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 home >> Civil Rights History Project >> Survey of Collections and Repositories >> Collections >> Collection Record

The Civil Rights History Project: Survey of Collections and Repositories

Labor history [collection]

Repository: California State University, Long Beach. Special Collections & University Archives

Collection Description (CRHP): While CIO unions were committed to organizing all workers, regardless of race, ethnicity or gender, and had a relatively good record on civil rights, most AFL craft unions engaged in a variety of discriminatory practices. Consequently, although the expanded job market resulting from the wartime industrial boom in Los Angeles created openings for Black workers in both the aircraft and shipbuilding industries, they often found themselves either excluded from unions, or assigned to Jim Crow locals.

Workers at Lockheed Aircraft and at the San Pedro shipyards, together with community organizations like the Negro Victory Committee initiated campaigns to end the discrimination they experienced in the International Association of Machinists (IAM), or the outright segregation in the Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Shipbuilders, and Helpers of American (Boilermakers Union). Although their strategies differed, both battles were ultimately won.

However, new ones had to be waged after the war against the International Longshormen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU), when Black workers lost their jobs.

The highly focused interviews with the five narrators in this series cover different aspects of the fight to desegregate unions during WWII. Walter Williams and Spencer Wiley both were involved in the struggle to abolish the Jim Crow local in the Boilermakers Union, while Herbert Ward fought the exclusionary clause in the IAM. Clayton Russell, a leading pastor and civil rights activist in the Black community and founder of the Negro Victory Committee, provided support for the two struggles, as well as organized against employment discrimination of Black women. All four of these men remained civil rights and labor activists. The short interview with Ben Margolis, a leading radical lawyer in Los Angeles, provides insights into the lawsuit against the Boilermakers that he handled. The interview with Russell and one of the interviews with Ward were conducted as part of the Rosie the Riveter Revisited project, while the remainder were conducted by a student conducting a research project on the desegregation of the unions.

Collection Description (Extant): Los Angeles' reputation as an open shop city is hard to dispel, partially because it stands in such sharp contrast to its labor and union friendly neighbor to the north. Additionally, the open shop drive was dramatically exposed to the public eye with the 1910 bombing of the Los Angeles Times, a staunch opponent of labor. Despite this characterization of Los Angeles, there is a history of organizing among the building and printing trades, dating back to the late 19th century, though there is little documentation of the daily lives of these workers.

Although the most vigorous organizing took place following the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act (NRA) in 1933, the Wagner Act (National Labor Relations Act) in 1935, and the founding of the CIO in 1933, many workers did organize in the first two decades of the century. These included the workers in both the garment and oil industries, who had AFL union charters issued in the 1910s and 1920s respectively.

The four series in this collection focus on the lives and activities of workers in five industries, and cover the period from the 1920s and 1930s to the 1960s: petroleum extraction and refining; men's and women's clothing; furniture; and aircraft and shipbuilding. The series on the latter two industries focus on the efforts to end discriminatory exclusion and segregation in the unions that represented the workers in these two industries. None of the series is intended as a comprehensive history of the workers lives and activities nor a history of the Los Angeles labor movement. Rather, to varying degrees they do represent a snapshot of the life experiences of workers and their relationship to each other and their unions.

In addition to the series focused on four specific industries in Los Angeles, interviews with four others are incorporated into a separate series of oral histories of individual activists. Both Elinor Glenn's and Stan Weir's activism played out in Los Angeles, in the SEIU and ILWU respectively, but their interviews do not neatly fit into the Los Angeles series. On the other hand, Genora Johnson Dollinger's and Mary Oneal Thomas' stories play out in Michigan and Colorado, in the Flint strike and the Ludlow massacre, respectively. All four of these oral histories add greatly to our more general knowledge of labor history.

Collection URL: External Link

Digital Status: Yes

Language: English

Interviewees: Walter Williams, Spencer Wiley, Herbert Ward, Clayton Russell, Ben Margolis

Rights (CRHP): Contact the repository which holds the collection for information on rights


African American clergy--California
Discrimination in employment
Labor leaders
Labor movement--California
Labor unions


Sound recordings


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   September 26, 2018
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