Progression over Regression: A short historic look into civil rights progress

By Army Sgt. Saul Rosa DLA Aviation Public Affairs

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George Santayana, a philosopher and cultural critic, once said, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Fortunately, Defense Logistics Agency employees at Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia, not only embrace the installation’s history,  but also strive to learn from it. Black History Month is a crucial period of reflection for employees as they continues to work towards a more inclusive future.  

“With every generation, race becomes less of an issue,” said Harold McManus, DLA Aviation Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity manager. “But, we can’t stop moving forward because of the gains we have made. At DLA, we embrace a culture of respect and inclusivity.”

DLA has made strides in inclusiveness; however, not every moment in history has been welcoming to everyone. Following World War II, on July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981: Desegregation of the Armed Forces. Although it was enacted more than a decade before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it was not implemented immediately.

Army General Omar Bradley’s statements on March 28, 1949 before the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services said, “I think we have made great strides towards further integration in the last few years. However, we still have a great divergence in customs in different parts of the country … I am sure that you realize that any radical changes in the Army which might seriously affect its ability to accomplish this mission would be a very serious one.”

Like the rest of the country, when the base (then known as Richmond Quartermaster Depot) activated in 1942, it was segregated and dealt with the same cultural issues as the rest of the country. During the mid to late ‘40s, the base publications ran a separate section in their magazine for their "colored personnel" (a term used during this tim-period to describe any person who was not white).

Following the civil rights movements of the ‘60s, the ‘70s were turbulent years for the installation, as it faced two vastly different milestones. Air Force Brig. Gen. Rufus L. Billups took command of the installation in August 1975. At the time, Rufus was one of the first African-American generals in the military. To contrast this milestone, the installation faced an EEO discrimination complaint by Lillie Mae Brown, a systems analyst and African American, in May 1974 that would become a historic class action lawsuit.

According to DLA Aviation Hall of Fame records, “Lillie Mae Brown was not just a true leader, but an icon in Bellwood history.”

Brown alleged that the installation, named Defense General Supply Center at that time, discriminated against her on the basis of gender, age and race. With her allegation, others emerged with their own testimonies and on August 26, 1975, the class action lawsuit was put into motion. Two years later, on September 19, 1977, a court decree was issued paving the way for great advancements in equality for DSCR.

“Over a ten-year period, from May 1976 to May 1986, significant progress was made for minorities and women,” explained McManus. “Minority representation went from 5 to 20 percent, while female representation went from 19 to 40 percent during this period.”

The expansion of progression at DLA has created an inclusive environment that has warranted great advancements in diversity.

“Women currently hold 52.7 percent of supervisory positions,” said McManus. “African-American women represent 26.25 percent and African-American males represent 12.99 percent of all supervisory positions.”

One of the tools used to ensure no individual is discriminated against based on their gender, age, sex, or race is affirmative action.

McManus explained that affirmative action/employment is designed to increase the number of people from certain groups within businesses, institutions and other areas of society who have historically had low representation. EEO is different than affirmative action/employment in that EEO means freedom from discrimination, he said.

“Affirmative action defines an employer's standard for proactively recruiting, hiring and promoting women, minorities, disabled individuals and veterans,” said McManus. “It is often considered a means of countering historical discrimination against a particular group.”

To avoid repeating the past, DLA organizations on DSCR embrace lessons from history and reflects on the civil rights movements that helped create the diverse culture it enjoys today. McManus explained that diversity and inclusion is different than EEO, yet they are often used interchangeably.

To promote diversity and inclusion, DLA Aviation has implemented many programs over the years aimed at educating the workforce about the many cultures that make up the organization. One such initiative is a monthly special emphasis programs that celebrate national cultural observances including African American History Month, Women’s History Month, Asian American Heritage Month, Native American Heritage Month, and Lesbian,Gay Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month.

“With the support of our senior leadership we have been able to provide comprehensive diversity training to DLA Aviation employees,” said McManus. “This training has been conducted by diversity and inclusion professionals who often bring a higher level of expertise and deeper understanding of the topics.”