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Race Relations

"Cotton Picking Time"


While headlines shout of racial tension, this story of accomplishment in providing expanded opportunities for Negroes will give heart to all


Throughout the country--and most dramatically in the South--employment barriers against Negroes are coming down.  The "white-only" rule has been discarded in surprising places.  It is no longer unheard-of in Atlanta, Greensboro, new Orleans and Tulsa to find Negro engineers, mathematicians and draftsmen working side by side with white colleagues.  In a dozen major southern cities Negroes are employed as clerks in department and variety stores.  In many southern factories the whole gamut of production and office jobs has been thrown open.

At the Western Electric factory in Winston-Salem, N.C., Negro women serve as secretaries to department heads.  At Lockheed Aircraft in Marietta, Ga., Negro supervisors direct mixed crews of white and Negro workmen on the production line.  At International harvester in Memphis, Tenn., over 20 percent of the 2500 men are Negroes, the majority of them in semi-skilled and skilled jobs customarily held by whites only.

Such enlarged job opportunities have transformed the lives of Negroes who in the past could only nurse thwarted ambitions.  Harry L. Hudson, a 38-year-old Atlantan and a college graduate, for example, might still be running the gas station that he and his father owned in the early 1950's.  Instead, in 1952, Hudson went to work as a "structures assembler" at the mammoth Lockheed Aircraft plant in Marietta.  In 1953 he was put in charge of an all-Negro crew (Lockheed had not yet integrated its work force).  In 1958 he was assigned his first integrated crew.  In September 1961--by which time he was earning $154 a week--he was promoted to buyer, the first Negro in that job at Lockheed, and with the promotion came a sizable raise.  Hudson's goal is eventually to move on to corporate headquarters.  To achieve his ambition, he says, "I've made a habit of going to school to increase my skills at least 22 weeks a year since I've been there."

Or take Lee Gaylor, born 30 years ago in Natchez, Miss.  As a youngster he was influenced by something Abraham Lincoln once said:  "I shall study and make ready and perhaps the opportunity will come."  In 1960 he was graduated from Southern University with a degree in electrical engineering.  Hired as a draftsman by The Boeing Co. in Seattle, he studied nights at the University of Washington.  In 1962 he was made senior facilities engineer at $157.20 a week and transferred to Boeing's operation at the NASA Michoud space flight facility near New Orleans.

New horizons have also opened to Negro women.  Louis Francois moved from Cairo, Ill., to Chicago some years ago and took courses in interior decorating and modeling.  The only job she found open, however, was that of working in a store at $38 a week.  Then she applied at the Illinois Bell Telephone Co. (Bell has hired Negro operators since 1947) and in the fall of 1955 became a "junior operator."  In August 1960 she was advanced to "service representative," handling customer queries and complaints--the only Negro in the department.  Last year she was made a supervisor, over-seeing the work of seven service representatives--all white.  Now 30, she can go as high as $665 a month in her present post.

Today 117 of the nation's leading companies, employing over six million workers, have pledged themselves to the Plans for Progress program of The President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity to make strenuous efforts to recruit, train and upgrade minority group employees.  Reports from 75 of the pledged companies, covering the last six months of 1962, showed that "non-white" employment had increased 8.9 percent--from 127,015 to 138,289--and that 24.7 percent of all new jobs when to non-whites.

To see these intetgrated shops in action, take a walk through Lockheed, at Marietta.  It is a hughe enclosure, nearly half a mile long, the largest aircraft factory under one roof in the world.  At fixed stations along what seem to be endless assembly lines, you see squads of workmen riveting together sections of cargo-plane fuselages, wings and tail assemblies.

Scores of Negro workers are scattered among the white--three Negroes and five whites at one station, two Negroes and four whites at another.  In the interior of a nearly completed mid-fuselage section, a dozen Negro and white women work at sealing the crevices with a gum-like substance.  They talk quietly as they work, there is some laughter, some sassing; it is a relaxed atmosphere.  On a five-foot scaffold, a Negro girl instructs a white boy in the use of the sealing gun.  Four or five Negro supervisors oversee mixed crews.

This raises an inevitable question:  isn't it a problem for a Negro, in Georgia, to supervise white men?  Each Negro denies it.  "I have no special problems," says one of them.  "Just the general problems of handling people."

In the end, one gathers, it is the job that counts.  If an employer is determined to integrate his owrk force, all a disapproving white employee can do is quit.  Few do, for there is never a surplus of factory jobs in the South, and the factory pays better than the farm.

A decade ago, International Harvester proved what a determined employer can do.  When the company established a factory in Memphis in 1947, many of its Negro and white employees came off farms and cotton plantations and had to be trained for semi-skilled production-line jobs.  From 1949 to 1953 there was friction, with occasional wildcat strikes, as Negroes were upgraded.  In 1953 a Negro was made a welder, and a wildcat strike cost the company a week of production.  Harvesterr announced that anyone who engaged in a future wildcat would be suspended for 30 days.  It outlined its employment policies in newspaper ads and sent explanatory letters to community leaders.  The United Automobile Workers International Union, representing most Harvester employees, supported the company's stand.  There have been no more wildcat strikes at the Memphis plant.

Today most employers report far less trouble than Harvester experienced a decade ago.  Last year a major advance was carried out at the Tennessee Coal and Iron Division of U.S. Steel near Birmingham, Ala.: union and management agreed to merge Negro and white seniority lines, which determine the sequence by which workers move on to better-paying jobs.  For the first time Negroes were eligible for jobs formerly reserved for whites.  Hundreds of Negroes have since been upgraded without incident.

Retail establishments in the South often fear that placing Negroes in sales positions will drive away white trade.  Once the great step is taken, the fear is usually proven to be unfounded, as the experience of downtown stores in Houston, New Orleans, Memphis, Lynchburg and other cities has shown.  In Memphis this year various companies agreed to hire one or more Negroes in publicly visible jobs--such as sales clerks, route men and cahiers.  To ensure that no business would be hurt by a consumer boycott, they all put the Negroes to work in the same period of time.  Hundreds of Negroes moved into new jobs.  The city took the development with only occasional murmers of protest.

Businessman Carl Carson, who headed the drive, recalls that one irate woman phoned a bakery to say that she and all the members of her club were going to boycott the firm because it had hired a Negro route man.  "But ma'am, all the bakeries in Memphis now have Negro route men," the manager explained.  No response--and no boycott.

In the North, enlargement of Negro job opportunites has moved at an accelerated pace.  In Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles the National Urban League--the biracial social agency concerned, among other things, with Negro employment--has been deluged with job order for engineers, technicians, accountants, computer operators, secretaries.  In New York, Negroes have made gains in banks, utility companies, department stores, broadcasting, most insurance companies, and, lately, in advertising agencies.  Most recently, there has been a considerable movement to open up top management and policy positions to them.

Companies that long had a good record have sought to better it.  IBM, for example, has expanded its Negro employment some 50 percent since late 1961.  Its Negro office and clerical employees have increased from 135 to 300.  The New York Telephone Co. employees over 4900 non-whites.

The smaller cities of the North have also made progress.  Five years ago, for example, the Industrial National Bank in Providence, R.I., departed from tradition by hiring a Negro in a white-collar job.  He later became a branch bank manager, is now a bank commissioner for the State of Rhode Island.  And today every downtown Providence bank employs Negroes as tellers, loan interviewers, secretaries.

The federal government, while prodding private business, has not neglected its own vast employment rolls.  Until recently Negroes in the federal service had been concentrated in the lower-skilled jobs.  In fiscal 1962, however, Negro employment in government in the middle seven pay grades ($4565 to $10,165) increased 19.2 percent--compared with a rise in total employment in these categories of 5.9 percent.

With many doors suddenly opening to Negroes, personnel officers frequently find a shortage of qualified Negro applicants.  Lockheed, in Georgia, wants more Negro engineers but cannot find them.  International Harvester in Memphis would like to hire a Negro metallurgist, But job opportunities in such fields have been recently been so few that Negro youngsters have not prepared for them.

In fact, Negroes, rebuffed so often in the past, usually need some positive indication that their applications are seriously solicited.  Many firms advertise in the Negro press and on radio to get the people they want.  Large corporations like RCA, General Electric, Boeing, Union Carbide make regular recruiting trips to Negro colleges.

The skilled crafts remain a tough field for Negroes to crack.  Here apprenticeship training--the usual method of becoming a journeyman electrician, sheet-metal worker or plumber, for example--continues to be controlled by the old-line AFL craft unions, which often reserve apprenticeships for sons and newphews of members.  Even here, however, there have been significant breakthroughs.  Last year New York's Local 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers recruited 1020 first-year apprentices; over 200 were Negroes or Puerto Ricans.  In June, Plumbers Local 1, in Brooklyn and Queens, N.Y., announced that it would add 25 Negroes and Puerto Ricans to the 200 young men on its apprenticeship waiting list.  In July, an agreement was reached between craft unions and employers in Detroit to open up all the crafts to Negro apprentices and journeymen.  In August, the plumbers union in Cleveland agreed to accept both Negro apprentices and some 150 non-union Negro journeymen who worked for Negro contractors.

Fortunately, not all training programs are controlled by craft unions.  Many large firms have elaborate in-plant programs for self-improvement on the job.  A couple of years ago, for example, two Negro janitors at Lockheed's Marietta plant got tired of sweeping floors, decided to take a course in blueprint reading.  "Pre-tested" for the course, they were found to be deficient in arithmetic and were advised to study the subject before trying blueprints.  So, on their own time, they took 50 hours of arithmetic, followed by 50 hours of blueprint-reading--five hours of classroom study a week for 20 weeks.  They passed both courses, applied for upgrading, and were soon making $2.27 an hour as detail assemblers.

Like countless other Negroes, they had discarded the broom forever.