On this dayAug 01, 1944

White Transit Workers Protest Black Workers' Promotions in Philadelphia

Image | John Mosley

On August 1, 1944, white employees of the Philadelphia Transit Company (PTC) launched a strike to protest the company’s decision to promote eight black workers to the position of trolley driver -- a job previously reserved for white men. The black men were promoted after President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Orders 8802 and 9436, which prohibited companies with government contracts from discriminating on the basis of race or religion, and required companies to include a nondiscrimination clause in their contracts.

As the United States prepared to enter World War II in the 1940s, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, quickly became one of the country's largest war production sources. As many as 600,000 workers relied on the PTC to get to their workplaces, including many factories. The strike threatened the entire city's ability to function, and crippled critical war-time production.

White PTC employees James McMenamin, James Dixon, Frank Thompson, and Frank Carney led the strike, and threatened to maintain the protest until the black workers were demoted. The strike grew to include over 6,000 workers, prevented nearly two million people from traveling and cost businesses almost $1 million per day.

On the strike's third day, President Roosevelt authorized the War Department to take control of the PTC. Two days later, 5,000 U.S. Army troops moved into Philadelphia to prevent uprisings and protect PTC employees who crossed the picket line. Despite the military presence, the confrontation resulted in at least thirteen acts of racial violence, including several non-fatal shootings.

After more than a week, the strike ended when PTC employees facing threats of termination, loss of draft deferments, and ineligibility for unemployment benefits chose to return to work without achieving their goal of blocking black workers' opportunity for advancement. By September 1944, the PTC’s first black trolley drivers were on duty.

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