Anna M. Rosenberg was born in Budapest in 1899 and emigrated to the United States in 1912 with her mother and sister to join their father/husband who had emigrated two years earlier. As a young woman, she became very involved with the Democratic Party machine of NYC and began her career as a labor negotiator. Her many successes in that role led her to meet Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt when he was campaigning for Governor of NY and she became an important part of his campaign cabinet.
Once FDR became president, Ms. Rosenberg became a valued and much trusted advisor. In early 1941, Roosevelt needed to increase armaments manufacture, as a national security goal. A. Phillip Randolph, an activist with a vision of ending discrimination in employment and integrating the armed services, called for A March on Washington to demand that FDR take concrete steps to end both. Though “…FDR saw the need for an order against discrimination, he feared that the issue might slow war production at a time when it needed to accelerate”* and he wanted the March on Washington to be called off. Anna Rosenberg and others were part of the president’s team that met with Mr. Randolph and other Black leaders to negotiate the issue. Those negotiations led to FDR’s Executive Order 8802 which required employers and labor organizations to “…provide for the full and equitable participation of all workers in the defense industries, without discrimination because of race, creed, color, or national origin.” and it established the Fair Employment Practices Committee to investigate grievances, monitor compliance and strip contracts from discriminatory defense companies.
As a regional director of the War Manpower Commission with an area that included Buffalo, NY, she confronted companies who were ignoring Executive Order 8802. As author, Christopher Gorham writes in his biography of Anna, The Confidante, “After employing ‘only a handful’ of Black workers in 1942, aircraft maker Curtiss-Wrighjt had 1,492 Black workers on the payroll, 940 of them women, by June 1943. Bell Aircraft employed another 900. Her work on behalf of the Black community of the Niagara district was consistent with Anna’s commitment to civil rights. She had brokered Executive Order 8802 in 1941; insisted Pacific shipyards hire Black workers in 1942; and was seen as an ally by Black leaders such as Paul Robeson, future Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, and Clarence Mitchell, Jr.”*
Under President Truman, Anna Rosenberg became the first woman to serve as Assistant Secretary of Defense. She argued with her boss, Secretary of Defense, General Marshall that military units should all be integrated. As author Gorham wrote, “Her position that integration was morally right and militarily efficient resonated with [General Marshal] who thereafter ordered the use of Black troops integrated combat units.” She fought for integration in all aspects of military base life as well and by the time she left the Defense Department in 1953, “Segregation and discrimination were virtually eliminated from the internal organization of the active military. Integration and equal treatment was the official policy in such on-base facilities as swimming pools, chapels, barbershops, post exchanges, movie theaters, and dependents’ housing as well as in the more direct areas of assignment and promotion.”
When asked by a reporter in 1951 how many Black soldiers were serving in Korea, she replied, “I don’t know or care how many Black soldiers are here; as far as I’m concerned, there are only American soldiers”
(All quotes and most information shared here are from the book, The Confidante, The Untold Story of the Woman Who Helped Win WWII and Shape Modern America, by Christopher Gorham)