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On the eve of World War 11, Ford employed more than 10,000 black workers, a far larger number and a far greater representation than at any other firm in the automobile industry.Whereas other auto companies confined blacks to menial positions, only Ford had black workers on the assembly line and in other important production jobs.First, Table 1 shows that blacks remained in 1940 a distinctly small minority in northern cities and industries, a much smaller share of employment than they would later become.Secondly, the influx of black population was considerably faster than the growth of black industrial employment.k Employment Segregation in the Early Twentieth Century Cliometric Sessions at 1990 ASSA Meetings--December 28, AM 1 Getting Started in the Auto Industry: Black Workers at the Ford Motor Company, 1918-1947 Warren Whatley University of Michigan and Gavin Wright Stanford University 1.Introduction The Ford Motor Company has a unique place in the economic history of black Americans.In the auto industry, the number of black workers at Ford was far larger than at any other firm, and the black percentage was three to five times that of the other large companies (Table 2).
There were also large absolute increases in domestic and personal service, and laundry work.
Of course, migration from the South plays an important role even in this simple supply-driven story.
But that role is chiefly seen as liberation from segregation: from inferior black schools in the South, and perhaps also from the overt restrictions on black occupational status in that backward region.
Probably the largest black increase in percentage terms was that of the auto industry, overwhelmingly the result of policies of the Ford Motor Company.
The experience of 1915-1940 was a dramatic break with the past, but it is equally important to keep several things in perspective.
Because the wage levels in the auto industry were high even by the standards of other high-wage northern industries, Ford's black workers earned incomes which were well outside the normal range of black opportunities.