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(October-December 1999)
By Laura Richey*

Jacqueline Bradford, an African American woman, served as the first Assistant to Commissioner Samuel Jackson of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from the beginning of the EEOC in 1965 until 1968.

Jacqueline was born in Topeka, Kansas in March of 1929. She was born to a family of "Exodusters," people who moved from the south to the west. Her paternal grandfather moved with a large group of interrelated families to Kansas, a "free state" in the late 19th century. The group made it as far as Missouri together and then split up due to a disagreement on where to live. Her grandfather heard that "Bleeding Kansas" was the safest place to be, while some of his travel companions moved as far west as Oregon and into Canada. Her maternal grandfather was from Tennessee and he too traveled with a group that split up once they reached Kansas. Most of this group came to live in Topeka.

At an early age, Jacqueline grew a passion for reading books and writing. During her early childhood, Jacqueline remembers being bused to segregated schools that were farther away from her home than white schools. She says the schools were fine, except the teachers did not teach reading as quickly as she wanted. Her father later moved the family just outside of Topeka to a county school called Pierce. He became the President of the School Board and was involved in the funding of the school. The school was predominately black but some white children attended. She remained at Pierce for the rest of her elementary years, then attended Highland Park High School. Jacqueline later attended Washburn University in Topeka and earned a bachelor's degree in English.

Jacqueline's love of reading and writing did not fade with time, but grew. During her college career, she listened to speakers and took oddball journalism assignments to learn about different topics and ideas. While she attended college, she took on a part-time job at Menninger Foundation Hospital as a medical secretary. After her college graduation, she stayed in that position for five years, until 1955, when she moved to New York City.

Jacqueline's medical experience and contacts in the medical field landed her jobs in a variety of medical settings. She took a job with a New York University Graduate School research center as an editor and secretary for psychology professors for two years. She later worked for the American Nurses Foundation doing a variety of heart attack studies and other research projects. Jacqueline learned to love research and hoped to find similar medical work when she moved to California in 1962.

Searching for a job in San Francisco, California is the first recollection Jacqueline has of experiencing personal discrimination because of her race. An employment agency did not know "what to do" with her, and she learned very quickly the importance of knowing someone in the field. She contacted a former colleague and friend who referred her to a State of California Research Center, where she was hired. Her position at the center was much the same as her previous employment, doing research, but on different topics than her research topics in New York. She had been employed at the center for two years when Samuel Jackson, a former colleague from Washburn University, called her in 1965 about a job opportunity at the EEOC.

At the time of Jackson's call (May 1965), Jackson had been nominated as an EEOC commissioner, but the Senate had not yet confirmed his nomination. Jackson told Jacqueline there was a great need to educate the American public, and he needed someone to help get the word out. In June of 1965, after Jackson received his three-year appointment as a commissioner, Jacqueline found herself in Washington D.C., initially writing speeches for him in temporary quarters on the corner of 18th and L Streets. Jacqueline recalls the EEOC team as a varied group borrowed from other agencies such as the Post Office, the National Labor Relations Board, the Commerce Department, and the Labor Department; there were also law professors from various universities around the country.

The Commissioners' first task was to get the EEOC into working shape. The law fashioned by Congress was the starting point. It was the task of the EEOC to establish guidelines on how the agency was going to work. Discrimination charges were going to take the language of Title VII and mold it. Jacqueline recalls that one afternoon, four or five men came into the temporary quarters carrying boxes full of discrimination charges from all over the country. Two to three thousand charges had been collecting in various agencies, such as the Labor Department and Commerce Department; they had gone untouched, awaiting the opening of the EEOC. With such an enormous case load already established and waiting, job descriptions were made and standards were set up to begin interviewing and hiring qualified case investigators.

As time passed, the agency grew. At first, most charges dealt with racial discrimination. Later, sex discrimination became the fastest-growing type of discrimination charge, with race discrimination charges a steady second. Discrimination based on gender was new territory. Laws and ordinances were amended to conform to federal law. The reasoning behind the rush to conform to federal law was to allow states to have a first crack at the law and resolve the matter. Some states established an equivalent of the EEOC to handle discrimination charges, but the EEOC remained the only agency of recourse if there was not an equivalent state agency qualified to handle discrimination charges. Most of the reactions to the EEOC from the public were negative because the commission did not move fast enough; however, early backlog caused this problem.

During the three years Jacqueline was employed at the EEOC in Washington, she wrote 150 speeches. Commissioner Jackson was constantly on the road, while she stayed in the office doing administrative duties and supervising law school interns. Jackson's first major project was to make as many speeches to groups as he could to inform the public about the law.

In August of 1965, a White House Conference was held where Jacqueline saw and met many of the Title VII players that would lobby on how Title VII should be enforced. The meeting was held in the Rose Garden and many topics, such as establishing the EEOC's efforts and getting the law codified in a usable way, were discussed. Jacqueline also remembers an incident that happened at a reception in the State Department where she and a friend were standing in the alcove when a wall opened and a secret elevator was revealed. The elevator opened and the Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, stepped out and introduced himself. Mr. Rusk shared a tale of introducing himself as simply the Secretary but was looked down upon by certain people who thought he was a mere clerical secretary of one of the officials.

Most of Jacqueline's contacts were with the staff of the commissioners. She met President Johnson and shook his hand. She had a small conversation with Mrs. Johnson about Lucy Johnson's newly born son but had few additional contacts with other officials.

Although Jacqueline did not work in the field, she did have interesting experiences with charging parties. She recalls a young man very upset coming in and wanting to speak to Commissioner Jackson. Jackson was on the road so Jacqueline said that she would talk to him. She listened to his concerns but could not do anything because she did not know that much about his case; however, he left thanking her for her time. Later she found out that the same young man had a warrant out for his arrest for throwing a business agent of a labor union out a second-story window earlier that day.

Jacqueline later applied and received a job at the San Francisco Field Office as an investigator. She had not received any formal training the first three years at the EEOC until she was hired as an investigator. She received training from Chris Roggerson in conciliation and in 1968, she held her first conciliation meeting. The meeting was a charge of discrimination based upon sex by a woman who applied for a job in a small import/export firm. The firm refused to hire the woman claiming that no woman had ever held that position. Several officers and owners of the company and lawyers attended. Jacqueline was appalled at the employer's behavior. The employer was a male who expressed a very adamant view that women should not hold certain job positions. He explained that the position in question, an office job in import/export sales, had always been occupied by males and should continue to be a male-only job. Jacqueline abruptly ended the meeting, knowing that the meeting would not come to any kind of agreement. But the attorney for the employer knew that the case was an open-and-shut case of discrimination and called her later that afternoon to settle with a monetary reward to the charging party, and to sign an agreement.

Jacqueline later became the Deputy Regional Director in 1970 with the reorganization of district and regional offices. She oversaw the three western regions of San Francisco, Denver, and Seattle. The regional office included herself, the director, a regional attorney, and voluntary program officers. Administrative, personnel, and finance personnel were also located at the office. There was a great deal of travel involved. She did not do much field work but did develop training for district office employees and help with a system set up to judge how well district offices were carrying out their jobs. She visited the district offices, keeping up these systems of tracking and monitoring.

After leaving the EEOC in January of 1979, she did some work with Aileen Hernandez in her urban consulting firm. Aileen was in great demand to train managers in various companies and government entities on Title VII. Jacqueline did dozens of seminars with Aileen over Title VII and the differences of Title VII and affirmative action. There was a lot of resentment over Title VII and affirmative action. A negative belief was that minorities, particularly women, received preference in the workplace.

Jacqueline brought a lot of personal experience to the EEOC primarily from her parents. In her early childhood, her parents told stories of the Beecher Bible & Rifle Church located a few miles west of Topeka. Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, a well-known abolitionist and Congregationalist minister, claimed to be bringing bibles in crates to the church but was in fact helping the "free-staters" by supplying rifles to use against rampaging pro-slavery forces. She also learned a lot about discrimination because of where she lived. Her father used to show her houses and caves that John Brown used as hideouts and terminals as part of the Underground Railroad. There were many other stories and experiences that her parents would share with her that made her aware of discrimination.

Jacqueline is now retired in her home town of Topeka, Kansas but maintains relationships developed at the EEOC.

* At the time she interviewed Jacqueline Bradford, Laura Richey was a candidate for a Master of Arts Degree with a specialization in Legal Studies at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. She received her degree in December 1999.

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