Lawrence Oxley was a high-ranking official in the U.S. Department of Labor, and the early Social Security agency, from 1934 to 1957 . He was also a member of President Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet,” a group of African American leaders in federal government who advised the president on issues important to the black community .
Lawrence Augustus Oxley was born in Boston on May 17, 1887, to William and Alice Oxley. He attended the Prospect Union Preparatory School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and then received private tutoring from Harvard University instructors (but not a degree). He married Mamie Elizabeth Hill, c. 1908, and they would have two daughters, Dora and Edna. During World War I he served as a private and then rose to the rank of first lieutenant; for the rest of his life he would frequently be addressed as “Lieutenant Oxley.” After the war, Oxley began a career in social science and social welfare, which led to a position in charge of social services for African Americans in the North Carolina Board of Charities and Public Welfare, from 1925 to 1933 .
In 1933, after campaigning for Franklin Roosevelt’s bid for the White House, Oxley became the director of the Division of Negro Relief in the Federal Emergency Relief Administration’s North Carolina office. His work there attracted attention from Washington, DC: “Impressed with his performance as director, Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins called Oxley to Washington, D.C., in 1934 to serve as a conciliator in industrial labor disputes” . Thus began Oxley’s 23-year career in the U.S. Department of Labor and the Social Security agency .
Though Oxley was only on the periphery of the Black Cabinet, he was a key figure in the improvement of employment conditions for African Americans during the New Deal. He fought “successfully for the same minimum wage for blacks as for whites on the grounds that blacks were as intelligent and industrious as whites” and he worked towards a more equitable labor market . He convened conferences in places like Sacramento, San Francisco, and Los Angeles to promote increased training and job opportunities for African Americans  and he “set up state employment service offices in black neighborhoods” . During World War II, Oxley continued to push for job opportunities for blacks, emphasizing the nation’s wartime needs: “In [various] sections of the country we found that we did not have the full utilization of available Negro labor, which could have met some of the great demands for manpower” .
Oxley retired from government work in 1957, after having “contributed greatly to the cause of equal employment opportunity” . Nevertheless, his work for social causes was far from over. For example, he served on the advisory committee for the August 28, 1963 “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” , where “200,000 Americans gathered… to shed light on the political and social challenges African Americans continued to face across the country. The march… culminated in Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, a spirited call for racial justice and equality” . Oxley also became a prominent leader in causes related to elderly Americans and, as a friend of the Kennedy family, was asked by Robert Kennedy to help with the passage of the 1965 act that created Medicare . Oxley once said, “We want recognition of the elderly as first-class personalities rather than second-class recipients of charity” .
Lawrence Oxley died on July 2, 1973, at the age of 86. He was survived by his daughter Edna G. DesVerney, five granddaughters, and six great-grandchildren .
Sources: (1) “Lawrence A. Oxley, Civic Leader, Educator, Dies,” Washington Post, July 5, 1973. (2) “Oxley, Lawrence Augustus,” NCpedia, http://ncpedia.org/biography/oxley-lawrence-augustus, accessed May 1, 2016. (3) See notes 1 and 2. (4) See note 2. (5) Ibid., and also see “Lieut. Lawrence Oxley Now In New Federal Post in Washington,” The New York Age, July 15, 1939. (6) See note 2. (7) See, e.g., “Conference On Negro Employment Problems Held In Los Angeles, Lieut. Oxley Speaker,” The New York Age, December 14, 1940. (8) Nancy Joan Weiss, Farewell to the Party of Lincoln: Black Politics in the Age of FDR, Princeton University Press, 1983, p. 149. (9) “Oxley Calls For Full Use Of Negroes,” The Pittsburgh Courier, January 27, 1945. (10) See note 1. (11) “Marchers on Washington To Be Orderly, Says Oxley,” The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, Massachusetts), August 26, 1963. (12) “March on Washington,” The History Channel, http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/march-on-washington, accessed May 2, 2016. (13) See note 11. Also find a photograph of Oxley shaking hands with Vice President Hubert Humphrey, as Humphrey congratulates him on the successful passage of Medicare, in the February 12, 1966 edition of The Pittsburgh Courier, p. 2. (14) See note 1. (15) Ibid.
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