Preventing labor discrimination during World War II, 1942

A primary source by War Manpower Commission

“Americans All” poster, War Manpower Commission, Washington DC, 1942. (GLC09530)In early 1942, as men of working age enlisted in the military and war production accelerated, US industries experienced a labor shortage. President Roosevelt established the War Manpower Commission “to assure the most effective mobilization and maximum utilization of the Nation’s manpower in the prosecution of the war” (Executive Order 9139). The commission estimated that nearly seven million new workers would be needed in 1942. General Frank McSherry, director of operations for the WMC, declared that


employers can no longer afford to discriminate against Negroes and workers of other minority groups. . . . Aliens, where it is possible under government restrictions, must be considered for war production jobs. . . . We cannot afford to permit any preconceived prejudices or artificial hiring standards to interfere with the production of tanks, planes and guns.[1]

This poster, published by the War Manpower Commission in 1942, highlights the need to draw laborers from all segments of the American population. It shows nine men working on a tank. Their last names suggest a variety of ethnicities and national origins: Cohen, du Bois, Hrdlicka, Kelly, Lazarri, Nienciewiscz, Santini, Schmidt, and Williams. The text paraphrases President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 8802 of 1941 forbidding discrimination “because of race, creed, color, or national origin” in defense production.

[1] Frank J. McSherry, “Manpower Problems and the War Effort,” July 7, 1942, Vital Speeches of the Day 8, no. 22 (1942), 702.

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“. . . it is the duty of employers and labor organizers to provide for the full participation of all workers without discrimination because of race, creed, color, or national origin.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

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