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Front Page News


Wanted: Tales of Richmond’s War-Time
Friday July 15, 2005
The City of Richmond and the National Park Service are looking
for people who lived in Richmond’s 11 World War II-era housing
projects in the 1940s and 1950s.

The history project—which is being coordinated by Berkeley
resident Donna Graves—is part of an ongoing national-local effort
to document the story of the effects of the massive war effort on
mid-20th Century Richmond.

One community session was held earlier this summer. A second
one has been planned for 2 p.m. Saturday at the Booker T.
Anderson Co mmunity Center, 960 S. 47th St. in Richmond.
Participants are asked to bring any photographs or other
documentary evidence of their stay in the Richmond housing
projects, as well as to tell stories that will be videotaped.

Richmond’s Kaiser Shipyards wer e a major portion of the
enormous American military buildup that followed the Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and America’s entry
into the war.

Tens of thousands of new workers poured into Richmond for
employment at the shipyards, many o f them directly from the
South. Most were white, with as many as 23 percent African-
American, and an unknown number of Mexican Americans and
Chinese Americans. The sudden influx transformed overnight
what had been a small, country town—72,000 people, more than
half of Richmond’s population, were poured into 25,000 housing
units by 1943. It has been called the largest public housing
project in the nation.

Graves says that the wartime housing project boom had some of
its greatest effect on the city’s black workers, as well as on
Richmond as it is known today.

“One black woman told of coming up on the train from Texas and having to stand for four d ays straight because troops were occupying most of the train. Some of them were all-black. and some of them were set up as segregated u nits where African-Americans were confined to only one portion of the project. Another ca rryover from the wartime housing was that in order to gain city approval for the projects. Graves said. Mexican Americans did not face housing discrimination in Richmond during the war. the workers would go back South after the war. is now part of Richmond’s Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park. indeed. she said. “The idea was that with the projects torn down. Two still remain and one of them. Graves says that the loss of most of the Wor ld War II housing structures makes oral histories and collection of memorabilia all the more important.” she said.” Graves said that as far as she could determine. With the housing projects overflowing and nowhere else to live in the city limits. the federal government had to agree that most of it would be temporary and would be torn down after the war. “At least 90 percent of the projects were built out of flimsy materials and they were. But most of them stayed. which continues to be heavily black. Atchison Village. but they didn’t take into account the fact that housing wasn’t available for blacks anywhere else in Richmond. “And that got reflected in the wartime housing projects. destroyed as soon as the war ended. The Housing Authority had a quota of 20 percent of the units set aside for African-Americans. and most of the Chinese American workers lived in San Francisco and took the ferry across the bay to Richmond.” she said.“Housing was strictly segregated in Richmond at the time. African-Americans went across the city line to build homes in unincorporated North Richmond.” Only thre e of the projects were built as permanent structures. or wherever else they came from. When she got to Richmond she had to borrow somebody’s baby so that she and her husband could .” Graves said. “We heard wonderful stories at the first session.

“For now. will be turned over this fall to both the Richmond Public Library and the Park Service. For now. Graves said that between three and four professionally videotaped full oral histories are planned and they.” she said.” Graves said that the woman and her husband ended up having five children.qualify for a one-bedroom apartment. because she had no idea what it was.”i . “We’re hoping that this will be used in presentations on the World War II period. there are no definite plans for presenting the material once it is compiled. along with a report on the history project. She said she was in fear that somebody would ask her the baby’s name. it’s just important that we gather the information before the residents pass on. but kept the one-bedroom apartment.