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Transcript of Interview with Tom E. Robles

February 23 - March 5, 2000
By Jo Ann Surface*

Interviewer's Introduction

Tom E. Robles worked for the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for twenty-three years. He was the director of the Albuquerque Area Office of the EEOC from 1966 to 1987. He was also Program Manager of the Dallas Model Office of the EEOC for a fifteen-month period during Ms. Eleanor Homes Norton's tenure as EEOC Chairwoman. The following is a transcript of an interview that took place in several sessions during February and March 2000.

Background

My father was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He served as a sergeant in the New Mexico National Guard after serving under General Pershing in 1916. That was when General Pershing commanded an expedition into Mexico that was tracking the bandit Francisco (Pancho) Villa--who had led attacks on the village of Columbus, New Mexico. My father's name was Felipe Avalos Robles . . . "Robles" means "white oaks" . . . that makes me feel good because it implies strength.

My mother was born on the Atrisco Land Grant, as were my grandmother and many of my relatives on my mother's side of the family. The Atrisco Land Grant was granted by King Charles II, who ruled Spain from 1665 to 1770 and was the last monarch of the Spanish Hapsburg (a European royal family) dynasty.

I was born on the Atrisco Land Grant (about ten miles south of downtown Albuquerque) on June 26, 1922. After I had been in high school a couple of years -- maybe it was between my junior and senior years --- I went to work after school at the Coronado Theater as an usher. That was when I met my future wife, Orpha Chavez. Orpha worked in the ticket office. The theater was located on First Street, right across the street from the beautiful Alvarado Hotel. The hotel often had reservations for celebrities and movie stars. It was a "stopping off place" of the Santa Fe Railroad between Los Angeles and Chicago. So, when the train came in, sometimes we'd go over there to look for movie stars. I remember seeing Bing Crosby and Edward G. Robinson. Once we saw Humphrey Bogart. We tried to get their autographs . . . sometimes we succeeded, sometimes we didn't. But it was a way of killing time, and we enjoyed it.

When I graduated from Albuquerque High School, war had broken out in Europe and the U.S. was getting into the war. I decided to join the Marines. I had gone to a "Marine" movie and was greatly impressed with what the Marines stood for and what they had accomplished. I guess I fell for it and tried to enlist, but I failed the physical. After that, I decided I'd go to California and get a defense job. Prior to leaving, I took a sheet metal course that was offered at the University of New Mexico as a cooperative war effort.

When I completed the course, I went to Oakland, California, and worked in Kaiser Ship Yard No. 3, where they were building "Liberty Ships." I remember getting, up in the dark -- we had to commute quite a distance to the shipyard -- and there were blackouts then, so there were very few streetlights; and even the car lights were dimmed out. It was a long ride in the dark, and we worked all day and came home in the dark. After week-in and week-out of the this, I got tired of it and told them that I was going to let the draft take me. My employers gave me three separate interviews -- asking me not to leave, explaining that I had a national defense job and that I would be deferred from military service. But I said no. I wanted the draft to take me. The Marines had previously told me that I had a "congenital heart-block" and that "even the Army wouldn't take you." I guess the Selective Service made liars out of the Marines, because they did take me. But before they did, I married Orpha. We were both 20 years old; the date was September 22, 1942. Orpha and I had a few months together before I was sent for general testing (to see where I could best serve).

I was assigned to the Air Corps and shipped to Sheppard Field, Texas for basic training. Then to Scott Field, Illinois, for radio operator and radio mechanics training. After that, I was sent to Kingman, Arizona, for aerial gunnery training, I was then assigned to a B-26 two-target squadron at Biggs Field, outside of El Paso, Texas. Our job consisted of pulling (towing) targets with a B-26 for B-17 and B-24 gunnery crews to fire upon. After a while, I got tired of being shot at and applied for Air Cadet Training. I took several written and oral exams and was accepted and shipped back to Sheppard Field for basic pilot training. After three months, my class was informed that the Air Force had enough pilots and bombardiers and reassigned us according to our prior training. I lucked out and was assigned to the Air Transport Command (ATC) in Reno, Nevada, where they put me through Radio Navigation School. After I completed my training, I was sent to Nashville, Tennessee, where I was assigned to an ATC crew that was scheduled to go overseas. I was assigned to the North African Wing of the Air Transport Command with headquarters in Casablanca, French Morocco.

Observations of Discrimination

I served three years in the U.S. Air Corps (later the U.S. Air Force), and I spent 15 of those months flying all over Africa, Italy and the Middle East. This period in my life was exciting and educational. It was during this period that I matured as a man. Although I was in areas of the United States and the world I had only read or heard about, I felt most at home when I was in North Africa. I did not actually realize how fortunate I was to be seeing and experiencing this part of the world. In addition, I was thrust into the midst of different groups of individuals from different parts of the United States and the world. The interaction and experiences I had with them to a large extent molded my views and thinking about people for the better.

I can recall only two bad experiences. One was when I was at the Fort Bliss Induction Center in El Paso and some clerk wrote down that I was "Mexican" (I got that straightened out in a hurry). Another was when I was referred to as a "Jew" at the air base in Casablanca. I would not have been resentful in either case except that the references were made in a derogatory manner. But I learned that those things happen in life and one has to deal with them as they happen.

Returning Home

After my honorable discharge, I was delighted to be going back home to Albuquerque. Once home, however, I found out how routine civilian life can be. No more orders to obey, no more formations, no more inspections, no more flying all over the world, and no more lousy meals. Best of all, however, was to once more be back home with Orpha. There was only one drawback -- she was working and I had the whole day all to myself. It may be strange to imagine, but once exposed to the dangers of flying the kind of aircraft I was flying and the places I was flying to and from, any free time would seem boring. Because of being on leave at the right time and at the right place, I was one of the first servicemen to be demobilized. For that reason, there were very few of my friends around for me to visit with. That added to my problem in adjusting to civilian life. Then there was the matter of finding a job. I know now that I should have enrolled at the University. Under the GI Bill the government would have paid my tuition. That was probably the biggest mistake of my life.

After I discussed my problem of being unable to find a job in New Mexico with Orpha, we decided to try California, so we moved to Los Angeles. I decided to continue my sheet-metal-worker apprenticeship, so I joined the union and started going to the Frank Wiggins Trade School during evenings. That was the beginning of my union career because I became a sheet metal apprentice registered with the local union in Los Angeles. After two years in Los Angeles, we went to visit with relatives in Albuquerque. While there, I checked around for work and was offered a job with a sheet metal contractor who was doing work all over New Mexico. So we decided to move back to Albuquerque. Two years later, I became the first person to receive a certificate of apprenticeship for sheet metal workers in the State of New Mexico. That certificate made me a full-fledged journeyman sheet metal worker.

Early Experience with Labor Unions

I became involved in local union affairs, and together with several other sheet metal workers, chartered the Sheet Metal Workers' Local union #49 in Albuquerque. We had previously belonged to a local union in El Paso but found it too inconvenient to travel some 280 miles to attend meetings. I was elected recording secretary of the local union and also served as a member of the negotiating committee. We were able to negotiate some very good collective bargaining agreements, including the establishment of a pension system. Unfortunately, I never qualified for benefits because I took a withdrawal card from the union when I went on to other work.

Experience in Politics

At the urging of my union colleagues, I also became active in politics and ran for the state house of representatives. I won in the primary election and was nominated as the Democratic Party's state representative candidate for position 8. But I lost to the Republican candidate in the Eisenhower presidential landslide election of 1956. When General Eisenhower was elected president, most all of the Republicans in the state of New Mexico -- using his coattails--got elected and the Democrats lost out.

I found that running for public office is tremendously educational. I believe that everyone should run for public office at sometime during his or her life, not only because you learn how the democratic process works first-hand, but because you are exposed to all kinds of people--good and bad. You learn how to speak before groups and how to field questions on matters and issues that are of current importance. You are exposed to the news media and hounded by reporters at all hours of the day and night. This is especially true when one takes positions that may be unpopular and explosive with some groups.

The "Voice of Union Labor in New Mexico"

It was at this time that the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and Confederation of Industrial Organizations were in the process of merging into one organization at the state level. The national organizations had already merged into the AFL-CIO. In New Mexico, the two organizations were deeply divided and were having a hard time deciding who should be their executive secretary-treasurer -- which was equivalent to a chief executive officer of all the unions in the state. Because I had run as a union person and because of the public exposure that I had received when I ran for state representative, my name was known to all of the union leaders in New Mexico. I had not been involved with either side regarding jurisdictional matters, and I had not taken part in any discussions for or against one or the other. So, when my name was proposed as a compromise, I was unanimously voted in as to what amounted to the "Voice of Union Labor in New Mexico" from October 1956 to December 1961.

Serving in that capacity was like getting a college education and a post-graduate course in political and legislative affairs. I was elected towards the end of October 1956 and was in Santa Fe lobbying for the labor movement before the New Mexico legislature the following January, which did not give me much time to learn everything I needed to know about lobbying.

As a result of running for the state legislature, I was aware of the important issues that were facing working people. I also knew most of the key people in the legislature, some of whom I had met during the campaign, and many other people in the state government, which was very helpful during the session. Also, some of the key legislators were pro-labor individuals who went out of their way to be helpful. One of those was Lt. Governor Joseph M. Montoya, who was the presiding officer of the senate and opened many doors for me. Also, just the fact that I was the spokesperson for the labor movement made many friends for me -- as well as many enemies. But I was young, aggressive, and daring and was able to take the heat. During the campaign, I had learned how to play to the press, which gave me an advantage when I appeared before legislative committees. I was always prepared with a "catchy" remark for the news media to quote in their releases.

"Right-to-Work" law

One of the most heated debates during most legislative sessions is the so-called "right-to-work" law, which prohibits the union shop. We were always able to defeat any proposal to enact any such law. But the debates generally are so heated that the news media give them full coverage. Besides making presentations before legislative committees considering these bills, I made presentations to groups all over the state. One of the most memorable events was when I was challenged to debate the right-to-work laws throughout the state. My debate opponent was a former football coach of the University of New Mexico named Burl Hoffman. Most of the debates were before civic clubs and college students; they were widely publicized and reported. Because most of the civic clubs were made up of employers and non-union people, my opponent had an advantage over me; but I guess I was able to hold my own since the measure was defeated when it went to a referendum vote of the people of New Mexico.

During my tenure with the state federation (October 1956 - December 1961), we were able to defeat the so-called "right-to-work" law and other detrimental proposed laws and lobby through many laws beneficial to the working people. For example, we were able to get increases in the minimum wage law, to improve the mining code for safer working conditions in mines, to increase benefits for workers injured on the job, and to have union people appointed to positions in state government (to ensure that labor laws were fairly applied and enforced).

I had to stand for election in order to retain my job at every annual New Mexico AFL-CIO convention. Although I was elected as a compromise candidate, the membership was pleased with my performance; while I served in that capacity, no one ever ran against me. I resigned to accept a position as Labor Attaché in the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru. I was given a going-away party by the federation and was awarded its highest award, "The Labor Oscar."

John F. Kennedy

Because of my position with labor and because of our federation's involvement in political affairs, I was elected a delegate to the 1960 Democratic National Convention, which nominated John F. Kennedy as its candidate for President of the United States. Most of the New Mexico delegation voted for Lyndon B. Johnson, but I was one of the few from New Mexico that voted for JFK. Once nominated, he decided that in order to win the state of Texas, he needed Lyndon Johnson on the ticket. So he chose him as his running mate. This proved to be decisive because of the very narrow margin of victory in the general election. I had met Kennedy when he was a U.S. Senator and before he had announced his intention of running for president. I got on his bandwagon once I knew him personally and I worked hard all over the state getting support for his candidacy. It was a very exciting time to support a candidate that had so many creative and challenging ideas for the country. I received a letter from JFK on August 12, 1960, thanking me for my vote of confidence. His youngest brother, Ted, was assigned to coordinate JFK's campaign in the Rocky Mountain region, and so I was pleased to work with him in that effort. I had met "Teddy" (as JFK referred to him) at the national convention and thought that he, too, had a bright future in politics.

Once JFK was elected president, he met with George Meany, President of the National AFL-CIO, and amongst other things, requested names of bilingual labor leaders who could be appointed labor attaches in different countries world-wide. My name was submitted for Latin America on January 1, 1962, and I was appointed Labor Attaché of the American Embassy in Lima, Peru.

Labor Attaché, American Embassy, Lima, Peru

My work at the Embassy from January 1962 to February 1964 consisted of being in constant contact with labor leaders, business people, and Peruvian government officials and doing in-depth reports on all of my activities. In this vein, I traveled all over Peru espousing democratic concepts, promoting self-help programs, and developing goodwill for the United States.

My assignment with labor leaders was to influence and develop democratic-leaning unions and to eliminate communist-controlled leadership in unions. I was in daily contact with the top leaders countrywide and worked with the CIA to develop and fund programs that would weaken communist activities and strengthen democracy. Some of the self-help programs we developed had to do with low-cost housing, credit unions, a workers' bank, and a full-time labor school for labor leaders. Under the USAID cultural exchange program, we financed travel of labor leaders to the U.S. so that they could meet with their counterparts in America.

After our two years there, the new Ambassador to Peru, Wesley Jones, asked us to remain there for another tour; however, we turned down the offer. I had been offered a position with the AFL-CIO on President George Meany's staff. Although we had a great and interesting time in Peru, the family was happy to get back to the USA. There's no place like home.

International Affairs Department, National AFL-CIO

On March 1, 1964, 1 went to work in the International Affairs Department of the National AFL-CIO as the Associate Inter-American Representative in Washington, D.C. My immediate supervisors were Andrew McLellen, Ernest Lee and Jay Lovestone. Jay Lovestone was the only person who ever told Stalin to "go to hell" and lived to tell about it. At one time, he was the head of the Communist Party in the U.S. He later recanted and became an outspoken enemy of communism and was recruited by George Meany, president of the AFL at the time, and made the director of the International Affairs Department -- from where he continued his crusade.

My job was to maintain a working relationship with the democratic-leaning labor organizations in all of Latin America, to monitor the work of the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), and to report back to AFL-CIO President George Meany through my supervisors in the International Affairs Department. I also served, as a representative of the AFL-CIO, on many important government committees. I remember, while at a meeting of the Labor Advisory Committee on Foreign Assistance and in the presence of many VIPs, asking myself, "What am I doing here?" It was a strange feeling for a person of my educational background (or lack thereof) to be making input into matters of international importance.

I recall the time when Dean Rusk, Secretary of State at the time, asked George Meany to send me to La Paz, Bolivia, to negotiate with the military junta (which had taken over the government through a military coup d'etat) for the reinstitution of free labor unions and labor rights in line with United Nations covenants (i.e., freedom of association, the right to strike, and prohibition of slave labor). Happily, I was successful in doing so.

There were many clashes of egos within the AFL-CIO -- between the heads of national labor organizations -- when it came to the limits of authority imposed on them by George Meany. Because I got innocently involved in such a clash, I asked George Meany to give me a year's leave of absence so I could go to work for the EEOC. I knew that the EEOC had started recruiting.

Interest in the EEOC

My reasons for wanting to go to the EEOC were many: I was a member of a Hispanic minority; I was bilingual and could relate to the Hispanic problems of non-English-speaking individuals; and I was a "depression baby" who knew what it was like to be poor and neglected. I had known instances of discrimination when I wasn't allowed to speak Spanish on the school grounds and when I was laughed at because of a Spanish accent when I was young. I had been encouraged by Anglo teachers in high school to take up a trade instead of being encouraged to go on to college, even though I qualified in the SAT. My experiences in Latin America had also exposed me to real discriminatory practices by large American and local corporations against workers. As head of the New Mexico Labor movement, I had been involved in lobbying for stronger laws against discrimination, higher appropriations for the New Mexico FEPC and the establishment and funding of the Human Rights Commission.

President Lyndon B. Johnson

I recall that Senator Joseph M. Montoya was trying to convince President Lyndon B. Johnson to appoint me a Commissioner of the EEOC at that time; this was very flattering. Even though I had labor's support, including Cesar Chavez of the Farm Workers Union, and support from many organizations nationwide, I knew that without a college degree my chances were nil. President Johnson did invite me to meet with him in the Oval Office ... that is something that I will treasure forever. I recall that he mentioned that the senior Senator from New Mexico, Clinton Anderson, was opposed to my being appointed a commissioner; and he added, "In Washington, you are either screwing somebody or getting screwed," which was very appropriate. But for me, such a remark coming from the President of the United States was somewhat shocking. Orpha and I were also invited to a White House dinner on April 25, 1968, which was also something special to remember and treasure.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr.

When I met with FDR, Jr. at EEOC headquarters, I recall that he was very friendly and asked me what my party affiliation was. I said I was a life-long Democrat and he said, "That's too bad, the commission has a vacancy for a Commissioner which, by law, has to be filled by a Republican, but I could have recommended you for that slot." He asked, "Aren't you at least an independent?" And I said, "No, I'm a Democrat." He was probably kidding, but it made me feel good. So, he hired me as a labor consultant to the Chairman and I was given the vacant office of the Republican commissioner-to-be. A few weeks later, FDR Jr. resigned to run for Governor of New York and Commissioner Dr. Luther Holcomb, who was Vice Chairman at the time, became acting Chairman.

Early Experiences with the EEOC

Walter Davis, Deputy Executive Director at the time, was in the process of establishing field offices. Dr. Holcomb called me into his office and asked if I would like to establish and head up the field office in Albuquerque. Of course, I was delighted to be going back home, but working in Washington D.C. was something else!

We returned to Albuquerque in September of 1966, and I began working as the first Director of the EEOC Albuquerque Area Office. I was there until I retired. There were a lot of things that we accomplished in those days. There were only seven field offices at the time. The jurisdiction of the area office at that time was the states of New Mexico and Arizona. Later, the jurisdiction was greatly increased from the Mexican to the Canadian borders and included New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. Later, two other states, North and South Dakota were added. The office opened with about six employees and grew to about 150 in later times.

The first days in the area office were, to say the least, hectic. EEOC headquarters was still developing charge processing and conciliation procedures, and for the first few years, every field office was processing charges in dissimilar ways. That was the case until, through phone and mail communications amongst the field directors and the deputy executive directors, we established the field directors' council. We elected Don Hollowell as our Chairman. I believe that the establishment of the directors' council led to special relationships that proved good for the agency and the individuals themselves. Some of these relationships exist even today.

It was through the field directors' council that we started standardizing the compliance process and making input to headquarters. That is not to say that the EEOC wasn't fortunate in having attracted many highly talented individuals for its headquarters staff, because it had. The problem was that by the time Title VII went into effect, thousands of charges had accumulated at headquarters and were in the process of being distributed to the field, thus delaying the development of compliance procedures. Also, there had to be commission discussion and approval of procedures to be sure that they complied with the various requirements of the law.

The field directors' council, at first, communicated by phone and met monthly or as deemed necessary, sharing, experiences of which procedures were having the best results, then sharing that information with headquarters. Eventually, the council was able to convince the commission that it ought to have meetings with the directors for purposes of exchanging information. The directors' meetings were held in different places around the country, but usually not in a field office so as to avoid interruptions; and usually only once or twice a year at headquarters.

Training Programs

At first, each field director and his/her deputy did the training of the office personnel. However, once the headquarters staff got organized, training programs were developed for investigators, conciliators and clerical staff. The training personnel held programs at headquarters, at field offices and at regional areas for several offices at one time. The training sessions were usually one to two days in duration. Headquarters training usually lasted one to two weeks. Intake of charges was a very important part of the compliance process, and the clerical staff were also exposed to the process and encouraged to take charges. If they showed promise, they were trained further and placed in the charge intake unit. If they showed further ability, they were given training as investigators and upgraded to professionals. For experienced investigators, the directors sometimes "pirated" personnel from state FEPC agencies, state employment agencies and police departments for their experience in the compliance process.

In the summer of 1970, I was privileged to assist in the making of two training films for the EEOC, "Struggle for Los Travajos" and "Voice of La Raza." In the latter, Anthony Quinn, who was filming in Albuquerque at the time, appeared on donated time. The film "Struggles for Los Travajos" was training on how to conduct conciliations; the cast was made up of personnel from the Albuquerque office, including myself.

I recall that I was selected to convene, plan and develop an annual training program for commissioners, headquarters compliance staff, and field directors ... and it was quite successful. The idea was not so much training as an exchange of information to improve relations, coordination and communication between headquarters and the field. All commission members attended as observers.

Conciliation

What proved most effective in conciliation efforts was to have two conciliators as a team. One would be the bad guy and one the good guy. The bad guy would be pushy and seek much more than was required to settle a problem, then the good guy would intervene and push for a settlement that would appear more equitable towards solving the problem. In the Albuquerque Area Office, my deputy would be the bad guy and I would be the good guy; and since I was the Director, it seemed reasonable to the respondent that I could overrule my deputy. Of course, we would plan our approach before the session started. For the first two years, my deputy and I did all of the conciliations, and as we gained experience, we passed it on as training. Most of our conciliation efforts required a lot of "role playing." Headquarters used films of role playing as feedback to the trainees. This approach gave good results.

I believe that the strength of conciliation lies in that it is a voluntary process, but it is only as good as the investigation that preceded it. If it was a marginal "cause" finding, conciliation is difficult; conversely, if it was a strong "cause" finding, conciliation is usually easy. I don't know for sure, but I've heard that the EEOC is presently mostly in the business of issuing "right to sue" letters. If that is true, then the original purpose of the agency is no longer valid. The original purpose of the creation of the agency was to keep the cases out of the federal courts by obtaining voluntary compliance.

Reactions from the Public

As a general rule, I would say that in the beginning most employers looked upon the EEOC as the enemy. I recall when making a presentation before an employers' organization, I made the statement that "We are here to serve you in complying with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended." An individual, who was apparently an employer, came back with, "Yeah, the EEOC wants to serve us as a bull services a cow." I also recall that my deputy, Walden Silva, and I were conducting a conciliation with an employer in Yuma, Arizona. The employer came into the room where we had set up, and I told him what the conciliation process was all about. He listened intently for about 15 minutes, cleared his throat, and started to tell us off in no uncertain terms for about another 15 minutes. We sat there and listened and said nothing ... he had said nothing that was relevant to our purpose for being there. When he finished, he was perspiring and red-faced and without reading our proposal, said, "O.K., show me where I sign the agreement."

EEOC Commissioners

I believe that most EEOC commissioners were good for the agency. The best Chairperson, in my opinion, was Eleanor Holmes Norton. She brought with her the process which fast-tracked backlog cases to a conclusion. Also, she set up model offices to experiment with the fastprocessing procedure before implementation commission-wide.

The three model offices were strategically placed at Chicago, Baltimore and Dallas. A nationwide search and test was done as a part of the selection program for Program Managers for the three offices. I was selected to manage the Dallas Model Office. My executive assignment lasted about 15 months. The Dallas office was the first of the three to resolve the backlog of charges and received a Resolution of Special Commendation from the Commissioner. It read:

The Commission recognizes and commends the Dallas Model Office for being the first office in the history of the Commission to resolve the backlog of charges it faced when the office was formally designated in September 1977 and to be current in its workload. The Dallas Office, through the exceptional efforts of its staff and management, has pioneered the development and application of modern techniques in case processing to the benefit of protected classes, respondents and the general public. The resolution of backlogged cases, in particular, by the Dallas Office marks a historic milestone in the commission's drive to improve its service to the public. Members of the Dallas staff may consider with pride the extraordinary impact and significance of their efforts and success to the Commission and to those in need of assistance.

FDR, Jr. wasn't there long enough to judge. I've heard that he took the job so he could run for Governor of New York. Commissioner Jackson was a very good and dedicated commissioner; however, he was opposed to giving special consideration to Indians "living on or near a reservation." But Chairman Brown was excellent in dealing with the concerns of the American Indians, Commissioner Ximenes was very good, especially strong on affirmative action and in giving voice to concerns of Hispanics. Chairperson Powell was good in working closely with the Field Directors, as were Chairmen Alexander and Telles. Acting Chairman Holcomb was very good at leading the Commission when it lacked a Chairperson. The fact that I fail to mention others does not mean that they were not good, with one exception. It is my opinion that Chairman Clarence Thomas was bad for the agency. Why? He was not a believer in affirmative action -- one of the building blocks of conciliation. He told me this to my face. I was able to work with him, but it wasn't easy. It is also my personal opinion that he should not have been appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, especially to replace a Black justice.

Life after the EEOC

We were very fortunate in those early days to have Deputy Executive Directors of the Commission that were working very closely with us -- they were our pipeline to the Chairman and the Commission. We held meetings all over the country and worked up procedures that we had been testing that seemed to have the best results. It was a tremendous and wonderful experience to work with all of these individuals who were so committed to making Title VII of the Civil Right Act a force in the country. The Headquarter staff was totally dedicated -- they had tremendously talented individuals who voluntarily came to the EEOC because they were interested in what was happening. The federal courts were giving us breaks and bending over backwards to make this new law a working instrument of justice. It was a time that I look back on as something that happens only once in a lifetime and I was tremendously happy to be a part of it.

I retired from federal employment on October 4, 1987. 1 became self-employed after my retirement and occasionally will take a case for an individual that has been discriminated against. I was involved in many activities during my tenure with the EEOC. Some were with the community, others were of an official nature. I was chairman of the steering committee for the Brotherhood Awareness Conference, whose objective was to bring the diverse groups in the community together again following a very bad riot by Blacks and Hispanics in Albuquerque because of police brutality. I was a member of the Catholic Church's National Campaign for Human Development -- which is an effort to help poor communities by financing self-help programs. I am also proud of the fact that I was one of the founding members of National IMAGE and IMAGE of New Mexico, which is an organization promoting education and employment opportunities for Hispanics.

I am eternally grateful for all of the experiences I have been through: a radio operator/navigator in the Air Force; a leader in the labor movement; a diplomat/labor attaché; and a field director and troubleshooter for the EEOC. What would I like my legacy to be? That I tried to do the best I could in whatever I was doing.

* Jo Ann Surface 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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