American Labor in the Era of World War II

By Sally M. Miller; Daniel A. Cornford | Go to book overview

California Voice, warned that when the shipyards pulled out, the "good jobs" would be filled with "women and Chinese boys." 32

The postwar employment reality for African-American men and women, however, was different. The majority of black workers were compelled to settle into a cycle of low-paying domestic work or seasonal factory and cannery employment. Yet, a few African-American women waged their own personal battles against racial, gender, and class limitations by employing the experience and money that they had gained as club operators. They were able to upgrade their work and educational skills in this way. For example, on the strength of experience as an after- hours club manager, one black Richmond woman was hired as a "bookkeeper" for a chain of brothels that operated throughout California and the Pacific Northwest. She later opened her own "legitimate bookkeeping service and made a good living." Similarly, a Richmond mother and daughter team challenged the constraints of race, class, and gender when they put themselves through nursing school with the money they earned operating an after-hours club. They were among the first black nurses in Richmond. Residents recalled that "they're good nurses, some of the best Contra Costa [County] ever had too, and their husbands didn't have a word to say about it." 33

Thus, the blues clubs of North Richmond that flourished during World War II afforded a number of African-American women the opportunity to achieve a measure of economic and personal autonomy. These female- owned and -operated enterprises were sustained by the influx of black southern migrants who came to California in the Second Great Migration looking for an economic shift upward and cultural continuity. Although the clubs were anchored firmly in black working-class culture, they helped erode the racial, gender, and sexual proscriptions that kept most African-American women at the bottom of the socioeconomic hierarchy. Not only did the clubs provide a cultural and economic bridge that facilitated African-Americans' transition from rural agrarian laborers to the urban industrial arena, but they also helped some black women gain a measure of power and influence at a time when most black working-class women had little access to either.


NOTES
1.
Joseph C. Whitnah, A History of Richmond, California: The City That Grew From a Rancho ( Richmond, Calif.: Richmond Chamber of Commerce, 1944), pp. 8, 18-31, 46-48, 78, 84-85; Eleanor Mason Ramsey, "Richmond, California between 1850-1940: An Ethnohistorical Reconstruction" (unpublished monograph, San

-160-

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