Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations

By Nina Mjagkij | Go to book overview

C

California Council for Civic Unity

In 1946 an interracial group of social activists met in San Francisco, California, to organize a statewide federation of civil rights and civil liberties organizations. This federation was known as the California Council for Civic Unity (CCCU). Among the most notable of this group of activists were Joseph James, the shipyard worker whose fight against auxiliary unions resulted in the legal prohibition of segregated unions; Laurence J. Hewes, the Pacific Coast director of the American Council on Race Relations; and Ruth Kingman, community activist and wife of Harry L. Kingman, the West Coast regional director of the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC).

They and other local leaders worked closely with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Pacific Coast Committee on American Principles and Fair Play (Fair Play Committee), and the influential American Council on Race Relations (ACRR) to form an omnibus federation of interracial organizations. Ruth Kingman was elected the first president of the CCCU, the first of three women to hold that office. The CCCU became the most influential of the interracial coalitions to emerge in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Bay Area became the center of civil rights and interracial activism in the state and on the West Coast.

Benefiting from the climate of liberalism that briefly flowered in the aftermath of World War II, the CCCU enjoyed support from California's most influential community and business leaders and claimed a diverse membership of more than forty organizations including the NAACP, the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), the Jewish Survey, and the B'nai B'rith Committee. The CCCU board and staff-which included Lester Granger, executive director of the National Urban League (NUL), Walter White of the NAACP, and renowned author Richard Wright-adopted an array of goals that demanded nothing less than an end to all segregation and discrimination. The CCCU targeted employment discrimination, segregation in public accommodations and services, and discrimination in private institutions.

From its inception the CCCU depended on financial, administrative, and technical support from the ACRR, whose prestigious staff and board included the acclaimed author Pearl S. Buck, the UN Secretariat member Ralph J. Bunche, and the sociologist and editor Charles S. Johnson. However, within a year of its founding, the fledgling CCCU left the protective wing of the ACRR when the older organization discontinued operations on the Pacific Coast. The break was not precipitated by ideological or personal conflicts. The ACRR continued to assist the CCCU with technical expertise and advice whenever called upon but severed its financial ties with the CCCU, passing the torch of social activism and financial autonomy to the CCCU.

After a brief bout of self-doubt and concern over the CCCU's stability, Ruth Kingman confidently committed the organization to an aggressive program of fund-raising and held the organization to its original goals. However traumatic the break with ACRR might have been initially, it had no impact on CCCU leadership or policy. Few outsiders detected any transition. The only visible change came in 1948 when the CCCU changed its name to the California Federation for Civic Unity (CFCU). The CFCU continued for a decade as a statewide coalition of interracial organizations whose agenda gave top priority to desegregation.

While the CCCU and CFCU were most effective as educational and fact-finding instruments, they achieved

California Council for Civic Unity

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