Governor Herbert H. Lehman appointed a Committee on Discrimination inEmployment in March 1941 as part of the New York State Council of Defense for the purpose of encouraging complete utilization in defense work of all individuals without consideration of race, color, creed, or national origin. The committee, chaired by the Industrial Commissioner, consisted of twenty-seven members appointed by the governor representing industrial, labor, civic, and racial organizations. Freida S. Miller was the first chairperson of the committee; later Alvin Johnson held that position.
The committee conducted investigations in 1942 of public and private defense training schools, employment agencies, and labor unions to determine whether they pursued discriminatory labor policies and to take appropriate action to eliminate undesirable practices. The committee appointed Labor Discrimination Representatives who were trained to approach war employers, workers, and community agencies when State labor policies were not followed. Governor Thomas E. Dewey reorganized the committee in 1943 to undertake more intensive and continuous work to eliminate economic and social discrimination and to develop greater unity in the war effort. The committee obtained data on the number of members of minority groups employed in the plants visited and obtained statistical information on the mental, manual, and physical exams given to employees before or after hiring.
The committee proposed legislation in 1944 to establish a permanent commission to enforce the right of employment, regardless of race, creed, color, national origin, or ancestry, and to investigate the various problems of discrimination, but initially their proposal was turned down. Under the influence of Governor Thomas E. Dewey, a State Commission against Discrimination was established by law in 1945 (Chapter 118) consisting of five members appointed by the governor. Empowered to take proper action against discrimination in employment, this commission replaced the War Council's committee.