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4 Laboratories of Democracy? The Unsteady March of Fair Employment in the States, 1945–1964 Most liberals must have felt a burst of optimism at the outset of Truman’s second term. Harry had given the Republicans hell. Running from behind during the last weeks of the historic 1948 election, he had determinedly gone on the offensive, railing against the GOP-controlled “do nothing” Congress and surging dramatically to victory in the very last days of the campaign. Perhaps the year’s most enduring political image was a photograph of a grinning, victorious Truman holding up the morning edition of the Chicago Tribune, which had prematurely run a headline reading, “Dewey Beats Truman.”1 The interfaith, interracial group of men and women who were concerned about fair employment practices (FEP) had better reason than most liberals to think that the moment for genuine, widespread change had arrived. “The recent elections have evoked a great deal of optimism” among Americans concerned about civil rights, wrote Gilbert Gordon, a Chicago-based attorney for the American Jewish Congress (AJC). For much of the fall, Truman had spoken out strongly on behalf of civil rights, motivated primarily by his reelection strategy. One of his most trusted advisors, Clark Clifford, had recognized that African Americans formed a sufficiently large bloc of voters in battleground states—particularly New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois—that it would be advisable for the president to take a strong, public stand on civil rights in order to secure their votes. Over the course of the campaign, Truman heeded Clifford’s advice, promoting his historic civil rights report in a message to Congress, issuing an executive order that outlawed discrimination in federal employment, and making civil rights part of his October stump speech. Truman barely won the race, of course, and many observers at the time concluded that his slender margin of victory was provided by his dominance over Dewey in the black neighborhoods of Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Harlem, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. Now the president was returning to office after a year of making campaign promises, and Congress had gone over to Democratic hands. Strong rhetoric did not always mean strong action, and progress was no certainty, but change seemed in the cards. Much of the nation seemed poised to take a major step forward on civil rights.2 C HA PT ER 4 116 The political situation in the states seemed even more promising in 1949. It had not taken long for other states to follow in the footsteps of New York. Its mid-Atlantic neighbor, New Jersey, passed legislation only months after Ives-Quinn was signed into law. In 1946, Massachusetts became the first FEP state in New England. Liberals had actually sought a law in Massachusetts a year earlier, but they had neglected to cultivate support from legislators outside of the Boston area, and the mistake proved fatal. When they tried again in 1946, liberals found themselves once more opposed by the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the Boston Chamber of Commerce, the real estate boards, and the conservative legislators allied with them. Conservatives cited a litany of reasons for their opposition. Some wondered, unjustifiably, whether it would stand judicial scrutiny. “Let’s send it to the Supreme Court and see if it’s constitutional,” they suggested. Others professed general support for the FEPC but expressed dislike for “this bill.” Still others were reduced simply to pleading that their opposition to the bill should not be interpreted as support for intolerance and segregation. “Some of my best friends are Negroes and Jews,” pleaded one legislator to the sound of laughter in the chamber.3 Massachusetts liberals nevertheless prevailed in 1946, drawing on the same repertoire of tactics that had yielded success in New York. A grassroots bloc of African Americans, Jews, Catholics, and members of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) rallied behind the bill, working with lawmakers representing urban districts—primarily Democrats but also liberal Republicans. When the bill was under consideration by the lower chamber, three hundred delegates reportedly visited the Massachusetts statehouse, buttonholing uncertain legislators and lobbying the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House, both Republicans. Liberals wrote scores of letters, formed numerous delegations, met with key lawmakers, and packed the galleries at legislative hearings. Lawmakers were sharply divided by party, but opponents began slowly to concede. The bill eventually cleared the house by a vote of 164–59. Weeks later, the Senate voted...


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