Segregation and Discriminatory Practices at Ford Motor Company in the 1930s and 40s

Created by: Jacob Martin
Time Period: 20th Century, Depression, WWII
Topic: Industrialization and Labor, Politics, Race and Ethnicity, Technology

During the Great Depression, New Deal era concerns, the forming of the United Automobile Workers union as well as other factors of this decade that started to push and pull at the ways that Henry Ford treated his African American workers compared to his white workers. Detroit has had an interesting and vast history that has spanned several different periods however it is crucial to note the role that the Ford Motor Company played in Detroit. Especially how segregation and Discrimination played a role during the company’s history in the 1930s and 1940s. This was a very pressing time for Detroit and the Ford Motor Company. The company was beginning to feel the pressures brought on by a wide variety of factors including economic struggles follow.

Starting in the 1910s and 1920s Henry Ford started to really become a well-known name. It was early on in this decade that he created his moving assembly line. When he invented the assembly line, this eventually led to the mass production of a more affordable automobile. This new process made it possible for Ford to require more and more workers to join his task force. Also, around this time, a movement called the Great Migration was taking place, this was a time when African Americans were leaving the South in order to escape from the economic devastation in the South as well as escaping racial violence. When these groups of African Americans were migrating to the North and areas in Detroit, Ford took this as an opportunity to hire hundreds and even thousands of these workers to fill his factory needs. Around the end of this decade, Ford came up with the idea of the five-dollar workday.

The five-dollar workday and hiring of these African American individuals would eventually play a role in how equal pay and treatment would eventually show Ford’s true intentions in the 1930s and 1940s. Ford was the first automobile company to hire the largest number of African American workers within the Detroit area. The struggles began following the economic hardship of the Great Depression. Ford’s African American workers wanted to establish a union that would help them to receive better working conditions within the company. This is where the role of the United Automobile Workers Union came into play, however, Henry Ford did not like the idea of his workers forming a union. He came up with the idea to establish a method of automation that made people less required in a certain field and it was at this time he laid people off. It was revealed around this time the true intentions of Ford’s methodology of hiring African American workers. While it was originally seen as a progressive move forward Ford hired African American workers in undesirable, dangerous conditions that none of his other workers wanted to take part in. This along with his banning and disapproval of workers’ unions were just a few of Henry Ford’s and his company’s unfair treatment and work practices in the 1930s and 1940s.