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TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW WITH
MAURICE A. LAWRENCE

BY PAMELA CLAYTON*

Introduction

Mr. Lawrence was one of the original investigators for the EEOC. He loves to travel, and he loves jazz music. He was a very interesting person to talk to. I was amazed how he remembered everything about the EEOC, as if he had just retired yesterday. I, Pamela Clayton, had the pleasure to interview him by phone on November 16, 17, and 19, 1999.

Interview

PC: Mr. Lawrence, where were you born?

ML: I was born in New York City, New York.

PC: Tell me about your family background or interesting family history.

ML: My mother and father were from Jamaica. My maternal grandfather was an attorney. My mother's brother was a judge. My mother's other brother was a doctor, and my mother's sister was an attorney. My mother was the oldest child in her family, and she was the only non-professional. My father was an attorney. He attended Howard University Law School in Washington, D. C.. He received a master's in law from New York University. I am married to the former Sylvia King of Washington, D. C.. She is a Howard University graduate and a retired U.S. Government Economist. My sister is Mrs. Eunice M. Hilton of New York.

PC: Can you tell me about your education?

ML: I graduated from Holy Trinity High School in Hackensack, New Jersey. It was a private Catholic school. I graduated from Howard University in Washington, D. C., class of 1953. My original class was 1941, but I dropped out and went back. I received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science.

PC: What were your experiences or observations of discrimination, especially employment discrimination, prior to working for the EEOC?

ML: In 1937, when I was preparing to go to Howard University, I had a summer job to save money to buy clothing and books. I was working in New York as a handy man in a pocket book factory. When the owner found out that I was going to college, he fired me on the spot. He told me that his own son wasn't going to college. There was also discrimination in the Post Office Department. Blacks who were college educated scored high on the entrance examination, but were only given temporary appointments. I made a 90.4 on the exam. I was hired as a temporary substitute clerk. Whites were appointed permanent positions. Promotions were based on seniority. Whites had seniority over blacks.

PC: Did you have any personal involvement in the civil rights movement prior to working for the EEOC?

ML: I participated in the March on Washington in Washington, D. C. on August 28, 1963. This was where Martin Luther King made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. This speech was based on a speech Dr. King made at Syracuse University. It was a framework for other speeches. His speaking at Syracuse was on a high intellectual level.

While working for the EEOC, I put myself on annual leave and attended the James Meredith March in Mississippi as a private citizen. Dr. King led this march. James Meredith was a citizen of Mississippi who was denied admission to the University of Mississippi. His case went to the Supreme Court.

PC: What was your work history prior to working for the EEOC?

ML: I was active with the NAACP and the National Alliance of Postal and Federal Employees. This was a black union in the postal service. I hold a lifetime gold membership in this organization. It still exists today. In February of 1999, 1 did a speech for them on reflections of the past and present of civil rights.

PC: Did you have any other experiences that prepared you to work for the EEOC?

ML: I was selected to work in the Contract Compliance program as a Compliance Examiner. There were two executive orders that dealt with fair employment, #10988 and #10925. Executive order # 10925 was a mandate from the federal government issued by President Kennedy. Any business that had a contract with the Federal government had to be a fair employer. They could not discriminate against an African American because of his race. I was the first person to be appointed in the U.S.A. Contract Compliance Examiner. I became a hearing officer, in the Post Office Department, who handled complaints and grievances of employees. This gave me preparation for the EEOC.

PC: How were you recruited or hired to work for the EEOC and by whom?

ML: Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. was the first chairman of the EEOC, and I served under him. I was an original member of the White House Task Force under President Lyndon Johnson. The purpose of the Task Force was to implement the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Mr. Pedro Esquivel, a colleague, introduced me to commissioner Samuel Jackson, who recruited me for the commission.

PC: What were the reasons you accepted employment with the EEOC?

ML: I was always interested in that area. I was an employee with the Grievance Committee of the Post Office. I was interested in a promotion, and the EEOC was a promotional opportunity for me.

PC: Was working for the EEOC considered risky?

ML: Yes. Around 1965-1966, in Newbern, North Carolina (Craven County), I was heading up a task force of investigators. The FBI was notified for our protection. The agent in charge was reportedly the brother-in-law of the leader of the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina. The Klan followed us, and we had to exchange cars two to three times a day. We could not ride in our government-marked cars. That was too risky. Also, in Augusta, Georgia, I was training a former sheriff, William "Bill" Harris, who was white. We were eating in a restaurant, and some white men were agitating us. I ignored it. Mr. Harris tried to respond, but I held him back. I told him that is what they wanted us to do. I said if we ignore them, we can't be accused of anything. The white men said if Harris came outside, they would mop up the street with him. In Memphis, the atmosphere was very anti-EEOC and very tense. The Ku Klux Klan was there.

PC: When did you begin working for the EEOC?

ML: July 2, 1965, as a member of the Select White House Task Force. I was permanently appointed in December 1965.

PC: What was your first position held at the EEOC?

ML: An investigator. My title was Compliance Officer.

PC: Do you have any particular memories of training?

ML: Training in the Post Office Department was very intense. It was a week-long program, Sunday through Saturday, 10-12 hours a day. They taught you how to separate the "meat from the potatoes." When you got the facts, you were supposed to look at them objectively and make a determination based on the facts alone. There was no formal training for the EEOC. The EEOC had to draw on the experience of people from other agencies to provide the training. I was one of the early investigators, and we did not have much training.

PC: What type of training did you receive in conciliation?

ML: There was no specific training. We used trial and error. We used good common sense. We would submit in writing a plan to the respondents (goals and timetables included).

PC: Are there any people that you remember best from the recruiting and training period and why?

ML: One of my early influences was Elmer Paul Brock, Deputy Assistant, Postmaster General. Elmer died at the age of 37 from cancer. When he was diagnosed with cancer, he wrote a letter to President Kennedy and told him it was a privilege to work for him. He said it was further gratifying to know that his five sons would inherit the legacy of the leadership of President Kennedy. When I saw him in his frail condition, working 12-14 hours a day at the office attempting to eliminate discrimination, it served as an inspiration to me to work many long hours to make a contribution to the elimination of discrimination.

PC: Do you have any particular recollections of or experiences with Presidents Johnson or Nixon, during this period?

ML: I met President Johnson at an Urban League reception in 1966. The remarks he made that evening reminded me of remarks made by him to a group in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The President's face lit up when I said that. He said "Do you remember that" and smiled.

PC: Do you have any particular recollections of or experiences with the first EEOC commissioners?

ML: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr. was the first chairman. Luther Holcomb was the Vice Chairman. I also remember Sam Jackson and Aileen Hernandez. I don't remember any outstanding contributions that they made. I don't remember anything outstanding about them.

PC: Do you have any particular recollections of or experiences with members of Congress in the early days of the EEOC?

ML: I had a close relationship with Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. He was chairman of the Education and Labor Committee. They were responsible for bringing the civil rights legislation out of committee to the floor of the House of Representatives for vote. I also had a close relationship with Congressman John Conyers. When Adam Powell had a censure hearing, Congressman John Conyers gave me his personal pass to get on the floor of the House of Representatives. He is still a member of the House today. He is the ranking minority member of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

PC: Do you have any particular recollections of reactions of members of the general public to the creation of the EEOC?

ML: The general public was suspicious. They did not have confidence in a government agency to eliminate discrimination.

PC: What was your initial perception regarding the EEOC and its mission/purpose?

ML: My perception was to put yourself (the EEOC) out of business by eliminating discrimination. If we eliminated discrimination, there would be no need for an agency like the EEOC.

PC: What type of cases did you work on in the early days?

ML: About 70%-80% of the cases were failure to hire cases because of race.

PC: Were there any major developments in the EEOC policy during the early years?

ML: The courts created a strong body of law. We utilized that body of law to give us leverage.

PC: Was the practice of conciliation in the early days different from what had been taught during the training period?

ML: There was no formal training in conciliation. Good investigators moved into conciliation. They were doing both, being investigators and doing conciliation.

PC: What were the strengths of conciliation?

ML: The conciliator's ability. Also, good faith and goodwill on the part of the respondent, and the ability of conciliators to recognize the fact that the respondent company was willing to cooperate.

PC: What were the weaknesses of conciliation?

ML: The lack of enforcement power on the part of the EEOC. If conciliation failed, all you could do was issue the charging party a "right to sue" letter.

PC: What were some examples of successes with conciliation?

ML: AT&T and General Motors signed agreements over long periods of time.

PC: What were some examples of failures with conciliation?

ML: I can't think of any right now.

PC: Do you think conciliation was an effective dispute resolution procedure in the early days?

ML: I think it was very effective considering we didn't have enforcement power. I think we made tremendous inroads. We used gentle persuasion.

PC: How long did you serve as an EEOC investigator?

ML: For two years. From 1966-1968.

PC: How did your employment with the EEOC change over time?

ML: I went from investigator to Acting Regional Director of New York in April 1968. I then became Deputy Regional Director of New York. This was a permanent position. I held this position until I retired in July 1975. My jurisdiction in the EEOC, that the New York regional office controlled, was New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, U.S. Virgin Islands, Massachusetts, Puerto Rico and New Hampshire.

PC: Do you have any particular recollections of or experiences with subsequent EEOC commissioners?

ML: Eleanor Holmes Norton. She is now a delegate from the District of Columbia to the U.S. House of Representatives. I met her in April 1968. She was the chairperson of the New York City Human Rights Commission before becoming chairperson of the EEOC. I don't remember anything special about her.

PC: Do you have any particular recollections of or experiences with members of Congress in the later days of the EEOC?

ML: Senator Edward W. Brooks. He was the former attorney general of Massachusetts. He was also a senator from Massachusetts. He was a classmate of mine from Howard University in Washington D. C. We were personal friends. He let me use his office in Boston, Massachusetts, because the EEOC did not have office facilities in Massachusetts at that time. They were operating out of headquarters in Washington. Today, he is a practicing attorney.

PC: In what ways did the EEOC change over time?

ML: The EEOC did not get economic support appropriations from the administration and Congress so that it could provide resources necessary to complete investigations. On the other hand, it got strong support from the courts.

PC: Where there any changes in the use of conciliation over time?

ML: It became sophisticated. The respondents became sophisticated. Employers developed techniques to make the acts of discrimination less apparent (had to dig and find it).

PC: What was the reason you left the EEOC?

ML: I was burnt out. I retired after 31 years of government service, the last nine at the EEOC.

PC: What was the date you retired from the EEOC?

ML: It was July 1975.

PC: What was your subsequent employment/retirement history?

ML: I went to work as a consultant in the Joseph A. Davis consultant firm in New York. The firm had people with various experiences including the field of equal opportunity. I was a consultant in the field of Equal Employment Opportunity. I was assigned Project Director to lead a team at Goddard Space Agency in Greenbelt, Maryland.

PC: Do you have any interesting life experiences since leaving the EEOC?

ML: I have done lots of traveling to the Soviet Union, Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan, and Europe. I also organized and founded a jazz band called the Statesmen of Jazz in 1994. The members are ages 65 and over. One member is 92 years old. We tour nationally. Jazz was declared a national American treasure by the U.S. Congress. The Bill, H. Con. Res. 57, was introduced on September 26, 1986. It was passed in December 1986. The King of Jazz was a white man, Paul Whiteman. Benny Goodman was the King of Swing. In spite of the fact that African Americans developed and prepared Jazz as an art form, African Americans were designated as Duke, Earl, Count, Baron, etc.

PC: Did you have any important life events, since leaving the EEOC?

ML: When I retired, my wife and I lived in Freeport, Bahamas for ten years. My neighbor was Count Basie. We shared jazz experiences. Count Basie would take the month of December off to spend time with his family. We used to do swapping stories where we would talk about experiences that we had.

PC: Did you maintain any relationships with other EEOC investigators or employees since leaving the EEOC?

ML: I remained friends with Monte Posey, who was my counterpart in Wilmington, NC. I remained friends with Mr. Pedro Esquivel. I also remained friends with Mr. Paul Brock. I am the Godfather to one of his sons, Adam, who is named after Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. There was also Everett 0. Ware. Mr. Ware was assigned to my task force in 1967. I trained him. He was a good investigator. I also keep in touch with Ms. Hortense Cridell, who was an administrative secretary. She visited me and my wife last year.

PC: Do you have any current hopes for or expectations of the EEOC?

ML: I am not close to the agency today to make an observation.

PC: How did your years at the EEOC affect the rest of your life?

ML: It was a rewarding experience to think that I was working in a field where I could make a contribution to improve the lives of people who were the victims of discrimination. On the other hand, it was frustrating, because I couldn't eliminate discrimination overnight.

PC: Is there anything else you would like to share with me?

ML: When I went to the EEOC, I waived my rights to tenure. I was excepted or exempt from civil service protection. I was excepted from my appeal rights.

* Pamela Clayton is a candidate for a Master of Arts Degree with a specialization in Legal Studies at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.


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