The Story: History

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Almost without exception they found some reason to be against FEPC [Fair Employment Practices Commission] -- an unwarranted interference with free enterprise, keeping people from making rightful business decisions that they ought to be entitled to, whatever the argument. Most of the time it was a specious argument of some kind, but they never said, "I'm against it because it helps the blacks." There was never anyone of them that I know of who said, "I'm just for a white democracy."

George LeMaistre

Confederate soldier

"The Republicans in those days"
- Herman Talmadge

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The end of the white primary and other civil rights victories inspired tens of thousands of African Americans to register to vote. For the first time in American history, political parties were forced to recognize the potential power of black votes. Throughout his presidency (1933-1945) Franklin Delano Roosevelt struggled to keep the Democratic Party together as its members argued over race issues. He attempted to find balance between demands for racial equality and his need to maintain the support of white southern Democrats. Despite the recent insurgence of black Democrats, the Democratic Party of Roosevelt’s era was dominated by white southerners who were staunchly opposed to concessions on civil rights issues.

Although Roosevelt was reluctant to support several legislative bills on race issues, he did place African Americans in important advisory roles, was the first president to invite them to serve as delegates at the Democratic national convention, added the first civil rights plank to the party platform, and abolished the South’s power to veto presidential candidates. Previous to this 1936 ruling, Democratic presidential nominees had been required to acquire two-thirds of delegate votes, giving the solid bloc of southern Democratic delegates an effective veto of candidates they found unacceptable.

"A specious argument"
- George LeMaistre

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Additionally, President Roosevelt made what many call the most significant move in support of equal rights for African Americans between Reconstruction and the 1964 Civil Rights Act, when on June 25, 1941, he signed the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) into being. It prohibited the federal government and companies with government contracts from discriminating on the basis of race, creed, color, or national origin. It was intended to help minorities obtain employment in the war effort.  As a result, millions of African Americans and women achieved better jobs for more pay. They operated ammunition plants, airfields, shipyards, and other facilities.  Many of these facilities eventually closed following the end of the war, but overall the FEPC was generally successful within the private sector of the North in enforcing anti-discrimination employment policies. However, in the South, the FEPC failed to challenge segregation and was the impetus for several strikes by angry white workers.