Sunday, June 1, 2008
Lee on The NAACP's Postwar Workplace Constitutionalism
Posted by Mary L. Dudziak
"Hotspots in a Cold War: The NAACP’s Postwar Workplace Constitutionalism, 1948-1964," is a new article by Sophia Z. Lee, Yale (Ph.D. candidate). It appears in the current issue of the Law and History Review. Here's the abstract: Throughout the Cold War 1950s, the NAACP sustained an ambitious campaign for African-American workers’ constitutional right to join unions and access decent jobs. Surprisingly, it did so not in the courts, but in executive branch agencies and committees. Blending law and politics, the NAACP worked closely with labor leaders, varying its campaign according to the racial practices of unions and employers. In 1964, in one of the era’s most expansive state-action rulings, the NAACP won its workplace constitutional claims--not in the Supreme Court, but in front of a classic New Deal agency: the National Labor Relations Board. Historians generally depict the NAACP as taking a conservative Cold War turn, forsaking challenges to workplace discrimination and to the state-action doctrine. The NAACP’s employment litigation is then described as being reborn in the 1960s amid the burgeoning of black protest politics. “Hotspots in a Cold War” recovers the NAACP’s postwar challenge to workplace discrimination by expanding legal scholars’ work on the life of the Constitution outside of the courts to include the administrative state. Once brought into view by this broad constitutional frame, the NAACP’s Cold War-era struggle against workplace discrimination not only challenges our current understanding of NAACP organizational history and of Cold War politics, but also of the scope and nature of civil rights-era constitutional change. Robert L. Carter, the NAACP’s general counsel, called the 1964 Board ruling “almost revolutionary.” It was an apt description of this long-fought but eventually forgotten chapter in African Americans’ legal and labor struggles.