New KSU collection sheds light on workplace integration in civil rights era

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Donated archive offers glimpse into little known economic aspect of integration during the 1950s,…

Georgia (Jul 20, 2010)Donated archive offers glimpse into little known economic aspect of integration during the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s

Much has been written about the civil rights movement. The stories of integration in schools and universities, transportation services, neighborhoods and public places are well documented. Virtually unknown, however, is the integration that took place in workplaces across the South.

Until now. A new collection donated to Kennesaw State University offers valuable insight into how workplace integration came about in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Thanks to one-of-a-kind documents that include letters, photographs, manuals, complaint affidavits and newspaper clippings donated by a former executive at the Lockheed-Georgia Company, historians and scholars can now gain a clearer understanding of how workplace integration happened in the South as integration was taking place in other spheres.

The Gordon, Kruse, Wentzel Collection offers a rich chronicle of the impetus for workplace integration in the South. The materials were donated by Hugh Gordon, who served as a human resources executive from 1959 to 1988 at Marietta’s Lockheed aircraft plant –– a pioneer in private-sector integration. The company proactively recruited and trained 1,200 African-Americans for semi-skilled and skilled aircraft jobs as early as the 1950s.

“Surprisingly, scholars have devoted relatively little attention to the economic impact of the civil rights movement and how workplace integration came about,” said KSU history professor Tom Scott, who has studied the collection. “The Gordon, Kruse, Wentzel Collection gives scholars an opportunity to study rare primary documents on how the workplace was profoundly changed in the civil rights era.”

Segregation in the workplace meant that work assembly lines, offices, water fountains, restrooms, cafeterias and time clocks were separate. As businesses started integrating white and black employees, it became progressively evident that overcoming generations-old Jim Crow racial barriers would be a huge challenge, explained Gordon, who was also a volunteer activist in local and national organizations that promoted integration in the workplace.

The Gordon, Kruse, Wentzel Collection documents early efforts at Lockheed and initiatives taken by Gordon and others to begin integrating production lines and higher-level jobs in the 1950s, before any meaningful legal requirements. An executive order signed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 mandated affirmative action on the part of federal contractors. But the Kennedy and Johnson administrations acted chiefly through voluntary public-private partnerships committed to equal employment opportunities, such as Plans for Progress. Gordon was in charge of organizing these efforts in the Southeast.

The public-private partnerships played a leading role in bringing about integration in the workplace. This business-led affirmative action movement progressively opened up hundreds of thousands of job and training opportunities denied to blacks in the South since Reconstruction.

“Unlike massive civil rights demonstrations, workplace integration typically occurred one black person at a time, one new occupation at a time, one lily-white workplace at a time,” said Gordon. “It’s a story that has never been told. Everything that I’ve amassed is related to telling this story.”

Gordon is now working with KSU history professors Scott and Randy Patton to develop a historical narrative. Next year, KSU is planning to host a conference for scholars to present papers on workplace integration. Those papers will be developed into chapters of an edited volume

The collection complements other historical records kept at KSU’s Horace W. Sturgis Library. The Department of Archives, Special Collections and Records Management keeps records of the NAACP Cobb County Branch from the 1980s and the Lawrence Walker Photograph Collection on African-American churches, cemeteries and plantations in Georgia. The archives will also soon house a series of 45 oral histories with NAACP members and other civil rights pioneers conducted by KSU public history students in fall 2009.

The Gordon, Kruse, Wentzel Collection includes correspondence, manuals, meeting information, photographs, publications, reports, speeches, clippings, oral history interviews, and Gordon’s research notes and writings. One of the highlights is a unique audio recording and transcript of a presentation given by renowned civil rights leader Whitney Young on Aug. 12, 1966 at Atlanta’s Dinkler Plaza Hotel at a meeting sponsored by the Coca-Cola Company.  

The Gordon, Kruse, Wentzel Collection is open to the public by appointment. To learn more about the collection visit https://web.kennesaw.edu/archives/. For appointments or more information, contact Tamara Livingston, director, Department of Archives, Special Collections and Records Management at 770-423-6289 or archives@kennesaw.edu.

 

 




A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 35,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university's vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. A Carnegie-designated doctoral institution, it is one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.

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