In 1944, as World War II continued to rage on, Philadelphia was one of our nation’s largest war production sources. The Philadelphia Transportation Company (PTC) was key to war production in that hundreds of thousands of workers relied on PTC for transportation to work each day.
On August 1, 1944, white transit workers went on strike to protest the promotion of eight African Americans to the position of trolley car driver. PTC employees threatened to continue the strike until the black workers were demoted. The strike grew to include over 6,000 workers, impacting the entire city, crippling war production, and cost businesses close to $1 million per day.
On August 3, 1944, three days into the strike, President Franklin Delano authorized the War Department to take control of PTC. Earlier executive orders issued by President Roosevelt prohibited discrimination in companies with government contracts and allowed for the federal government to seize and operate industries in the event of a labor disturbance that would interfere with war production.
On August 5, 5,000 US Army troops were brought in to Philadelphia to prevent uprisings and protect employees and riders who crossed the picket line. The strike sparked thirteen acts of racial violence, including several non-fatal shootings. Facing the threat of termination plus the loss of draft deferments and unemployment benefits, the PTC workers returned to work and the strike ended on August 7.
By September 1944, the first black trolley drivers were on duty in Philadelphia.
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