Federal Government Action on Employment Discrimination Before Title VII
by Michael Fox
Congress as early as the Unemployment Relief Act of 1933 made a policy declaration "That in employing citizens for the purpose of this Act no discrimination shall be made on account of race, color, or creed."
Action to enforce the policy were much slower to develop. Nothing was passed by Congress.
In 1941 and 1943, President Roosevelt created two Fair Employment Practice Committees whose focus was on preventing discrimination by government contractors who were involved in the war effort. The first FEPC had only 8 staff members and no powers. The 1943 version was better staffed with 120 employees, but still no powers. They did receive over 8,000 complaints and held 30 public hearings, but their powers were limited to enforcing any decision by negotiation, moral suasion, and the pressure of public opinion. The powers of the second FEPC expired in June 1946.
Under Presidents Truman and Eisenhower the federal government's efforts were focused on government contractors, but again with no real teeth.
In March of 1961, President Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925, which established the President's Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity to focus on eliminating employment discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in both government employment and by government contractors. It also for the first time adopted the concept of requiring affirmative action on the part of government contractors.
This Executive Order also required government contractors to file reports and gave the Commission the power to recommend suits by the Department of Justice and to debar contractors who failed to comply with its requirements. Much of the energy though was 200 "plans of progress" under which large companies set up voluntary recruitment plans designed to give minorities equal employment opportunities.
It was this Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity that seemed to be the model for what was originally included in Title VII introduced in June of 1963.