Camera Rolls: 318:89-93
Sound Rolls: 318:46-48
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Tom Fleming , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on December 20, 1992, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
I want to start talking first about 1937. Can you describe for me the economic conditions in 1937, were things still tough then?
No. I don't think it was getting better because there wasn't any noticeable drop in the number of unemployed people in the private sector. The, the WPA was still going then, and that, that took up a lot of people, but I don't, it didn't, it really didn't change, I don't think, until, until Hitler invaded Poland.
Was there, did you still see, could you see a lot of hardship around, a lot of unemployment?
Can you describe that for me? tell me what it was like around here, in those years.
I—I mean, want more?
Well, there was a lot of people on welfare, still, in '37, and the cost of living remained down, you could get, food was very cheap, which was fortunate for all of us, and their, and rent was still very low. Hitler was making all that noise over there in Europe, he and Mussolini, in Italy, and there were a lot of people hoping then a war would come, so they would get a job.
Let's, let's talk about the War a little bit. Tell me about how you first heard about the War, what you were, what you were learning about it, and how... you had told me about your friend, what you used to do with your friend, listen to the radio and stuff. Can you describe that for me again?
Well, I have a political science background in school, and I followed that very closely. When the fascists took over Ethiopia, it says, these guys want to fight, and then Japan was making all that noise over there in Manchuria, and later on in China, and I thought there was going to be a collision, one of these days, between the forces of democracy and the fascist group. I didn't know how long it was going to take, and then Hitler started making even more noise than anyone, and I, I saw that there were many violations of the Versailles Treaty. The Germans started re-arming, and Hitler was making all this fuss about, about, what you going to do to get back the lost territories? He started blaming the Jews and the Communists for everything, so I just wondered how long it was going to take before we actually got into the War.
Tell me about hearing Hitler on the radio. Did you listen to it, could you hear the news reports, and all?
I used to listen, I used to look forward to meeting, oh, what is, Kaltenborn, wasn't that his name? I used to love to listen to him, 'Good news tonight, good news tonight'. He was, he was pessimistic about peace, very pessimistic, because the League of Nations wasn't doing anything. I heard one of my professors back in the early 30's, he called the League of Nations a debating club, because he looked at it, it had no policing powers. I never forgot the statements he made then, and by reading as many newspapers as I could get every day, and periodicals like , and , , and , I sort of stayed on top of what was happening in the world.
Tell me about, you and your friend listening. It seems like radio was the means a lot of people used to learn about what was going on overseas, is that what you, you did? Did you and your friend listen to the radio?
Every evening. I listened to the news, I think it came on in the early evening and, I think, late at night. There weren't any televisions, then, too, you kept the radio on most of the time. If you wanted to get musical entertainment or sporting events, why, you went to the radio. You didn't get as much [sic] sporting events as you do now, either, on television and radio both, because... I remember, we used to sit up late at night to listen to, oh, I can't remember his name, he used to broad-, they used to broadcast the Cotton Club about three nights a week, in Harlem. We used to sit up on some of our parties, earlier in the evening, we used to dance to the music of Duke Ellington over the radio, live from New York City. That's what we talked about a lot, about what we heard on radio.
And so when you were hearing war events, you were, you were all debating that as well?
Yes, particularly when it first started, we,
we remained glued to the radio. I had a, a friend over in Oakland, he's a physician,
** he was a bachelor like I was, and every night we'd, we'd go someplace and turn on the radio in his car, and we'd listen to what was happening over in Europe
** and we'd wonder how long it would be before we became involved.
Were you scared, was it frightening-
Excuse me, Susan, I've got to cut, [inaudible].
So, we were talking about the War. I want you to tell me a little bit about what your attitude was, you said you were wondering when we might get involved, was that something that you were afraid of, or what was the talk among your friends?
I thought that I could escape, I was a, when they finally did get me I was thirty-six years old. But the emphasis all the time was on getting, the cut-off age, they said, was thirty-five, and I felt very comfortable that they would pass me by. In fact, I made one of those gestures right after Pearl Harbor, I attempted to enlist, because, I know, I was aware of the segregation in the Armed Forces, so I attempted to enlist, because my preference was the Navy, but they weren't taking any enlistments then, particularly from us.
Before it all started, did you think the U.S. should get involved?
I thought we would, because I didn't know how far, I didn't even, well, I always thought we would become involved because...All the fascist states wanted to take over the world, that's the way I felt, and they would have to be stopped sometime, and they made the mistake of thinking that we were so wealthy and bloated that, that we wouldn't do anything at any time.
If war came, did you ever think what kind of an impact it might have on the economy, was there talk among your friends about that?
Yeah, particularly when those, you know, I think about two years before, before Pearl Harbor, I think Roosevelt was aware of what might really happen, because they started enlarging the facilities over at Pearl Harbor, and they started enlisting a lot of workers. Some of my friends went over to Pearl Harbor. That was two years before, before the War, and they were there that morning when the bombing took place, to work over there in the Navy yard. That was an indication to me that, that President Roosevelt was making preparations for the possibility that we would get in, because he recognized that, if Britain and France both fell, that we might, we would be forced to get into it anyway. So, I really wasn't, wasn't surprised when it did happen.
OK, you were going to talk to me, tell me a little bit about what you remember about the U.S.S. Pinet bombing.
I thought the, I thought in time that, that would bring us into a war against Japan, I wasn't thinking about Germany so much then, because I thought that maybe the Japanese didn't realize that we could outproduce them in most things, and I thought they would become overly ambitious and, and challenge us one of these days. I think it wasn't too far off, as subsequent events proved. I always felt it would be a matter of time, because it was being played up too much in the world, in the press all over the world. 'When would these dictator states stop?' At what state would they stop?
So, did you and your friends ever talk about what, what war might mean economically, for blacks or for the country? Did you talk about that?
We talked about the job possibilities, so many of us didn't have jobs. You know, slightly before the War, I think about three years before the War, they started building all these public housing projects. You know, middle-class blacks would move into those places, then, because they were, they were brand-new, and the neighborhoods weren't, weren't quite as bad, and, though several of my friends moved, in San Francisco, and down in West Oakland too they moved in there. Young people who'd just gotten married, and other-
-people. Real estate was very cheap then, because you could buy a five-room house over in Berkeley for about, oh, nineteen hundred dollars, stucco on all four sides.
[inaudible]. We have to take a break because we're going to need to put in a new camera roll right now.
What was, what was your reaction to the invasion of Austria, and the Munich Agreement that came out of that, can you tell me about that?
I personally felt that the French and British should have stopped him. That's how I felt, and certain people who wrote about it, who were on the scene, said, he would have pulled back if the French Army moves. And I wondered why they didn't.
Did you think then that it was going to mean something for the United States?
I thought in the long run it would, because, we were too busy watching the Soviet Union, so were the British and so were the French. I was intelligent enough to know that they were hoping that Hitler would turn east instead of turning west, because, it looked like to me they were encouraging him. I think they felt they could have bought off the Japanese, they probably, I always felt that they pro-, they would force the Dutch to give up the Dutch East Indies, because that's what the, the Japanese wanted that petroleum.
Tell me about, what happened after the invasion of Holland, what, what began to happen to the economy after that?
Well, I think more shipyard, hiring more people, and Bethlehem shipyard here in San Francisco and also, I think Bethlehem had a shipyard over in Alameda too. They started looking for more workers, and you heard this, then you knew that people were going to work. Mayer Allen start expanding, and then they started talking about opening up Hunter's Point, there wasn't a Navy yard up there before, before the War.
You could hear about jobs, jobs, and people started coming out here from other parts of the country,
** in search of work. 'Course, that hadn't stopped from the time of the Great Depression, 'cause I think I told you about the, the freight trains all over the country, there would be several hundred people on freight trains, whole families, going about all over the United States in search of jobs. Well, that was still going on even then, you talking about the year of '37, '38, a lot of that was still going on, too.
Yeah, tell me about that, what did you see about that?
Well, people were, you know, you had the great drought in the Middle West, and the farming industry practically went out of business, not just in the Middle West but in California too, 'cause, I remember I went back to school up at Chico, Chico State College in '32, and they didn't harvest the peach crops up there in the Sacramento Valley. I got on a freight train at Sacramento to go on up to Chico, and we got right outside of Huber City, all these acres and acres of peach orchards. The train stopped, and these several hundred people got off the train, walked over into the peach orchard and gorged themselves on peaches, themselves, and then they filled their pockets up, whatever they had, with peaches, and they walked back over to the freight train. The conductor got out there and waved his hand for the freight to go, and it did not give two toots, train spotted off north, headed for Oregon.
So, so that kind of thing continued, I mean, all those folks were-
Yes, it was still around, then. You see, the farmers, [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , they couldn't sell their food, so they'd let it stay on the ground. I remember my, my, my stepfather had a hog farm up there in Paradise, that's the little town out of Chico, up in the hills there. He had about five hundred hogs. He couldn't get three cents a pound for that pork, so he killed some that fall, salted a lot of it down, and gave, just gave it away to the neighbors around there. We became so, so fed up with pork, we put a salt lick out there for the deer to come in there, and the deer'd come in we'd knock one over and have venison [laughs] for a change from the pork. Well,the wardens knew we were doing that, but there was a guy right next to us up there in the hills there, he had a still, he was making whiskey! [laughs] They knew it, but they didn't try to stop him.
So, so these migrant families were also coming in, I guess?
Everywheres [sic]. And Los Angeles took the, the Los Angeles City police, now, they sent a contingent of officers to the, up there to the California line in that Reno, in that Tahoe area, Truckie area, and they sent them up to the northern borders coming from Oregon, and the southern border, coming in from Arizona. And of course these people, called them Okies, most of them, they'd come out in these jalopies, most of them,
so they'd stop them at the state line and ask them how much money they had. Well, very few of them had anything much, and, if they didn't have ten dollars, they said, "Well, you can't come in California."
** Now, this wasn't the state police, this was the Los Angeles City police doing this. Well, the governor became irritated to stop that thing, because it was very unconstitutional, but they got away with it for a while, because I think there were more people- Los Angeles was always in search of people, to surpass New York in population, so all these work-, jobless people came out to live in Los Angeles. But...
What did you think of that? I mean, what did you think of the whole blockade they tried?
I thought it was silly, because they couldn't, they couldn't get away with it.
What was it everybody was so afraid of, do you think, why were they trying to keep them out?
Well, in Los Angeles, they had that big, that big, that Red Scare was on there. It was in existence for a long time, even before the Depression, I think. They had a regular Red Squad in the police department.
So did you see any of these families yourself? Like, you told me about riding in the trains, were you seeing some of the people who were-
Talked to a lot of them.
Can you tell me about that?
Well, well, I'd ask them questions, why did you leave home? I got a variety of answers, you know, about it, particularly in agricultural areas, there wasn't any work, so we came out to California looking for work, and we don't find any here. So, they were all in search of jobs. I don't know why they, they, I don't know whether they went into other states like they came into California, but a lot of them came into this state. At one time, the railroad police would throw them off the freight trains, but there were so many of them, they stopped throwing them off.
It was just an overwhelming problem, it sounds like, yeah.
Yeah, they couldn't handle it, there was [sic] just too many people.
Yeah, 'cause you said it was tough times enough for the people who were living here, it sounds like.
What were you doing in '37? Did you have work?
I was working for the, no, what was I do-, oh yes, I was working, I was on the WPA. I was working for the Agricultural Department, on the Berkeley campus. We were doing, well, working in the hothouses there, the plants they were experimenting on. Before that, when I first went on the WPA, I was on the Federal Writer's Project. That was about in '34...
How important were those WPA jobs to you?
Can you just say that for me, 'the WPA jobs', 'cause we're not going to hear my question, so if you can just tell me what you're talking about in your answer...
Well, in fact, when I went on, on the Writer's Project, we were getting ninety-four dollars a month, we were getting top-pay there. I knew rents were very cheap, and food was cheap over there, so, ninety-four dollars then was equivalent to five hundred dollars a month now, and some people lived pretty well off of that. I did, 'cause I gave my mother about half of what I was getting there, to help her out, and it was nice. I didn't think it was going to last long, though, because the Federal Writer's Project, you know, was the most rebellious of the WPA projects because, most of them were writers, playwrights, and a lot of other people, they were intellectual, they were an intellectual group compared to most other WPA workers. A lot of them were left-wingers, and they formed a union, it was national in scope, and they were making certain demands upon the government, people on welfare making demands upon the government. But they, they did it and I, I don't think it lasted, not here, locally, anyway, they cut it down, the size of it, I think they kept a very few people. 'Cause, when I went in there, we worked on the campus of University of California, in the Bancroft Library. We started doing a research on writing another history of the state of California, that's what we were doing over there.
And they made a lot of cuts in all the WPA programs in, like, 1937.
Particularly in those so-called professional... now, the people who were out there, out digging ditches, there were more of them, and the cuts weren't as noticeable as they were in the professional ranks.
Were there jobs for those folks to go to, at that point?
Were there jobs for those people who were cut to go to?
No. You got started getting direct assistance, that's what you, if you were lucky.
OK, I want to go back to what we were just talking about, what happened to people who got laid off from the WPA in 1937, '38, what did they do?
They became jobless again. They faced that problem of making enough money to pay their rent,
** and some of those people buying their homes, over there, you know. The monthly payments were about, weren't very, very high, because the property didn't cost very much. Some of them became, they started having the house-renting parties we read about in Harlem and Chicago, where the, the lady of the house would cook up a lot of food, that, what, you've probably heard that name 'soul food'. Black-eyed peas, red beans, corn-bread and greens, and pig feet and all that stuff, and have some of that bad booze. And then, most people had pianos in their houses, too, so they'd get somebody who'd play the piano, they would be dancing and eating. Then-
Yeah, it's like, there were no jobs for them to go to, though, right?
Yeah, there wasn't any jobs.
FDR made these cuts, and I think the idea was, OK, the government's helped people for a while, we've got to cut back and see what they can do, but did it work?
No, it didn't work.
Let's start talking again about what happened when the economy did start finally picking up a little bit. We were talking about the War, and what happened after, say, around the invasion of Poland.
Well, I think the business-people were happy, because people who at one time didn't have any money had money now, and were buying. Particularly, a lot of consumer products, and the type of food they bought was different, more expensive than it was before, when they didn't have, they didn't have any jobs or money.
Did they, were blacks getting jobs, at first?
Were blacks getting jobs at first?
Not at first.
Can you just say that-
More shipyards started hiring blacks, I think, 'round about 1937, possibly, or '38. There was an expan-, there was an expansion as early as '37. More shipyards down in West Oakland, they hired a few blacks and they hired many more whites, because it all seemed like, the people in that industry sensed that we were probably going into a war one of these days. I think that, that Bethlehem yard over in San Francisco started adding a few more workers, too, and also, there was a Bethlehem yard over in Alameda, they started adding on a few more workers. I think there were plans alre-, known in Washington, about what they were going to do, because it didn't, it didn't seem to take them too, too long before you... Kaiser got his, his contract, and built his first yard over there in Richmond.
Was it, was all this initial growth benefiting blacks at all? Were blacks getting jobs?
Yes. But not in the skilled jobs, just laborers, mostly, because the skilled jobs are, like machinists, and others, skilled people, they belonged to unions. If you were, if you go the shipyards and ask at the employment office, ask for a job, they'd ask you for a union card. Well, if you didn't have a union card, they'd say, Well, we can't hire you until you get a card, so you go to the Union, and try to, they say, You don't have any job, we can't give, we can't give you a card! So you faced that problem like that, until, until FEPC became an order, a Presidential order, you couldn't discriminate on jobs. [sic]
Let's, let's hold on, you're running ahead of me a little bit. I want to talk about the, the March on Washington, tell me, tell me how that all came about, and what that was.
Well, it was so bad, I forgot the year, it was just shortly before Pearl Harbor, and you know, Poland had been, been knocked out, and France was about to be knocked out, and
it was hard getting jobs in shipyards, and
** in the growing airplane industry.
** So, the only jobs you could get was just as common laborers. If you had skills, if you were plumber or an electrician or something, they wouldn't give you a job.
** So, everybody became very unhappy about it, particularly, nationally, not just here on the West Coast, so Phil Randolph was, he was the president of the Sleeping Car Porter's Union, and they had an international charter. So, he and Bayard Rustin decided, Well, maybe we can prod Washington if we would stage a march on Washington, because, all the begging they had done, and Roosevelt wasn't paying any attention to that thing, because he didn't think it was a priority. So, Randolph and Walter White and some others went there and had a talk with someone in Washington, and they came away very dissatisfied, so they made the announcement that if they didn't end job discrimination based on color, they were going to bring a quarter of a million blacks into Washington, they'd march down Pennsylvania Avenue. Well, when Roosevelt became convinced that they really mean it, that's when he issued that FEPC order. And 'course, there were blacks from all over, all over the, all of the states in the Union who were going to go to Washington on their own expense, because there was no organization who was going to pay their way back then, but those who could afford it- 'course, they could of got a quarter of a million out of, out of Philadelphia and Washington and New York, they're all close together, they could of got that many from those three cities. But there would have been others from other cities, too.
Tell me about what it felt like when you knew Randolph was meeting with FDR, and he was, he was making his demands. What did that feel like?
[laughs] [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , said, Go to it! [laughs]
Did it, did it make you feel proud?
Can you say that?
I felt very good about what Randolph was doing there, because I'd always been an admirer of the man, I know what he had done in organized labor for blacks, because he, that was the only black union that had an international charter from the American Federation of Labor. 'Cause, when, when I worked for the Southern Pacific on the dining car, we had a union also, and I joined that when I first started working with them in '27, but ALF [sic] wouldn't give us a charter. We went in there as an auxiliary of the bartender's union, all we did was pay dues.
So, how did word spread through the black community about what Randolph was doing?
Well, word of mouth, and then we had a, we had a program over there in Oakland which said, KWB, fifteen minutes every Sunday morning, and we kept that before the people every Sunday. But these things, like the, you know, like about the job situation. We had meetings over there, just like they did, I don't know what they did over here, but we had meetings over there about this matter, because you had that organization that they call the National Negro Congress, which came into being, I think, in the winter of, of, maybe it was '33.
So this was, but this was a real important issue for you?
It was, because,
unemployment picture was very bad among blacks, far worse than it was for whites.
** We could easily say about, oh, about forty percent of the blacks were out of, unemployed.
** The jobs you got, you know, in fact, there were black females who were domestics, they were working for twenty-five dollars a month, and staying on the place, sleep-in, twenty-five dollars a month. I know Senator Nolan, he wasn't senator then, but before he was elected to the California State Legislature as an Assemblyman, he hired my mother as his cook and my sister as his maid. He gave them each twenty-five dollars a month and they stayed on the place, and they only got one day off a week. The funny part is, many years later, you know, my sister became a member of the ILW here, the warehouse workers' branch. There came a lull, and she got laid-off for a while after the War. So Nolan, Mrs. Nolan came back from Washington, and she was looking for a, for a cook, so she went to the employment agency and applied, and of course Katie was down there on file. So when she saw Kate's, heard about Kate, she called her, so Kate called her up and she said, Oh Katherine, I'm so glad to hear from you. And she says, What are you doing? She says, Well, I don't have a job right now, and she says, Well, I'm looking for a cook. She says, Well, I'll come out and talk to you. So she went out there, I think, this was around about 1946, I think it was, and she got, got seventy-five dollars a week from them, to work out there.
Are we out?
OK. We're going to have to change rolls now.
I want to go back to talking about the March on Washington, and I wonder if you can tell me, what did, what did, sort of, seeing what the power of your own numbers, what all these numbers of black people could achieve, what did, what did that do for the black community?
I think the whole strategy on Randolph's and the other leaders' part was to impress the President of the nation, that, we had some power,
** although, you know, by uniting. I think the very thought of
** a quarter million or [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] blacks marching on Pennsylvania Avenue frightened FDR a little bit, because all sorts of things might have happened, you know. It could have gotten out of hand,
** and there could have been, well, people who opposed democracy for all people, I mean, equality, they might have attacked those people, there could have been riots on the streets. I think that's what Roosevelt was looking at, and he didn't want that to happen, and we were supposed to be the capital of democracy.
** I think Randolph felt very shrewdly that Roosevelt was react in that manner, and I think Randolph was probably correct.
Did it give you a sense of power for what he'd achieved with it?
Oh, we did,
we felt it was a new day a'coming, that's what we thought. Although, deep within ourselves, we knew we had a long ways to go yet. But, this was a victory we achieved at this time, and then people started getting jobs, that's the most important thing.
** Then they... of 'course, you went to work at the shipyards, but you couldn't join the unions. You had to join auxiliary unions, like the balter-makers[?], they had an auxiliary balter-maker[?] union that the blacks went into, and they had a black business agent, that's a term they used, who would collect wages and give out auxiliary union cards to people, and they let these, these black business agents, if you call them that, keep a certain percentage of money. Although, they were making more money than the workers were, because, you had to have a union card to work.
So, tell me how you all challenged that.
We went to court here, 'cause, to become, you know, first-class members of the unions. It went to the United States District Court. Joseph James, who was president of the NAACP then, led the fight. So, we got some good lawyers over here, I don't remember who they were now, and I remember the first time the case was called in federal court, Judge Michael Rosch presiding, and the court was jammed with black workers. And of course, you know there's not very many seats in any court. So, Judge Rosch looked up there and said, let them sit in the jury's seats. So, we filled up the jury seats, but there were still standees in the court. That thing, that litigation went on throughout the whole four years of the War. [laughs]
Why was it so important to, to all those people?
Well, we still wasn't first class citizens yet, if we couldn't be full members of the union, and we were tired of that second-class citizenship. It was very important to us, as it is today, we're still second-class citizens, the way I see it.
Tell me what happened to, what happened to blacks' jobs after the War ended.
Well, I think there were a lot of people, I know here in San Francisco, it could have been the same way all over the nation, was hoping the majority of these blacks would go back where they came from. I remember one occasion, I went to a press meeting that mayor, mayor, oh, his son is the editor of _The Atlantic_, now, what's his name... Lapham, when Roger Lapham was mayor here, he had a meeting down there, and that's the first time I met him. So he asked me, said, Mr. Fleming, how long you think these colored people are going to stay here? I says, Mr. Mayor, I says, do you know how permanent the Golden Gate is out there? He said, Yes. I said, Well, the colored people are just as permanent as the Golden Gate, I said, They ain't going nowheres. I says, If you hope that, or anybody else in the city hope that, I said, they're not going anyplace. See, we're already American citizens, we were born in here, we don't have to be naturalized. These people would rather stay here and be on welfare than go back down in the rural South, and work for fifty cents a day, I said, 'cause they'll get more money being on welfare out here than they'll get down South, so you may well make preparations, see jobs are found for them.
Were, did blacks lose their jobs early, in the War?
Yeah. As always.
Tell me about that. How's the, how were, how were blacks hired and fired during the War?
Last hired and first fired, that's been, that's the American system. Because, the, the federal money, the spending for the war industries was cut, cut down. 'Course, blacks had low seniority because... we had an incident here, you know, on the Bridges, even, he was a liberal guy. There was a sort of recession, I think, in the early 50's, and a lot of the longshoremen wanted to let off a lot of these, these new workers who came on during the War, and most of the new workers were blacks. So, we went to a meeting out at Bridges' house, and the suggestion was made that they would stagger the workers. They would work two weeks, then they'd lay off, and let the others who were out of jobs work two weeks. That was the plan submitted to Bridges. Well, he was pondering it, so he invited Goodlet[?] and I out there from the [Sun Reporter ?]. So, [Goodlet ?] told him, says, Well, this is a sensible program. He says, I hope the longshoremen adopt it, he said, because if they don't, he says, We're going to write editorials advising blacks that, that every time they have a strike down on the waterfront, blacks go down there and be scabs. That was his answer to that. So, they, they adopted the plan, that they'd work two weeks and go off, the others who weren't working, work two weeks.
All the struggles in the labor movement...
I wonder if I can ask you about the internment of Japanese during World War II. What do you remember about that, what was your feeling about that?
Well, I wrote editorials about that, and I was indignant, I didn't like it, I felt they did it to the Japanese because they weren't white. I also mentioned in my editorials that there were a lot of Germans, I mean, and Italians here, I said, they weren't interning them.
** Then when I got in the Army, I saw something that really made me furious, 'cause they had a lot of Italian prisoners of war that they brought over from North Africa, and they could go in the piazza, the big piazza, but I couldn't go in with the American soldier's uniform on. So, I think they did this, picked out the Japanese because, a lot of, lot of white Americans didn't think that the Japanese would have nerve enough to attack a white nation like that, although they should have learned after the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 that the Japanese had a first class army and a first-class navy over there. But they didn't learn anything, because they looked down on them as being inferior people.
Yeah, tell me a little bit about how you heard about the U.S.S. Pinet, again, and what your, what your thought was when you heard about that?
Well, I was surprised, I didn't think they would bomb, bomb an American warship there. But, looked like they were bombing ships that happened to be in the river there, and the Pinet was one of the ships.
Yeah, I think it took a lot of people by surprise.
Were. Because I, maybe I'm guilty of some of that feeling, actually, some of the whites held about the Japanese. I didn't think the Japanese would attack a nation like this. I, you know, I could understand why they would attack Russia because Russia was so disorganized at that time, faced with the imminence of a revolution internally, and the country was just very backwards, that's all.
Yeah, it just seems like people here weren't so aware of there being a big threat of war with Japan.
I wanted to ask you about, I'm almost done, but I wanted to ask you about the San Francisco Fair. Tell me what you remember about that.
We're rolling out.
Oh yeah? OK, well, let's just put one more in, I've got a couple more questions to ask.
OK, I was going to have you tell me about the San Francisco Fair, and what you liked the best at the Fair, what you remember about it.
the thing I remember the best about it, since I'm a, a jazz fan, and used to play saxophone, was when they brought Benny Goodman and Count Basie out there, and the bands, I went over there to hear that.
** Then I went, went by that, that, I guess that science exhibition. They showed how the heart would pump, and 'course, the other, only other thing I went to was the Farley's Bergaire[?], I went to that, 'cause, I thought they had some lovely chorus girls in there, and it was good, good entertainment. I didn't do much else over there- I went over there regular at least once a week while it was going.
Oh, that's a lot, you were around-
Yeah, well, the bands wouldn't stay there too long, I think they stayed there about two weeks, then they'd bring another attraction in.
I enjoyed watching the jitterbugs caper out there, I couldn't jitterbug very well myself, but I liked to see the good ones dance.
** Then, I went there so I could tell people I attended it in 1939, the first year, and of course it helped me out a lot, too, because I got a job, that was before, as a red-cap, and I only worked in the mornings and in the evenings. I worked the daylight going out and worked the daylight coming back, and I used to make five or six dollars in the morning, and about four dollars in the evening, I was making ten dollars a day, which wasn't bad in '39. It gave me some change, because, 'cause, right after that I went into the, after that summer, I went to work, the WPA started giving, training people for war work, you know, skilled workers. I signed up to become a machinist. I didn't have the slightest idea what a machinist did, but, but I had, some of my friends who signed up told me, Well, just go in there and sign up, the WPA's paying us, I think seventy-four dollars a month. So I signed up, and I worked out at a technical high school over there in Oakland. They started teaching us how to read blueprints and how to operate lathes and drill-presses all the other machine tools that you operate in machine shops. I stayed in there until Pearl Harbor, 'cause the Fair opened again in 1940. I stayed there until Pearl Harbor did, and when Pearl Harbor came I heard that Kaiser had his first yard going out there, I went out there that first day and got a job as a scaler. I didn't know what the hell a scaler did either, but I went in there, and I decided I didn't like being a scaler. So, somebody told me about, Well, Mayer-Allen is hiring a lot of workers up there, so I laid off from Kaiser, went up to Mayer-Allen, and got a job right away, so I said, Well, this'll be a civil service job, I said, I might be able to keep this job after the War, even. That's the way I thought, then, and everybody else was thinking that way, particularly if you went into one of the government installations. Then I got tired of going up to Velayo every day, so I transferred to Bethlehem over in San Francisco and then Bethlehem in Alameda and then the Army, Army base over at Oakland.
There were just defense jobs everywhere then.
Oh, there were.
Can I ask you to go back and talk to me a little bit more, again, about what we were talking about in the very beginning, about, the tough times that there still were in 1937. I think you, I want you to really describe that for me, about, how people were getting along then, in 1937, what did it look like around here, was it- I mean, there were all these news-reels out there that say, Oh, the Depression is over, promise is ahead, prosperity's ahead, things are going to be just fine now.
I don't think it was over with, from what I, my observations, even though
the WPA had made a lot of cuts, then,
** there still were a lot of people on WPA, and those who weren't on WPA had no jobs.
** I didn't see any changes until, I think, oh, probably about '38, I think that's when the guys went over to... you started seeing some changes in '38, because the Navy was recruiting people, as I told you earlier, to go over to, to Mayer-Allen, and they also decided about that time, they were going to open up Hunter's Point too. But they weren't hiring very many at Hunter's Point.
So what, what really finally pulled the country out of the economic crisis?
What was it like?
No, what finally pulled the country out of the economic crisis?
After Hitler went into, into Poland.
It was the War, [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] ?
Yeah, World War II really ended the Depression, and after World War II the Depression came back for a lot of people, because we still haven't solved, I don't think we've ever solved the Depression yet.
Yeah, that's one thing I'm trying to figure out as I look at this decade, did we really ever figure out how to solve the problems of poverty and stuff, what do you think?
I think, Social Security's helped out the system a heck of a lot. There were a lot of people opposed to Social Security, but they were glad that it was here. Because, it's been Social Security dollars that's helped out the economy a great deal. You talk to most, I've heard a number of black physicians say that. Was it not [sic] for Social Security, their incomes would be down a great deal, and I think a lot of merchants would say the same thing.
We've talked a lot about all the, there was, that the 30's was a real era of activism, and, and, about the March on Washington and that kind of thing. What are your thoughts about that, what do you think the 1930's ended up achieving, did it lay the groundwork-
It laid the groundwork for the civil rights movement in the 60's, I think it did,
** 'cause, see, the War intervene [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , intervened then, but I think blacks were moving in that direction already,
** because the Jim Crow patterns were so obnoxious, we decided, some of us, we'd just as soon die as continue living under these, these sort of conditions. I think I told you on the way over here, it was so bad, that a lot of young doctors, particularly dentists and lawyers, when they finished their courses, they graduated from good schools, particularly at Howard University and universities all over the country, they'd work as red-caps at night, and the dentist would extract teeth during the daytime. The lawyers would do the same, because they could go to court during the day, they'd work in the evenings.
So, do you think-
So, if it was like this for the people who had this training, 'course, there wasn't a lot of them, admittedly, if it was like this for these people who had this sort of training, what was it like for the people who didn't have any training, or very little training? It was still the same thing for them.
Do you think that living through those tough times made people fight more, or change them in other ways?
For a lot of them it did, and then when you look at, look at the present situation, the large amount of jobless young black males, and what they do, it look like they, look like they never heard of what we did to try to make things better for them. They're resorting to killing one another, and arming themselves heavily with guns... I don't understand why they do it.
Most of those people don't have jobs, and it's a possibility that they never will have a job in their lives, because they were born into homes that for the most part are on welfare, and there's large number of people out there in our society. We have some come and work for us part time, you know, putting the paper out there, in the circulation department. They have no intention of looking for a job, I mean, one guy who's almost as tall, tall as, as Wilt Chamberlain, I used to try to talk to him when he was in high school, I said, Listen, if you play basketball while you're in high school, some of the colleges'll grab you up and give you a scholarship. He looked at me like I was insane to mention anything like that to him.
I just want to, we've got about another minute here, on the camera. Do you think, how did living through those years change you personally? Change your attitudes?
Well... I started reading a lot. I used to read the books that my father read, soon as I learned how to read. I, I guess I learned a lot by reading, I still do a lot of that, and then I was always interested in getting an education. I-
Did it change your, did all that, that you went through change your feeling about America, or about black people in America, or anything like that?
My opinion hasn't been changed about black and white in this country yet, until, we got to do a lot better than we're doing.
I think we've done considerable. I think it's better than it was when I was a kid, and much better for me than it was for my father.
It's just a slow process.
It is. Then it's, evolution. I think, I look forward for the future being better for all of us. I hope so, if not, we're going to destroy one another.
Well, I ran out a lot of your, worked on a lot of your tapes today. [laughs]
That's fine, that's, you filled this up with good stuff.
So, I thank you, you're a free man now, you can stand up, you can stretch, you can get out of the house-
Thank you very much!