In its new form, the “FEPC was given power to receive and investigate complaints of discrimination prohibited by the executive order, to conduct hearings, make findings of fact, and to take appropriate steps to eliminate discrimination” (Hamilton, Hamilton, 69). But this forerunner of the current civil rights regulatory agencies had very limited success, to say the least. Robert Brisbane writes: “The greatest weakness of the FEPC was its total lack of power to enforce its orders.
The powers to subpoena witnesses and records, to compel testimony and to enforce directive through the courts or the Attorney General did not exist” (Hamilton, Hamilton, 71). He continues: “But, like all other bodies which originated from the war powers of the Chief Executive, the FEPC had to refer noncompliance cases to the President for his disposition. He could order governmental seizure and operation of the plant involved “(Hamilton, Hamilton, 72). President Roosevelt chose not to do this, and when Congress refused to make the FEPC a permanent agency of the government in 1947, it ceased to exist.
This partial devotion of Roosevelt to civil right reforms brought a lot of attention and criticism from contemporary historians. They point out that while Roosevelt was a hero to African Americans, he had in fact been very reluctant to risk alienating Southern members of Congress by advancing even a limited federal civil rights program during his twelve years in the White House. As noted by many historians, including Ted Morgan in “FDR: A Biography”, Roosevelt never proposed comprehensive federal civil rights legislation and only issued a single executive order designed to address the rights of black Americans (Gardner, 37).
Indeed, while Roosevelt’s Executive Order 8802 created a temporary federal FEPC as part of the wartime effort, it was issued only after he was confronted with a threatened march on Washington. As historians point out, in contract to further civil rights reforms conducted after World War II, which triggered structural and permanent changes in the country’s segregated landscape, Roosevelt’s federal FEPC established only a temporary program to free up jobs for blacks in the wartime defense industry. Accordingly, its long-term impact was marginal.
In regard to broader civil rights reform during his twelve years in office, Roosevelt remained timid. Although many contemporary historians accuse President Roosevelt in that he generally dodged the civil rights issue, practically, the Roosevelt Administration was the first who had begun to pay attention to the needs of black people. Negroes had not benefited from New Deal welfare and work relief in proportion to their needs, but particularly in the northern states, they had benefited enormously from federal programs.
Matthew C. Whitaker; Race Work: The Rise of Civil Rights in the Urban West, University of Nebraska Press, 2005 Dona Cooper Hamilton, Charles V. Hamilton; The Dual Agenda: Race and Social Welfare Policies of Civil Rights Organizations, Columbia University Press, 1997 Michael R. Gardner; Harry Truman and Civil Rights: Moral Courage and Political Risks, Southern Illinois University Press, 2002 Hanes Walton Jr. When the Marching Stopped: The Politics of Civil Rights Regulatory Agencies, State University of New York Press, 1988