Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Sunbelt Civil Rights: Race, Labor, and Politics in the Fort Worth Aircraft Industry, 1940–1980
by Abel, Joseph A., Ph.D., Rice University, 2011, 364; 3464296
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation critically engages the growing literature on the "long" civil rights movement and the African American struggle for equal employment. Focusing on the Fort Worth plants of General Dynamics and its local competitors, this study argues that the federal government's commitment to fair employment can best be understood by examining its attempts to oversee the racial practices of southern defense contractors both prior to passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. From World War II onward, the aircraft factories of north Texas became testing grounds for federal civil rights reform as a variety of non- statutory executive agencies attempted to root out employment discrimination. However, although they raised awareness about the problem, these early efforts yielded few results. Because the agencies involved refused to utilize their punitive authority or counter the industry's unstable demand for labor through rational economic planning, workplace inequality continued to be the norm. Ultimately, federal policymakers' reluctance to reform the underlying structural causes of employment discrimination among southern defense contractors set a precedent that has continued to hinder African American economic advancement.

This dissertation also reevaluates assumptions regarding southern unions and the response of white workers to the civil rights movement. Just as the economic relationship between the federal government and defense contractors gave rise to early mandates on fair employment, the unstable demand for labor and adversarial management style of the Fort Worth aircraft manufacturers nurtured a form of unionism unique within the South for its moderate treatment of African Americans. Long before most labor organizations in the region resigned themselves to similar philosophies, the local aircraft workers' unions adopted a pragmatic approach toward racial questions based largely on their need to counter managerial abuses and provide job security. Whatever their personal prejudices may have been, local white labor leaders nevertheless protected the economic rights of African Americans through forceful shopfloor representation and the negotiation of inclusionary contracts. By demanding a workplace in which management's actions were constrained by a set of fairly negotiated contractual rules, Fort Worth's aircraft unions struck an important if unintended blow against the arbitrariness of employment discrimination.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Boles, John B.
Commitee:
School: Rice University
School Location: United States -- Texas
Source: DAI-A 72/10, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: African American Studies, Black history, American history, Labor relations
Keywords: African-American, Aircraft manufacturing, Equal employment, Fort Worth, Labor unions, Texas
Publication Number: 3464296
ISBN: 9781124776330
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