Charleston Reborn: A Southern City, Its Navy Yard, and World War II. By Fritz P. Hamer. (Charleston, S.C.: History Press, 2005. Pp. 189; $24.99, paper.)
The story of the Charleston Navy Yard has been told in brief before, but Fritz Hamer fleshes out the evolution of the South Carolina lowcountry's most important military facility, placing it in a larger context and associating it with the revival of Charleston during a critical period in the city's life. Hamer has written more of a social than a chronological history, eschewing the dates of ship launchings and refittings in favor of the effects that this huge federal investment had on nearly every thread of the fabric of life in the Charleston area. Hamer has tapped a variety of sources, including government documents, oral histories, evocative photographs, and maps of the Navy Yard to paint a portrait of a vital United States government facility that had a global, as well as a local, impact.
The Charleston Navy Yard has become indelibly linked with World War II and the homefront efforts of what is often called the "Greatest Generation." However, Hamer quite properly begins his book at the beginning, with the move of the Navy Yard from Port Royal to Charleston in 1901. Yet he is eager to get to his story and passes a little too quickly over the turn-of-the-century local and national political machinations that occurred in order to secure the facility for Charleston. The author is quite correct in his assessment, however, that the Navy Yard had little long-term effect on the lowcountry economy from its establishment until the eve of World War II, despite the fervent hopes of Charleston's leaders who brought the yard to the Cooper River.
Hamer's emphasis throughout is on the many and varied effects of this federal facility on the local economy and society. Following an introductory chapter that sets the stage for the coming of the war that would so dramatically transform the Navy Yard, the author deals with the socio-economic changes wrought by the rapidly expanding facility. In successive chapters, Hamer focuses on the influx of outsiders into the lowcountry; the Navy Yard's effects on labor, gender, and race relations in the city of Charleston; and the challenges faced by the local government to house, feed, and provide social and recreational opportunities for the new arrivals. In a brief epilogue, the author recounts the postwar downsizing of the yard, its resurgence with the coming of the Cold War, and the eventual shut down of the sprawling facility as the Cold War came to an end in the early 1990s. The author does an excellent job providing hard historical facts associated with the expansion of the Navy Yard and its growing influence on the South Carolina lowcountry, while at the same time providing vivid portraits of individuals working at the facility, living in the crowded …