Franklin D. Roosevelt

Memorandum Condemning Discrimination in Defense Work

June 12, 1941

Memorandum for
Honorable William S. Knudsen
Honorable Sidney Hillman

Complaints have repeatedly been brought to my attention that available and much-needed workers are being barred from defense production solely because of race, religion, or national origin. It is said that at a time when labor stringencies are appearing in many areas, fully qualified workers are being turned from the gates of industry on specifications entirely unrelated to efficiency and productivity. Also that discrimination against Negro workers has been Nation-wide, and other minority racial, national, and religious groups have felt its effects in many localities. This situation is a matter of grave national importance, and immediate steps must be taken to deal with it effectively.

I note with satisfaction that the Office of Production Management has recognized the seriousness of this situation, and that on April 11, 1941, it addressed a letter on the subject to all holders of defense contracts. As Chief Executive of the Nation I place the full support of my office behind your statement to the effect that, "All holders of defense contracts are urged to examine their employment and training policies at once to determine whether or not these policies make ample provision for the full utilization of available and competent Negro workers. Every available source of labor capable of producing defense materials must be tapped in the present emergency."

No Nation combating the increasing threat of totalitarianism can afford arbitrarily to exclude large segments of its population from its defense industries. Even more important is it for us to strengthen our unity and morale by refuting at home the very theories which we are fighting abroad.

Our Government cannot countenance continued discrimination against American citizens in defense production. Industry must take the initiative in opening the doors of employment to all loyal and qualified workers regardless of race, national origin, religion, or color. American workers, both organized and unorganized, must be prepared to welcome the general and much needed employment of fellow workers of all racial and nationality origins in defense industries.

In the present emergency, it is imperative that we deal effectively and speedily with this problem. I shall expect the Office of Production Management to take immediate steps to facilitate the full utilization of our productive manpower.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Memorandum Condemning Discrimination in Defense Work Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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