Setting the Stage

Legal Philosophies 

and Structural Influences



John F. Kennedy

President John F. Kennedy 

addressing AFL-CIO 

Fifth Constitutional Convention

New York City

 November 15, 1963 

      Jenkins was appointed to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in 1963 by the Democratic President Kennedy despite his life-long affiliation with the Republican party. His appointment coincided with the landmark civil rights legislation proposed by President John F. Kennedy, which was supported by civil rights organizations and their historic march on Washington, D.C., in 1963.  The day after the historic march, Howard Jenkins, Jr., was sworn in as a member of the NLRB.  

     Out of respect for Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights march on Washington, Jenkins postponed his swearing-in ceremony until August 29, 1963.  During his acceptance speech, Jenkins said, “I know that it has not escaped your attention that I am a Negro.  I am conscious of the inter-relationship between the problems of the Negro in the work force and the myriad of problems of our industrial economy.”  He confirmed that much of what was said and done in the past is equally relevant in the present.


     Early in his tenure at the NLRB, Jenkins left no doubt that his voice would be remembered as one of those brave individuals who spoke out unflinchingly for the equality of all Americans.  Shortly after his appointment to the Board, Jenkins addressed the Urban League of Kansas City.  He described the plight of African American workers during that time:   

I hold the conviction that no lasting solution is to be found in the many faceted racial problem in the United States unless provision is made for rescuing the masses of Negroes from economic oblivion to which they are otherwise consigned in this age of automation.

1964 - <U>Hughes Tool Company</U>, 147 NLRB 1572


Hughes Tool Company

147 NLRB 1572 

      Jenkins’s appointment to the NLRB in 1963 meant that he would have the opportunity to broaden the activities of trade unions generally.  His experience under the Landrum-Griffin Act, however, taught him to recognize that not all trade unions were accepting of the principles of equality and opportunity – two central themes in Jenkins’s legal work.  Jenkins looked to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and the NLRB as vehicles through which change could be accomplished.   

     Above all else, Jenkins firmly believed in the power of the individual, using the law, to change history.  He was keenly aware of the effects of racism in unions and therefore felt the role of the Board in encouraging collective bargaining between the employees (particularly minorities) and primarily white employers would provide “many opportunities to strike a blow for freedom.”   

       Jenkins’s commitment to both individual civil rights and the rights of labor unions often led to a tension in his work.  He expressed it once as the “tension between collective action and the rights of the individual vis-ŕ-vis that collectivity.”  It often became a question of where the group rights ended and individual rights began.  Throughout his years on the NLRB, Jenkins strove to encourage labor unions and labor policy while preserving and promoting individual civil rights and racial equality.  

     He was later re-appointed to the Board by Presidents Lyndon Johnson (1968), Richard M. Nixon (1973), and Jimmy Carter (1978).   

1965 - UAW members on Picket Line During Strike

1965 - UAW members on picket line during strike against Kohler Co.

Jenkins with President Johnson

Howard Jenkins, Jr.


President Lyndon Johnson

     As the 1960’s were drawing to a close, America was being torn apart by race riots.  In 1967, President Johnson created an 11-member National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder to investigate racial unrest and to recommend remedial action.  Jenkins, unwilling to solely address the increasing racial problems through his role as a Board Member, used speaking engagements across the country to speak out about the causes for African Americans’ unrest.  In an August 1967 address to the Urban League of the Pikes Peak Region he noted: 

     It lies within the power of American industry to create the jobs so sorely needed.  It lies within the power of American trade unions to see that every assistance is given to the placement of Negro Americans in the industrial work force.  

     He also issued an appeal:  

Let the Negro men in these cities go to work, let them feel the dignity of being productive, let them assume their rightful places as family supporter and family head, let them raise up sons who look not to a welfare worker or the postman with a relief check, but to their father who supports them with his adequate earnings.

     During early 1968, vicious racial intolerance manifested itself in the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4.  With Dr. King’s death and the issuance of the Kerner Commission’s report, Jenkins returned to Denver to deliver a very sober analysis of the American legal system and its impact on African Americans.  In his address to the alumni of his alma mater on June 6, 1968, Jenkins stated:  

Long ignored endemic problems fester and eventually erupt with critical consequences.  Many Americans profess not to understand the basis for the increasing distrust of the legal process as a method for solving the social ills that beset our Nation.  They seem not to comprehend the deep-seated sense of frustration seething in the breasts of young black men and women whose children are attending the same public schools, getting the same inadequate education that they received, and they recall that their parents assured them that those conditions would be corrected while they were still children.  Now they are grown and the gap between promise and practice has grown wider, and victims of the system need no committees of experts to define their problem.  

Table of Contents

Previous Chapter   Next Chapter

Howard Jenkins, Jr.


Related Sites  Reference

Copyright © 2002

University of Denver

All rights reserved.