Abstract: Planning for Progress: Lockheed, Business Voluntarism, and Desegregation in the 1960s

Randall L. Patton


Much has been written about the Civil Rights movement, its successes, failures, remaining challenges, strategies, and leaders. The one aspect of the civil rights revolution that has received the least attention is employment opportunity. Frank Dobbin (<i>Inventing Equal Opportunity</i>) has recently highlighted the role of personnel professionals in defining equal employment opportunity in the wake of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. Dobbin recognized the pivotal role of defense contractors, especially Lockheed, and the long-underestimated significance of voluntary programs such as Plans for Progress. Hugh Gordon, Lockheed personnel manager in the 1960s and 1970s, played a key role in these developments. Gordon helped develop and implement Lockheed's desegregation policies, founded the Atlanta Merit Employers Association, and eventually traveled around the South (and, indeed, the nation) encouraging other business groups to set up similar organizations in the mid- and late 1960s. Interviews with Gordon and others, and Gordon's papers, offer a revealing look into the origins of workplace integration. Gordon liked to remind listeners of Dr. King's famous injunction that freedom means little to a person without a job. Gordon's career was in many ways a testimony to the private sector's effort to address this concern without admitting the other half of King's formulation. King had also, of course, argued that "a radical redistribution of economic resources" would be necessary to achieve economic justice. Gordon and his colleagues tried to expand job opportunities without any significant restructuring by taking control of the process.