Richmond, California, a small industrial center north of Oakland and just east of San Francisco, expanded from a prewar population of 23,000 to more than 100,000 permanent residents in 1942. While Henry J. Kaiser's shipbuilding corporation advertised for—and city leaders sought—white skilled labor, military realities and expanding Allied production needs encouraged the hiring of unskilled African American, indigenous, and Chinese American men and women in unprecedented numbers. While the early struggles of workers to find housing and adequate services in Richmond and the East Bay more broadly have been clearly documented by historians, a legacy of continued substandard housing and services disproportionately affected minority workers and their families. Redlined, or denied rental applications because of race through legal policy and unofficial neighborhood agreements, minority workmen and women disproportionately remained in substandard housing even after the construction of federally funded housing units. Exposed to industrial pollutants, urban waste, and human effluent despite the efforts of both humanitarian-minded industrialists and local, state, and federal government officials, these minority groups faced racial and class-based challenges during World War II home front production, which have been overshadowed by the triumphant image of Rosie the Riveter and the total war victory of that “greatest generation.” Research in the Bancroft Library, the Richmond Museum, and other archival databases demonstrates how public contracts became sources of private money for industrialists, leading to the development of facilities that public funds could not support, and thereby reducing the quality of life for minority residents.
Research Article| November 01 2017
Victory Abroad, Disaster at Home: Environment, Race, and World War II Shipyard Production
California History (2017) 94 (3): 20–36.
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Alistair W. Fortson; Victory Abroad, Disaster at Home: Environment, Race, and World War II Shipyard Production. California History 1 November 2017; 94 (3): 20–36. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ch.2017.94.3.20
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