August 1st, 1944
White Philadelphia Transit Workers Strike to Protest Promotion of Black Employees
As the United States entered World War II, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, quickly became one of America’s largest war production sources. As many as 600,000 workers relied on the Philadelphia Transportation Company (PTC) for transportation to factories and other workplaces.
On August 1, 1944, white PTC employees started 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 men were promoted after President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Orders 8802 and 9436, which prohibited companies with government contracts from discrimination based on race or religion and forced companies to include a nondiscrimination clause in their contracts.
White PTC employees James McMenamin, James Dixon, Frank Thompson, and Frank Carney led the strike, which they threatened would continue until the black workers were demoted. The strike grew to include over 6000 workers, crippling war production and impacting the entire city. It prevented nearly two million people from traveling and cost businesses almost $1 million per day.
On August 3, 1944, the third day of the strike, President Roosevelt authorized the War Department to take control of the PTC. Two days later, 5000 United States Army troops moved into Philadelphia to prevent uprisings and protect PTC employees who crossed the picket line. Despite the military presence, the strike sparked thirteen acts of racial violence, including several non-fatal shootings.
After more than a week, the strike ended and PTC employees returned to work after being threatened with termination, loss of draft deferments, and ineligibility for unemployment benefits. By September 1944, the PTC’s first black trolley drivers were on duty.