Work or Fight 1918

During World War I, the Selective Service Division issued a “work or fight” order requiring all able-bodied men to either serve in the military or work in a “necessary” civilian occupation. Some private individuals and employers in the South conspired with public authorities to use the order to force African Americans to perform menial labor for submarket wages.

Although the “work or fight” order was directed at men, some local forced labor ordinances were designed to compel African American women to work as low-wage domestics. The women targeted by these ordinances resisted fiercely. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) attempted to defend them against these discriminatory tactics but failed to rally support from the Federal Government.