Affirmative Inaction in Blackbelt Governments
By Marge Manderson
Vol. 2, No. 5, 1980, pp. 16-18
On the roads of the rural Southern Blackbelt you are likely to almost as many Blacks as Whites. Nearly one of every four people you meet will be a Black woman. But in the region’s courthouses and municipal offices, it is likely that you will never encounter a Black person behind a desk, a counter, or a typewriter as an employee of local government.
The odds are considerably higher that you will not see a Black woman in such a position. And some rural Blackbelt governments, if you should search diligently you will not find a permanent, full time Black female employee – not even in traditionally Black menial jobs or traditionally female clerical jobs. In many large rural Blackbelt government workforces, you will find, at the most, a total of only three or four Black female employees.
More than 2.4 million Blacks live in rural counties in the area sociologists have named the Blackbelt, the old plantation and slavery counties that stretch in a crescent from Virginia to Texas. Once, 300 of these counties had more Blacks than Whites. Even now, rural counties that lie along the old Blackbelt are at least 30 percent Black. In all such counties, 44 percent of the aggregate population is Black. Black women number 1.3 million. They are 23 percent of the aggregate population.
Rural Blackbelt governments have shunned this vast reservoir of human potential when jobs were filled. A current Southern Regional Council survey clearly demonstrates that where Blacks do not control county commissions or hold powerful city office, the Black share of public jobs is small and most Black public employees are in menial job categories. Analysis of 1978 workforce patterns of 14 rural Blackbelt governments in three Deep South states reveals only the slightest broadening of employment opportunity. Token numbers of Black men have entered traditionally White but low status blue collar Protective Service and Skilled Crafts jobs, token numbers of Black women have entered Office/Clerical jobs. in most kinds of jobs, however, time has stood still, frozen since the era when Blacks were unwelcome visitors in the seats of local government.
The sharpest exclusion
from public employment falls on those who are both Black and female. Of 14 governments examined by the Southern Regional Council, a total of five employed f4wer than five Black women on a full time, permanent basis. One government employed no Black women at all -not even in the clean-up job that is the traditional lot of Southern Black women. Although the average number of permanent, full time employees in the 14 governments is 131, the average number of Black female employees is seven – one in 19.
The survey shows one change has affected Black women since the fall of racial segregation: they have edged into traditionally White fem ale Office/Clerical jobs. Yet, they hold these jobs in scarcely token numbers. In 14 governments, fewer than one in five of all permanent, full time Office/Clerical workers is a Black woman, while nearly three of four of these jobs are held by White women. The number of Black women in non-menial, non-clerical jobs is miniscule: their overall total can literally be counted on the fingers. They hold one in 73 of all such jobs. Not surprisingly, in light of the low status jobs to which they are relegated, Black women are far more likely than other race/sex groups to earn low salaries. They are not to be found at higher salary levels.
Does a low turnover rate in these relatively small governments necessitate their slow Affirmative Action progress? It appears not. There were in the 14 governments substantial numbers of “New Hires” in 1978, but when opening jobs were filled, existing disparities were reinforced. For every one job filled by a Black woman, 11 jobs were filled by other races or sexes. For every Black woman hired in either the traditionally Black Service/Maintenance category or the traditionally female Office/Clerical category, 52 such jobs were filled by other faces or sexes.
During the decades of the Fifties and Sixties, rural Blackbelt county and city governments were the centers and symbols of Southern resistance to desegregation and Black citizenship rights. Among these tradition dominated governments, a slow rate of compliance with the national mandate for equal employment opportunity should, perhaps, come as no surprise. But the degree of their intransigence, as revealed by the Council’s survey, is nothing short of astounding. At the present rate of change, the target date for full employment participation of Blacks in local, rural governments will be several hundred years hence, and, for Black women, even beyond.
Public employers who have not moved to correct the effects of past discrimination through suitable Affirmative Actions are subject to findings of illegal discrimination. To comply with
the law, when a reasonable basis exists for determining that Affirmative Action is appropriate, employers must institute specific, appropriate personnel actions to remedy past or present discrimination. Under clear and specific guidelines of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, substantial under representation of Blacks and women in individual job categories, when revealed by statistical analysis, constitutes a “reasonable basis” for Affirmative Action changes in personnel practices or policies.
When, for example, the pool of qualified, experienced minorities and women is limited because of historic restrictions on their employment, it is the responsibility of employers to take Affirmative Action to expand the qualified applicant pool. It is the employer’s responsibility to establish training plans and programs, including on-the-job training, which provide Blacks and women with the opportunity, skill, and experience necessary to perform in responsible public jobs. It seems clear that Blackbelt governments that complain they cannot locate qualified Blacks and women must face up to their own responsibility to expand the applicant pool.
The employment record of governments such as those surveyed by SRC can and must be reversed. It cannot be permitted to harden into a deliberate act of defiance of national law and policy, a posture of affirmative inaction. The full forces of the national government and the forces of local community pressure must be mobilized toward that end. Two and a half million Black constituents of rural Blackbelt governments can no longer be denied equal participation in local public employment.
Some of the statistical findings that show the shocking under representation of Black women in rural Blackbelt governments are highlighted below Statistical data were taken from official reports for the year 1978 for eight county and six small city governments in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina (Public school employees and certain appointed officials are not included in the data governments must report.) Data are for full time, permanent employees.
Black women are substantially under represented in overall employment. They are more than one in five of the relevant population areas, but only one in 16 (68 of a total of 1056) of all county employees and one in 27 (29 of a total of 772) of all city employees.
Jobs of responsibility and status, or even low status blue collar jobs, are rarely held by Black women. Of an overall total of 871 non-clerical, non-service maintenance jobs, Black women hold only 12 jobs, or one in 73.
Black women now hold a token number of traditionally White female Office/Clerical jobs, but they are outnumbered by White females four to one. Eighteen percent (58 of 315) of all such jobs are held by Black women and 73 percent (231 of 315) are held by White women.
Black women earn low salaries more often than other groups. They do not hold higher salaried jobs. Nearly one in two (45 percent) of all Black females earns less than $6,000 a year. Fewer than one in seven (15 percent) of all other race/sex groups earns less than $6,000.
Black women were substantially underrepresented among New Hires for 1978. One in 12 (37 of a total of 455) of all New Hires was of a Black female. A total of 158 employees were hired in the non-menial, non-clerical job opportunities of Officials/Administrators, Professionals, Technicians, Paraprofessionals, Protective Service workers, and Skilled Crafts workers. Only three of them were Black women (one Technician, one Professional, and one Protective Service worker).
The complete study of employment patterns of Black men and Black women, entitled “Affirmative Inaction: Public Employment in the Rural Blackbelt”, may be ordered by sending $5.00 ($4.00 plus $1 handling cost) to the Southern Regional Council, 75 Marietta Street, Atlanta, Georgia 30303.
Marge Manderson is a program officer for the Southern Regional Council.