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tv   Integrating Department Store Workforces  CSPAN  August 25, 2018 1:48pm-2:01pm EDT

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and so forth. there is one folder in one of our boxes labeled crackpot letters. [laughter] and in that file there is a letter from one of the communist organizations in san francisco, saying how dare you bring winston churchill to do this. and we have one letter in the archives. >> i will say that i researched the dewey papers and there was a folder there also called crackpot letters. >> mr. truman wrote the file on those letters when he wanted them to go to that, then not file, and -- nut file, and he would pass them along. sometimes they are strange comments, sometimes things out of the ordinary. >> i think we
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are out of time. we will ask one more question. it is easy to build symbolism into this poker game. who won the game? >> that next, afro-american studies professor tracy parker describes the trouble workers and customers faced in the 1960's in effort to integrate the workforce. professor tracy parker of the department of afro-american studies at the university of massachusetts amherst, you are working on the book that includes the 1950's, working-class americans, and black americans, all tied into sears roebuck. the premise of the book looks set the immigration of the department stores by employees and workers. they have touted consumption as a means of realizing democracy. unlike other places, department stores allow anyone, black, white, regardless of age or gender, to enter and bbuy. these are also jim crow atmospheres.
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african-americans are hired for menial jobs, anything behind the scenes, but are not permitted to work in sales, clerical, or manufactured -- management positions. if you are african-american, you can buy things that you cannot use the restroom, you cannot try clothing on. shopping today is so different with amazon and in our digital age and shopping malls. what was it like in the 1950's? explain the importance of sears roebuck the 1950's were right after world war ii, so we are in this postwar economic boom. there is a heightened amount of consumption. americans are buying homes, furnishing, clothing, cars, at unprecedented
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levels. the department stores are still in their age of, they are in a golden age, i would say, meaning that these are lavish palaces of consumption of tremendous size. they are places to be and to be seen. for sears, they are at a moment where they are expanding. increasingly sears as a result, from the 1950's on, and historically throughout, they are the number one retailer of women. by the time the affirmative action cases occur, the equal opportunity employment condition targets them because they are the number one retailer, the number one employer of women. a store that has sold everything from apparel to household goods. and sears had a conflict of history in the african-american community. they are sort of pioneers of black advancement.
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julius rosenwald, the first ceo, donated many funds to civil rights organizations, the black housing and schools, and on the other hand, sears had a long history of racial discrimination in employment. why? the thought was that white consumers for whom department stores are built and designed to cater to, not be receptive to african-americans touching the same goods, or any illusion that black americans are on equal status with white americans in the department store. as a result, that is why they embraced and reproduced jim crow practices. if you went to a sears roebuck store in the 1950's and he wanted to try on the outfit you are wearing today, you could not do it? depending on the location. each location had its own policies, but generally speaking , you would not be able to try it on.
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i recall my grandmother telling me she had gone to a downtown baltimore department store and in order for her to figure out if the clothing would fit her children, she would have to hold it up and try to eyeball it. you also were not able to return these items once you purchased them. let's talk about the time period, because the military was desegregated, brown v. board of education, dr. martin luther king. what was happening parallel to society and the civil rights movement? we are at this movement this moment where ordinary people feel optimistic, they feel angry , and they are willing to put their life on the line to advance the black economic condition, the black social condition. we are also at a moment in the 1950's where black purchasing power is at unprecedented rates, and
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increasingly retailers and advertisers are paying attention to african-american consumers with the understanding that this is a community where they can make millions. in terms of discrimination, did sears welcome or discriminate against african-american employees? against african-american employees, african-american women, for example, were typically hired in menial labor. these are women who had high school diplomas, college degrees , who had vocational training, and compared to their white counterparts they are being hired in what we call dirty jobs. they are discriminated against and not allowed to hold jobs in sales, clerical work, or as supervisors. 559 you are from baltimore and one of your favorite sons, the late supreme court justice thurgood
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marshall, what role did he play? he provided the legal precedent for civil rights and making legal games. his efforts allowed for the implementation of the 1964 civil rights act that creates the equal employment opportunities commission, but also in the civil rights act, there is title vii which outlaws employment discrimination based on gender, race, country of origin, and religion. when you teach this subject at umass amherst and talk to african-american students, male and female, do they understand what was happening in the 1950's? i think they have some inkling of what is going on, but when i get is an increased shop and all once you start to show -- shock and awe once you start to show the photos. the discrimination they feel is often a shocker. watching them while they are shopping, they have instances where people feel like they might not be able to afford to
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purchase an item. in that way, they can also connect but they are learning something. based on that, how did we get from the early 1950's to the landmark legislation signed by president johnson in 1964 and 1965? the civil rights movement, i argue that a large part of it has to do with the campaign and the south during the 1950's and 1960's. these leveraged black worker consumer alliances. we understand the movement to be an effort to integrate public accommodations, but what i find going on is also that these students, the black consumers coming in and sitting at lunch counters are creating alliances, creating friendships with black workers, and they are learning more and more about racial discrimination in employment in
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certain places such as wt grant and charlotte, north carolina. it is their ability to leverage labor and consumer power that allowed these citizens to be so successful and allowed us to get to the moment where something legal is on the books that outlaws discrimination for shoppers and for also workers, by 1964. many of these companies no longer exist. we can credit may be kmart and walmart for that. how did you go about researching all of this? where do you go for materials? i spent a lot of time with corporate records, department store records. civil rights records have been very useful to me from the naacp, the urban league. i have been able to talk to former african-american shoppers and workers. it is a combination of things that has been very useful. where are you going for more information before you release it next year?
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i am just about done the book. it comes out next year. i am increasingly interested in what is going on right now with black workers and consumers in department stores. the sears case outcome was not desired, and it probably facilitated the discrimination of racial dish racial discrimination and marketplaces. shoppers are largely women and people of color, and they have been relegated to jobs that are cashier-like. that is my next avenue of research. are there any parallels to where we are today in 2017/2018? i think there are some parallels. department stores, they were the center of american
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consumption. amazon is doing similar work. the difference is that no longer are people going into brick and mortar stores and shopping and communicating with one another in that way. consumption still remains a means for people to make claims to citizenship or feel as though they are making claims to citizenship, and it is also a means of marking oneself as middle and upper class. thank you, tracy. the sunday on oral history women in congress. with former republican congresswoman helen bentley. >> i couldn't afford not to. i kept working and working hard.
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the campaign is tough work and i admire anybody who's doing it. watch oral histories >> eva clayton served as a -- in the u.s. house of representatives from 1992 to 2003. she was the first african american woman to represent north carolina in congress. up next, ms. clayton talked about serving as the congressional freshman class president, her assignment to the agriculture committee, and her focus on national hunger and nutrition legislation. the u.s. house of representatives office of the historian conducted this interview. it is about two hours. mattasniewski: i am wa

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