The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Panama ( Hines )

No. 71

Sir: …

As the Embassy is well aware the question of the treatment of West Indian and other negro labor in the Canal Zone has been a delicate issue for many years. On various occasions allegations have been made from sources other than the Republic of Panama to the effect that United States agencies in the Canal Zone practice unfair treatment of negro laborers in contrast to that accorded white employees, [Page 1152] especially United States citizens. These allegations have from time to time been presented in writing to the highest authorities of the United States Government, including the President.

As recently as January 8, 1946 the treatment of negro laborers in the Canal Zone was the subject of a conversation between President Truman and Charles W. Taussig, Chairman of the United States Section of the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission. The President asked Mr. Taussig for a memorandum on the subject with a suggestion for action. On January 9, 1946 Mr. Taussig addressed a letter to the President in which he stated that “The racial problem of the Canal Zone is closely tied in with our relations to the Republic of Panama as well as to the entire Caribbean area. For this reason I have asked Mr. Braden to send the memorandum to you.”

Subsequent to this recent evidence of interest by the President in the Canal Zone race problem, the procedures for obtaining the most accurate facts for him and suggestions for whatever appropriate action might be indicated have been the subject of consultation in the Department. As a result it has been decided that a fact-finding commission to be composed of the Ambassador of the United States in Panama, the Commanding General of the Caribbean Defense Command, the Governor of the Panama Canal and the Commandant of the Fifteenth Naval District, or their representatives, would be the most logical body to undertake this important study. Accordingly, a brief memorandum, a copy of which is enclosed,75 has been sent to the President informing him of the steps which are being taken to obtain the information desired.

You are requested to discuss this question at an early date with the Commanding General, the Governor and the Commandant and work out with them procedures for beginning this study as soon as possible.76 You are requested to have this survey made under most confidential auspices and to refrain from disclosing the plan, its intent or scope to the Panamanian Government, labor organizations in the Zone or others. Existing unsettled labor conditions throughout the world and, more specifically, the delicacy of the racial problem as a political issue among elements of the Panamanian Government make it most advisable at this time, as you fully realize, that nothing be done to agitate the labor question on the Isthmus.

It is suggested that this study should include all important labor issues such as wages, leave privileges, commissary rights, housing, etc., in fact all matters which have been the subject of complaints of either organized or unorganized labor. As soon as the investigation has been [Page 1153] completed and recommendations drawn up for any improvements in the situation which seem advisable and which would tend to discourage further allegations of discrimination by United States agencies in the Canal Zone in their treatment of the negro laborers, it is requested that your report be forwarded to the Department.77 In the meantime the receipt of occasional progress statements will be appreciated.

Very truly yours,

For the Secretary of State:
Spruille Braden
  1. Not printed.
  2. In telegram 232, April 23, 1946, 7 p.m., the Secretary urged the completion of the study at the earliest possible date (811F.504/4–2346).
  3. For a general statement of the living and working conditions of laborers in the Canal Zone, addressed to the Ambassador by the Governor of the Canal Zone, see p. 54.