Discrimination Fails to End In War Dept. Division Despite F. R.’s
Code; Color Line More Sharply Drawn As Southerners Migrate Here; Leaders See
By Annette M. Doyle
War has proved a boon to Springfield Negroes, for whom it has opened a door
to the hundreds of employment opportunities traditionally closed to “colored” people.
Springfield’s Negro population has increased about 43 per cent in the
past year, as men, women, and children have migrated from the South, New York,
and New Jersey to take the jobs in war plants hit hardest by the manpower shortage
SOD Refuses To Hire Negroes
Despite the difficulties encountered in securing white help, however, stores,
offices, and even the Springfield Ordnance district continue to refuse to hire
Although their economic position is the best they have ever held, is strictly
a “war baby,” Negro leaders in Springfield today consider that it
will mean permanent gains for members of their race in many respects.
Industrialists here are gaining a new respect for the Negro as a worker.
Desperately in need of workers, they have hired men and women regardless of color,
and have found among Negroes they formerly barred many fine workers destined
to keep their jobs in peacetime.
Discrimination Still Exists
There is still discrimination against Negroes in many war shops, however,
according to leaders.
They are barred from production jobs in some plants, and generally are given
the heavier, less skilled jobs. In some plants, however, like the Springfield
armory, they are being accepted on a basis of equality and are proving their
ability as “soldiers of production.”
The armory now employs about 800 Negroes, about 500 of them women. They are
given the same opportunities as whites to learn machine operation and to advance
as far as possible. Although they make up less than five per cent of the total
working force at the armory, they have taken a number of technical jobs and are
being “upgraded” rapidly in the machine shops.
80 Per Cent Local Negroes
About 80 per cent of the armory workers are local Negroes. The rest have
come from other parts of New England and from New York.
At the Fisk division of United States Rubber, at J. Stevens Arms, Perkins
Machine & Gear and a number of other shops where manpower needs are large,
the bars to employment of Negroes have been relaxed.
At the Fisk, it is reported, turnover among the Negroes is large, due chiefly,
to the fact that many who have never worked before are not used to the discipline
of a regular day-in-day-out job and are having difficulty resisting the temptation
to take a day off occasionally.
The influx of so many Negroes into the community has caused a strain on social
relationships among Springfield Negroes, to whom the newcomers seem “foreign” in
Always a more closely knit community than many nationality groups in Springfield,
the Negroes here have built up a way of life according to standards considerably
higher than those of the new Negroes whom they are now educating in their ways.
Many of the southerners, unused to the lack of Jim Crow laws have had difficulty
adjusting to the new conditions, but the difficulty and a certain amount of friction
between Springfield Negroes and in-migrants has not been large.
Southerners Too “Humble”
Many of the southern Negroes, it was reported, have been too “humble” in
their relationships in the community, taking any wage, for instance, that they
are given, and accepting it as a gift.
Negroes in Springfield, however, have conducted a limited educational program
to teach the newcomers that wage levels must be maintained for the good of all,
and that they are entitled to far more than they ask. They have tried to bring
up sub-standard living conditions where they have found them, and have helped
newcomers get acquainted.
For Springfield Negroes, the war has meant an opportunity for steady employment
at wages considerably higher than they have ever been able to command before.
Land Buying Discouraged
While some Negroes have invested at homes in the restricted sections of the
city where they can own real estate, one school of thought within the Negro group
discourages land-buying at this time, as economically unwise.
Some Negroes have purchased their own homes, making considerable improvements,
while others have bought real estate in the two Negro sections principally for
While this trend is being encouraged by some leaders, others hold that the
houses available for purchase are of poor quality, that Negroes will be saddled
with mortgage obligations they will not be able to meet after the war, and that
they are paying far more than the houses are worth. Usually, houses are bought
in the $4000 to $5000 price range.
Not Spending Foolishly
Extra money that is coming into Negro homes now is not being spent any more
foolishly than is that in the hands of white war workers, Negro leaders contend.
Through churches and social organizations, Negroes are being taught the value
of “good” clothing, and more conservative styles, and are learning
that clothing that will “last” is the type they should buy today.
While there are “zoot suiters” and flashily dressed young men
and women among Springfield Negroes, leaders contend, they are only emulating
the whites in the community who indulge in cheap, flashy clothing.
Racial Barriers Hightened
Socially, the war has served to highten awareness of racial barriers in Springfield,
Negro leaders have said.
With more money to spend on recreation, Negroes are finding they are not
welcome in higher-priced places. They are depending less on the free types of
entertainment programs offered by community organizations, and are searching
for ways of spending their money for the recreational opportunities they want.
Negroes are combining to provide recreational facilities for Negro soldiers,
through special USO activities. For the younger people, the YWCA sponsors weekly
dances that attract large crowds for teen-age youngsters.
Afternoon Programs Suspended
Afternoon programs for children and older people have been almost suspended,
because so many of the youngsters are employed after school.
Although many of their parents may be working, many of the younger Negro
boys and girls are eager to do their share, and are taking jobs as bootblacks,
in grocery stores, and at other tasks that bring in a few extra dollars a week.
With the money they earn many of the youngsters are buying their own clothes,
and taking more pride in their possessions as a result.
Invest In War Bonds
Most Springfield Negroes are investing part of their earnings in war bonds,
and saving as much as possible, remembering that peace will bring a stop to high
War has brought them the opportunity to learn new skills, which will enable
many to qualify at least for semiskilled jobs after the war, leaders say.
Because they have had the opportunity to learn these skills, they will have,
after the war, the chance they never had before, to take jobs requiring some
training and paying higher wages.
Accepted as Equals
In war plants, Negroes have found acceptance on equal terms with their white
coworkers. They have become members of unions in most plants, and will reap the
benefits of union seniority clauses when the time for layoffs after the war comes.
Credit President’s Code
Negroes credit the President’s code of fair employment practices, forbidding
discrimination in war industries for much of the advance they have made during
Their economic advance they are using as a stepping stone to social, health
and other forward steps they can make within the community.
The code of fair employment practices, they hold, is not being observed completely
in Springfield, or in other sections of the country. But it, and the war emergency,
will mean much in the line of permanent betterment for Springfield Negroes in
the years ahead.
Questions for Students: Who is the author’s audience? What is the
context in which the article was published? Is this article significant simply
because it was published? In what light does the article portray different groups?
What is the aim of the article? It seems as if the author is refuting certain
stereotypes or generalities by offering more positive stereotypes or generalities.
Is this a good tactic? Does it achieve her aim? Which stereotypes does she ignore
and which stereotypes does she address? Is this significant? How do the accounts
of Armory employment [generalities] listed in the article compare to the [specific]
Oral Histories or other resources? How do the accounts of employment elsewhere
in Springfield compare to those of the Armory? What facts can be gleaned from
the article, within topics such as fashion, land-ownership, real estate prices,
social activities, employment, etc.?
Other Questions (for later research): What’s the definition of a
War Department Division? What was the difference between the Springfield Ordnance
District and the Springfield Armory? How were these two able to have such drastically
differing employment practices, as the article suggests? What’s the deal
with “restricted sections” of Springfield, and where were the two “Negro
sections” located? Why was any section restricted? What are the origins
of the restriction? When did the restriction disappear, if at all? How does this
compare with modern demographics? What, exactly, was FDR’s code, and where
was it written? How did this code affect the Armory’s employment practices,
if at all?