811F.504/5–1646

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

secret
No. 1596

Sir: I have the honor to submit the following progress report in connection with the Department’s instruction No. 71 of February 21, 1946, concerning racial discrimination in the Canal Zone.

On May 6 representatives of The Panama Canal, the Army and the Navy assembled in my office and presented draft of a joint statement, copy enclosed herewith,81 to be signed by Major General J. C. Mehaffey, Governor of The Panama Canal, setting forth the rules and regulations and conditions under which the government agencies referred to are operating in the Canal Zone, and defending, in a measure, existing conditions with reference to the “gold” and “silver” rolls.

The report itself did not meet with my approval and I so indicated. Due to Governor Mehaffey being absent, I felt that no definite action should be taken until he had had an opportunity of reviewing the report and meeting with the other members of the committee. Yesterday, at my invitation, the Governor spent well over an hour with me discussing the matter and agreed that the report drafted was not satisfactory to him. I suggested to the Governor that he give consideration to the following changes, pointing out definitely that from January 1910 up to March 2, 1936, we had committed our Government to the public policy and principle of equality of opportunity and treatment of the Panamanians employed by the Canal or the Railroad and that it appeared to me that it would be necessary that facts be presented to show that we were fully carrying out our commitments. I made the following suggestions to the Governor:

1.
That the “gold” and “silver” rolls and the signs wherever they appear be entirely eliminated;
2.
That in the employment of labor in the Canal Zone by the Panama Canal, Panama Railroad, Army or the Navy be on the basis of (a) skilled; (b) semi-skilled; (c) unskilled, and that no other designations be used.
3.
In order that he might be assured that the foregoing classifications were being fairly made, that a board be appointed by him made up of representatives from The Panama Canal, the Panama Railroad, [Page 1157] the Army, the Navy and a representative from the Republic of Panama (preferably one employed by some one of the agencies); that this board be charged with two definite responsibilities:
(a)
The proper classification of an employee being hired.
(b)
To consider and act upon all complaints made relative to discrimination in any respect.
4.
That in lieu of the present classification of commissaries, club houses, etc., under “gold” and “silver”, that a system of permits be issued to the various groups giving the number of the sales store to be patronized, without any other designation. That determination be made at the time the permit was issued as to what commissary or club house would be the proper one for the employee to use under the circumstances and that in issuing such permits the type of employee, the location of the commissary with reference to where employed, or location of his home, be given consideration. That the club houses of the unskilled employees be made attractive and as near on a par as those assigned to the skilled employees as would be reasonable and practicable.
5.
In the case of schools, it seems to me that the present classification—if the schools are made equal between white and colored without the designation of “silver” or “gold”—should be continued but that every effort should be made to make sure that the facilities in the several classes of schools are comparable.

The Governor agreed to take these suggestions under consideration and asked that he be given an opportunity of a few days in order to submit additional information to me on the matter. When this has been done I contemplate calling the members of the committee together again in order to see if we can reach a definite understanding, or at least see how far apart we are.

For the confidential information of the Department, I should say that the disparity between the percentage of “gold” employees engaged by the Army who are not American citizens, which is approximately at the present time 30 per cent, as against the percentage of gold employees in the Panama Canal who are not American citizens, which is two per cent, cannot in my judgment be explained or defended.

Respectfully yours,

Frank T. Hines
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