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By James M. Fallows

?????veral copies of recen: CRIM ? into the Mississippi Delta. a ? mnus now living in Greenville ? to a series of stories on the ? Utilities Company.

?????understand how eager you all must be to ? our shortcomings," he wrote. "But for ? , would you please take the trouble to ? a little more about the facts in this par-? ituation. I think you'll discover that the ? aren't all so crystal clear."

????? with the Middle South articles has not ? confined to Mississippi. After a Federal civil ? agency leaked several secret reports on Middle ? hiring practices, Harvard officials were un? sedly dismayed to see the reports so promi? publicized.

????? University's financial experts have had to ? down a number of complaints-some of them ? -in defending Harvard's $15 million Mid? South investments; it is hardly surprising that ? of them called the recent set of article "a one ? smear attack." But it is also significant that the objection was not to the accuracy of the Federal reports. but rather to their presentation "without proper explanation."

Leaving aside the question of whether or not admirtedly-accurate charts can constitute a "one sided smear attack," the objection hits an important point. Of all the possible danger spots lurking in sociological statisties, civil rights statistics ? probably the most treacherous. Dependin???? sentation, a set of "black percentag? that occupation can be made to mean ???? thing. And so ???? ??? critics must ? a closer ? the hiring tharts before coming to any con?sions.

At the first quick glance, the meaning of the statisties seems clear enough: Middle South doesn't have many black workers. According to studies conducted by the Equal Employment Opportunity C?mmission (EEOC), three Middle South subsidiaries have uniformly-low percentages of black workers: both Mississippi Power and Light and Louisiana P and L have 4.5 per cent black work forces, while Arkansas P and L dips to 4.2 per cent. Exact figures on the ether two companies in the Middle South chain-New Orleans Public Service and Middle South Services-are not available, but the EEOC says that they do not depart dramatically from the norm.

For companies that work in regions where the population is 30 to 60 per cent black, the employment figures would seem to make for a tidy case of discrimination. There is a problem with that sort of conclusion, bowever: it is about as useful as noting that the U.S. has never had a black President, even though statisticaily there should have been four o? five by now. Of course there has been discrimination-in choosing Presidents and hiring utility workers, as in every other type of American activity. The real task is to find some standard that will let us sift through the various types of discrimination and separate the truly outrageous from the merely unconscionable.

AN APPROPRIATE yardstick for measuring Middle South might be the national utility industry.

If a company could choose a setting that would make its own record look good, the utilities industry would be its choice. Since the time in 1959 when a Presidential commission found that none of the 60 largest utility companies had a single blackman working in a non-laboring job, the utilities have been the nation's perpetual laggards in minority-group hiring.

The reasons for this persistent bias are complex. Part of it is due to the particular skills the industry requires; part to the fact that the industry's greatest expansion came at the time when hiring discrimination was an accepted practice. But whatever the reasons, the results are oppressively clear. As the EEOC's chairman, William Brown, told a meeting of 115 large utility companies in 1969, the utilities have had "the worst equal employment record of all industry groupings in America." The evidence, Brown said, "will graphically demonstrate that the most effective methods of discrimination and exclusion are being practiced in your industry."

The 1969 meeting-like one a year earlier at the White House-was intended to force the industry into some kind of dramatic action. But at yet another meeting with the utilities last month, Brown announced that there had been virtually no progress. The statistical picture he painted was bleak:

The utilities currently hire blacks at about half the rate of other American businesses. In February 1970, that meant that the national utility work force was 4.8 per cent black. Even these few workers were distributed in a grotesquely skewed fashion. While less than 300 of the industry's 80,000 officials and managers (less than one-half of one per cent) were black, fully one third of the janitorial and unskilled-laborer staff was made up of black workers.

Brown finally let the utility representatives go, but not before he warned them that they would not "be allowed to continue polluting the social environment with employment practices of exclusion, tokenism, and outright discrimination."

In this setting, the Middle South record begins to look brighter. The 4.5 per cent black employment figure is only slightly lower than the national utility average-even though that average is the nation's worst. Unfortunately, there are other considerations. One is the regional distribution of black workers. While the national average for black utility workers is 4.8 per cent, the figure climbs to 7.5 or 8 per cent in the South, with its heavily black population. With that as a comparison figure, Middle South's record looks suddenly worse. There is another statistical problem as well. As much as the national utilities have concentrated their black workers in the lowest jobs, they cannot match the sedimentation of black employees at the bottom of Middle South's employment rolls. Neither the Arkansas. Louisiana, or Mississippi Power and Light companies has one black worker in any of its upper employment categories: there are 0 blacks out of 661 managers in the three companies, 0 out of 449 professional workers, and 0 out of 264 sales workers. The only breaks in the pattern come with the technical staff (4 blacks out of 263) and clerical help (14 out of 1246).

At the other end of the employment scale, the picture is just as horribly distorted. The janitorial squads of the three companies are more than 90 per cent black-compared to a national average of one third. If the janitorial and unskilled laborer categories are dropped off, the employees of these three companies are less than one per cent black.

WHILE these statistics may point toward a conclusion, they are still somewhat short of the final evidence needed. Even though one could probably find similar statistics for university faculties, for example, it would be hard to argue that they were not frantically looking for black members. So the final step is looking behind the charts of Middle South to catch some glimpse of the company's real intent.

This is the area where Middle South makes its strongest case. Unlike many other large companies, Middle South has been careful to take frequent public note of its equal employment duties. In its annual reports, the company sandwiched pictures of black chemists between statements of intent. At the end of 1968, for instance, the report said, "The system companies have engaged in numerous programs to assist the minority races in their service area and to provide employment to all such persons."

As examples of help provided such persons, the report lists "sponsoring on-the-job training to upgrade skills, providing scholarships, actively recruiting personnel from Negro colleges, making financial contributions for programs in low-income areas," and others. Middle South officials-at least when talking to reporters-stress the same commitment.

One hates to become cynical about every corporate pronouncement, but there are strong pressures in that direction. Despite the company's pledges of good faith, the EEOC reports that Middle South has failed several times to come through with reports or plans requested by the commission.

A far more blatant example of the gap between talk and action came in Mississippi. After C. E. Jones, the personel director for Mississippi Power and Light, reported that his company was trying hard to recruit graduates of black colleges, several blacks at local schools confirmed his story. But there was a catch: the only jobs the blacks were offered-after graduating with degrees in economics or business-were the same typist jobs that white high school girls filled. Coupled with the absence of any signs of progress, these lapses score heavily against the company.

WHERE all this leaves Harvard is perhaps hardest to tell. This University, with its small (less than five per cent) share of Middle South stock, is not going to remake Mississippi P and L overnight. But it would be helpful, as a first step, if those connected with the investment would stop pretending that the company is in a fine state of racial health.

Harvard should also realize the power that it-with other universities-has to improve the utilities' records. Middle South points out that many other universities own blocks of its stock; and company spokesmen do not conceal their pride that The Treasurer of Harvard University sits on their board. The combination of these fiscal and intangible bargaining tools should be enough to lift Middle South at least to a more respectable position among the utilities.

At the same time, Harvard should be thinking about the $157 million it has invested in other utility companies across the country. These are the same companies that have built up "the worst equal employment record... in America." Harvard and the hundreds of other universities that invest cannot be blamed for liking the steady utility income, but they cannot keep their eyes shut to the sources of the income-and the beneficial pressure they might exert.

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