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Bearden, Factory Workers
- Despite the need for workers as the American defense industry prepared for World War II, persistent racism and discrimination prevented many African Americans from finding jobs.
- In June 1941, Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, which sought to prohibit racial discrimination in defense and government hiring. This was the first executive order to address discrimination since the Emancipation Proclamation. The article in Fortune for which this painting served as the frontispiece was likely a direct result of this order. It argued that discriminatory hiring practices were bad for business, bad for the war effort, and bad for society.
- Romare Bearden, a Social Realist, used his art to highlight the difficulties facing workers and the poor. Prominent in the 1930s and 1940s, Social Realist artists intended to tell stories with their work in order to prompt political and economic change. This painting, published in Fortune magazine, would have conveyed its message of racial injustice to a wide audience.
More to think about
We often think of the United States during World War II as unified against the Axis Powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan. How does the persistence of racial discrimination against African Americans in the defense industry complicate our understanding of the homefront during WWII?