We pass our neighbors often, but when you take a little time to sit down and get to know people even a bit, everyone has some hidden story, experience, or expertise in their background. This is certainly the case with my neighbor Judson MacLaury, who worked as the historian at the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, DC, for 34 years. His job was to provide information about the history of the programs that the department instituted and administered to benefit working people. Judson retired in 2006, and he and his wife Judy, a librarian at Seattle University, moved to Madrona. Judson has earned a certificate in editing from the UW and now has a retirement career as a freelance book editor.
Judson mentioned to my wife that he had written a book that was published in 2008. When I asked him about it, it sounded very interesting, so I asked him for a copy. The book is titled To Advance Their Opportunities, and I really enjoyed it. The book chronicles the struggles in the workplace that African Americans faced in America from 1914 thru 1964. This period begins with World War I and the Great Migration of African Americans to the North and ends with the Civil Rights Act and the birth of the Great Society. The book details programs that were implemented by the federal government to try to improve the quality of life for African Americans.
The book chronicles the origins and growth of the federal government’s role in addressing the emergence of black labor in the national economy and in improving their opportunities for good jobs. Judson’s research leads him to three conclusions:
1.) There were significant, measurable advances for African American workers.
2.) The concept of affirmative action was born and underwent considerable development during this period.
3.) Most major actions by the government were only taken in response to pressure from the African American community.
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Most of us have heard about many famous acts of bravery in the Civil Rights Movement, like Rosa Parks being jailed for not sitting in the back of a bus, Martin Luther King, Jr., leading marches, the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, etc… But Judson’s book details a less well known piece of the puzzle—the efforts of our federal government. He explains what each president and his cabinet did in relation to civil rights, from Woodrow Wilson, who didn’t seem too concerned about African Americans, to Lyndon Johnson, who was President when the Civil Rights Act was enacted in 1964. The first significant progress took place during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency.
Having been born just before the Civil Rights Act came into effect, I had few ideas about what, if anything, our government was doing to improve conditions for blacks’ lives in America. This book explains the government’s position towards blacks and the executive orders that were established in this regard. Judson includes statistics throughout the book, along with instances when great gains were made. These included the Public Works Administration, which was meant to stimulate the economy during the Great Depression, and the World War II-era Fair Employment Practice Committee, through which the federal government encouraged equal participation in the national defense program by all citizens, regardless of race, creed, color, or national origin.
If you are interested in the history of America then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this book, because it captures the challenge of trying to integrate a race that not so long ago was enslaved. The book is free to individual users online at the University of Tennessee’s Newfound Press website: http://www.lib.utk.edu/newfoundpress/maclaury/to-advance.htm. It can also be ordered there as a paperback. Thank you Judson for opening my eyes to this important part of American history and for sharing this story with me and the rest of Madrona.
By Benjamin Chotzen
From the Madrona News