On June 25, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 noting that “it is the policy of the United States to encourage full participation in the national defense program by all citizens of the United States, regardless of race, creed, color, or national origin.” The order established a “Committee on Fair Employment Practice, which shall consist of a chairman and four other members to be appointed by the President.” While primarily directed at African Americans and issued largely due to the pressure of African American civil rights leaders such as A. Phillip Randolph, who threatened a march on Washington, D.C., the order explicitly included other groups such as those discriminated against on the basis of their religion and national origin. On May 27, 1943, Executive Order 9346 was issued continuing a Roosevelt administration commitment to the agency, and a network of regional offices was created to receive and investigate complaints regarding hiring practices and discrimination. In Texas, people of Mexican origin were a key focus of the efforts of the Committee on Fair Employment Practices (FEPC).
Two key figures helped shape the role of the FEPC in Texas. Malcolm Ross, chairman of the FEPC from 1943 to 1946, had worked in the Arizona copper mines and was aware of the discriminatory conditions faced by people of Mexican origin in the Southwest. Carlos Castañeda, a Mexican American academic and community leader, led efforts to receive and investigate complaints from people of Mexican origin in Texas and other parts of the Southwest. He served as acting regional director and special assistant to the chairman of the FEPC. Castañeda’s status as a person of Mexican origin, his close ties to Mexican American civil rights leaders George I. Sanchez and Alonso Perales, and his strong working relationship with Malcolm Ross helped him secure a role for people of Mexican origin within the FEPC despite the limitations of the agency.
Initially, the FEPC began by conducting hearings throughout the country in cities such as Los Angeles. The need for strong relations with Mexico influenced the FEPC’s efforts towards people of Mexican origin. Planned hearings in El Paso were cancelled in 1942 as the U. S. State Department worried about the impact of them on the crucial relationship with Mexico. The United States needed access to labor and natural resources from Mexico. However, FEPC officials noted that there was awareness of discrimination against people of Mexican origin in the United States, and FEPC efforts could be helpful in showing a federal response to the problem.
Initially FEPC field representative Ernest Trimble investigated incidents of discrimination against people of Mexican origin in the Southwest while he prepared a report outlining discrimination. By 1943 regional offices were set up across the country, including in Texas, which was part of the FEPC’s Region X (comprising Texas, New Mexico and Louisiana). In that region, grievances filed on the basis of Mexican national origin made up 37 percent of all complaints. In his role as special assistant, Carlos Castañeda received complaints and conducted hearings with employers helping to secure some limited assistance for people of Mexican origin.
The FEPC was organized during the same period as the 1943 creation of the Good Neighbor Commission in Texas. Pauline Kibbe was appointed executive secretary of the Good Neighbor Commission, which focused on public accommodation rather than employment.
Attempts were made in the United States Congress to pass legislation creating a permanent FEPC. Support for a permanent FEPC in the United States Senate was led by New Mexico senator Dennis Chavez, at that time the only senator of Mexican origin. Attempts to create a permanent FEPC failed in the mid-1940s, largely due to opposition from Southern members of Congress.
The FEPC was created during a crucial period in the development of attempts to secure civil rights for people of Mexican origin. The FEPC allowed people of Mexican origin to file complaints of discrimination based on their national origin rather than racial classification. As a result, the complex nature of racial classification in the Southwest did not prevent people of Mexican origin from being included in the work of the FEPC.
The FEPC ended operations in 1946, and the committee’s final report noted the efforts towards people of Mexican origin in Texas and the Southwest. Despite being a temporary agency, the FEPC set the stage for the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that was created after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
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Charles Chamberlain, “Executive Order #9346: Remembering Our Nation’s Commitment to Equality During World War II,” The National World War II Museum, New Orleans (http://www.nww2m.com/2013/05/executive-order-9346-remembering-our-nations-commitment-to-equality-during-world-war-ii/), accessed November 23, 2021. Executive Order 8802: Prohibition of Discrimination in the Defense Industry (1941), www.ourdocuments.gov (https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc_large_image.php?flash=false&doc=72), accessed November 23, 2021. Matthew Gritter, Mexican Inclusion: The Origins of Anti-Discrimination Policy in Texas and the Southwest (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2012).
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