In 1941, A. Philip Randolph's March on Washington Movement forced President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue an executive order mandating an end to racial discrimination in defense industries and setting up an agency, the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), to enforce it. Although the enforcement mechanism was weak, the agency's hearing and complaint process did provide a forum for black political mobilization that would bear dividends in future years.
Many features of these conflicts were different in the West because of the magnitude of the war effort and the new federal role in the economy. For example, the East Bay shipbuilder Kaiser experimented with new production techniques and labor management policies. Some of these - such as prefabrication, which reduced the skill levels needed by those entering the workforce - benefited both African Americans and women. Even when employers like Seattle's aircraft manufacturer Boeing Company and Atlanta's Bell Aircraft remained committed to discriminatory hiring, the federal government's interest in sustaining wartime production often made it an ally of African Americans pushing for change.
But the segregation and discrimination the migrants found in their new homes created an explosive situation. The resentment over discrimination in jobs and housing, police brutality, and humiliations of all sorts culminated in major riots in 1943.
The Detroit "hate" riots erupted in June 1943 at Belle Island, a popular segregated beach. On June 20, 1943, fights broke out between groups of white and African-American youths. News of the altercation spread, and by that night a full-scale riot had erupted. The Detroit police force was unable to quell the disturbance; Detroit Mayor Edward Jefferies requested assistance, but federal authorities were reluctant to intervene. The violence escalated, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered military police and infantry regiments to disperse rioters late on the second night of the riots. Order was restored, but in a day and a half of rioting, 25 African Americans and 9 whites were killed, almost 700 people were injured, and 1,893 people were arrested.
High unemployment and price gouging, as well as rampant racial tensions, led to another riot, in New York on August 1. Police arrested an African-American woman for causing a disturbance at the Braddock Hotel in Harlem. Robert Bandy, a black soldier, demanded that the police release the woman; when they refused, he allegedly assaulted an officer. Bandy was then shot and wounded while attempting to flee. A rumor circulated that the police had killed an African-American soldier, and a crowd of over 3,000 gathered. The crowd turned violent that night and continued rioting into the next morning. Six African Americans were killed, 185 were injured, and at least 500 were arrested. Urban rebellions continued throughout the second Great Migration. In the summer of 1964, a series of "racial disturbances" occurred in several American cities, beginning in Harlem.
Decades before the boycotts and sit-ins of the 1950s, African Americans were using their power as consumers to achieve social change. "Don't Buy Where You Can't Work" campaigns sprang up in Northern urban centers - particularly in African-American communities such as Harlem and Chicago's South Side - to protest discriminatory hiring practices. Often, white-owned commercial establishments that all but monopolized business in black enclaves would refuse to hire neighborhood residents. African-American protesters would picket these establishments not only to increase job opportunities, but also to increase awareness about the community's collective economic power.
African Americans were an important segment of the powerful Democratic coalition that emerged during the 1930s. The Democratic party's strongholds, which were moving from their traditional base in the South to cities of the North, also comprised Catholics, immigrants, and labor and farm interests, all of whom hoped to benefit from Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal policies.