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A Message from EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows on 2023 Black History Month

This year’s Black History Month theme – Black Resistance – serves as a reminder of the efforts to overcome the continuing inequalities and ongoing discrimination faced by Black Americans. Those efforts have taken many forms, but one of the most important has been the effort to maintain hope in the face of injustice to create a better future. 

Black History Month is also a time to look back and learn lessons from the past. One enduring act of Black resistance, that has impacted all of us at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), was the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that took place on August 28, 1963 – nearly 60 years ago.

During the height of the civil rights era, more than 250,000 people from all corners of the country gathered for the historic March. It was the culmination of an effort throughout the course of 1963, when thousands of people across the nation demonstrated their commitment to freedom and equality, frequently in the face of violence and intimidation. Led by Black Americans, the demonstrations were joined by persons from many walks of life, backgrounds, and faiths, united in the desire to transcend racism and bigotry –  the very definition of resistance.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech that day at the March is considered one of the most pivotal and influential orations of the Civil Rights Movement and modern American history. During his speech, Dr. King eloquently spoke to resistance and his hope for the future.

“I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our Northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. . . .

. . . .

. . . . With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

The March and ensuing advocacy led to the passage in Congress of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 and, in 1965, the creation of the EEOC, the federal agency charged with enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws in the workplace. Both of these momentous achievements have positively altered the lives of all Americans.

Since its inception in 1965, the EEOC has opened doors for millions of workers. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans employment discrimination based on race, in addition to other protected bases, and it advanced employment and economic opportunities for people of color. Through outreach, enforcement, and litigation, the EEOC has succeeded in changing unfair policies and practices and securing millions of dollars for victims of discrimination.

In fiscal year 2022 and early fiscal year 2023, the EEOC’s work on behalf of Black job applicants and employees included the following:

  • Filing 20 new lawsuits alleging race or national origin discrimination, including 17 involving discrimination against Black workers;
  • Resolving 19 lawsuits alleging race or national origin discrimination, benefiting 298 individuals;
  • Resolving a case for $250,000 against American Piping Inspection, Inc., in which the EEOC found the employer subjected the Black employee to racist remarks from his supervisor and discharged him because of his race and in retaliation for his complaint about his treatment;
  • Resolving a case for $1.1 million against Chicago Meat Authority, who the EEOC had found discriminated against Black applicants in hiring, had subjected Black employees to racial harassment, and had fired a Black employee because of his race and in retaliation for complaining about racial harassment. The consent decree also provided for the hiring of rejected Black applicants who still wanted jobs at the company; good faith efforts to hire additional Black employees; and anti-harassment training and policies;
  • Resolving a systemic investigation involving discriminatory client preferences in assignments that disadvantaged Black workers by obtaining more than $100,000 for the workers and changing practices that ended assignments based on race;
  • Conducting 468 outreach sessions involving issues related to race, which were attended by 52,675 individuals, and 42 events with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) reaching 1,741 attendees.

Even as we look back during Black History Month, we are still marching forward in the fight against discrimination. Thank you to the members of the public and each of the EEOC employees and contractors who support and continue the work of creating inclusive workplaces by addressing the discriminatory barriers in employment.