Daisy E. Lampkin
2519 Webster Avenue, Pittsburgh
August 9, 1983
World War II had a tremendous impact on African Americans, including black Pennsylvanians. Labor shortages in Northern industries unleashed a huge internal migration, as more than two million African Americans fled the American South. During the 1940s, Pittsburgh's black population jumped from 62,000 to 86,000, and Philadelphia's exploded from 251,000 to 376,000. Despite the nation's desperate need for defense industry workers, African Americans continued to find themselves assigned to menial tasks while less skilled white co-workers received choice promotions.
To force the federal government to end discrimination, black labor leader A. Philip Randolph, in 1940, wrote a series of articles in the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the nation's leading black newspapers, calling for a march on Washington to demand recognition from the federal government. To prevent the march and keep African Americans working for the war effort, President Roosevelt issued a series of executive orders, banning racial discrimination in all plants with defense contracts and established the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) to enforce the order. During the war, the NAACP in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh worked with employers and workers to facilitate integration of the workforces, and monitored compliance.
This was no small order. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were two of the nation's largest and most important centers of industrial production and shipbuilding. In Pittsburgh's steel mills, overbearing foremen and the companies" traditional forms of discrimination created an explosive situation during the war years. After unsuccessful efforts by the FEPC to resolve the situation at Jones and Laughlin Company's Aliquippa mills, 450 black workers walked out in August 1943. The FEPC called in black industrial relations expert Milo Manly, a Philadelphian, who drafted a guideline for the promotion of competent black workers that the company agreed to follow–the first such document in American history.
To help finance the war, the federal government needed financial assistance from the American people. In 1941, Secretary of the Treasury Henry T. Morgenthau convinced national NAACP Field Director William Pickens to mobilize the African-American community to raise money for the government. Pickens enlisted Marian Anderson, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Joe Louis, and other African-American celebrities to canvas the black community for monetary support. Putting her formidable funding raising skills to work, Daisy Lampkin raised over two million dollars" worth of Liberty Bonds.
Opinions on the war, however, varied greatly in the black community, from passionate patriotism to disinterest. In one instance, a black truck driver in Philadelphia was held on charges of treason after allegedly telling a black soldier that he should not be in uniform and that "This is a white man's government and war and it's no damned good." Some black leaders argued that they were not accorded full rights at home, and so should not bother helping Uncle Sam defend democracy abroad. Pickens tried to convince detractors that Nazism and fascism were monstrous evils compared to the lack of equality at home, and that by aiding the country African Americans could show their patriotism and win support for equal rights after the war. In February 1942 the Courier promoted its Double V Campaign, which urged African Americans to fight for "Victory at Home, Victory Abroad." In 1945, with victory accomplished abroad, the paper changed its double "V" logo to a single V–for the victory at home that had not yet been realized. Across the nation, but especially in the Northeastern industrial sectors, African Americans were fighting to make the government hear their demands.
In 1945 the NAACP voted Lampkin its Woman of the Year in recognition of her accomplishments. In 1947, health problems forced Lampkin to step down as NAACP field secretary. She remained active, however, and became the first staff member elected to the national board of the NAACP. Living in Pittsburgh, she also continued as vice-president of the Pittsburgh Courier until her death in 1965. In 1983, Lampkin became the first African-American woman to be honored with a Pennsylvania historical marker.
Merl E. Reed, "Black Workers, Defense Industries, and Federal Agencies in Pennsylvania, 1941–1945" in African Americans in Pennsylvania: Shifting Historical Perspectives edited by Joe William Trotter Jr and Eric Ledell Smith, 363–387 (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press), 1997.