Living local history in the Bay Area
Brand-new warships sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge during World War II from shipbuilding sites around the bay. A few workers from the era are still around to tell their stories.
What's happening: Friday mornings at the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historic Park in Richmond are a chance to step into the past and hear stories from former shipyard workers.
- The park collects stories from anyone who contributed to the war effort in Richmond at that time, and keeps a collection in the visitor center.
On a recent Friday, 97-year-old Marian Sousa told visitors how she wound up working in the shipyards. She recalled how she came from Oregon as a teenager to babysit her nephew so her sister could join a welding crew.
- A year later, she took a job revising troop transport blueprints. Her mother and another sister moved south too, working as a painter and welder, respectively.
Context: Work in the shipyards provided new opportunities to Black Americans as well as women, and many moved West, including to California. San Francisco's Black population expanded significantly during World War II in large part because of the economic draw.
- But racism persisted in segregated jobs and neighborhoods.
Flashback: Former park ranger Betty Reid Soskin moved to Oakland as a child in the 1920s. During the war, she worked as a clerk for a boilermakers union that did not allow African Americans to join, except in auxiliary organizations.
- She told her story to park visitors in person until retiring last year at the age of 100.
Of note: The visitor center is open 10am to 5pm daily. Call ahead Friday mornings to check the schedule for talks by former shipyard workers.
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