APPENDIX C: March on Washington Movement Documents
    (pp. 197-202)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 203-274)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 275-308)
  17. Index
    (pp. 309-320)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 321-322)