Step by Step: The March Towards Equal Employment Opportunity

Did you know that the Federal government’s attempts to combat discrimination in the workplace date back to the 1940s during World War II? While awareness of Affirmative Action, the Civil Rights movement, and the purpose of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is widespread today, these workplace regulations started with Executive Order 8802, issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 25, 1941.

An important step toward ending racial discrimination in federal government employment, the Order eliminated discrimination in the U.S. defense industry and federal government on the basis of race, creed, color, or national origin. At the same time, it established the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), solely as an investigative and advisory committee. Bills to make the FEPC permanent were defeated in Congress after World War II, when African Americans held 8% of the jobs in the defense industry and about 200,000 government jobs. Although lacking enforcement, the FEPC contributed to the momentum behind future efforts on equal employment and antidiscrimination, and significantly impacted policies and legislation thereafter.

In the 80 years since Executive Order 8802 was issued, what progress have we made? How much further do we have to go to fully eliminate the barriers to equal employment opportunity in the labor force? There is still plenty to do.

All materials from Princeton University Library Discrimination in employment; pamphlet collection, IR-10293