chapter  6
A Tale of Two Committees
Black Protest in Wartime New York City
WithOliver Ayers
Pages 41

Chapter Six examines the history of two civil rights organizations in New York City during the Second World War: the March on Washington Movement (MOWM) and the Negro Labor Victory Committee (NLVC). The New York MOWM showed dramatic early promise but struggled to translate an appetite for mass protest into effective action. Activists worked hard to resolve the questions about how the MOWM was to be funded, how it was to be led and, crucially, what it was to target and how, but proved it similarly unable to find long-lasting solutions. These difficulties ultimately led to the collapse of the MOWM by the end of the war. The NLVC, meanwhile, claimed far-reaching influence—officials somewhat misleadingly used membership of affiliate unions in estimates of their own strength to reach figures of 400,000—but behind the statistics, achievements breaking down discrimination in employment were thinner on the ground. Both committees worked in isolation, divided by politics and personality even as they pursued similar egalitarian economic goals. Forging the protest coalitions necessary in the era of the ‘grand runaround’ proved difficult, and victories against the varied forces responsible for employment discrimination proved hard-won and short-lived.