|EUROPE GOES TO WAR||[Back to Top]|
In 1935, Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator, decided that Ethiopia was ripe for plucking and declared war. Italy had invaded once before, in 1896. At the Battle of Adowa, using a lot of spears and old guns, the Ethiopians had humiliated a modern European army.
The League of Nations ordered Mussolini to desist, but it had no armed forces, and he paid no heed. The League called for a trade embargo, but this harmed only Ethiopia. Both Britain and France maintained Mediterranean fleets, but neither made the slightest attempt to intervene with the Italian troop-carrying armada. Some countries, including League members, sold Italy oil and other needed supplies, which Hitler quickly noted.
The Italian army had a difficult time. Despite their awesome arsenal, which included tanks, heavy artillery and an air force, the only way Italy won was to use poison gas against the valiant Ethiopians. It was a black nation, so who was going to say anything?
I think opposition to the war was universal among blacks throughout the United States. The white press was yelling for sanctions also. Colonel Hubert Fauntleroy Julian, the flashiest black aviator of the 1930s, went to Ethiopia and offered his services to Emperor Haile Selassie. It made good copy in the black press. Julian, we learned, was a native of the Caribbean who had migrated to the U.S. and settled in New York City. How he became a colonel was never made clear. He crisscrossed the nation, where he rented a plane and advertised that he would fly in exhibitions to a paying audience. He never came to Northern California, but did fly in Los Angeles. He was an adventurer who was trying to hustle a dollar any way he could.
He had already spent some months in Ethiopia in 1930, when the air force was composed of three non-combat planes. He flew two of them, but wasn't supposed to fly the third plane, which was the Emperor's favorite. He did anyway, and on his first flight, he crashed it into a tree. He had to leave Ethiopia in a hurry. When he returned there in 1935, the Emperor's air force had four planes, but Julian was no longer allowed to fly.
In Europe, the next move of the fascist hordes came in 1936 when Francisco Franco, who had been brooding in Morocco for years, crossed the Straits of Gibraltar to overthrow the republican government of Spain. Italy and Germany openly supported the Spanish rebels with arms, men and money, while the Soviet Union provided warplanes and munitions to the legitimate government. France and Great Britain stood by, but France did test some of its warplanes in the contest.
Many Americans, including some blacks, left for Spain, where they formed the Abraham Lincoln Brigade to fight the fascists. They weren't segregated; this wasn't the United States Army. I was hoping they would get Franco and cut his throat. Spain owned part of Morocco, so when Franco entered Spain, he brought some African troops with him, who fought against the black American volunteers.
I knew one man from the Bay Area who joined, Don Thayer. He was white. They were all good decent people. It was considered illegal to go, but I don't think the U.S. government tried to bother those who went. Of course, J. Edgar Hoover called all of them Communists. But the Soviet Union was the only place where the Spanish government could get any assistance.
That same year, the columnist Westbrook Pegler wrote from the Olympics in Berlin about all the brownshirts marching around, and he said, "This is the army of the future, because they're being drilled now." I thought the German people were undergoing a national form of insanity. I have never liked anybody who's against Jews, because I know they're against me too.
The black press didn't write much about the Nazis, because white people created it and they thought it was a white folks' problem. I never saw any pro-Nazi rallies in California. But we had our own version of the Nazis -- the Ku Klux Klan. What's the difference? I thought Adolf Hitler copied some techniques from the Klan to conduct his campaign of Aryan superiority.
When Hitler started all of his moves, I was amazed at the way Britain and France yielded to the bastard. I said, all they're doing is digging a grave for themselves, because he has an insatiable appetite. He wants to make Germany the greatest empire in the world. When he reoccupied the Rhineland in 1936, I thought they would stop him. But they didn't; they pulled aside and let the storm troopers in.
The international situation was worsening every day as Hitler made more and more demands. The League of Nations, which was dominated by Great Britain and France, yielded to every demand, permitting Hitler to rearm Germany and seize Austria, and later on, Czechoslovakia. I said, this cat ain't ever going to be satisfied.
The United States was still in the Great Depression. Roosevelt was speaking out more frequently to Congress on the need for the U.S. to be prepared for any eventuality, and he started asking for more money for national defense. He was also looking at the possibility that Japan, which supported the Hitler-Mussolini combination, would join them an attempt to conquer the world.
In September 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. France and her unwilling ally Great Britain finally declared war on Germany. By 1940, France had collapsed and the British had been driven off the continent of Europe. But most of America, it seemed like, didn't want any part of that war over there.
|A THREATENED MARCH||[Back to Top]|
In 1940, the war industries in the U.S. were just beginning to show signs of revival. The shipyards started opening up when the first national defense program was passed under Roosevelt. California was the center of the war industry. The climate was good: you didn't have to be bothered with that cold weather in the wintertime. California had less than seven million people, and there was a lot of space available near rail and water.
The aircraft industry was here before the war; most of the airplanes in the United States were built in California. The Pacific fleet had its base in San Diego and other naval installations in Long Beach. The headquarters of the 12th Naval District was on Yerba Buena Island, the natural island midway between San Francisco and Oakland. It was connected to Treasure Island, built for the 1939 World's Fair, which based some smaller vessels, including destroyers and sub chasers.
There was a lot of shipbuilding in the Bay Area. The oldest Navy yard on the West Coast was the U.S. Naval Shipyard at Mare Island in upper San Francisco Bay, which dated back to 1854. It was also a submarine base, used for the building and maintenance of subs. It had hired a lot of blacks even during World War I, so they knew they could get jobs up there.
The war industries expanded, but blacks were being left out. Moore Drydock on the estuary in West Oakland, along with other shipyards, began hiring blacks, but only as laborers. Blacks were up in arms about the hiring practices. If you applied for a skilled job, they'd say, "We have a contract with the union. Are you a member of the union?" You'd say no. So they'd tell you to go and get your membership card from the union. When you went to the union they'd say, "Well, do you have a job?" You'd have to say no, and come in as a laborer then.
Before America got into the war, everything was segregated in the armed forces. Most blacks in the Army were in the quartermaster corps, which supplied weapons and other necessities for the infantry, but you did have black officers. The Navy and the Marine Corps were the worst of the services. The only way blacks got onto Navy ships was as mess boys, and Marines didn't take blacks at all.
Philip Randolph, the head of the Pullman porters union, conducted a campaign to get the government to change those policies. In June 1941, Randolph and Bayard Rustin, who worked with the Quakers, threatened to bring 100,000 blacks to Washington and march down Pennsylvania Avenue if blacks weren't admitted into the armed forces and hired as war workers. It was in all the media. I think that frightened Roosevelt a little bit, because all sorts of things might have happened. There could have been riots on the streets. We were supposed to be the capital of democracy, and it would have been bad propaganda. I think the whole strategy was to impress the president that we had some power.
That's when Roosevelt issued his order to create the FEPC, the Fair Employment Practices Committee. This was the victory we achieved. Blacks started getting jobs then, because any companies that didn't comply with the FEPC wouldn't get any government contracts. We felt it was a new day a-coming, although deep within ourselves we knew we still had a long way to go yet.
Henry J. Kaiser, whose headquarters were in Oakland, was one of the big industrialists who became well known in the course of the war. He got a contract to build a shipyard in Richmond, and before the war ended, he had four yards in San Francisco Bay he was launching a ship every day.
As soon as the FEPC order was issued, Kaiser started sending labor contractors to the South and other parts of the country to get workers for the shipyards. Kaiser set a record for building cargo carriers called Liberty Ships, which sent food all over the world from California. Then he built troop-carrying ships, followed by smaller escort vessels called jeep carriers that were of great use against German and Japanese submarines in the oceans. Kaiser hired everybody who came there. He did a lot of good public service things afterwards, contributing money for cultural activities in Oakland.
To me, the biggest thing he did was to put up the Kaiser Health Plan, because who else had ever thought of that, where everybody could join an organization that didn't charge a lot of money for you and your family to be taken care of? He opened up the first one in Richmond, then the next ones in Oakland and Vallejo. It was beneficial to all low-income people who couldn't meet the costs that the medical society charges. He made it possible, and I don't think he was looking to making any money from it.
|JAPANESE AMERICANS||[Back to Top]|
California had the largest Asian population out of all of the states, which included people from China, Japan, India and the Philippines. In the 1920s, the Hearst chain of newspapers filled its editorial pages with warnings about the Yellow Peril, which inflamed the lower-class whites. Those editorials were aimed at the Japanese immigrants, who were filling a void of needed labor in the growing agriculture business, the number one industry in the state.
Filipinos, like Latinos, were brought here mostly as agricultural workers. The Philippines was an American colony at that time, so they didn't have as much difficulty getting here as the Japanese and Chinese. But most Filipinos were accorded worse treatment than the livestock which the growers had on their spreads.
Japanese immigrants might have been treated better, since Japan had proved to be a powerful military state after defeating Russia in war in 1905. And unlike China, Japan had never suffered the humiliation of standing by while huge chunks of its land were taken over by Great Britain, France, Russia, Germany, and even such minor states as Portugal.
Japanese farmers in California were so successful that they earned the reputation of being the gardeners of the state. Some sent for their wives in Japan. Everybody got out in the fields and worked, from the little ones to the mama and papa. They began to buy land -- but according to law, only in the names of their children, who had been born in the United States and were American citizens. They couldn't become naturalized themselves.
The Asian presence was very prominent in San Francisco, and most of it was centered on Grant Avenue, the main street of Chinatown. The Japanese were businesspeople, and naturally they floated to where the Chinese were. There were almost as many Japanese as Chinese businesses there. The Japanese had better-looking shops than the Chinese, with better-made goods. They also ran a couple of hotels in Chinatown -- clean places, where blacks could rent a room. Most Japanese lived around Post and Sutter streets, where Japantown is today. It wasn't called Japantown then, but was residential, with just a few commercial places.
I remember the morning of December 7, 1941 when I was on my way to visit my mother's house in Oakland. As soon as I walked in, my sister said, "Pearl Harbor was just bombed." I said, "What!" She said, "It's been bombed." I looked over at my mother, and thought I saw a shadow go over her face. She might have been thinking that I'd have to go in the Army.
The next night, the government called a blackout in San Francisco, because of rumors that the Japanese had sent a carrier over to bomb the city. They warned that everybody had to have the shades pulled down after dark, with no light showing. It was kind of eery for a while, driving around in the dark.
Right after Pearl Harbor, I went into the recruitment office and tried to enlist, to show the draft up. They said, "We're not taking anybody now," and didn't even write down my name. I knew they were taking whites in: they just didn't want blacks. I was hoping they wouldn't take me; I knew how the armed forces felt about blacks, but I just wanted to prove a point to myself.
In February 1942, President Roosevelt issued his Japanese removal order, which resulted in one of the most inhuman acts committed by either side in the great war -- the roundup of all persons of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast. Most of them were American-born.
The Tanforan horse racetrack in San Bruno, just south of San Francisco, was the assembly point for the Japanese Americans in Northern California. They lived there in tents until removal on trains staffed by Army troops, headed for concentration camps in inland areas, with barbed wire fences and armed guards. Virtually all were forced to sell all of their real estate property in exchange for whatever they could get -- far below the market or real value, even when it was in their kids' names.
I heard from some of my liberal friends that some Chinese American political leaders conspired with the government to get the Japanese out. But it might have been just a rumor. A large element of the population had long been envious of the success of the Japanese farmers, and wished to see their removal. But I personally resented the government's action, as did many other blacks in the state. I never saw any reason to force them to live in concentration camps, as the Nazis did the Jews and other peoples not regarded as supermen.
|JOSEPH JAMES AND THE BOILERMAKERS UNION||[Back to Top]|
In the Hunters Point area of San Francisco, one found a number of slaughterhouses where livestock was brought into the city, then killed and processed for consumption. The name for the neighborhood was Butchertown. In 1941, the U.S. Navy seized that land, which was next to the bay, and opened the Hunters Point Navy Yard. It had a good harbor, and the Navy built dry docks to service the big warships -- aircraft carriers, battleships and heavy cruisers -- that could not go up to Mare Island, where the channel was shallow.
Even after Roosevelt created the FEPC, it was hard for blacks to be hired for good jobs in shipyards and the growing airplane industry, even if they had credentials to be a plumber, electrician, or some other skilled position. The NAACP pursued complaints of job discrimination at Hunters Point and at the Bethlehem Steel Shipyard near China Basin, which expanded when war broke out. The biggest target of complaint was the Boilermakers International Union, which controlled most of the jobs in shipbuilding. It was an umbrella group that covered just about every working craft in the shipyards, with the exception of the machinists, who had had their own union for a long time.
Blacks were excluded from full and equal membership in the Boilermakers Union. In some crafts they were hired as helpers, which meant they got entry-level pay, lower than the journeyman union members. The Boilermakers Union had come upon the unique device of founding an auxiliary union that blacks and Mexicans could join. The auxiliary had one office in Oakland and one in San Francisco. They put a black in charge of it, and of course he got nice wages. You had to get clearance from him before you could work.
Blacks paid the same dues as union members, but couldn't attend the union's regular meetings, and had no voting voice. The guys all called it the laborers' union. I detested the blacks who took those jobs: I thought they were selling us out, because the union was segregated. But workers were fired if they refused to join it. The Boilermakers said the firings were justified, since they had a closed-shop agreement with the shipyards.
This got the attention of Joseph James, a black man who, with his wife Alberta, had come to San Francisco with the touring company of The Green Pastures, the Broadway musical subsidized by the Federal Theater Project. He had a superb voice. The show played in San Francisco for months, and after it closed, many of the cast went back to the Big Apple, and some went to Los Angeles to look for jobs in the film industry. Joe and Alberta, both very socially conscious people, liked the atmosphere they found in San Francisco and stayed. When the war broke out, James procured a job at Marinship in Sausalito, after becoming a member of the auxiliary union.
Joe joined the San Francisco NAACP, worked very hard with the organization, and was finally elected president in 1943, hoping to make it more liberal. He got embroiled in the beef with the Boilermakers and, securing the legal services of a team of liberal white lawyers, filed a suit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on behalf of some fired black workers, charging the big international with discrimination. His lawsuit was supported by the national headquarters of the NAACP.
The case attracted a lot of attention. In late 1943, I sat in the front row at the hearing in Judge Michael Roche's courtroom. It was jammed with blacks, who were standing out in the hallways. He let all the black spectators come up and sit in the jury box and the press bench. Judge Roche didn't make a final decision that day, but said that the discharged black workers had to be rehired pending a hearing. The case ended up in the California Supreme Court, which ruled in January 1945 that the Boilermakers could no longer discriminate. By this time, the war was almost over. Not long after that, the Boilermakers ended the auxiliary and accepted all races for full membership in the union.
Most of Joe's close associates were extreme white liberals such as Harry Bridges, the head of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union. Many of the old-line conservative black members of the NAACP began to mutter that the Commies were attempting to take over the branch. In the monthly meetings, it seemed at times that blows might be exchanged.
Joe was ousted as branch president in 1946 by Berlinda Davison Mabson, a strange person, extremely bright, who was the sister of Stuart Davison, the black physician. She was very conservative, and only lasted one term as president.
|BLACK MIGRATION AND HOUSING||[Back to Top]|
Throughout the country, black war workers were moving into the inner cities, taking over old, crumbling buildings in areas where they found some blacks already residing. Large numbers of blacks began the second "Gold Rush" to California in search of jobs. It was a good ticket to get out of the South. Quite a few came directly after Pearl Harbor. The great black migration met the huge need for workers, skilled and unskilled, to man the shipyards all up and down the coast from San Diego to the state of Washington.
California experienced a growth in population greater than any other state. You heard about jobs, jobs. There was a manpower shortage in so many things. San Francisco put black temporaries in some parts of the city government and even hired some black policemen, but just till the end of the war.
The largest black population in San Francisco before the war was near the train depot at 3rd and Townsend streets because a lot of Pullman porters and other rail workers lived around there. The Japanese section was part of the Western Addition, also called the Fillmore district. There were always a few black businesses there too; you had Butler's mortuary on Sutter Street, and a dentist, Howard Davis. When the Japanese were evacuated, blacks moved into their vacant houses, and bought some of them.
Housing was very dear, and landlords charged whatever they could for substandard places. Real estate agents tried to channel all blacks to one part of town. Then they went to the whites and asked them, "Do you want to sell? Because blacks are moving in all around you." They did that all over the country.
The Western Addition turned into a black area. The war workers were working three shifts, and you'd always see a lot of blacks on the streets. I heard of some enterprising landlords who rented one room to three people -- one for each shift. Hunters Point, where there was a lot of available land, became the largest black neighborhood in the city when the government was forced to build war housing for the workers and their families. And a lot of blacks started buying homes in the Igleside district.
More and more blacks poured into areas of California where they had been very seldom seen. The West Coast was the jumping-off point for military personnel leaving for the war in the Pacific. Most members of the Army, Navy, and Air Force left from either San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles or Seattle. Young black men from around the country liked what they saw, and after their service was completed and they were discharged at these ports, many stayed.
Most blacks in San Francisco were happy to see the sudden explosion of black immigrants. Every once in a while I heard grumbling about the country people from the rural South, but I didn't see how they behaved any differently than the blacks who were already living here. I always reminded such unsophisticated critics that the greater the black population, the more political muscle and jobs that blacks would have in the city. I said, "You don't have any political power. Who can you elect to office?"
I had never seen a cockroach in a house in California until the war came, and I just wonder if all those workers -- black and white -- brought them in their luggage. I started to feel a lot of resentment aimed against blacks as their numbers started increasing. San Francisco Mayor Angelo Rossi was quoted as being concerned with what some whites classified as the black invasion.
When the Marinship shipyard was built in Sausalito, across the Golden Gate Bridge, it was the first time there were more than a dozen blacks living in Marin County. The government constructed housing for the war workers in Marin City, a new town just north of Sausalito. Tenants were rented units on a first-come, first-served basis, and at first it was integrated, for whoever worked at the shipyard. But the whites generally had better jobs and more opportunities for housing, and they moved out, making Marin City a black enclave.
The 1940 census gave the black population of San Francisco as less than 5,000. The East Bay was better prepared for the horde of newcomers, since Oakland had a black population of about 8,500. The federal Housing Administration began the building of the war housing that grew and grew in Oakland.
Public housing in the United States had started during the Depression. Some of it was built by the WPA. The rents were low, and many blacks -- not necessarily those on welfare -- lived in them. Nobody thought about public housing the way they do now. The first public housing in the East Bay was in West Oakland, and some of my friends moved in, like Bernie Anderson and his wife. He was the son of Garland Anderson, the black playwright. One of his plays, Appearances, was the first written by a black to be produced on Broadway.
In the Western Addition, a large housing project bounded by Sutter, Scott, Broderick and Post streets opened shortly before Pearl Harbor. It was one of the first housing projects in the city to be inhabited primarily by blacks. Sunnydale, the giant public housing complex located in the southern end of the city, opened about the same time. These projects, and others built then housed thousands of war workers.
As middle-class blacks became more successful, they moved out and the down-and-outers came in. There's a different class of people living in them now. I never did live in public housing, but I think it's a good thing, and that it will be around for a long time.
People weren't worried when the population explosion first started, because there was a lot of work. A few years after the war, the reality struck them. In the 1950 census, San Francisco's black population had risen to 43,000 and Oakland's to 48,000.
|EASING OF DISCRIMINATION||[Back to Top]|
San Francisco enjoyed the reputation of being one of the most race-free cities in the United States. But it wasn't. The racism was covert. In the South, at least they were honest about it. Covert racism to me is worse than open racism. You feel like the ground has been cut from underneath you. I'd much rather somebody tell me "you can't come in here" than grin in your face, then go behind your back and conspire with others not to let you in.
There never were any jobs advertised for whites only: they just told you there were no jobs. You knew the places where you weren't welcome, and if you didn't, you were a complete goddamn jackass. You could go nuts if you worried about that stuff.
There was a Dr. Nelson in Los Angeles, who married a former Ziegfeld Follies showgirl. They were coming up to San Francisco on a visit, so they called and made reservations at the St. Francis Hotel. He was very light-skinned, but he must have shown enough black when he came to the hotel desk so the clerk told him: "There are no reservations for a Dr. Nelson here." It appeared in the daily papers and caused a stink.
The big hotels started admitting blacks around 1944 because there were so many black officers passing through en route to the Pacific theater of the war. They couldn't refuse Negroes with bars on their shoulders. Some newspapers sent black correspondents, such as Ted Poston, the reporter for the New York Post, who came here before shipping out, and Charlie Loeb, an editor for the Cleveland Post, a big black weekly paper. I knew Charlie. He had a war correspondents' uniform -- a trench coat and cap. He stayed at the Mark Hopkins Hotel. The hotels changed their policy very quietly because they didn't want that kind of publicity. But they didn't hire black workers until picketing started in the 1960s.
The San Francisco Municipal Railway, or Muni, didn't hire any black employees until 1941. There were also two privately owned transit systems in San Francisco then -- the Market Street Railway and the California Street Cable Railway -- but the Muni employees were civil service workers.
Audley Cole, the husband of Josephine Foreman Cole, the city's first black schoolteacher, took the Muni's civil service examination and physical exam in the spring of 1941 for a job as a motorman on the streetcars. He weighed about 135 pounds, and had to lift a sack of sand that weighed over 100 pounds. He told the business manager that he was black, although he was light-skinned and looked like he could have been an Indian or a Mexican. He was hired in December and reported for work the day after Christmas.
At first nobody said anything. All motormen had to take some weeks of training to operate the trolleys, and Audley was trained for about a week. Then maybe the white operators realized he was black, because they refused to go on any more training runs with. This went on for about two weeks until a man named Spence Rogers, who probably didn't weigh over 110 pounds, offered to break him in.
Rogers paid a tremendous price for his audacity. Nobody would speak to him after that. He was heckled, spat upon, and after four days was beaten so badly by the other motormen that he ended up in the hospital. Audley never saw him again after that, but his job became a political issue, and he finally got enough training to learn it well.
The physical and psychological abuse against Rogers drove him to drink and a loss of his job. I got to know him afterwards. He was a wreck, and he used to tell me all about it.
Audley joined the union, and became as good a motorman as anyone on the line. After about six months, another black man was hired, and then many other blacks as motormen and conductors, including black women, as the draft took away more of the young white males. At that time there was a conductor on all the streetcars who collected the fares. Later the Market Street Railway hired blacks too.
Audley remained a motorman for a little over a year, until he saw that Muni had hired a sufficient number of blacks, and then he decided to become a longshoreman. Soon after that he was drafted into the Army for three years. When he came back, he had the ambition to train for something better, so he enrolled at San Francisco State University and graduated with a degree in social welfare. He spent the rest of his career as a social worker, until his retirement.
|THE BLACK PRESS IN THE 1940s||[Back to Top]|
The oldest black newspaper on the West Coast still published today is the California Voice, founded in Oakland about 1917 by a man named Morris. Then E.A. Daly acquired the paper in the 1920s, and his wife put it together. In the 1930s and '40s the Dalys did not seem to care much about anything outside of Oakland. They were more interested in their small print shop. Mrs. Daly, who had attended a black school where printing was offered, operated the linotype machine that set the type for papers. The Dalys had a flatbed press which they used for small printing jobs and another press that could do an eight-page standard-size paper. I don't think old man Daly knew how to operate any of the machinery.
When I came to Oakland in 1926, there was another paper called the Western American, owned by a black real estate broker, George Martin. It lasted about as long as it takes for me to say the name. Other black publishers would put out two or three issues, then fold. I've seen a lot of them come and go.
The California Voice had a small classified section, plus news about the black churches and the black women's social clubs, and a heavy dose of illustrated church ads. E.A. Daly didn't want anything else in there. I don't think it ever had an editorial opinion, because he couldn't write at all. Most of the editorials were canned, pre-written pieces that were supplied to small papers by corporations like Pacific Gas & Electric and Bank of America. And of course the papers were paid a small sum for printing them.
The Voice did improve some when Louis Campbell, a nephew of Mrs. Daly, came out to California and took over the printing. He brought in his friend Ken Freeman, who wrote a gossip column, which proved to be popular with some young people. Both John Pittman and I went to Daly and told him we would like to write for the paper for nothing. I said that if the Voice presented more news, we could build the circulation up. But he always demurred: he thought we were too radical. He had a lot of small commercial jobs, and didn't want to change anything.
Los Angeles had two black papers, the Sentinel and the California Eagle. The Eagle was published by Charlotta Bass -- we all called her Mama Bass -- and was the oldest black paper on the West Coast, founded in 1879. The Sentinel opened about 1928, and was owned by Leon Washington. I met Leon when he first started; he was out hawking the papers on the streets himself, sometimes giving it away just so that it would be distributed. He came to California from Kansas with a brilliant civil rights lawyer, Loren Miller. They were buddies, and started the paper together. Loren used to write articles for the Nation and other magazines, and later became a judge in Los Angeles.
Leon came up to San Francisco quite often, and tried to get me to go down there in the 1940s and write his editorials for him. But I never wanted to live in Los Angeles. He was more energetic than Mrs. Bass. He joined the California Newspaper Publishers Association, attended their state conventions, and went all over the state to gather what stories he could about black activities outside of Los Angeles.
The Pittsburgh Courier, Chicago Defender, New York Amsterdam News, and the Baltimore Afro-American were the largest national black papers that came to California during the 1940s. They were at their peak in the 1930s and '40s, and circulated all over the country. Black papers didn't have a wire service then. Pittsburgh had a good-sized black community, but not on the order of many other cities. I marvelled at the Courier, attracting the attention that it did outside of Pittsburgh. The front page was in color, which I think helped to sell it. Then it presented more about entertainers than any other black paper in the country.
I spent most time getting ahold of the Courier. I read Billy Rowe, George Schuyler, and the cartoon, not the news stories very much. Billy had a gossip column about celebrities and nightlife in New York. He wrote with all the idioms that black people used among each other, like "Darktown," and sepia for black. It looked like he patterned his style after Walter Winchell, who was an example of the keyhole school of journalism. Schuyler had a following all over the United States. He was part of that acidic school of journalism who were very critical about everything, and gave the left as much hell as they did the right.
The national black press lost a lot of its readership after World War II because local black papers all over the country started improving. They were able to cover events in their own communities better and get the news out quicker, and they cut into the national circulation that the big papers had enjoyed for so long.
|A WAR WORKER||[Back to Top]|
About 1940, when the government announced a program for workers to learn the skills needed to convert American industry into producing war materiel, I enrolled and took classes on the campus of Technical High School in Oakland. I learned how to operate the lathe, drill press, shaper, and other machines. Right after the training, I got a job as a chipper in the second shipyard that Kaiser was building in Richmond. Metal gets a lot of scales on it as it deteriorates, and I was put inside a big boiler to clean its surface. It was rough, dirty work, and I didn't like all that dust. I said, this ain't what I took shop for.
I stayed there about two days. Then I heard that Mare Island Navy Yard was hiring people, so I went there and started working in the machine shop, where I operated a large radial drill press, taller than a person, drilling holes through pieces of armor that were going on the deck. The armor is hardened steel, and it took a long time to go through that. You had to drill real slow. That's all I did, all day long. Some guys were real machinists who could work anywhere. I knew I wasn't very good at it, but I didn't look at it as drudgery. It was indoors, it was better than being a chipper, the pay wasn't bad, and it was keeping my ass out of the Army.
President Roosevelt came out to Mare Island when I was there, and drove through the machine shop in his open-top car. The shop was about the size of a city block, and maybe a thousand people worked there. They didn't tell us that FDR was coming. His car rolled through very slowly, barely moving, so he could see the workers working in there. There were Marines with rifles preceding the car, and the Secret Service walking on each side, so that nobody could get up close. He smiled and waved, and we gave him a hell of a big cheer.
After about eight months, when I had achieved a promotion, I began to dislike going that far up to work every day, so I switched to the Todd Shipyard in Alameda, which was much nearer to home. I did the same kind of thing, operating power tools. I was called a machinist third class. After that I came over to San Francisco and worked at the Bethlehem shipyard. Then someone told me that machinists were needed at the Army supply base in Oakland, and I made my last move working in war industries. Everybody there suffered from the delusion that the volume of work would continue after the war, because it was civil service. But I knew it wasn't what I wanted to do for a career.
|STARTING THE REPORTER||[Back to Top]|
While working at the Army base, I started coming into San Francisco quite often because Jack's Tavern was in full operation on Sutter Street, where Saunders King and his group were the big attraction. One night, around the corner from Jack's, I ran into a black man on the street I had met before named Albert White, who had worked on weekly papers in Texas. He told me that he and Frank Logan, a black businessman from Texas, were going to start a weekly black paper in the city, as there were none then.
Frank was running a couple of clubs and making a lot of money, mostly from gambling. He wanted to get into something more legal, where he wouldn't be raided. I told White that I had done some work on newspapers. He asked, would I be interested in joining him and Logan, who was financing the whole deal? White said that he needed editorial support more than any other thing. I expressed interest. White took me right in and introduced me to Logan at his club on Buchanan Street.
Logan couldn't pay me anything. I said it didn't matter, because I already knew that I would have to continue my work at the machine shop, although the commute would be tough since I lived in Berkeley. I was so anxious because I was hoping the paper would last past the war years.
White, Logan and I decided to give the name Reporter to our paper, and set a publishing date of every Wednesday. Hannibal T. Shepherd, a real estate broker on Post Street who also managed some emergency war housing, contributed to the birth of the Reporter by providing us space in his large office for a very low fee. He might have been the first black in the city with a realtor license who had an office. He leased a lot of the houses that had been evacuated when the Japanese were removed, and rented them out at high rents.
We had two desks and a phone installed, and we were in business. White went out and tried to sell advertising. Logan didn't do anything except put up the money. Shepherd brought in a high school girl named Gloria Housen who was searching for a summer job. We hired her to man the telephone and do some typing.
Gloria had one of the desks and I had the other. The editorial staff was me. Among all those connected to the paper, I was the only person who knew how to write. However, I had almost no experience in layout and pasteup. Logan, a recent migrant to California, knew nothing about newspapers, but he had a sense of civic responsibility, and was very articulate about racial matters.
I went on swing shift at the Army base so that I could come in to San Francisco every morning and spend about four hours at the paper. Then I'd take the train back over the bridge to Oakland and head for the shipyard. I'd work from 3 to 11 p.m., get home between 12 and 12:30, and sleep till about 7 o'clock. I could handle that for a while. I worked six days a week. Sunday was my mother's day mostly, particularly because we got paid then, and I'd be sure to go by to give Mama her share of what I was earning.
The first issue of the Reporter was published in June 1944. The office was centrally located, and almost immediately, people began to come by for all of the reasons that they still come by today -- people from the churches primarily, and some to make complaints about things they felt should be publicized. The Reporter became a place where every black professional person came, and I met them all.
White and Logan fell out after the first issue, and White left the paper. I had to do more things, which caused me to miss more days than I should have at the Army base. I didn't have a typewriter at home. Logan lasted about four more issues, and then he couldn't stand paying that subsidy. H.T. Shepherd, with the help of a black businessman named Merrell Gadles and two others whose names I have lost in time, subsidized us for about five months after that. Because I received no pay, I was rewarded with a quarter ownership, as was our advertising manager, who was paid on a commission basis -- 10 percent of every ad he sold.
Jeff Beaver, who had cultivated Shepherd very closely, talked him and the others into giving him a job as managing editor. He was a graduate of UC Berkeley, who had a wife and child and was working for the United Service Organizations. But he didn't know any more about a newspaper than they did. These men thought it was something that would just grow through some form of osmosis.
Beaver was a real disaster. After I wrote an editorial that the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce was racist in their attitude, some members of the Chamber wrote a letter to the editor. Beaver then apologetically editorialized that I was wrong. I looked at it with wonder. You don't do that when you work on the staff of the same damn paper. He didn't last very long. I was the only constant one there.
The Shepherd group thought they were businessmen going into something that would make money. When they saw what it was, Bill Hambrick, a black businessman whom I knew very well, bought out three of the four shares of the Reporter and came into the picture as publisher. I refused to sell at that time. I stayed on, writing the editorials and other stories, and gambling on a future in which I might start receiving some financial rewards. Each time the paper changed hands, I showed my notarized papers indicating that I was one of the owners.
Bill was a good person, filled with civic pride. He was a partner in the ownership of a pool hall in the Western Addition, and he derived an excellent living from the black war workers. But in his innocence, like Logan and the H.T. Shepherd group, he didn't know quite what he was getting into in publishing a newspaper.
They had never studied how most papers of general circulation derived sufficient sums of money in order to meet production costs and pay a staff. Nor did they know how they could pay the printer -- always difficult if one does not own a press. Nearly all publications in the world have to depend on advertising. Without that, it's got to come out of your pockets, and they didn't have pockets that deep. We could get out an eight-page paper, 2,000 copies, for about $150 an issue.
California faced many social changes. We at the Reporter were kept busy watching for cases of racial discrimination in housing, employment, and other areas. I tried to tackle bread-and-butter issues -- how people were going to live.
Some people were being badly exploited in housing. One man from Iowa came by who had taken over a leaky basement flat with his wife and three children. The wallpaper was torn off, and rats were running all through the place. Of course the landlord was charging him like crazy. I got somebody to go and take some pictures, and put a piece in the paper. That family remained grateful to me, because after the article appeared, they were able to get into public housing.
We didn't have a linotype machine, so I took the copy to a shop that set the type and did the printing. I had to proofread it after it was printed, supervise the layout, and stay there until the first edition rolled off the press. I wasn't able to do many stories except for an opinion column, the Weekly Report.
I got on the armed forces right away. I was indignant about the removal of the Japanese Americans, and wrote editorials saying that the only reason they were rounded up was because they weren't white. I mentioned that no move was made against people of German or Italian ancestry. An elderly Jewish man named Max Korn, who had been a newspaperman back in New York, was very much interested in our efforts. He used to come over and help us out a lot about makeup and other things. I think what brought him there was my writing -- my voice talking the way I did. We became very close friends.
A deputy district attorney told me, "I don't see why you write those columns. They're so gloomy." I said, "I'm trying to tell our social conditions out here, that's all." He said, "Well black people won't like to read it." I said, "You read it, don't you?"
Soon our staff included a woman named Connie Del Gatto, who wrote a gossip column, Jay Gould, who wrote about horseracing, and George Porter, who covered sports. They didn't ask for pay because they had other sources of income, and just wanted their name out. They didn't know any more than I did about how you put a paper together. Probably less.
Porter, a native of St. Louis, had grown up with Archie Moore, the rugged middleweight and light heavyweight boxing champion. Gould, a veteran newspaper columnist with the Chicago Defender, was way up in his seventies when he came to town. He couldn't type, and could barely see. He persuaded Hambrick to let him write a weekly column about sporting figures and the black entertainers who came to town. He wrote each article by hand, went to a man's house and paid him 50 cents to type it.
Gould was one of the greatest racetrack touts I've ever met. That's a guy who's supposed to have the inside track to who's going to win, and takes bets from people. He made money at Bay Meadows and Albany, the local racehorse tracks. He knew everybody: he went to the Kentucky Derby every year and all the big social events back there, then wrote about them. He was known all over the country.
Not long after this, a remarkable man appeared on the scene, another refugee from the East Coast, Edgar Buckner, who was just about as old as Gould. He had sold advertising for several black weekly papers, among them the New York Amsterdam News and the Pittsburgh Courier. Edgar had, in his long and distinguished career, visited many of the advertising houses located on Madison Avenue in the Big Apple, and he knew the techniques the Courier used to get some of the big national firms. He told us that he could improve our advertising situation, and asked for a percentage of what he sold. He proceeded to get Safeway for us. We were the first black paper in the nation to get an ad from the supermarket chain.
Just like at the Spokesman, we paid a lot of attention to stories about crime, because we thought that would sell. We didn't have any reporters. We filled it the paper the best we could. That's how black papers were operated all over the United States, because they couldn't afford large editorial staffs.
I used to ride around with Legrande Coleman in the evening while he was making house calls. We'd turn on the radio in his car, and listen to what was happening in Europe, particularly a broadcaster in New York named Gabriel Heatter, who always opened his program with the salutation: "Good news tonight! Good news tonight!" When our troop ships first landed in Australia, I told Legrande, "If our ships can cross the Pacific that easily and not get sunk, the Japanese have lost the war already." Legrande and I talked about the war and our chances of avoiding military service. He finally admitted that he was older than me.
The Navy was using black recruits on the docks at Port Chicago, near Martinez in upper San Francisco Bay. There, live ammunition came in on trains from factories and was transferred to ships. Vessels at the port carried everything used by the fighting men in the Pacific theater. You had black kids 18, 19, 20 years old who weren't properly trained, loading the ships 24 hours around. The inexperienced seamen did not know how to handle the lethal cargo. On July 17, 1944, a munitions ship exploded accidentally, killing 320 men, including more than 200 blacks.
I was shocked. I wanted to go up there, but I had no way of getting up. The talk around the area, and perhaps in all of black America, was why the Navy did not use regular longshoremen in loading those cargo ships, as they did for ships that were docked in San Francisco. I wrote editorials on the Port Chicago incident, after studying the stories and talking with a lot of people, especially young sailors from Mare Island.
After the incident, when some of the black sailors refused to go back to work under the same conditions, they were court-martialled, charged with mutiny, and sent to jail. Their records were never cleared. I think it was a horrible mistake for the Navy to give them that sort of exposure, and I felt deeply for them. But when you go into the armed forces, you're supposed to face danger, and you have to do whatever the officers tell you, or you can expect to be punished.
At the Reporter, we were fighting to end segregation in the armed forces. There were four black regiments in the regular Army at the time war broke out: the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry. They were were assigned to drive trucks and buses. Those units were left over from the remnants of the blacks who were first brought into the Army during the Civil War.
In 1944 I became involved in a protest against the Key System in Oakland because it would not hire black bus drivers or streetcar operators. San Francisco had broken down and hired them already: that's what enraged me so much. People began demonstrating in front of the Key System office on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, carrying placards denouncing Jim Crow practices in hiring. I declared war on the Key System, and started writing editorials saying that if blacks could drive those big Army rigs, they could drive buses on the street too. The company eventually did hire blacks after the war.
But my career was about to receive some delay. Apparently somebody with the Key saw our paper, because the first thing I knew, I received "greetings" from my draft board in Emeryville.
|GREETINGS||[Back to Top]|
In December 1944, I got my unwanted invitation to become a part of the U.S. armed forces. We called it "greetings" because that's how it started: "Greetings from Uncle Sam." I was ordered to report to the induction ceremony on February 14, 1945, St. Valentine's Day. It was far from the type of card most people receive on that day.
I had always viewed the military as being composed largely of individuals who feared to compete for a regular job, and wanted somebody to take care of them. Now it appeared that I would possibly be forced to join a group that was compelled by custom to be the servants of the armed forces, with slight chance of ever becoming even a minor part of the command structure.
I had an deferment from the armed forces because I was working in a shipyard. But I had been absent too much, trying to get the paper started, which might have been a reason why my draft board took another look at me. I was 37 years old, and they said they didn't want anybody past 35. I heard that persons with flat feet -- which I had -- were found unacceptable. I declared myself as being my mother's sole support because she had stopped working then. So I felt I was pretty safe. I never gave a thought to being a conscientious objector in World War II because I thought I could beat it.
Armed with that type of thinking, I made a trip to my draft board to ask why the eligibility had been changed in my case. The clerk stated that I had been reclassified because the selective service law had been changed, for reasons she was unable to supply. Then the girl said, "They don't like those editorials you've been writing. They think you're a troublemaker. You've got black people picketing the Key System."
The next morning, I went to the induction center on Market Street in downtown San Francisco. I was feeling so sure that I would be permitted to return home for at least one more day, and hopeful that I would be reclassified 4F. But I came out clean, and along with many others, I was sworn in by a lieutenant and told that I could not go home. I called Mama and said I did not know where I might be going, but would write as soon as I arrived. Then I called Bill Hambrick, the publisher of the Reporter.
The long wait began for further orders. Late in the afternoon, a sergeant called out to the draftees to board the string of buses standing in front of the building. The caravan headed for Camp Beale, a reception center where draftees were dumped to go through the entry process into the Army. It was located in Marysville, where I had spent many a day in past years, and had known all of the black families.
It was dark when we arrived. The sergeants shouted, "Form up, get in line!" and "forward march!" As we started walking, they began the cadence of counting "one, two, three, four," then shouting "sound off!" as we marched in front of a row of barracks. A group who had arrived before my contingent began to sing to the new inductees: "You'll be sorry, you'll be sorry."
This mournful sound followed us until we arrived in front of a building where we were lined up to receive clothes and other essential equipment -- a dress uniform, dress shoes, two pairs of combat boots, overcoat, raincoat, underwear, garrison-style cap plus dress cap, toothbrushes, razor, bath towels, and a duffel bag. Shoe size was chancy for a proper fit. We all got a metal identification tag containing our name and serial number. It had a hole punched in one side, in which a string was inserted. The draftees were informed to place it around their necks, and never to be without it, except when taking a bath.
After this ceremony, we were ordered to undress of all civilian clothes and put them in another duffel bag, to be sent back to our homes. Then we were taken to a barrack with 40 or more beds lined up on each side of the room. The sergeant, a black man who was in command of the barrack, slept there too. There were cottages outside the barrack where white officers stayed. We quickly went to bed and slept. Early the next morning our house mother, the sergeant, walked through shouting, "On your feet!" We had to be dressed and outside in five minutes. It was quite a frenzy.
After breakfast the new arrivals were marched off to a big room, told to undress, and lined up. Two medics on each side were armed with the biggest needles and syringes I had ever seen. While the draftees moved forward, each was stabbed in the buttocks. Then a dental examination was made. The dentist held me and made preparations to make an extraction, as he discovered a cavity. I informed him that I had not ordered any tooth removed, but he countered that I was in the Army now.
Next came a session with a psychologist, who said I was good officer material and should seek to enter the course offered to people with college experience. I told him that all I wanted was a discharge, which did not impress him. I soon discovered that many officers did not like being pulled from their professions in civilian life.
Most of the other draftees ranged from 18 to their late 20s. When they discovered that I was a decade or more older than many of them, they began to call me "Pop." We wore fatigues or work clothes at Beale until the morning of my fourth day, when we were told to change to our dress uniforms. We took a bus to the train depot in Sacramento. My friend Eddie Aubert came to bid me bon voyage, and the first thing he did when he sighted me in my ill-fitting uniform was to laugh out loud.
The government had secured the use of tourist-type train cars to carry military personnel from one point to another. Around 10 o'clock at night, the eastbound Challenger rolled into the station, bound for Chicago. The draftees were shepherded to the rear and assigned berths. Eddie walked with me out to the platform, wished me well, and stood by watching as the train pulled out. I was woken by the waiter announcing first call for breakfast. While we were eating in the diner, the porter took down the beds and curtains and restored the seats.
One of the articles presented to us was a money belt. We were informed to wear it fastened to the crotch area so that we would awaken if anyone attempted to rob us while we were asleep. The train arrived in Denver the next day around noon, and the sergeant told the draftees that we would be free to go sightseeing, as our next train would arrive in about three hours. The train loaded some new inductees and civilian passengers also.
At Springfield, Missouri, we saw a long line of huge Army trucks parked near the depot, with canvas tops and a row of inner benches against the sides. We boarded them with our gear and headed for Fort Leonard Wood, a huge permanent Army facility in the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri -- the worst place in the world to send anyone. It was evening when the convoy rolled through the gate and came to a stop on a street of barracklike buildings where incoming troops were housed. The sergeant who presided over our barrack gave each of us a bed and showed us how to make it up the Army way. They were very strict about this bed-making.
It seemed that it was not too long before the sergeant was turning on the lights and shouting everyone up. The first men out of bed made a rush for the bathroom. Others got up very slowly. After roll call, the sergeant saluted a white lieutenant of about 22, and barked out, "All personnel present!" The lieutenant shouted, "Dismissed!" There was a mad race to the mess hall. After breakfast, the sergeant ordered all of us to follow him into a building where we undressed to be given what the military called a short arm test, to find out if we had any venereal disease.
From the first night of arrival, I learned that black troops were housed apart from white troops. We were to be support troops in the war, to see that the supplies got up to them. front. We were drilled in the use of all the same weapons as the white combat units -- rifles, machine guns, mortars, carbines, hand grenades and bayonets -- because you didn't know what was going to happen on the battlefield. We had to do everything that they did, but we were not permitted to enjoy the same amenities as the whites when not fighting.
The whole company was black, including the corporals and sergeants, who were enlisted men. The only white man was the commanding officer, a second lieutenant. The first three days of the inductees' stay were spent in marching, listening to talks from the officers, and learning different formations. The white lieutenant began to lecture to my group that the United States was engaged in the war to save democracy.
I broke in and asked why he was making such a statement, when the nation did not practice democracy at home. How could he call it democracy when there was segregation based on color throughout the military? I said that I knew I was a second-class citizen in an organization in which I might lose my life to help its preservation.
He looked embarrassed, and began to stammer some sort of nonsense. From then on, whenever he was present before the group, I would be the first to ask him questions. When my subscriptions to the Nation, the weekly liberal periodical, caught up with me, I would stand up in the front and conspicuously read it, so that he could see the title.
Every time a formation was called out to march, the lieutenant would tell the stragglers to "fall out and follow at your best speed." I was always the first to step out. The corporal muttered, "I don't see why in the hell they brought an old man like you in here." I bypassed some other activities, like climbing up a rope to reach the top of a wall about 20 feet above the ground, as the sergeant agreed that it would be very difficult because of my age.
One night the whole company was taken out to a remote wooded section of the base, where the commander explained how to use a compass. All of the men were ordered to enter the wooded section in pairs, given a small flashlight, and told to go to a designated site. My partner and I became lost. Two corporals finally found us after we had been stumbling around in the darkness for more than an hour.
After about two weeks, we were given M1 .30 caliber rifles and marched to the firing range, where we were instructed how to load and unload weapons before being handed bullets. The target was about a hundred feet away, and was held up high by officers standing in a trench. We were ordered to fire from a standing position, a sitting position, and lying on the stomach. I had hunted quite a bit and was familiar with the use of both rifles and shotguns, but I had made up my mind to fake as though firing a gun was all new to me.
It was winter, and there was a lot of snow on the ground at Fort Leonard Wood. We were constantly marching and doing things that seemed very simple. One night, while assigned to guard duty in my company area, I observed that the mess hall was alight. I went to inspect why, and found the mess sergeant and some of his cronies providing sandwiches, milk and coffee for those who wanted it. To avoid the cold, I stayed inside for several hours, which could have brought some problems, had I been seen there by an unfriendly sergeant.
Another trick I discovered to avoid the daily drills was to volunteer to take care of the furnaces for the barracks and the mess hall. The sergeant told me that I could sleep in the day, but my good fortune soon evaporated when a lieutenant on an inspection tour found me asleep. He woke me and asked why I was not with the company. I told him, and he ordered me to join the troops in their training, saying that the Army had inducted me to be a soldier, not a fireman.
There was an obstacle course, in which you went through a maze like a rat in a laboratory. Afterward, the officer directed the company to a trench dug in a large field. Every one of us -- about 60 men -- got into the trench, which was full of mud because heavy rains had fallen all night, and there were still intermittent showers. We all had our raincoats on. They were made of rubber, and came down almost to the ankle. They were the best raincoats I have ever seen, and I would like to have one now.
The lieutenant shouted to us to keep our heads down, because .30 caliber machine guns were firing at the trench. Pebbles and other material began to shower down onto us. If you jumped up, you would be dead. After every man had entered the trench, a whistle was blown and the guns ceased to fire. The lieutenant then ordered us to get out, fall on our bellies and start crawling. The field was surrounded by barbed wire, and when we reached it, we were to turn on our backs, lift the wire up with one hand, hold the rifle with the other, and keep going. The last thing the lieutenant shouted was to "keep your butts down and do not attempt to crawl on your knees" because the machine guns would start firing.
To say it was difficult would be an understatement. The mud in the field was soupy and deep, and the guns began to chatter. I got about three-fourths of the way across and stopped to rest for a while. Everybody else crossed over, and a whistle brought the guns silent. A lieutenant, noting me lying on the field, shouted, "Soldier, what are you doing out there?" I said, "I'm tired." He said, "Get up on your feet! Fix your bayonet and charge the dummy!"
After that maneuver, we were marched back to the barrack and told to take our rifles apart and clean them with hot water and soap. After the guns were dried, each of us was handed a kit that contained rifle cleaner and gun oil. Each gun was examined by a captain, who wore white gloves. He passed his index finger over the weapon, and if one speck of matter came across his finger, the recruit had to continue the cleaning until the performance was inspected again.
After being in the Army for about two weeks and eating every meal offered, I suddenly became aware that my bowels were not functioning. I went on sick call. A doctor asked me what I took in civilian life to bring regularity. I informed him of some medicine that I had learned about from Legrande Coleman, I think Metamucil. He said, "We don't furnish that in the Army." I said that I had long suffered from piles, and thought that I should have surgery. He conducted an examination, informed me that I did not need surgery, and sent me back to duty.
Fort Leonard Wood had a little club with a pool table, a soda fountain and two telephone booths for all the blacks in the camp. The whites had a PX with banks of telephones all along the walls. One night I tried to get into the PX to make a phone call. The girl, a civilian clerk, said, "You can't come in here." I said, "Why can't I? I'm wearing the uniform." She said, "Well your kind of people don't come in here." So I said, "I'm coming in here and I'm using the damn phone too. I want to call my mother in California." I said, "They're preparing me so I can go and fight to try to save your ass one of these days."
She called the military police, and they came and threw me out. Another thing that infuriated me was that they brought some Italian and German prisoners of war to Fort Leonard Wood who were captured in North Africa. And they could go into the PX -- of course under guard -- but we couldn't. So I was really determined that I wasn't going to cooperate with the Army. I was just going to say that I wasn't able.
One man in my barrack, who was 29, had a wife and two children back home in Pasadena. He was a mental wreck, and worked hard in a campaign to get out, in which he eliminated body waste in his bed every night. The Army understood, and was patient with him for six weeks or more. Then he was offered a discharge that was less than honorable. But he wanted it so badly that he accepted. I noted that many black soldiers quickly snapped such a discharge, even if it classified them as being nutty or having social behavior problems. I pointed out to them that it would surely create difficulties in their future search for jobs, but none heeded my warnings.
I had written to about 15 people I felt would like to hear from me. Augusta James, a public school teacher in Charleston, West Virginia, was the first to respond. I had met and dated her that summer when she was visiting her relatives, the Collins family, in San Francisco. Gussie had composed a letter every day, and she had five bundled up. Well, I was flattered. I replied the same day to her, and that went on, a letter from each of us every day. She kept my spirits up.
I began to call her every Sunday; she'd be there waiting by the phone. That was the only time I spent money, aside from a few personal things and some dinners at the service club, where the meals were always better than in the mess. She wanted to get out of West Virginia, and said she was going to join the WACs. I said, "You must be losing your mind. I've got to go in here and you don't."
In April 1945, all of the draftees inducted in February had finished basic training and were awaiting assignment to some other branch of the Army. We were taken to Springfield by truck, and there placed on boxcars that had been converted to troop-carrying cars. Windows were cut on both sides of the car and rows of berths installed.
Two days and one night later, the train pulled into Cheyenne, Wyoming. All hands were ordered off and marched to Army trucks, which rumbled through the gates of Fort Francis Warren several miles outside town. Like Leonard Wood, Warren was one of the oldest Army encampments in the service. Both came into being during the fading days of the period when the Indians were being forced them to surrender their lives and culture to white settlers.
It snowed at least once each month while I was there, in May, June, July and August. The wind blew so strongly that it blew pebbles, which you could hear striking the windows. We were trained as quartermasters, or service troops. Some left after training and went to Europe to become part of the legendary Red Ball Express that furnished supplies for the field army in France, Italy and Germany. Others built roads and things, but they had the same equipment as the combat soldiers.
There was a black sergeant in the training regiment who always wore a .45 caliber handgun on his side. He was perhaps the most brutal noncommissioned officer I met in the Army. He was afraid of the men, many of whom wished to get a piece of him, and he was quick to draw his gun if he got into an argument. He and a white captain worked together to rob the enlisted men of the few dollars Uncle Sam paid to them. Each payday, they brought a number of whores out from Cheyenne and placed them for sale in a couple of unused barracks. They also brought in cases of rotgut booze and set up a bar, while soldiers shot craps or played blackjack. Many of the youthful draftees were soon shorn of their pay. Then the sergeant would loan them money at inflated interest loans. The brass caught on to the pair, and the captain was demoted to second lieutenant. The Army then removed these two worthies from Fort Warren.
I never felt at ease like the younger draftees, who were always looking forward to the weekend, when they could get passes and go to Denver or Cheyenne. I began my drive to get out without a dishonorable discharge or a section eight, which identifies one as a very bad neurotic. I was able to convince someone that piles was a very serious physical problem that should receive the attention of a doctor. I stayed in the hospital for more than three weeks, and learned from a sergeant medic that I might be going home soon. I was finally booted out of the hospital after being furnished a laxative. And of course the first thing I did after roll call was to go back on sick call.
A major, a black man who was a psychiatrist, interviewed me. In the course of our dialogue he said, "There's nothing wrong with you, Fleming. You just want to get out of the Army." I promptly asked him, didn't he wish to get out of the Army? He said yes, but that he did not use my tactics. I answered, "Each to his own, Major, each to his own."
Carlton Goodlett wasn't drafted because he couldn't pass the physical: he had asthma and his sinuses bothered him all the time. He had stayed in touch with both me and Legrande Coleman ever since 1938, but had never indicated that he had any intention of coming back to California. He complained that it was the last frontier because of the small number of blacks. But Legrande wrote to him that he was making more money than he knew what to do with, because of the new and growing black population. He said the Bay Area was a good place to set up office, and that Carlton would do well here.
In June 1945, following his graduation from medical school, an internship in St. Louis and a year of medical practice in Columbia, Tennessee, Carlton answered the urging from us. He wrote that he was about to drive from his parents' house in Omaha back to the Bay Area to practice medicine, and that he would stop over at Fort Warren early Tuesday en route to the coast. He would be traveling with his wife Willette, whom I had not met.
The day before Carlton was to arrive, I went to the hospital to eat, since they fed you much better there than in the mess hall. I hung out there all day, realizing I had won out in my efforts to return to civilian life. At about 5 o'clock I went back the company area to find out if I had received any mail. On the way, I noticed a grey Chevrolet approaching, and the driver shaking his fist in my direction. When the car stopped, who should pop his head out but Carlton Goodlett? "Why in the hell don't you stay where people can find you?" he shouted. I said, "You told me you were coming here tomorrow." He said, "I changed my mind." He and Willette had arrived around 8 a.m. and had spent the day searching for me. He said, "Come over here man and shake hands. I ain't seen you in seven years."
The chaplain assisted them in finding lodging in a guest barrack where civilians could stay overnight. The three of us went to the segregated area of the PX for dinner. Carl had brought some vodka, and we sat up late, drinking and talking. We had a lot to talk about. First he stated that he had not decided on which side of the bay he would establish his medical office. Then our conversation turned to people whom he had met during his student days at Cal. We talked until early morning. Willette drifted off to sleep. She must have been wondering just who in the hell was Tom Fleming, that would cause her husband to lay over there all day long. I felt that she must be giving me a speculative eye.
I told him that I was slated for discharge, but had no idea when that would take place. Further, I said it would be stupid to change tactics in my discharge battle of wills, since the armed forces are very patient.
I asked Carl to stop and take a look at Mama when he got to the East Bay, as I had learned from Kate that she was having health problems. He promised to look in on her. When the Goodletts left early the next morning, I felt very lonely again.
In late July, orders came through for me to get ready to depart the post. About a week later I was told to pack my things and await further orders. A convoy of trucks picked up me and about 50 other men, and took us to the Union Pacific train station in Cheyenne, where we boarded the westbound Challenger, headed for Sacramento. There, all men slated for discharge were unloaded and put on a bus for Camp Beale.
As we went through the preparation for discharge, one sergeant looked at my record and angrily told me that no one got out of the Army with only six months' service, adding that he had been in over a year. He took it upon himself to try to delay my discharge. I pointed him out to the lieutenant, who chewed him out, informing him that it was none of his business. Then I was marched out for physical and psychological testing. My stay at Camp Beale finally ended on August 14, the day after Japan threw in the towel and asked for peace.
On the final day, all who had gone through the process of discharge were told to assemble in full dress uniform with their duffel bags containing their belongings. We took seats in a chapel, at which the chaplain appeared first and made a short speech. Then the base commander, a one-star general, took the podium and expressed the thanks of the government to each one of us. A lieutenant began to call out names while handing the discharges to the general. When each name was called, the person walked up to the podium, saluted the general, received the discharge, then turned about face and marched outside. The discharges displayed all sorts of emotions, some yelling and leaping up and down.
|COMING HOME||[Back to Top]|
On the bus back to Oakland, I looked through the window, drinking in the sight of buildings and intersections that I knew well. At the Greyhound bus station, I picked up my duffel bag and hailed a cab to go to the apartment where Kate and Mama lived. I was worried that my mother was sick because I hadn't heard anything from Kate for quite a while. When I arrived, Carlton was there, attending my mother. Every evening when he closed his office, he came by to see her.
Kate was out. The first thing I asked my mother was: "Where are my clothes?" She said they were in the closet. I immediately took a bath and changed into my civilian clothes. When Kate came home, after the hug and kiss she began to wail for me to put on my uniform again so she could see me dressed as a soldier. She never did see me in uniform. But I kept those combat boots, and used them to go out in the hunting fields sometimes.
I received $300 along with my discharge, and I already had $200 in the money belt. I went to the bargain basement in the Emporium in San Francisco and bought a suit for $45. Bill Hambrick had kept the Reporter alive, and had hired a white man to take my place as editor when Uncle Sam grabbed me.
I spent some time getting myself together, and shared some time with Mama during the day while Kate worked at her union job. Mama was not in good health, and her physical condition did not improve after my return. On a day in September 1945, while I was at the Ken Levy home, Kate called there searching for me -- she knew my route well -- to inform me that she had to call an ambulance to take Mama to Highland Hospital. I left right away, taking a bus to Kate's home. Then we took a cab to the hospital. Kate told me that she had notified Uncle Tom.
As soon as we walked in the hospital room, Mama uttered, "Tommy, Tommy," then closed her eyes and went into a coma. I shoved Kate up in front of me and said, "Mama, Mama, here is Kate." But she never gave any signs that she heard a word. Kate started crying out loud, and I choked back the tears and walked out of the room, bumping into my uncle and his wife, who entered the ward and started consoling my sister.
Mama never regained consciousness, but lingered on for a couple of hours or more. Never have I felt so despondent in my life as I did then, for she was not only Mama, but the best friend that Kate and I had. Her life was very limited, but she never complained. I never heard her use one swear word, or any vulgarity of any form. She did the best she could and accepted her lot. And she had to work practically all her life, without any support, to bring us up, which I never forgot.
The next day we went down to see Charles Baker about funeral arrangements. Mama had a small life insurance policy. Charlie asked, how much money did I have? I showed him the check from Uncle Sam. He took that and said that would be all, along with the policy.
Kate and I decided that we would hold the funeral at the church Mama had attended in West Oakland. It was filled with people for the service. This was when I finally realized that I would never see her again. Kate of course cried a great deal. My uncle and his wife remained stoic, all deep in their own thoughts. I stayed over at Kate's that night, sleeping on a divan.
Two days later I came to the Reporter office and informed Bill Hambrick, right in front of my substitute, that all draftees were legally restored to their jobs. Poor Bill was such a decent guy that he had trouble informing the man that I was replacing him, but he did. Bill paid me about $35 a week to be the editor. The war industries started shutting down after Japan surrendered, and I never went back to the machine shop at the Oakland Army Base.
During my enforced stay as a dependent of Uncle Sam, another black paper, the Sun, had been founded in San Francisco by Frank Laurent, a white man whose father owned the Packard automobile agency in the city. Frank, or "Lucky" as he was called, was quite a businessman himself. He had loaned money to Wesley Johnson, a black man who gained fame and wealth as the owner of the Texas Playhouse nightclub on Fillmore Street, and Ples Scaggs, who bought an apartment house and converted it into the city's only black-owned hotel for black travelers.
Laurent went to Los Angeles and brought two blacks up here for his staff. Wendell Green was the editor and Abie Robinson wrote entertainment. They were first-class craftsmen who had worked with the Sentinel in the early days. Frank didn't write anything himself; he might have been in search of a political outlet, but I don't think he had a bit of racial prejudice. He spent most of his social hours with the emerging black upper- and middle-class population. He liked to play poker with them, and he was particularly fascinated that most of these people were far better educated than he was. Frank said he had never met "any colored guys like you all." I think he was sincere.
|COLLINS AND GOODLETT||[Back to Top]|
One organization that specialized in opening doors to employment that had been closed to blacks was the National Urban League. I first encountered it in the 1920s, when my job on the railroad brought me into Los Angeles every week. By then I had been reading their house organ, Opportunity, for some time. I met Floyd Covington, the director of the Los Angeles branch, and was impressed with their program.
The NAACP was always better known because it got all the publicity by going to court. The Urban League was lower-key, using persuasion methods with the heads of corporations and saying, "Black people can do these things also." Most of the people who were hired this way had a high school education at least, and many were college level. The Urban League didn't set any quotas because they thought if they got one person in, more would be added later. White people supplied most of the money for the organization to operate. There were probably as many white members as there were blacks.
I hold that Dan Collins is the father of the Urban League office in Northern California. He saw that many things he had encountered in New York City and the East Coast were not happening here, so he started negotiating with the national office in New York to bring the League to San Francisco. Los Angeles had the only office on the West Coast.
Dan came to California from South Carolina with his wife and their two small boys in 1942, when he was offered a research fellowship at the University of California Dental School. His work there permitted him to open his own dental office on Fillmore Street at Bush. He and Carlton Goodlett had attended Meharry Medical College at the same time, Carlton the medical school and Dan the dental school. Carl told him, "Look Tom Fleming up when you get out there. He's my buddy." I met Dan a few days after we started the Reporter, and we saw one another almost daily after that.
In 1944 Lester Granger, the national director of the Urban League, came to the city on the urging of Collins and another group. I had lunch with Collins and Granger several times. Granger showed Dan how to get an interracial committee of citizenship to bring a branch here.
When Goodlett returned to the Bay Area, Collins' office was the first stop he made. It was a former apartment with a big front room, several other rooms, and closets down the long hallway. Dan had a receptionist, a lab assistant and a technician who did all of the dental plate work. He offered Goodlett space to open his medical practice, and the arrangement found Goodlett with a consulting room, two examining rooms and a small room used by a medical technician, Katherine Bryant, who had known both men at Meharry. Goodlett had always talked about becoming a pediatrician, but I don't think the black population was sophisticated enough to support a doctor just for their children, so he went into general practice.
Both Goodlett and Collins had a great sense of social responsibility that went far beyond their professional lives. The office of Collins and Goodlett became the headquarters for gatherings of all sorts, aside from health care, and it was interrupted frequently during the day.
Collins and Goodlett remained ready liberals, working quietly with the political and business leadership in the city. Goodlett liked to make a lot of noise, and was a little more radical than Collins. Around 1946, the Collins-Goodlett combination organized the Fillmore Democratic Club, the Democratic Party's first black club in the city. It had men and women members. A large part of the membership lived either at Hunters Point or the Ingleside district -- recent arrivals in search of an identity -- and others were from the Western Addition.
When the Goodletts arrived in the city, they first lived in Berkeley, in a room at the home of the woman where Carlton had stayed his last year as a student at Cal. Willette spent days searching for a residence in the city because commuting across the bay every day was tough -- especially for Carlton, who, like other doctors of that period, made house calls to patients at all hours of the day. H.T. Shepherd finally found a place for the Goodletts in a onetime commercial building which the government had gutted out and turned into one- and two-bedroom apartments. They had a fox terrier, Skippy, who always visited me at the Reporter office, as he knew I would have some ground beef to feed him every day.
Dan's activities with the Urban League were proceeding very nicely, and in 1945 it opened a branch in the city, on Divisadero Street. Seaton Manning, a Bostonian with a master's degree from Harvard, was the first executive director. Seaton and I liked one another right off. He said the YWCA downtown was about to add a black female to the staff -- the first in its history -- and asked if I knew someone with a college degree who would like to apply.
I immediately thought of Gussie James, who was the sister of Dan Collins' wife. All of this time, I had continued to write to her, and she was anxious to leave West Virginia. I told Seaton about her, and he said I should call the local YMCA director. I did. After Gussie had sent in the application, she was informed that she met the qualifications, and was offered the job. She came out to San Francisco about three months after I got out of the Army.
Seaton served for several years, then left to become a professor at San Francisco State University when that school and others began to add blacks to their faculties. The Urban League later moved its office to Oakland.
Goodlett started making money right away as a physician. Shortly after he arrived, he came to my assistance at the Reporter. Maybe he was planning to become a part of the paper even before he returned to the Bay Area. Bill Hambrick then negotiated with Goodlett and Collins, who worked out a financial deal in 1946 for them to take over the whole paper.
With his acquisition of a newspaper, Goodlett launched a steady assault on racism in whatever form it took. His political activities grew ever larger. He succeeded Berlinda Davison Mabson as president of the San Francisco NAACP, serving from 1947-49. His name became identified as a solver of social problems.
|THE SUN-REPORTER||[Back to Top]|
Frank Laurent, the publisher of the Sun, was quite charmed when he finally met Dan Collins and Carlton Goodlett. He started hanging around with us all the time, and was at Goodlett's house almost every night. Carlton and Collins liked him, but they didn't like the idea of a white publisher controlling a black editorial opinion.
One night around 1948, Frank got into a big poker game at Goodlett's house that ran till about 5 o'clock in the morning. He got in the hole with Goodlett for $4,500, so Frank said, "I'll tell you what I'll do, Carl. You give me $1,500 and you can have the Sun." That's how we acquired the Sun. We decided to merge them into one paper and name it the Sun-Reporter. That sounded better than Reporter-Sun, even though the Reporter was the original paper.
Goodlett and Collins supplied the money that made them joint publishers of the struggling paper, with me retaining my post as editor. In the early 1950s, Dan got out because he had two sons to raise, and Carlton didn't have anyone except his wife. So Goodlett became the sole publisher. I couldn't match the money he was putting in, so I just told him he could have my 25 percent ownership. Goodlett thought like I did editorially; there was no difference between us. He wrote most of the editorials and I wrote the opinion column. Now and then I would write an editorial. We always talked about it first.
Goodlett was an able and very articulate person, and everybody looked to him because he led the fight in everything. The little people worshiped him in this town. His waiting room was always full because people would come in and complain about things besides health care, and he would take some time to talk to them. They'd even come to ask how to make out their income tax. Dorcas Taylor, his nurse, used to get mad as hell.
After Gussie James came out here, I met her downtown one day and invited her out to eat. Legrande Coleman had told me so much about a fancy place on Bush Street called the Russian Tea Room. Apparently they had served him for some reason; maybe he had come with a group of white doctors.
When we went in, the maitre d' came up and said, "Do you have reservations?" I said, "No. How do you make them?" He said by telephone or in person. So I said, "Well, we'd like to get a reservation now." He said, "I'm sorry, we don't serve your people in here." So I told Gussie, "We'll go in there and sit down. I'm not going to take this crap." But she had come from West Virginia, and was afraid.
I told Carlton about it that night, and he voiced a lot of surprise and indignation. He said, "We're going to go down there." We went a few days later, at about 7:30 in the evening. And that same maitre d' came up and asked, "Do you have reservations?" "No." Then he said, "My kitchen is closed." I said, "It don't look like it's closed to me." He continued to debate with Goodlett. So I said, "Man, let's go in there and sit down. We're going to eat in this damn place tonight."
The Russian Tea Room had a black male attendant in the men's restroom who knew who Goodlett was. He told the maitre d' that he was a doctor and the president of the NAACP here too. "What's the NAACP?" said the maitre d'. The attendant said, "You don't know now. You're going to find out soon." That guy's demeanor changed completely. He probably started thinking about litigation and courts. He said: "Gentlemen, we have a table right here."
I think Gussie was looking for marriage, but I always skillfully avoided talking about it. She got her California teaching credential and stayed out here, and did very well. I just stopped dating her. She married and had a little girl. One day I encountered her on Fillmore street with her daughter, and she told her, "This is the man who should have been your father." I think the biggest mistake I ever made was when I listened to Carlton and didn't marry Gussie. He had met her family before I did, and said, "They're nothing but merchants." Carlton was something of a snob. But I never felt any strong urge to marry anybody. I liked the way I was living too well.
The immediate post-World War II period in San Francisco gave the newspaper a lot of material on which we could focus our attention. The old-timers suffered from the same problem as the newcomers: blacks had no influence at City Hall, or any other branch of state or federal government.
I recall attending a press conference in City Hall around 1947, when Roger Lapham was mayor of San Francisco. He was from a wealthy shipping family in New England. I had made myself very prominent in City Hall, and we were notified along with the daily papers.
A lot of talk was going on about the enlarged black population, because people didn't know what to do about it. When I met Lapham, he said, "Mr. Fleming, how long do you think these colored people are going to be here?"
I looked him dead in the eye and said, "Mr. Mayor, do you know how permanent the Golden Gate is?" He looked sort of surprised. I said, "Well, the black population is just as permanent, because we are American citizens like you and we don't need no passport to come here." I said, "They're here to stay, and the city fathers may as well make up their minds to find housing and jobs for these people. Because they ain't going back down to the Jim Crow South. They can make more money on welfare out here than they can pickin' cotton down there."
He turned red in the face. But he had asked me for an answer, and I told him the way I saw it. That was the only exchange of words I ever had with him.
The San Francisco Chronicle considered itself to be the most liberal daily paper in town, and some of my white friends who had read my articles urged me to apply for a job there. I knew the managing editor, Larry Fanning, so I went down there and he interviewed me. Then he said, "Tom, I'd like to hire you. I think you'd do very well. But we wouldn't be able to pay you."
I said, "Hell, what are you talking about? A paper as big as this and you say you couldn't pay me? All I want is the same pay as the other reporters." He said, "We couldn't pay you." That was a way of putting me off. We understood one another very well. I said, "I know what it's all about, Larry. Thanks anyway. We won't fall out." He was a good liberal guy, but he had to follow company policy. There wasn't a daily newspaper on the West Coast that hired blacks on its editorial staff.
|FINAL REFLECTIONS||[Back to Top]|
Carlton Goodlett became very troublesome to a lot of people in San Francisco. He didn't take any nonsense off anybody because he made a good living from his medical practice, and subsidized the paper heavily. He was very independent and very cocky. He fought with passion and skill, and felt that he could say whatever he wanted to, and he didn't give a damn what people thought. He wanted to be part of the decisionmakers, not only in San Francisco but in the whole state of California and back as far as Washington.
The Sun-Reporter has always been a watchdog for injustice based on racism. It's been a struggle. We had bomb threats and other types of persecution, but we never complained because we wanted an opportunity to write. I used to go down to the pressroom in the Hall of Justice to see if I could pick up some news for the Sun-Reporter. Sometimes a call would come in, and the reporter would say right in front of me: "Oh, that's just a nigger story" and wouldn't send it in to the desk. That's why I say we need a paper of our own with a regular editorial opinion about what black people are thinking.
During the great civil rights movement that Martin Luther King led, the white students were joining in with the black students, and I knew that some of them were going to become leaders in the country. Goodlett and I both thought it was the beginning of the new age in the United States. We kept waiting for it to happen, but it didn't happen. At first, the outcry against segregation was so great that the real reactionaries went to the woods to skulk. But then they started counting their numbers again. Now affirmative action and some of the other changes that occurred during the '60s are under attack. Those white students have become middle-aged. They've forgotten, and they don't bother anymore. Maybe some white people think we've gone far enough -- I don't know.
The forces of reaction never sleep; they are always looking for legal loopholes to continue to justify their denial of civil rights to some people native to this land. All one has to do is look at the constant litigation in the courts and legislation -- local, state and national -- that has been used since the 14th Amendment became a part of the Constitution.
I have to admit that things are better than they were before the civil rights movement became heavy. But things are happening too slowly. Unfortunately, we don't have too much to leave to the younger generation because one thing, we've never had the finances. Blacks are still on the lowest rung of the economic ladder. We don't control a single big financial house in the country.
I believe in affirmative action because it opens up doors not only to blacks, but all women -- regardless of their color -- to jobs that they didn't get before. That was a revolution in itself. To me, affirmative action is just an affirmation of the 14th Amendment, the right to an equal opportunity. That's all we've ever asked for. And we're not going to stop trying to attain that goal. It seems that we've had to fight for everything we've gotten, ever since emancipation. We've got to keep pressing, because they ain't going to give you nothing easy.
Carlton Goodlett remained the publisher of the Sun-Reporter until his death in 1997. I retired as executive editor that same year, but kept writing an editorial and an opinion column every week until 2005.
People ask me how I remember so much about what happened to me. I don't remember dates because I didn't write anything down, but everything remains very clear. For some reason I have that gift. You have a lot of time to reflect when you're by yourself. If I start writing, things come back to me.
I never made any money, but I've had a rich life. I was a good soldier. I had a lot of fun and traveled all over the world. I attended nine national political conventions and met two presidents. I never had a strong desire to travel a great deal, but I wanted to know about different places so I could join in conversation with people.
Some people, particularly women, have charged me with being selfish for doing what I wanted and not marrying. My answer to them has always been: nobody ever wanted me badly enough. And of course I infuriated some of them with that answer. But I choose to live this way and I don't think I have hurt anyone. I was more interested in accomplishing one of my goals -- to see that we had a black newspaper in San Francisco. I never thought too much about income because my needs were very simple, and as long as I could purchase books and records and things like that, that's about all I wanted out of life. I think I was able to help people by living my life as a newspaperman.
I have no regrets about spending my entire career with the black press. I might have enjoyed it better with the white press, but they weren't hiring us. When I look back at how much effect the black press has had in solving racial problems, I can only say that it's made a slight dent, because the problems still exist.
Black people still depend upon the black papers, particularly for news about their social events and their churches. Now there are national black news services that can send stories to the local papers and get them in the next issue. And the black press now gets full-page ads from big corporations. In the 1940s the ads were looked upon as charity. Then companies realized that blacks buy in the same quantities as whites.
If a young black journalist asked me today whether he should work for the black press or the mainstream press, I'd tell him to get a job wherever he can, because jobs in the media are very limited now. I don't think it's necessarily an advantage to start out working for the black press. But I still think the written media is far superior to TV, because if you're really interested in something and you've got the paper, you can always go back and look at it again. With TV, you get that flash and it's over with.
Today, the daily papers and other media have more objective coverage of the black community because of the addition of black reporters. The black reporters' interest is greater, because their private lives are spent mostly in the black community, and they can make suggestions about what to cover. But the papers are still owned by whites, and they're not going to express the blacks' editorial opinion.
There's still a need for the black press. If the daily papers covered all the different facets of black society the way they do white society, there wouldn't be a black paper in existence. As long as there's racism in America, there will be a black press. ??
|[Back to top]||[To Part 6]||[Back to Index]|