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5 James v. Marinship Trouble on the New Black Frontier
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James v. Marinship
Trouble on the New Black Frontier

Charles Wollenberg

Editor's Introduction

In 1940, African Americans made up almost 11 percent of the total population of the United States but were only 1.8 percent of California's population. Beginning in the 1920s, however, structural and cyclical factors began to displace millions of black and white agricultural workers from the South. The boom created by World War II led to the first massive migration of African American people to California. Between the spring of 1942 and 1945, 340,000 black migrants poured into California. By 1950, African Americans made up 4.7 percent of the state's population; and by 1980, they constituted 7.7 percent.

A significant number of the wartime African American migrants were skilled workers. A survey taken in San Francisco during World War II revealed that the migrant group contained five times as many skilled workers as the national average for African Americans. More than three-quarters of the new migrants worked in industry, and they were nearly evenly divided between skilled and unskilled workers. During the early months of the war, discriminatory hiring practices severely limited black employment. Executive Order 8802, however, and the vigorous activities of Region 12 of the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC), combined with the booming demand for wartime labor, eventually resulted in the large-scale employment of black workers.

Although many large employers desisted from their most blatant discriminatory practices, the majority of AFL unions were slow to drop their racial barriers. As Charles Wollenberg shows, the International Brotherhood of


Boilermakers, Iron Shipbuilders and Helpers of America forced African Americans to join segregated auxiliary locals. In 1943, black workers at a Bay Area shipyard protested this practice and refused to pay their dues. The union then Withdrew their work clearances, and the company barred them from their jobs. The FEPC investigated the complaint but did not have the power to make changes. The case was taken to the California Supreme Court. In James v. Marinship (1945), the court declared that segregated unions in a closed shop were unconstitutional and ordered an end to the practice.

Wollenberg's article examines this important episode. He also notes that the 1945 court victory was followed by a series of others. But these decisions came at a time when employment in the shipyards was declining dramatically. Despite the outlawing of discriminatory practices, economic opportunities for African Americans after World War II were very limited.

Nathan I. Huggins, now a distinguished Harvard historian, was one of 4846 black residents of San Francisco in 1940. He was then in junior high school and remembers "how small a community we were. . .. How self-satisfied everyone was, despite discrimination in almost every line of employment, pervasive restrictive covenants, and powerlessness in city politics." Huggins also remembers "how ambivalent everyone was about the wave of blacks from the South, brought to man new jobs in the war industries. The old [black] residents saw the new as crude, rough and boisterous. They lacked the manners and sense of decorum of San Francisco." But the newcomers made good wages and formed what Huggins calls "the basis of black business in the city." Blacks no longer could be ignored, and "complacency disappeared. Racial tensions rose." Huggins notes that many of the old black residents wished the newcomers "would all go back where they came from."[1] But they stayed and laid the foundations of most black neighborhoods and communities that still exist in the San Francisco region.

The great World War II migration is the most important event in the history of black people in the Bay Area. The region became a new black frontier, the Afro-American population growing from less than 20,000 in 1940 to over 60,000 in 1945. The number of blacks in San Francisco more than quadrupled during the war, while that in Richmond and Vallejo grew by ten times. By 1945, blacks had replaced Asians as the Bay Area's largest non-white minority and the chief target of prejudice and discrimination.[2]


In some respects, the huge migration was typical of earlier movements of non-whites to California. Like Asians and Mexicans, wartime blacks came to fill a labor shortage. But while previous minorities came as foreign immigrants and were forced into unskilled, low-paid employment, wartime blacks were American citizens recruited to fill high-wage industrial jobs created by the national emergency. About seventy percent of the employed black newcomers worked in one industry—the shipyards. Blacks made up less than three percent of the region's shipyard labor force in 1942, but that figure rose to seven percent in the following year and to more than ten percent by the end of the war.[3]

Shipyard work was largely in skilled, unionized crafts. Most Bay Area craft unions traditionally had been "lily-white," excluding both Asians and blacks, but during the war the unions suddenly had to face the possibility of large numbers of non-white members. To admit black workers violated long-standing membership rules and traditions, but to refuse to do so left unions open to charges of the very kind of undemocratic behavior against which America was supposed to be fighting. Moreover, if unions enforced membership restrictions against blacks, they would deprive shipyards of thousands of workers in the midst of a national emergency and regional labor shortage.

In spite of their significance, neither the wartime black migration nor the labor conflicts it engendered have received much historical attention. Recent works on California black history have concentrated on the pre-World War II years, and studies produced during the 1940s naturally lack historical perspective.[4] The article presented here seeks to redress this scholarly imbalance by concentrating on the wartime struggle between black workers and the Boilermakers union, which resulted in the California Supreme Court's landmark decision in the case of James v. Marinship . The conflict at Marinship was a microcosm of the tensions produced by the great demographic movements of World War II. In ethnic relations, as in so many other areas, the war fundamentally changed American society.

Marinship was one of the "instant" wartime shipyards created by the United States Maritime Commission. The Commission owned the yards but contracted with private companies to build and operate the plants. The first and largest such enterprise in the Bay Area was the giant Kaiser complex in Richmond. W. A. Bechtel Company of San Francisco had previously been involved in several joint business ventures with Kaiser (such as the Boulder Dam project) and had also been contracted to operate Maritime Commission yards, including Calship in southern California.


On March 2, 1942, the Commission asked Bechtel to establish a new plant on San Francisco Bay. One week later Kenneth Bechtel was in Washington with a proposal for a yard on the Marin County shoreline of Sausalito, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. On June 27, less than four months after the contract was awarded, Marinship laid its first keel. Initially, the yard produced "liberty ships," cargo vessels also manufactured by Kaiser. In 1943 Marinship shifted to production of prefabricated tankers, and by late 1944 the yard was launching a ship per week. By fall of 1945, Marinship had built ninety-three vessels.[5]

Bechtel originally estimated that 15,000 workers were needed to keep the yard operating twenty-four hours a day, seven clays a week. In January, 1943, Marinship in fact had about 20,000 employees, and by mid-1944 the workforce had grown to 22,000. Recruiting workers was difficult in the midst of the war with ten million people in the armed forces. Marinship competed for labor with Kaiser and several other Bay Area shipyards and defense contractors. In addition to a few experienced shipbuilders, the company recruited women, teenagers, retired people, "Okies" from rural California, and newcomers from all parts of the country. Included among the industrial migrants were blacks, chiefly from states on the western rim of the South (Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma). By mid-1943, blacks were by far Marinship's largest minority group, nearly ten percent of all employees in a multi-ethnic workforce which included some Asians and Latin Americans. The company carried out a massive training effort, taking paternalistic pride in the "indoctrination program which taught colored recruits who had never held a responsible job before, as well as those from the so-called underprivileged portions of the country, good work habits."[6]

The massive influx of war workers created a major housing crisis in the Bay Area. Government restrictions limited construction of new private homes, but public housing alleviated some of the demand. Public projects were hastily erected throughout the region, including Marin City, planned in just three days for a 200-acre site immediately north of the Marinship yard. The project was built by Bechtel with Maritime Commission funds and operated by the Marin County Housing Authority. By the end of 1943, Marin City had a population of 5500 Marinship workers and their families.[7]

Under the leadership of Miles C. Dempster, Chief of Project Services, the Housing Authority attempted to make Marin City a model community.


Although it was unincorporated territory under county control, an elected City Council was established to advise county authorities. The council published a weekly newspaper, the Marin Citizen , and cooperated with USO and the Travelers Aid organization to provide social services. Dempster was proud of his agency's nondiscrimination policy, for unlike other Bay Area housing projects, Marin City rented accommodations on a first-come-first-served basis without regard to race. Dempster admitted that this sometimes led to inter-racial conflict and complaints from "prejudiced whites." He responded to the complaints by pointing out that "these black men are Americans. They are needed just as you are—to build ships." The City Council had both black and white members, and, according to Dempster, "gradually the color prejudices lost ground." The Christian Science Monitor reported that Marin City proved that "white people and Negroes can live side by side—and get along." But a former Housing Authority official admitted that if the white majority were given the power to eject blacks from the project, they probably would do so.[8]

The bulk of Marinship workers were unable to get Marin City or other Marin County accommodations and so commuted to the yard by car, bus, or ferry from San Francisco.[9] Private housing was tight for everybody, but particularly for blacks. Many Bay Area neighborhoods had restrictive covenants attached to deeds which prohibited sale or rental of homes to minorities. Residents and real estate firms practiced less formal but equally effective tactics to keep other neighborhoods and communities all-white. As a result, blacks unable to obtain public housing were crowded into those few areas that traditionally were open to minority residents.

Such an area was San Francisco's Fillmore District, home of most black Marinship workers. Before 1942, the Fillmore had a few hundred black families scattered throughout an essentially multi-ethnic, working-class neighborhood. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, several thousand residents of the Fillmore's "Japantown" were relocated to government camps by presidential order, and this opened up inexpensive housing just as the influx of black workers began. Even so, there was not enough space available. By 1943 about 9000 blacks were crowded into an area previously occupied by 5000 Japanese Americans, and city health officials classified over fifty-five percent of black housing in the Fillmore as substandard.[10] In 1945 the Fillmore was still a multi-ethnic neighborhood, but Lester Granger of the National Urban League warned it could become "another Harlem." Granger explained that San Franciscans were adopting "the social stereotypes of the East, and they want Negroes to stay in the Fillmore."[11]


While there were no legal barriers to housing discrimination, federal defense contracts did prohibit job discrimination on the basis of race, religion, and national origin. The Kaiser yards initially attempted to hire only whites in skilled trades, but protests from C. L. Dellums, vice president of the Sleeping Car Porters union, and other local black leaders forced the company to reverse that policy. By the time Marinship began hiring in 1942, blacks were being recruited at all Bay Area yards. In mid-1943 the region faced a labor shortage of 50,000 people, and any able-bodied man or woman, white or black, could get a shipyard job. Blacks and women advanced rapidly to journeyman status in welding and other trades but received few promotions to supervisory positions. Within particular job categories, workers received equal pay and benefits, regardless of race or sex.[12]

Bay Area shipyard workers usually labored together peacefully and efficiently, but racist (and sexist) attitudes were certainly present in the yards. Katherine Archibald, a Berkeley student who was employed at the Moore Company in Oakland, believed most of her white co-workers shared a "race hatred that was basic." When she tried to explain to a woman from Oklahoma that prejudice against blacks was similar to the prevalent "anti-Okie" feeling, the woman accused Archibald of inferring that Oklahomans were "no better than a nigger." Another worker responded to Archibald's plea for tolerance with the comment, "Well a nigger may be as good as you are, but sure ain't as good as me." But Archibald noted that few whites made such statements directly to blacks. A white welder explained, "if you call him that ['nigger'], he's liable as not to pick up a piece of pipe and break your head with it." According to Katherine Archibald, such fears usually kept an effective, if uneasy, racial peace at Bay Area shipyards.[13]

If Archibald was right about the prejudices of a majority of her white coworkers, the chief shipyard union, the International Brotherhood of Boiler-makers, Iron Shipbuilders and Helpers of America, accurately reflected the views of most its members. The Boilermakers represented about seventy percent of the workers at Bay Area shipyards under terms of a Master Agreement between Pacific Coast shipbuilders and the AFL Metal Trades Council. The agreement established a closed shop, specifying that "all workers . . . shall be required to present a clearance card from the appropriate union before being hired." If existing union members could not be found for job openings, new workers could be hired but were still required "to secure a clearance card . . . before starting work."[14] The Boilermakers, then, had used the wartime labor shortage to achieve one of the most important union goals: control of job access. But wartime conditions had also


created a multi-ethnic workforce that directly threatened the union's long tradition of white-only membership.

The Boilermakers' racial policy was shared by many, though not all, AFL craft unions. In the Bay Area, the union movement had a heritage of anti-Asian activity, and many unions also discriminated against blacks. In 1910 San Francisco black leaders persuaded a bare majority of the city's labor council to recommend that unions end restrictions against black membership, but little effort was made to enforce the resolution. The fact that employers sometimes used blacks as strikebreakers hardly promoted the cause of racial tolerance. Nevertheless, some AFL affiliates, including the Shipyard Laborers Union representing unskilled maintenance and construction workers at the yards, had long championed nondiscriminatory membership policies. In the 1930s, the new CIO unions, particularly the Longshoremen, not only had black members, but also actively supported civil rights causes in the Bay Area and elsewhere.[15]

The Boilermakers modified their national racial policies in 1937. Prior to that, blacks had been totally banned from membership, but the union's 1937 convention authorized the establishment of all-black "auxiliaries." As the term implies, the auxiliaries were not full union locals, and their members did not have full membership rights. Instead, the new structures were subordinate to regular, white locals which controlled auxiliary policies and treasuries. Auxiliaries had no independent grievance procedures, nor could they hire their own business agents. Auxiliary members had no vote on local union matters and no representation at national conventions. They also received smaller union insurance benefits than white members.[16]

Bay Area Boilermaker locals avoided direct confrontations over the issue of auxiliary membership during the first year of the war simply by issuing clearances to black shipyard workers without requiring them to join the union or pay dues. But by February, 1943, the black segment of the workforce was too large to ignore. East Bay locals formed auxiliaries and required blacks to join and pay dues equal to those paid by whites as a condition of employment. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed a complaint against this policy with the National Labor Relations Board, but while the NLRB criticized the auxiliary membership status, it did not ban it outright. Meanwhile, most black workers at Kaiser and other East Bay yards apparently paid their auxiliary dues. According to the NAACP magazine Crisis , the black worker "knew jim crow, segregation and second-class citizenship when he saw it," but he paid his


dues anyway, in "much the same manner as he took a rear seat on a bus in Memphis. . .. He regarded the payments as a necessary bribe for the privilege of working at a job that paid more than he ever dreamed."[17]

On the west side of the bay, Boilermakers Local 6, with jurisdiction over the Bethlehem and Western Pipe yards in San Francisco as well as Marin-ship in Sausalito, chartered Auxiliary A-41 on August 14, 1943. The local announced that henceforth black workers must join and pay dues to the auxiliary in order to receive their union work clearance.[18] The announcement provoked organized opposition by the San Francisco Committee Against Segregation and Discrimination, made up of several local blacks and led by Joseph James. James, in his early thirties at the time, grew up on the east coast, studied music at Boston University, and pursued a promising singing career in New York. He came to San Francisco in 1939 to appear in the "Swing Mikado" at the Treasure Island Exposition and settled in the Fillmore after the fair closed. He was hired at Marinship in 1942, and in two months advanced from welder's helper to journeyman, normally a six month process. By mid-1943 James was a member of a "flying squad" of expert welders used for special jobs. He was also an active member of the NAACP, a recognized black spokesman at the yard, and, with all this, still managed to keep up his singing career. His performances were a staple at Marinship launchings and ceremonies.[19]

On August 21, 1943, just a week after the establishment of Auxiliary A-41, the company employee magazine, the Marin-er , devoted much of its issue to a discussion of race relations at Marinship. Management obviously was concerned about racial tensions, particularly following major race riots in Detroit, Los Angeles, and other American cities earlier that summer. The special issue of the magazine was prepared with the assistance of a "Negro Advisory Board" headed by Joe James. James also wrote the lead article, "Marinship Negroes Speak to Their Fellow Workers," calling on his readers "to turn our hatred, instead of against each other, against the forces of fascism." An editorial condemned discrimination and proclaimed that the war was being fought "to prove for all time the dignity and rights of the individual man regardless of race, creed or color."[20]

Marinship soon found itself in the middle of a struggle to establish those very principles in the Boilermakers union. After three months, at least half of the approximately 1100 blacks in jobs under Boilermaker jurisdiction at Marinship still refused to join Auxiliary A-41. On November 24, 1943, the union ordered management to fire 430 black workers unless they


paid their auxiliary dues in twenty-four hours and warned an additional 150 workers that they soon faced similar treatment.[21] That evening about 350 people met in San Francisco under the aegis of the Committee Against Segregation and Discrimination to decide on an appropriate response. Joe James told the meeting that their fight was not to destroy the Boilermakers but to strengthen the union by insisting that blacks be granted full and equal membership rights. C. L. Dellums reiterated the point, and the participants voted unanimously to continue boycotting the auxiliary.[22]

On Friday, November 26, about thirty blacks on the afternoon shift were refused permission to work, the company explaining that the union had withdrawn their work clearances. Throughout the ensuing controversy, Marinship insisted it was simply an innocent bystander, required to enforce its collective bargaining contract in a dispute between black workers and the union. However, by agreeing to dismiss blacks, the company accepted the legality of the union action. Legalisms aside, Marinship must have feared that resisting the Boilermakers' wishes might result in a strike that would interrupt production.

More workers were barred at the beginning of the graveyard shift on November 26, and by Saturday morning, November 27, hundreds of black men and women had gathered at Gate 3 of the yard to protest the lay-offs. Eventually, the crowd grew to about 800 and was described by the San Rafael Daily Independent as "Marin's greatest labor demonstration and most critical situation to arise since the San Francisco 'general strike' in the summer of 1934." Sheriff's deputies and Highway Patrolmen arrived with nightsticks and tear gas, "ready for any emergency." But two black deputies from Marin City assured the County Sheriff they could keep order, and, reported the Independent , they "succeeded admirably." Joe James and three other black committee members, Preston Stallinger, Edward Anderson, and Eugene Small, met with company officials and then addressed the crowd with divided counsel. James, Stallinger, and Anderson urged those who still had union clearance to return to their jobs while continuing to boycott the auxiliary. But Small called on blacks "to stand pat and not return to work" until they had won full union membership.[23]

How many workers took Small's advice is a matter of dispute. The San Francisco Examiner reported that 1500 walked off their jobs, but that figure is larger than the total number of Marinship blacks in jobs under Boiler-maker jurisdiction. The American Labor Citizen , voice of the Bay Area Metal Trades Council, assured its readers that the trouble was caused by a handful of malcontents and that a "vast majority of Negro workers" remained on the job. Whatever the number of strikers, it concerned Admiral


Emory S. Land of the Maritime Commission. Initially, Land urged workers to join the auxiliary under protest, but when this plea failed, the admiral asked the company to suspend the lay-offs. California Attorney General Robert Kenny made a similar request, pointing out that if ship production slowed, "more American boys are going to die, both white American boys and black American boys."[24] However, the company again insisted that under its collective bargaining agreement it was obligated to bar workers without union clearance.

Local 6 business agent Ed Rainbow argued that the closed shop agreement was recognized by the federal government and that blacks understood Boilermaker policy when they took shipyard jobs. The Labor Citizen charged that black workers who "laid down their tools" had caused all the trouble, and the paper saw nothing wrong with blacks joining auxiliaries "composed of their own people." Both Rainbow and the Metal Trades organ claimed that Local 6 had no choice in the matter, since it was simply following national union policy.[25] In at least one previous instance, however, Rainbow had bent national rules. In 1942 he refused clearance for six white woman welders at Marinship, citing male-only provisions of the Boilermaker constitution. One woman became "very impolite and abrupt," and Rainbow eventually reconsidered. Thousands of white women were later accepted as full Local 6 members, and the woman who had protested so vociferously became a union shop steward. Rainbow was quoted saying he would "rather get hit by a baseball bat than to become embroiled with a pack of women who wanted to work."[26]

The business agent probably soon had similar feelings about Joe James and his supporters. By Sunday, November 28, 160 blacks, including James, lost their work clearances, and that evening about 1000 people attended a committee meeting in a Fillmore District church. Eugene Small again called for a labor boycott, telling the Independent that blacks were considering taking jobs "not involving union membership." But James and other leaders argued the fight was against segregation, not trade unions. Eventually, the meeting approved legal action. The next morning, committee attorneys filed suit in Federal District Court on behalf of James and seventeen other black workers, asking reinstatement by Marinship and $115,000 damages from the Boilermakers. Judge Paul St. Sure issued a temporary restraining order, suspending the lay-offs pending formal hearing of the suit.[27]

The company announced it would halt further lay-offs but refused to re-hire the 160 idle workers until they received union clearance. It took another court order to achieve this, and even then, Local 6 held out until Friday, December 3. On that morning, "a crowd of waiting Negro workers"


were at union headquarters in San Francisco. They gathered "before the grilled windows where permits are issued," and finally, after about four hours, "the little white slips of paper started to come through." "Now we can get back to work," Joe James announced, and during the weekend, committee sound trucks toured the Fillmore and Marin City urging blacks to return to their jobs.[28]

The formal hearing occurred on December 12 in a courtroom crowded with black spectators. Committee attorneys George Anderson and Herbert Ressner were accompanied by NAACP Chief Counsel Thurgood Marshall and Bartley Crum of the National Lawyers Guild. Anderson argued that if blacks could be forced into separate auxiliaries, so could American Indians like Ed Rainbow, Irish Americans (Judge Michael Roche) or Armenian Americans (defense attorney Charles Janigian). But the union refused to respond to this point, contending instead that federal courts had no jurisdiction and that the case should be dismissed. Judge Roche referred the dismissal motion to a three-judge panel, and until the panel made its decision, the temporary restraining order remained in force. On January 6, 1944, the judges announced they were granting the union's motion and dismissing the case. "The plaintiff's action," the court explained, "does not arise out of the federal constitution or any federal statutes."[29]

The dismissal automatically ended the restraining order, and Local 6 announced it would withdraw union clearance for workers who had not paid auxiliary dues by Friday, January 14. But on that day committee attorneys returned to court, this time before Marin Superior Judge Edward I. Butler of San Rafael. The committee now based its suit on state rather than federal law, and Judge Butler issued another temporary order restraining the lay-offs. The order was served just fifteen minutes before a work shift was to change at Marinship. The company already had removed black workers' time cards from the rack, but clerks hurriedly replaced the cards, and the shift changed without incident.[30]

While the case was being argued in court, the Boilermakers' auxiliary policy also was being investigated by the President's Fair Employment Practices Commission. President Roosevelt established FEPC in the summer of 1941 in response to a plan by a group of prominent blacks, led by Sleeping Car Porters Union head A. Philip Randolph, to stage a massive march on Washington to protest discrimination in defense employment and the federal government. Only after Roosevelt agreed to form a federal commission to monitor enforcement of non-discrimination policies in federal contracts


and government civil service did Randolph call off the march. The President's order allowed FEPC to hold hearings, write reports, and issue orders and recommendations. But the commission had no independent authority to punish wrong-doers either by criminal, civil, or administrative penalties or by canceling contracts.[31]

In mid-November, 1943, the commission held hearings in Portland and Los Angeles to investigate complaints about Boilermaker auxiliaries by black workers in Pacific Northwest and southern California shipyards. Yard operators, including Kaiser and Bechtel, argued they were caught in the middle of a fight between blacks and the union. The Boilermakers simply refused to testify before the commission. During the Marinship strike later that month, FEPC Chairman Malcolm Ross asked union and management to delay lay-offs until the commission issued its report. Nothing came of Ross's request, and on December 14, 1943, FEPC announced a decision that was a blow to the union cause. The Boilermakers were ordered to "eliminate all membership practices which discriminate against workers because of race or color," and five employers, including Bechtel's Calship, were prohibited from enforcing closed shop provisions which contributed to such discrimination. However, the employers appealed the decision, and the appeal procedure, necessitating new briefs and hearings, took a year to complete. In the meantime, the commission suspended its order.[32]

Malcolm Ross hoped he could persuade the Boilermakers to change their membership policies at the union's International Convention, scheduled for the end of January, 1944, in Kansas City. This also was the hope of those attending a mass meeting in Oakland on January 23. C. L. Dellums, Joe James, and committee attorney George Anderson were among the speakers at the Oakland gathering. Business agents for the Stage Riggers and Pile Drivers described their unions' open membership rules, and Ray Stewart, a white Boilermaker, contended that "abolishing auxiliaries will benefit the union as much as the Negro." Apparently, Stewart spoke for at least some of his white co-workers. East Bay Boilermakers Local 681 had passed a resolution requesting the convention to allow full membership "without regard to race, color, creed, national origin or sex." Of six thousand signatures gathered at Bay Area shipyards in support of the resolution, about seventy-five percent came from white workers.[33]

The convention received a similar appeal from twenty-two prominent black citizens. AFL President William Green criticized job discrimination in general terms from the convention floor, and delegates heard much the same


thing from President Roosevelt via telegram.[34] But incoming Boilermaker President Charles MacGowan already had made his position clear. "One of the greatest causes contributing to the failure of the Negro to advance farther," MacGowan explained, "is the professional Negro."[35] MacGowan had invited Malcolm Ross to the convention, and the FEPC chairman described his experiences in Kansas City with something less than enthusiasm: "So it happened that a bureaucrat, minced up into little pieces, was served during a several hour ceremony to the International officers and heads of lodges as a hors d'oeuvre to whet appetites for the main racial dish."[36]

Much the same thing happened to Local 681's resolution. In the end, the convention liberalized membership rules only to the extent that auxiliaries were allowed to elect delegates to future conventions and to local metal trades councils. In addition, blacks henceforth would receive equal union insurance benefits. But auxiliaries remained something less than full union locals and blacks something less than full union members.[37] The convention did break precedent by allowing a black auxiliary leader, William Smith from Richmond, to address the delegates. Smith welcomed the rule changes and promised whites "we will do our best to be worthy of your trust." That statement must have reinforced President MacGowan's conviction that the auxiliary problem was "not within the membership but with professional agitation attempting to make a cause where none exists."[38]

This was not the view of Judge Butler of the Marin Superior Court. On February 17, 1944, Butler announced his decision in what now was known as the case of James v. Marinship . Butler ruled that the Boilermakers' policy of "discriminating against and segregating Negroes into auxiliaries is contrary to public policy of the state of California," and he prohibited the union from requiring blacks to join auxiliaries as a condition of employment. The judge also barred Marinship from laying off workers who refused to pay auxiliary dues. As far as Butler was concerned, if the Boiler-makers wished to retain closed shop privileges, they must "admit Negroes as members on the same terms and conditions as white persons."[39]

Both union and management appealed this decision to the California Supreme Court, and it took nearly a year for the state's highest court to decide the case. In the meantime, the Boilermakers did not accept blacks as full members, but the union could not require auxiliary membership as a condition of employment at Marinship. Judge Butlet's decision did not apply to other yards, but during 1944, cases similar to the Marinship suit were brought in various Bay Area courts. Continued attempts by FEPC Chairman Ross to achieve a voluntary settlement failed, so the matter was


not resolved until the State Supreme Court announced its final decision on January 2, 1945.

The court's unanimous opinion, written by Chief Justice Phil Gibson, was a decisive defeat for the Boilermakers. The union had argued that it was not guilty of discrimination, since blacks were paid equal wages and had equal, though separate, status in auxiliaries. The justices did not dispute the contention of equal wages, but found that it was "readily apparent that the membership offered to Negroes is discriminatory and unequal." The union also contended the case was moot because various federal agencies, particularly the FEPC, were investigating the matter. The court responded that since the commission's powers were limited, "it is not a complete or adequate administrative remedy."[40]

The Supreme Court agreed with Judge Butler that the auxiliary practice violated the California statute that held racial discrimination "contrary to public policy." The union had argued that this statute applied only to discrimination in public places and services, not to voluntary associations such as labor organizations. But Gibson concluded that when such an organization achieves a closed shop contract controlling access to labor, it affects an individual's "fundamental right to work for a living" and thus the union occupies a "quasi-public position." The court explained that it was not outlawing the concept of closed shop per se , but that "an arbitrarily closed union is incompatible with a closed shop."[41]

The court also refused to let management off the hook. Marinship asserted that it was simply enforcing terms of a federally approved labor contract and could not be held responsible for union discrimination. But Justice Gibson pointed out that the company had "full knowledge of the dispute and at least indirectly assisted the union in carrying out discrimination." By the same token, Local 6 could not argue that it only enforced national union policies over which it had no control. "The true rule is, of course, that the agent is liable for his acts."[42]

The San Francisco Chronicle hailed the decision as confirmation of the principle of "no representation, no dues." The Marin Citizen said the ruling "should be welcomed by every believer in genuine trade unionism," while the Communist People's World emphasized that the court had outlawed discrimination, not the closed shop. Joe James made the same point, contending that his supporters had waged the battle "strictly on a pro-union basis." By this time, James had been elected president of the San


Francisco NAACP branch and proclaimed that the organization was "in the forefront of every fight against open shop proposals."[43]

James also thanked white workers who had supported his cause. He explained that both the NAACP and the Committee Against Segregation and Discrimination were inter-racial groups, and that many whites had signed petitions, donated money, and discussed the issues with their fellow workers. At Moore shipyard, Katherine Archibald reported that the union's initial 1943 victory in federal court "aroused the rejoicing of several of my [white] colleagues." But the final decision of the State Supreme Court in 1945 gave blacks "status as a people in the eyes of their white companions." There might be mutterings of discontent, "but the decision was respected and the conviction grew that the law at least . . . was on the side of the black man." One white worker conceded, "I guess we can't keep hold of all the jobs."[44]

A few days before the court decision was announced, the FEPC released its final ruling on the appeals of the five shipyard cases in southern California and the Pacific Northwest. As expected, the commission reaffirmed its order of a year earlier that black workers could not be fired or denied employment for refusing to pay auxiliary dues. During the trial of the James case, commission chairman Ross found it ironic that union and management argued that the case was moot since it was being handled by FEPC. This, said Ross, was "a solemn plea, coming from parties who had informed FEPC that it had no authority and could go jump in the lake." Ross believed the court decision "went far beyond" the commission ruling and "knocked the pins from under the defense of the shipyards and the Boilermakers."[45]

The union announced it would obey the decision and abolish its California auxiliaries. But in their place, the Boilermakers intended to form "separate but equal" local lodges. Blacks would be given full membership rights but would be required to join all-black locals. However, black Boilermakers could transfer only to black locals, thus limiting their job mobility within the union. Whether this would have passed the judicial test will never be known, since the union made serious efforts to establish "separate but equal" locals for only a short time. A 1948 study found that all Boilermaker lodges in the Bay Area were racially integrated.[46]

James v. Marinship , then, produced important changes in Boilermaker membership practices. Ironically, very few blacks were ultimately able to take advantage of that fact. In 1944, Local 6 had 36,000 members, including about 3000 blacks theoretically in segregated auxiliaries. In 1948, the


local was racially integrated but had only 1800 members of whom just 150 were black.[47] Even by the time of the Supreme Court decision, work was declining in Bay Area shipyards. The Allies clearly were winning the war, and the government began cutting back contracts. Between January, 1944, and January, 1945, total Bay Area shipyard employment fell from about 240,000 to 200,000. Black employment in the yards continued to increase slightly during that year (from 24,000 to 26,000), but after January, 1945, the black workforce also rapidly declined. It was 20,000 in July, 12,000 in September, and an "insignificant number" by mid-1946.[48]

At Marinship total employment in April, 1945, was about half of what it had been a year before. In May, Marin City housing was opened to non-Marinship workers for the first time. Company fortunes seemed to improve with the signing of new contracts to build barges for the invasion of Japan, but the Japanese surrender in August ended work on that project. The Maritime Commission asked Bechtel to continue running the yard, but the company refused, explaining that in peacetime it would not operate a government enterprise "in competition with privately-owned plants." Bechtel also declined to buy the yard, so on May 16, 1946, Marinship formally closed. Most significant work had ended several months earlier.[49]

The meaning of the decline in Bay Area shipbuilding for the black workforce is graphically described in Cy Record's story, "Willie Stokes at the Golden Gate," published in 1949. Willie came to the Bay Area from Arkansas during the war and got a job as a welder at Kaiser, ultimately earning $10 a day. After the war, he was laid off, and by June 1946 was fortunate to be making $6.40 a day as an unskilled laborer. A year later he was unemployed. Stokes found it "funny almost. One day you are an essential worker in a vital industry (they said that in speeches every time they launched a ship) and the next you were a surplus unskilled laborer, essential to no one." One sympathetic employer explained, "in most cases your wartime experiences will mean very little. During the war, wage costs weren't important and the system of classification by skills was all out of whack . . . the government was footing the bill." Now businesses were hiring only workers with high school diplomas, a credential Willie Stokes did not possess. In fact, a 1950 study found that only about twenty percent of black wartime migrants to the Bay Area over twenty-five years old had graduated from high school; half had not even finished the eighth grade.[50]

It was a classic case of "last hired, first fired." During the war, about seventy-five percent of black heads of households in San Francisco were classified as skilled industrial workers, the great majority in the shipyards. By 1948 only about twenty-five percent of black workers were still in


industrial jobs, while over half were employed as unskilled laborers or service workers. More than fifteen percent of Bay Area black men were unemployed in 1948, nearly three times the state-wide rate for all persons. Only in government and clerical jobs had blacks managed to hold their wartime vocational gains, but the number of people in these categories was small. The United States Department of Employment noted that "as long as Negroes are commonly regarded as marginal labor, they will suffer very heavy unemployment when sufficient white labor is available."[51]

In this situation, it was hardly surprising that some blacks left the Bay Area after the war, including Joe James, who returned to New York to pursue his singing career. Yet an estimated eighty-five percent of the wartime migrants stayed, their numbers increased by their newborn children and by new, post-war migrations from the South. By 1950 San Francisco's black population had grown to over 40,000, by 1960 to nearly 75,000. As Lester Granger had warned, much of the Fillmore became a black "ghetto," as did Marin City, surrounded by some of the most prosperous white suburbs in America.[52]

Back in 1945 Joe James believed he had identified a pattern in California's treatment of minority migrants: "we need them, we use them, when we are through with them, we banish them."[53] Wartime blacks were needed and used, but not banished. Thousands of Willie Stokeses still live in the Bay Area, as do their children and grandchildren. They, along with growing numbers of Latinos and Asians, may soon give California a "Third World" population majority. In San Francisco many of the old, white craft unions have declined along with the industries they serve. The largest union in the city today is the Hotel and Restaurant Workers, and its members are mostly of Asian, Afro-American, and Latin American origin.

The problems of black poverty, unemployment, and lack of economic opportunity identified after World War II have become chronic for a large portion of the region's non-white population. Of course, this situation is by no means unique to the Bay Area. But the area's experience is unusual in that the beginnings of its large black population are so directly tied to the short-term boom in a single industry. As long as the wartime shipyards operated at or near capacity, blacks had access to well-paying jobs. In the midst of the national emergency and regional labor shortage, they even won the legal principle of equal membership in exclusive craft unions. But the precipitous decline of the shipyards after the war was an economic disaster from which the region's black population has never


fully recovered. Even the protests, civil rights legislation, and anti-poverty measures of the 1960s did not produce economic opportunity comparable to World War II.

Nathan I. Huggins is correct when he says that wartime migration created the Bay Area's first black bourgeoisie, for only with the migration was there enough population to support black lawyers, doctors, teachers, and entrepreneurs. But Douglas Daniels makes the equally important point that the war also created the region's first black proletariat.[54] During the 1940s, these workers won battles that established important legal principles, but they have yet to win an equitable share of the region's wealth and power.

Further Reading

Archibald, Katherine. Wartime Shipyard: A Study in Social Disunity . 1947.

Broussard, Albert. Black San Francisco: The Struggle for Racial Equality in the West, 1900-1954 . 1993.

Crouchett, Lawrence, Lonnie G. Bunch III, and Martha Kendall Winnacker, eds. Visions Toward Tomorrow: The History of the East Bay Afro-American Community, 1852-1977 . 1989.

Daniels, Douglas Henry. Pioneer Urbanites: A Social and Cultural History of Black San Francisco . Chapter 10. 1980.

de Graaf, Lawrence. Negro Migration to Los Angeles, 1930-1950 . 1974.

France, Edward E. Some Aspects of the Migration of the Negro to the San Francisco Bay Area Since 1940 . 1974.

Harris, William H. "Federal Intervention in Union Discrimination: FEPC and West


Coast Shipyards During World War II." Labor History 22 (Summer 1981): 325-347.

Johnson, Charles. The Negro Worker in San Francisco . 1944.

Johnson, Marilynn S. The Second Gold Rush: Oakland and the East Bay in World War II . 1993.

———. "Wartime Shipyards: The Transformation of Labor in San Francisco's East Bay." In American Labor in the Era of World War II , edited by Sally M. Miller and Daniel Cornford. 1995.

Lemke-Santangelo, Gretchen. "African American Migrant Women in the San Francisco Bay Area." In American Labor in the Era of World War II , edited by Sally M. Miller and Daniel Cornford. 1995.

McBroome, Dee. "Catalyst for Change: Wartime Housing and African Americans in California's East Bay." In American Labor in the Era of World War II , edited by Sally M. Miller and Daniel Cornford. 1995.

———. Parallel Communities: African Americans in California's East Bay, 1850-1963 . 1993.

Moore, Shirley Ann. To Place Our Deeds: The African-American Community in Richmond, California, 1910-1963 . Forthcoming.

Smith, Alonzo, and Quintard Taylor. "Racial Discrimination in the Workplace: A Study of Two West Coast Cities During the 1940s." Journal of Ethnic Studies 8 (1981): 34-54.

Trotter, Joe William. "African-American Workers: New Directions in U.S. Labor Historiography." Labor History 35 (Fall 1994): 495-523.

Wollenberg, Charles. Marinship at War: Shipbuilding and Social Change in Wartime Sausalito . 1990.


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