June 3rd, 1943

White Factory Workers in Detroit Strike to Protest Promotion of Black Workers

In the early 1940's, many people migrated to Northern cities from rural areas in the Deep South in search of manufacturing jobs in the growing wartime economy. The four-county area of Detroit, Michigan, received a disproportionally large number of defense contracts to produce goods for the military. Between 1940 and 1943, Detroit's population increased by 200,000-300,000 people, 50,000 of whom were African American, which increased African Americans' share of the city's population to ten percent. Due to pressure from the Fair Employment Practices Commission and a high demand for labor, many factories in Detroit soon began employing African Americans.

During this period, Detroit's Packard Motor Company, which manufactured airplane and marine engines, hired a number of recent migrants, including white Southerners as well as African Americans. There was speculation that members of the Ku Klux Klan held low- and high-level positions in the company. Packard's personnel director openly expressed his own racial prejudice, insisting that white workers should not have to work with blacks. But under pressure from the government, three African American employees were promoted to the aircraft assembly line in June 1943.

On June 3, 1943, almost all of the facility's 25,000 white workers went on strike in protest of the promotions, ceasing production. The company president appealed to the War Labor Board to assist with the strike and a representative from the War Department threatened to fire the striking workers. The strike lasted for three days and led to the suspension of thirty strike organizers before white workers began returning to work.