The Fight to End Employment Discrimination in Cleveland, 1948

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

The industrial film producer Cinecraft Productions Inc., whose archive arrived at Hagley in 2019, includes scripts, films, and TV commercials produced by the Cleveland-based company from its founding in 1938 into the 1970s. The vast majority of Cinecraft’s work came through productions for businesses like Republic Steel, Ohio Bell Telephone, and Standard Oil of Ohio. They also produced films for government and public advocacy organizations. 

Among Cinecraft’s ‘non-business’ clients, we found two scripts for sound-slide films** produced for the Committee on Employment Practices of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce. The committee established by Cleveland’s mayor Thomas A. Burke made up of business executives, labor, community leaders, and government officials, advocated for a voluntary community-wide plan to secure non-discrimination in hiring from the city businesses.  

The first slide film produced by Cinecraft for the committee titled "The Challenge for Cleveland" (1948) promoted their work emphasizing the adverse effects of discrimination in employment, especially among Black Clevelanders, stating that “discrimination is just poor business.” The second film, “Cleveland’s Answer” from 1949, discussed actions taken by the committee and directly addressed some of the racist tropes used to justify discriminatory hiring.

Ultimately, the efforts of the committee proved unsatisfactory. They concluded that implementing antidiscrimination practices through “voluntary compliance” did not work. The Cleveland effort was included as an example in a 1954 Hearing on Antidiscrimination in Employment in front of the U.S. Senate. A presenter said the Cleveland effort showed that the voluntary approach was not adequate to cause significant changes in employment practices for most local businesses. 

While the committee did not meet its intended goals, it surely influenced an anti-discrimination law in Cleveland that passed in 1950. The slide films serve as an interesting look into the efforts of advocacy groups to end racist hiring practices in the wake of progress made during the Second World War. These small movements would eventually lead to the broader Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, resulting in federal action against discriminatory hiring practices. The fight for fair employment for minority groups continues today.  

Read the full scripts with editor’s notes for both films in the Hagley Digital Archive:

Challenge for Cleveland (1948)
Cleveland’s Answer (1949)

**Sounds slide films were comprised of still images accompanied by an audio track on a record (later the audio would be stored on cassette tapes). The films would have been projected on a screen and each image manually advanced by an operator. The operator would advance the image on an audio cue on the recording -- usually a beep.  Cinecraft did a significant business in slide films. We do not have most of the audio for the slide films but we do have scripts like the ones featured here. The sound-slide film was a cheaper alternative to motion picture films.

A special thanks to Jim Culley for his research on the two slide films featured here.