Desegregation in Corporate America: African-American Civil Rights Movement (1950s)


that’s the new girl it’s her first day some people say there’ll be trouble some people saw trouble coming right from the start one is right to rush the alarm kept low turn good office management begins at home you’re late guilty sir you’d better hurry my coffee’s probably getting cold I wonder I love to get up in the morning I’ve got such a nice boss to look forward to incidentally did you see the urgent note I left on your pad last night top policy meeting at 9:15 yes sir Dennis got back from Washington late yesterday and he called the meeting after you’re gone Thanks this must be the new government contract was there any explanation I tried to finesse some information from his secretary Beth but Jesus informative as a quiz program okay I better get going have some hot coffee waiting for me sir good office management begins at home they’ll quit first one then another whatever they do they’re gonna make hell for that first Negro girl you put on the payroll look mark we’re not walking into this blindfolded now Todd doesn’t pay me to manage personnel so that personnel can run the plant the way it wants what does that mean that you’re going to sit behind every secretary with a gun in her back it means we can put this new policy through without trouble now of course we’ll have to move slowly at first no matter how badly we need them now you’ve said it we need them gentlemen the Negro represents a labor force that hasn’t even begun to be tabbed how about a Kurt your departments been crying for help think we can make it work maybe works on the shop Negro and white hands work side by side we don’t have any trouble well how was it when you started not bad there was a lot of talk about trouble but the union was on our side that time they called a meeting and by the time they were through there wasn’t any opposition those were men Kurt they worked with their hands how about women women are different I think we’re asking for trouble just what is we are afraid of bad publicity money or we may be raising problems to hide our own prejudices look Lyle I don’t think I’m a bigot Lyle didn’t say that mark and I don’t think I’m a man of prejudices at least not any that I’d let it interfere with profits my department has sales I’m mostly on the outside and a man I sell the product who doesn’t care what color the girl is who types up the bill so because I’m on the outside I get around I hear stories Cara stories strike slowdowns trouble that’s all let’s call it morale a lot of white girls just don’t want to work next to a Negro girl whether you like it or not well now I’ll tell you something I’m not running for election and I’m not going to run scared no twenty-year-old stenographer is going to tell me how to run my business I’ve just come back from Washington I met there with the President’s Committee on government contracts believe me it was no tea party between me and the committee they were talking business since when is the president’s committee running Dennis industries we’re not talking just about Dennis industries when we talk about this we’re talking national policy and it’s not no we’ve had it ever since World War two under the president’s directive no company can deal with the government can get a contract unless its policies are clearly non-discriminatory although we employ Negroes on the production line that’s not enough as long as we set up a color line at the front door of the officers or any line for that matter we are discriminating aren’t we also responsible to the stockholders we can’t afford we can afford anything our competition can if we can’t we don’t belong in business from this meeting on our policy will be to hire every person we need strictly according to ability if you want to set an example put the first Negro secretary in my office nope not on your life Todd and have 12 girls quit because we’re giving away one of the most worked for jobs in the organization now that would be discrimination just the same I feel sorry for the first girl you hire she’d better be strong you’re right Kirk she’s got to be hand-picked she’s got to be so likeable that any white girl with a chip on her shoulder will think twice before she starts any trouble and so efficient but any man she works for Oh consider himself lucky you know I think the announcement of policy ought to come from your office Todd not just from personnel we want every single person in this outfit to know that you’re behind it down to the last typist in the pool every girl working here she’d be made to feel that she’s involved in putting through this new policy right that it that’s about it I’ll go with a new policy so what are you going to do they’ve got to live to lose if they don’t take it easy you two it hasn’t even happened yet I tell you I I know it for a fact I got it on the best authority right from the horse’s mouth what go ahead laughs maybe you won’t think it’s so funny when one of them is sitting at the desk next to you or at your desk maybe thought I wouldn’t wish on anybody ah what’s the joke no joke the voice of doom here spreading your usual morning cheer yes and this morning she’s colorblind very she’s got some very confidential information on the best of Thor I tell you it’s going to happen it’s done it is overall going to lose our job so loud I happen to need my time me I’ll quit first well what would we do without you Oh probably invite my replacement down here much what’s he talking about you know Ella she claims they’re going to start hiring some Negro office Oh around here so what so if I do I quit you’re kidding go ahead kid you tell him me they love us you don’t mean that I do I always understand me I haven’t got anything against take Ned the guard at the door for instance we’re good friends and I like him that doesn’t mean that I want him or his sister working in the office with me girls I don’t bother them and they don’t bother me that’s the way I mean to keep it where are you working now Mary lanes at least I was this morning I might not be this afternoon if I don’t get back pretty soon Mr Graham should be free in a minute he told you what he wants to talk to you about all I know is he said how would I really like to go to work and could I drop around to the Urban League on my lunch hour have you any idea what these books away please miss Thompson I’m sorry I kept you waiting would you come inside you’ll only take a few minutes good luck Thanks as Miss Thompson and filling your head full of tall tales would you have a seat please cigarette let’s see you’ve been working in lanes since you got out of high school right and now you’ve graduated from secretarial school must be pretty rough working during the day and going to school at night didn’t it I think it was a little hard on my family than on me they had to listen to my complaining well it looks like it might have been worthwhile how would you like to go to work as a secretary at Dennis industries you want the truth don’t you mr. Graham Oh certainly I’d give an eyetooth to work as a secretary but at Dennis industries I’m not so sure oh you’re afraid maybe you’re not quite good enough yet huh no that isn’t the reason I’m more afraid they wouldn’t want me at Dennis well someone does they called me I didn’t call them mr. Graham we’re not talking about anything that’s secret they’ve never hired a Negro girl everyone knows that it’s not that they discriminate it’s just that they don’t hire us maybe things are changing Mary don’t misunderstand well I’d love to work at Dennis I do want a job as a secretary and I could handle it I know you could I checked your records you have every qualification you need now let me bring you up to date last week the personnel department of Dennis got in touch with every employment agency in town it told them the beginning immediately Negroes were to be hired on the Dennis Office force really yes really they also call up the Urban League and asked us to help them over the hurdal sounds serious they are serious they’ve already started to map a long-term educational plan so that the schools around here will know exactly what kind of help they need whether they’ve approached every organization in town and asked for their assistance this could be a tremendous step forward but what about me suppose I do go up for the job the personnel department can’t make people like me they can’t tell the other girls that well that that you’re as good as they are no they can’t but they can give you every chance to show you are very right now they need us and we certainly need them if we don’t take the chance when it comes along it may not come along again we have everything to gain you have everything to gain and nothing to lose except a job and about ten feet of pride it’s a funny thing Mary once someone offers you a choice you can’t ever go back to the way it was before if you don’t try when you go out of here you’ll find your pride has shrunk to ten inches if you do try well if you do try you may have something to be really proud of what do you say all right I’ll try good girl well how’s the crusade for freedom that Dennis industries coming was a girl coming over from the Urban League tomorrow morning but she’s through with personnel I’d like you to have a talk with her sure lime I’ll be glad to have a talk with you no talk isn’t enough in a situation like this will you mean you people upstairs are really serious about this let me point out one thing you will Dennis Industries does a lot of business with the government fine and we turn out a good product and the law says Fair Employment Practice it never fails up on cloud 19 the VIPs decide to work a miracle and then the little wheels downstairs have to start grinding are you guests hiring Negro that’s not what I said ly Oh what did you say but I’m only an office manager I can’t make a hero out of Todd dinner nobody asked you to do that all you have to do is to follow company parlance and lose half the girls in the office while I’m doing it have you lost any yet not yet but there’s muttering I heard one of the girls say she’ll quit as soon as we hire a Negro for your information she happens to be the most popular girl in the office if she quits it could start an exodus that would make the one out of Egypt look like a quiet Sunday afternoon if she decides to quit I’d like to know immediately anyone else for that matter well I tell you it won’t work the girls won’t stand for it okay will you tell me what oh come on come on don’t be naive you know the reasons as well as I do what the washrooms for instance you know what I mean what are these same girls do when they go to the restaurants in the movie just supper so they have no choice they won’t have a choice here from now on no it will we’ve notified the unions and asked for the cooperation no trouble there every department head has made it official all the way down the line there’s a memo out in black and white so that everybody can see it and we agreed that the best way is to make a definite stand from the top down what you think we’re living in the dark ages we’re not good people going to realize that this is the 20th century in the United States of America with freedom and liberty for all yeah exactly that doesn’t say anything about working where you don’t want to are you telling me you want to quit well I probably won’t have to my job will just disappear into thin air along with the rest of the staff you know I don’t understand you well I’ve talked to every man in a responsible position here at Dennis most of them wonder what all the fuss is about if you admit they don’t like the idea of a Negro secretary but they’re willing to go along with the idea now go ahead try them but you you just you keep on saying it won’t work I wonder if you know how you really feel well I’ll tell you you know those signs you put up in the plant equal economic opportunity where you can wallpaper the whole building with them but you can’t change the facts of life I’ve got to get home time isn’t well if this girl tomorrow morning passes all those tests it’s your job to place her in one of those openings you’ve been complaining about for so long see you later we’re very lucky to find someone with your qualifications miss Newton thank you you pass those tests with flying colors as a matter of fact I thought I’d be too nervous to hold a pencil all that’s left is a physical just routine I’ll have my secretary fix an appointment with the medical office kid would you just alert the medical office that Miss Newton will be down in about half an hour and now you’d better meet the man you’ll probably be working for mr. Nelson may I ask you a question would it be possible for me to have an assignment in the accounting department why well to tell the truth there’s a girl in there from my class at high school we’re not friends exactly but I thought it might make things miss Newton is a new employee at Dennis I think you ought to know our rules we don’t give favors we don’t give preferential treatment I’m sorry I just thought we stick to our word every employee is treated solely on his merits for better oh I see now I’ll take you down and introduce you to mr. Harden so they can you have to wait the time say right by you the gentleman who’s been complaining about the lack of office help you don’t get someone to sit at that desk pretty soon you’ll have to dig me out from all this paperwork I have somebody for you right now you better have four hands she’s 22 graduate from secretarial school honors student conscientious loyal eager to work go on I don’t believe him she’s outside would you like to meet her sure bring her in until her have a pencil sham so that we can good start Miss Mary Newton mr. Curt Hardin I think you’ll find your work cut out for you how do you doing how are you doing you should have seen his face he just looked at me like he couldn’t believe it like he couldn’t believe it What did he say he said how do you do he said it twice and then he turned around went back to his desk said he’d see me tomorrow what did the other guy do then mr. Nelson yeah smiled like there was some sort of a joke and then he took me down to the medical office did anybody say anything about you being the first coloured girl in the office they didn’t have to you could see it in their faces the way the girl in mr. Nelson’s office looked at me maybe you just imagined all of it well that’s a crazy thing to say mama why should she imagine it it’s the truth you just don’t understand yes I understand you may not think I understand what I do you think I can’t understand because I’m your mother and I’m older but but I do what you’re going through isn’t new when I was a young girl I I had to leave high school to get a job I would have given anything to work in a shop but it just wasn’t done where I lived nobody ever heard of a nigger working in a shop where white girls and white women came in to buy things so I I got a job cleaning house and I cleaned house and cried at nights until I got married maybe my mother had something she wanted very bad and couldn’t have him cried about all night I don’t know but now I have you children and I’ve watched you grow up and finish school and now Mary’s working in a shop and crying her eyes out because she can’t work in an office well maybe she can work in an office and if she can I don’t want to see a thrown away the chance because she’s afraid maybe those people hate up maybe some of them do and maybe she’s imagining a lot of it dreaming up trouble to hide her fears and if this is the way it is then she’s got to find out and the only way to find out is to go to work tomorrow or else when she has her own kids she’s going to have to watch him get hurt and crying and be afraid and she always wondered if she couldn’t have suffered it for them and maybe made their lives a little easier the way I sometimes wonder now money mr. Nelson yes I’m resigning serious seriously okay I appreciate your getting here on time to tell me you know exactly why I’m quitting I think you may receive a personal invitation from mr. Todd Dennis of Dennis industries to present your case to him personally but it should come to this tell him I’d like to see her right away let’s squash this and get Lyle Ross on the phone Oh Beth may I ask you a personal question of course where do you stand on all this you’ve heard the policy discussion how do you feel well honestly mr. Dennis I wonder where everybody’s been I mean doesn’t anybody in this company read the newspapers or go to the movies I think it’s about time we woke up you can be a great help to us right now how by giving the new girl a chance by making sure that she gets a chance you mean by being especially nice to her not especially nice just plain ordinarily nice common garden-variety knives you have a certain amount of prestige here use it well I wouldn’t want the other girls to think I was doing it just because I was the daughter don’t you start being frightened to think about it it’s not an order just a random comment on humanity I’m sorry you want to leave this right up to now you’ve been an asset to the company I’m sorry to mr. Denis up to now I’ve enjoyed working here I suppose you’ll be looking for another job in a plant that doesn’t hire Negroes of course in a plant that doesn’t hire them to work in the office with me well that’s going to be more and more difficult I think you understand my position I know your position I don’t understand it it’s not difficult to explain I know I’ve heard it all before surely you don’t expect us to adjust our policies to meet your approval frankly I’d rather not work to work under your new policy rather not work well you’re lucky how do you mean lucky you can afford that alternative I can’t afford it neither can most of the people working here mr. Dennis I just don’t understand why my leaving has suddenly taken on such importance I wish I felt flattered by all the tension but I’m afraid I don’t well the fact is you’re leaving the company is much more important than a personal matter for me or for you I’m not going to even attempt to argue with your prejudices I know that in a few minutes here I can’t change whatever has made you think the way you’ve been thinking for a lifetime but if you don’t mind I’d like to put the shoe on the other foot you’re a popular girl here probably with good reason what you do quitting that is they set an example for a lot of other girls who can’t afford your independence I’m responsible for this company that means I’m responsible to the stockholders for the people working here to myself even to the whole country indirectly and it’s too late to crawl back into a shell I’m afraid I don’t understand mr. Dennis that’s right today I’m going to ask you to stay on here a Dennis in spite of how you feel to give us to give this girl to give yourself even a chance to find out if we’re right you’re putting me in a pretty tough spot mr. Dennis well it may not be as tough as you think you’re making it often difficult to refuse it would have been so much easier if you just bawled me out this is something that has to be handled reasonably will you give it a try I think it’s only fair to warn you I I may do all the wrong things you may be sorry if I stay well every day I’m in business I’m taking chances I’m willing to take this one I’ll think about it mr. Dennis I will say this though it’s the first time I’ve stopped to think about it at all thank you I’m just no hello Larry the secretary is usually need over here to join us there was no mass walkout no one quits a few girls even tried to help out resentment turned to curiosity then curiosity became interest in time Mary was no longer the new girl and new girls no longer meant trouble so we all settle down again to the difficult business of making a living

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