African Americans at General Electric

Cover Image:
Black and white photograph
GE Minority Recruiting Council Meeting, 1976 - Image Source

Collection Facts

Dates of Original:

Historical Context

The collection explores the role of African Americans in the General Electric workforce. Present in small numbers beginning in the late 1890s, racism primarily limited skilled African American workers to cleaning and other unskilled jobs. The labor needs created by World War II opened new opportunities and workers progressed into skilled manufacturing and office positions.

By the 1950s college graduates from the Historically Black Colleges (HBCUs) were beginning to enter research and engineering positions. These pioneering workers explored ways to encourage future generations,
and in 1972 they created the Program to Increase Minority Engineering Graduates with the encouragement of GE management. This progressive program became a national model, and it was replicated by the Federal Government and the National Academy of Engineering. As African Americans continued to make gains in the workforce, African American GE research
scientists and engineers made important contributions in materials science, chemistry, physics, biotechnology, and lasers.

Scope of Collection

Primarily photographs created by GE photographers that document the history of the African American experience at General Electric. The majority of the photographs date from 1960-1995, although there are some from the early 1900s and also from the World War II period. The company record did not capture stories such as that of Wendell King, an African American Union
College student whose attempted hiring in 1917 launched an 8-day worker strike in protest of his hiring in a skilled position. The collection also includes two GE minority recruiting booklets from the 1960s.