Interview with Joseph James
Interview with Joseph James
Interview Date: February 20, 1992

Camera Rolls: 318:02-05, 318:07-08
Sound Rolls: 318:02
Interview gathered as part of The Great Depression .
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Editorial Notes:

Preferred citation:
Interview with Joseph James , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on February 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.

*
INTERVIEW
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[camera roll 318:02] [sound roll 318:02] [slate marker visible on screen]
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QUESTION 1
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

OK.

INTERVIEWER:

This is, interview with Joseph James, two twenty, ninety-two. Mr. James, let's start out by talking a little bit about your experiences with the Federal Theater Project. You'd been in Los Angeles, and, how did you come to get involved with the Federal Theater Project in the first place?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Well, I was sort of drafted into it, you know. Paul Johnson had a play called , and he got me requisitioned, so to speak, to play the part of "Brother Moses." It was a folk play, about people who were god-fearing and righteous, holy, who were confronted with what they considered a heathen cult, who pitched a tent on a vacant lot near this little town, and a lot of the good church-going people were attending, you know, the ceremonies of this pagan cult. It caused a lot of conflict, and therein lies the drama. It was, and it was marvelous, music, you know, Hall Johnson composed music for the cult, to sound very mysterious and strange, but enticingly beautiful. So there was this, this pagan music in counter position to wonderful spirituals, that only Hall Johnson could concoct. And it was very nice.

INTERVIEWER:

When you talked about the, the clash-

INTERVIEWER #2:

Can we stop, can we stop for a second?

INTERVIEWER:

Sure, sure.

INTERVIEWER #2:

Was that—

[cut][slate]
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

Take two.

INTERVIEWER:

You were talking about the tension and the, the conflict in the play. It, it sort of sounds like a metaphor for the conflict that revolved around the Federal Theater Project in general.

JOSEPH JAMES:

[laughs] Well, in a sense, yes.

INTERVIEWER:

What was the, what was that conflict about?

JOSEPH JAMES:

The Federal Theater?

INTERVIEWER:

Yeah. Why did people oppose it, or why—

JOSEPH JAMES:

Well, just as we have Jesse Helms today, we had his counterparts, or maybe his, what do you call it, ancestors, then, because they regarded anything as cultural, somehow, less than right. They feared it, and they considered it subversive and un-American, whatever that means. But at any rate, they gained power in Congress, in the law-making bodies and policy-makers, and it brought about the demise of the Federal Theater, eventually.

INTERVIEWER:

Well, but, but, All God's Chillun was a Federal Theater Project show at one point, and here's a show about, about black American culture, and spirituals, what's subversive about that?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Yes, well, I don't know. Course, when you consider the fact that, that anything that is of grass-roots basis, and these were ordinary people expressing the experiences of their common lives, you know, and in the course of that expression, they don't care what is officially approved. So there it is, it's thought-provoking, and thinking is dangerous in this country, you know, it might lead to ideas of maybe, some planning or something like that, and you know, "planning" is a cuss-word, even to this day. So, one thing leads to another, and anything that is, is strange, somehow is, is regarded with suspicion and fear. It doesn't have to be necessarily dangerous, or anything like that, it's just different, and they don't like difference, they like conformity, and familiarity. That's the reason why you have to search for something which is really creative and original in this cultural scene, because everything has to conform, be familiar.

[missing figure]ITF6PhqjTBo
QUESTION 2
INTERVIEWER:

Well, talk to me a little bit, that's why people on the right, or conservatives, might have been afraid of it, but give me a sense of what it represented to you as a black man and an artist, to be able to work in that environment with the Federal Theater Project.

JOSEPH JAMES:

It was a sense of liberation. You know, I felt, of course, many of the, the dramas with, with significant social content, unfortunately I didn't get a chance to play in them, I would have enjoyed it tremendously. But, for example, there were people who objected to .

INTERVIEWER:

Tell me, what was, what was the ?

JOSEPH JAMES:

was, basically, Gilbert and Sullivan's light opera . Originally, of course, it was a British production, it was, it evolved out of the British political system, and it was a hilarious satire on the British political system. It had nothing to do with Japan. But when it came to this swing version of it, people objected. Why? Because it was a novel treatment of an old, standard classic. I was in a show, later, called , music by Kurt Weill and book by Elmer Rice, and Maurrant had a song called "Let Things be Like They Always Was." That's the sentiment that you get, then, and continues to this day.

INTERVIEWER:

Well, specifically, going back to the fact that the Theater Project had Negro units and presented Negro culture, was that in itself seen as subversive or a threat? Was that considered acceptable to do in America?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Well, in my view, I didn't see any evidence of a feeling of threat. But, once you get something going, you don't know where it's going to wind up. So when you start with Negro authors and Negro performers, on subjects which they select themselves for performance, and treat that subject from their viewpoint irrespective of what somebody else might think about it, why then, that's where you get the potential for opposition.

INTERVIEWER:

How we doing on time  [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] ?

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

Ninety feet left.

INTERVIEWER:

OK.

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

Eighty feet.

INTERVIEWER:

Yeah. Tell me a little bit more about, about . You mentioned, you were telling Susan the role you played in some of the exchanges.

JOSEPH JAMES:

[laughs]

INTERVIEWER:

What was, was, give me some memories of what the performance was like.

JOSEPH JAMES:

First of all, the lyrics, and the dialogue, is side-splittingly [sic] funny. My friend, Jester Harrison, played the role of Ko-Ko, to my role of Poo-Ba, which meant that we had a lot of dialogue together, and Heston is a comedian that you just can't put him in a class with anybody else, he's in a class by himself as a comedian. The way he could deliver a line was devastating, and I was, I would feed him a line, and of course he would have to reply to it, and his reply would crack me up on the stage. I had to fight to keep from just, just rolling on the floor. That was about the most stimulating experience I've ever had in the theater.

[missing figure]ITF6PhqjTBo
QUESTION 3
INTERVIEWER:

Sounds very entertaining. Talk a little more about, about what it, what it, what the Theater Project—

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

Let's change rolls unintelligible].

INTERVIEWER:

OK, let's stop.

[cut][slate][change to camera roll 318:03][change to sound roll 318:02]
INTERVIEWER:

Take three. Tell me a little bit more about, about what it was, the feeling for an artist or a performer to be involved in the Theater Project, what it meant, what kind of opportunity it was.

JOSEPH JAMES:

Well, it was an opportunity for me, certainly, to get into the theater, to get into a play, and start learning the art of an actor. I had been a student of singing for quite a number of years, and combining singing with acting was just wonderful. I discovered later that I didn't have a purely operatic voice, it wasn't that strong, but for a musical play, and most particularly on the concert stage, why, it was up to me to select the material which I could handle. I was able to handle the material fairly well, I think, but just as I said before, you, you have a sense of freedom, and an opportunity to express ideas which other people can listen to and, maybe, be stimulated in some way in the, in the course of their lives. You know, it's a wonderful thing.

INTERVIEWER:

You described it before as sort of a cultural explosion, a sort of a, a real opening up of the arts, it was unique.

JOSEPH JAMES:

Yes, yes, for example—

INTERVIEWER:

Could you just start off saying something like that, It was a cultural explosion because, I need to have a full sentence to go—

[sound of airplane passing overhead]
JOSEPH JAMES:

No, I see. It was a cultural—

INTERVIEWER:

We'd better stop, we've got this guy—

 [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] [cut][slate]
INTERVIEWER:

We're going to start up with the idea of it's being a cultural explosion.

JOSEPH JAMES:

Yes, it was a cultural explosion in this sense. For example, before the advent of the Federal Theater, there were millions of people who had never seen what they called a "round actor." That is, somebody in person, on a stage, delivering lines and going through actions. Up to that point it was only the movies, you know, they were, they were pictures, but here is a person speaking to them. It was electrifying, it laid the basis of, of the, of what theater is today. There are more people going to the theater, despite the high prices, and there are more, smaller theaters, where prices are lower, but people are, are now anxious to come to a place where another person is standing on the stage, telling them things, and interacting with each other, and portraying episodes they can relate to, and take as a part of their lives.

INTERVIEWER:

I mean, it's hard to understand now what it felt like then, when culture has suddenly become so important.

JOSEPH JAMES:

Yes. Yes, it is.

INTERVIEWER:

But was, was, in those periods when you were with the Federal Theater Project, was culture given more importance? Was it paid attention to more?

JOSEPH JAMES:

I'm not in a position to make a judgment like that, because I don't have the statistics. But from the, from the actions, reactions of people who would come to theater, you know, it was, it was heart-warming, you know, because in many cases that had been their first experience seeing people on a stage, portraying characters, and all that.

[missing figure]ITF6PhqjTBo
QUESTION 4
INTERVIEWER:

Well, you know, again, going back to the way it was criticized, the conservative forces in Congress would say, Well, well, somehow that's not working, why aren't those artists out building roads? Did anybody ever say that to you?

JOSEPH JAMES:

[laughs] No, but the, the sentiment as I was able to perceive it, at the Congressional level, was, that all this was just wasted money, 'cause it was a luxury. It didn't produce wealth, you know. Had it produced wealth, of course, they would have immediately appropriated it unto themselves and the people wouldn't have benefited. But, but it was something, you know, wasting money on people dancing and singing and play-acting, it's not worth it. Cut it out.

INTERVIEWER:

Well, and in fact, that's what they eventually did, they did cut it out.

JOSEPH JAMES:

That's right, that's right.

INTERVIEWER:

How did you feel when you, when you, being part of this wonderful experience, to know that it wasn't going to survive, that it was going to be over?

JOSEPH JAMES:

My language then was not of the kind that would stand...

INTERVIEWER:

Repeating?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Repeating.

INTERVIEWER:

Well, give it to me in acceptable terms.

JOSEPH JAMES:

Well, it was indignation, and a sense of outrage. You know, practically every other country in the world offers a certain amount of subsidy, in some cases complete subsidy, for the arts. Now, South Africa was, at one time, the initials were the same as this country, USA, Union of South Africa, and the two USA's in the world were just about the only two so-called civilized nations that didn't subsidize their arts. And that was a pretty stern commentary, and it still stands.

INTERVIEWER:

But going back to that moment in 1939, when you knew that it was going to be destroyed. Was that, I mean, did you feel something important was being lost?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Oh, certainly, of course.

INTERVIEWER:

Could you say that again, just say, I felt, you know, I felt—

JOSEPH JAMES:

Yes, yeah, I thought that something very important was being lost, and that feeling still is present.

INTERVIEWER:

But, but even though the theater was killed, it obviously contributed something to your growth. Did it change your life, being a part of that?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Well, of course, I went back to, to trying to build a, you know, a concert career. That is, after World War II, you know.

INTERVIEWER:

What I'm saying is, did any of that experience stay with you?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Well, of course, I took it with me. When I came east, I beca-, I was involved in about fifteen Broadway shows, and, and you know, I kept on like that.

[missing figure]ITF6PhqjTBo
QUESTION 5
INTERVIEWER:

Now, let's move on, I think we've spent a good amount of time on the Theater Project. Let's talk a little bit about the War coming, and how you made the decision to go to work in the shipyard, which would lead you into a lot of interesting activities. What...you're, you're an actor, how do you, why does an actor become a welder?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Oh, [laughs]. Well, it starts out with a, a tragi-comic situation. By that, I mean this. When I found out about the attack on Pearl Harbor, I was with the Hall Johnson choir doing the music for a movie called . And we were in the midst of singing a tune, "Good news, good news, good news, good news, good news, good news, Lord, I heard from heaven today!" Right in the midst of that, the door opened, and a man with a solemn face said, The Japanese have just attacked Pearl Harbor, we're in the War. Now, what a unique position to be in at that point, singing what I was singing, with that group of people. And that's how I found out about the War.

INTERVIEWER:

Let's stop here and change.

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

OK.

[cut][slate][change to camera roll 318:04][change to sound roll 318:03]
INTERVIEWER:

Take five. Before we go on to your experiences during the War, tell me a little bit about, about what you remember, what your impressions [sic] of being at Treasure Island, and the Fair. What was that like?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Oh—well, it's, it's not easy to recall my experiences at the Fair.

INTERVIEWER:

Was it a beautiful, wonderful place to be, or just, regular?

JOSEPH JAMES:

You know, I don't have any vig—vivid recollections of that Fair. I have one thing that I recall, of course I was busy with the show that was there, , but the thing that is most vivid in my recollection is, going into one of these booths sponsored by, I think it must have been IT & T, or something like that. Going, and picking up a phone, and hearing my own voice. You know, I haven't made any records, and that was the first time that I heard my own voice, and I said, "My God, do I sound like that?" It was so strange to me. And there were, you know, exhibits depicting the future and all of that kind of  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , and a lot of concessions where a lot of junk was sold. You know, that didn't impress me a whole lot.

INTERVIEWER:

Just like going to the county fair, right?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Yes.

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QUESTION 6
INTERVIEWER:

Let's back up now to when you said you heard about the War, right when you were singing "good news." Did it come, I know the attack came as a surprise to everyone, but, I mean, had you had any sense before that, before that guy opened the door, that we were going to be in a war? Was it a c—

JOSEPH JAMES:

Not that soon, no, I didn't, I really didn't. To me, of course, there had been a lot of talk about, of course the Japanese had already been involved in China, and all that. I remember in a political sense being interested in all this talk about, well, we shouldn't be shipping scrap iron to Japan, because it's going to come back to us in the form of bombs and shrapnel and all that kind of stuff. But there was a lot of bellicose rhetoric going, floating around at that time, but the actual attack came as a surprise to me.

INTERVIEWER:

I mean, when people thought about war during that period, were they more following the war in Europe than in, thinking about—?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Yes.

INTERVIEWER:

What did people think about the Nazis?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Yes, you know, 'course, there was the famous, or infamous, "America First Committee," you know, who tilted toward Hitler. Father Coughlin on the radio, people like that.

INTERVIEWER:

I mean, when you would talk to your friends, was there any sense that, We're going to have to stop Hitler, that, We can't let this go on, or were people still saying, Well, that's their problem?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Well, there were, there were those who, who said that, and then there were s—

INTERVIEWER:

No, start over, there were those who said—?

JOSEPH JAMES:

There, yeah, there were those who said, "Let's stop Hitler," and all that, but the majority of the people I associated with took the position that it was an imperialist war, and that as working people, they had no part in it, you know. But of course, with the, with the attack on the Soviet Union, the character of the war changed, because, this was, we were for working people and this was a worker's state, and an attack on a worker's state is considered an attack on the working class, so, bingo.

INTERVIEWER:

Had that issue come up earlier, in terms of Italy's invasion of Ethiopia or the Spanish Civil War? Had that—?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Not, not that I heard, no.

INTERVIEWER:

So it was really—

JOSEPH JAMES:

Yeah.

[missing figure]ITF6PhqjTBo
QUESTION 7
INTERVIEWER:

So anyway, you heard, you heard about the War, but you were singing in Los Angeles. How did it come, a year or two later, that you actually decided instead of singing for your supper, to weld for your supper?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Well, I, the decision was basically taken out of my hands, I had to, to continue living. All of my plans for concerts and lecture recitals and things of that sort, suddenly went down the tube, because everything was cancelled. I came back to San Francisco, and I was casting about for something to do. So, I was, I, at that time, I was always interested in, in some mechanical skills, with engines and things like that, and I enlisted in the Samuel Gompers Trade School, and learned welding. Subsequently, and very easily, got a job at Marin Ship as a welder.

INTERVIEWER:

What year was this?

JOSEPH JAMES:

That was...1942.

INTERVIEWER:

'42.

JOSEPH JAMES:

Yeah.

INTERVIEWER:

And this is, this is the period when they're starting to hire thousands and thousands of...?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Yes, yes. Yes.

[missing figure]ITF6PhqjTBo
QUESTION 8
INTERVIEWER:

When you started at Marin Ship, did you have any idea about what you were going to get into, or was that a supply, surprise, when you ran into the union problem?

JOSEPH JAMES:

No, I, I—

INTERVIEWER:

Had anyone told you that you were going to have to join a  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] ?

JOSEPH JAMES:

No, I came to, or I went to the shipyard, and I got a job, and I don't know how long I was at work, a month or less, when somebody asked me were[sic] I a union member? I said, "No," and he said, "Well, you have to join a union," and I said, "That's fine, where do I go? Where's the headquarters of the Union?" He said, "You don't go to union headquarters." I said, "Why not, I'm going to join the Union, am I not?" "No but, there's a special union for you, us," he said, because he's also a Negro, and I said, "I don't understand." He said, "Look, we're not allowed to join the main union, but the main union has for us a separate organization to which we have to belong." I said, "Let me think about this." So finally, I asked some questions, and I found out that this was an auxiliary. I found out that to, to, the initiation fee to join was the same, the due structure was the same, but the benefits were fifty-percent of what a white person would get, belonging to the Union. I said, "I'm not going to put up with this," and that's the beginning of the, of the struggle.

INTERVIEWER:

Was that—how [sic] we doing on time?

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

Ninety feet.

INTERVIEWER:

When you made that decision, was that a personal decision, or did you ask what your friends thought, or you just said, I can't live with this?

JOSEPH JAMES:

I said, myself at first, that I'm not going to put up with this. And then, in conversation, I found that others felt the same way, and we finally came to a formal decision, that this which we were being subjected to, was, essentially, the same thing that Hitler would subject us to, or worse. We would not be a part of whatever was promulgated by fascism. We would be segregated, we would be persecuted, we would be even murdered, and it's that sort of thing we're engaging in a war against, so it would be illogical, and inconceivable, and not even moral to put up with a situation like that on the home front, while trying to eliminate that sort of thing in a foreign land. It was on, under that compulsion that, when they came and asked me to be the spokesman for the budding organization, I gladly consented.

INTERVIEWER:

Want to change?

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

Yes.

INTERVIEWER:

Yeah.

[cut][slate][change to camera roll 318:05][change to sound roll 318:03]
INTERVIEWER:

—is take six. Camera roll five, sound roll three. Can you put that in a context for me, when you said you didn't Want to participate in something that was really what we were fighting for, you're not saying you were not patriotic or supporting, not willing to support this country, were you?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Oh, of course not.

INTERVIEWER:

What were you—

JOSEPH JAMES:

My sense of patriotism—

INTERVIEWER:

Start that over again, I interrupted you.

JOSEPH JAMES:

Uh-huh.

INTERVIEWER:

Go ahead.

JOSEPH JAMES:

Now, what were you about to ask me?

INTERVIEWER:

Your sense of patriotism, about being a patriotic American and still not wanting to—

JOSEPH JAMES:

Oh, oh yes. See, patriotism, in my view, doesn't mean going along with somebody's dictate. I have my feeling about this country, the country of my birth, and I would defend it. But when somebody tells me that I have to, to be less than a citizen, under the guise of being patriotic, I said, well, now, wait a minute, you're putting a definition of patriotism upon me which I cannot sustain. Now, we in this organization of shipyard workers, none white, said, We're perfectly willing to join the Union, but not this Jim Crow auxiliary. So, accordingly, we offered to go to the Union, and apply for membership, and it was refused. It had to be this auxiliary, or else we would be dismissed from our jobs. Accordingly, the time came when we began receiving so-called pink slips. Thereupon, we called a big meeting, a mass meeting, at which, after hours and hours and hours of debate, we adopted the strategy of going in shifts. As each shift of workers was dismissed, he would join the previously dismissed workers in a tour of all of the war offices in the San Francisco area, the War Production Board, the President's Committee on Fair Employment Practices, the War Labor Board, and all of those agencies, and as the numbers increased, the demonstration increased. Meanwhile, Harry Bridges, the late Harry Bridges, offered us the use of the Union hall for a dance, and we raised a tremendous amount of money to us these days, those days. It financed a court injunction which resulted in the firing being halted, and we all went back to work. That was the first phase of, of the struggle.

INTERVIEWER:

How did that feel, when you, when you got injunction [sic] about that?

JOSEPH JAMES:

It felt wonderful.

INTERVIEWER:

State that one more time.

JOSEPH JAMES:

When we got that injunction, we cheered. It was a grand feeling.

[missing figure]ITF6PhqjTBo
QUESTION 9
INTERVIEWER:

Now, when you talk about going to the different war agencies, had you been aware of the, of the negotiations that, that A. Philip Randolph had had with Roosevelt that resulted in the orders to integrate defense factories?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Resulted in the fair employment practices?

INTERVIEWER:

Yeah, that set up, set up that, and there was—

JOSEPH JAMES:

Yeah, executive offer 8802 [Executive Order 8802].

INTERVIEWER:

Yeah. Did you feel that that guaranteed you equality in the work-place?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Well, as it turned out, although the Executive Order 8802 was in existence, we nevertheless had to struggle in order to, you know, in order not to go into this auxiliary. You see, the Executive Order 8802 didn't of itself guarantee equal employment opportunity, as it turned out.

INTERVIEWER:

Just that you would be offered some jobs?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Yes, yes.

INTERVIEWER:

Let's stop for a minute.

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

OK.

INTERVIEWER:

 [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] 

[cut][slate]
[missing figure]ITF6PhqjTBo
QUESTION 10
INTERVIEWER:

OK, take seven. When you talked about your own personal feelings about the fact that this was an unacceptable situation, we've talked to other folks who had come up from the south, and who felt that things were so much better just being in the north, that that was enough for them. Did you, do you remember having any of those discussions with your fellow workers?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Yes, yes.

INTERVIEWER:

What would they say?

JOSEPH JAMES:

There were, they would say, "Well, look, I came all the way up here to get a job, you know, and, and I'm working, and I don't want to cause any trouble or anything like that." The reply to that was, simply, is, it's not a matter of starting trouble, it's a matter of insisting on your rights as a citizen, that's all. There isn't anything that'll happen to you, which hasn't been always happening to you all along. And also, we are not alone, there are many who think as we do, and will support us. As it turned out, that was correct.

INTERVIEWER:

Do you think some of them took that attitude just because they had lived in situation where they couldn't exercise their rights?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Undoubtedly, that's, that's right. When somebody comes from, remember, this was in the late 30s or in the early 40s, and all that, and people were being denied the vote, they were being lynched if they tried to organize to vote. It took a big step for these people coming from that type of an environment to join this struggle for equality, although, despite the fact that there was a war going on. I think that was quite remarkable, and I have a, a great respect for people as a result of that.

INTERVIEWER:

There were, certainly were a lot of pressures on you during that process, weren't, weren't you accused of being un-patriotic and, and slowing down the war  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] ?

JOSEPH JAMES:

[laughs] Well, surprisingly enough, I wasn't accused of slowing down the war effort, and neither were the people with whom I was associated accused of that, and it showed the degree of understanding among people. The, we, from the very beginning, we said that we were perfectly willing to work to defeat the Nazis and the Axis, and we would only stop if we were forced to, by those who were trying to persecute us. That was made clear. Interestingly enough, concurrently with this work in the shipyard, I had a little late-night radio program, where I sang songs and explained things and all that. It was on radio station KGO, the "blue network" of what was then—

INTERVIEWER:

NBC.

JOSEPH JAMES:

NBC. And one day, the special events man from the station over which I was singing, stuck a microphone under my nose, and said, This is Joe James, the spokesman for the workers, and, and I want you to tell the audience what the issues are in this. And boy, did I tell them. When I got home, I got a telephone call, says, Mr. James, your radio program is canceled, as of now. [laughs] What an interesting tie-in. That, that was one of my early lessons in how various interests are inter-locked.

INTERVIEWER:

When you were—

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

Fifty feet.

INTERVIEWER:

Did you ever get, get anyone from the boiler-maker's union to look you in the face and say why you couldn't join the Union?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Not one of the boiler-maker's union officials confronted me or anybody else, face to face and eye to eye. The only time we met, and had very little conversation, in fact, no conversation, was in the courtroom, during a recess.

INTERVIEWER:

So, so, you never could get them to enunciate why it was...?

JOSEPH JAMES:

No. No.

INTERVIEWER:

OK, let's, let's change here.

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

OK.

[cut]
[missing figure]ITF6PhqjTBo
QUESTION 11
[slate][change to camera roll 318:07][change to sound roll 318:04]
INTERVIEWER:

Take eight. Tell me a little bit about, about what it was like, the actual work experience at Marin Ship. What it felt like to be working on the ships—

JOSEPH JAMES:

Well, I tell you, I found—

INTERVIEWER:

Start over again, I, I interrupted you. Go ahead.

JOSEPH JAMES:

I found the, the actual work experience very pleasant and stimulating. Because, in something like welding, especially electric-arc welding, you see that marvelous picture of melting metal, coming together over, say there's a crack there, you see that crack filling up. Then, after you have welded along on a seam, you throw your hood back, and take your goggles off, and you look at that beautiful seam of gleaming metal, and it's just beautiful. You get a sense of accomplishment, because you can see before your eyes what you have done,
** you know. When a ship is welded, it's one piece. All of these various components are, are, are sewn together, so to speak, so that the complete hull is just one big piece of steel,
** and it's a, it's a marvelous thing.

INTERVIEWER:

But you know, there's still a victory ship, there's one victory ship in San Francisco that they've restored.

JOSEPH JAMES:

Oh, is that so?

INTERVIEWER:

Yeah.

JOSEPH JAMES:

Uh-huh.

[missing figure]ITF6PhqjTBo
QUESTION 12
INTERVIEWER:

Tell me something about the, the social dimensions of the shipyard. What was it like working with people who had come up from the South, with Okies, with all the different people that were there?

JOSEPH JAMES:

You know, with very minor, minuscule exceptions, it was like a big family. I think mainly what tied everything together, was the fact that we were engaged in a battle, literally for survival. Because, everybody knew that if we lost that struggle against Germany, Italy, and Japan, the big imperialist powers at that time, we would all be in a terrible state. That's what held us together. Also, the fact that everybody, and this is important, everybody was employed and were making enough to support their families, and all that, removed a lot of the anxiety, you know, and, and people co-operated with each other. If somebody got injured, everybody helped, to get the person to, to help, get the, the stretcher, or whatever it is. That's the way it was.

INTERVIEWER:

So, really, was it an experiences that tended to draw people together?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Yes, it drew people together. I remember, a white fellow from, I don't know where he was from, but he was from the Deep South, but he fell in a, in some kind of a crack on the deck of one of the ships. Everybody rushed to his aid, and it was a demonstration of, of, of cooperation. I wish that spirit was still present.

INTERVIEWER:

Was it, it's, it's sort of, I have the sense now, I didn't live through it, that, that that process was a temporary process, that, that the War put everything on hold and brought people together for a short period of time. Was that true?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Yes, yes. You see, [laughs] the irony was, that on the home front, people were working together. One of the, one of the welders on the team
** of hydro-test welders that I finally became a part of, he was from, he was Chinese. There was another one who, who was Spanish-speaking,
** I don't know what country he originated from, he, probably been Chicano, probably come from Mexico [sic]. And, it was a little United Nations, that crew of welders.
** But, the irony was, in the armed forces, they were segregated. [laughs] You know, it's, it's just the paradoxes that are just the bane of this country.

INTERVIEWER:

Well, I mean, did you feel that, that somehow, through the decade of surviving the Depression, that we had been making progress, or had we really gotten, were things better by the end of the decade? In that sense, of people working together and living together?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Yes, I would say so. Yes.

INTERVIEWER:

And what was the effect of the War? Did it, did it stop that process, or did it move it forward?

JOSEPH JAMES:

The War, because of the conditions of the War, people had a sense- that isn't, I mean, the working people, these people who are on, on the top manipulating things for their own, you know, economic or physical, or political ends, they had another agenda. But pe-, people tend, when working together, to adopt a common agenda, survival in this case, and it carried through to the end of World War II. Then things began to fall apart, you know. People went back to their old prejudices, and, and very, and, the lesson didn't stick, in my view.

INTERVIEWER:

Can we cut for a minute?

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

Oh, yes.

INTERVIEWER:

How much do we have left?

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

One twenty.

[cut][slate]
INTERVIEWER:

OK, what, what were you saying?

JOSEPH JAMES:

I was just saying, during the Depression times, the situation varied depending on what part of the country you were in, you know. In the Deep South, it was another situation, there was still that antagonism against [sic] white and black, and things were very dangerous in the South during the Depression, for black people. Lynchings reached a height during the Depression. In the, coming farther north, because of the, the mixture of people, in fact, interestingly enough, in the, the northern areas of the country, segregation wasn't as severe as it is now. You got the situation where, people of, of different racial groups were living close to each other, and going through the same difficulties, and they were more easily organized around common issues. You, you got the spectacle of people of different ethnic groups working in cooperation with each other.

INTERVIEWER:

Why do you think that was so, why do you think it was easier to organize then?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Well, there was an absence of the compulsions that were active in the South, by that, I mean this. In the Deep South, if, if a white person stood up in defense of a black person, the black person and the white person would probably be lynched. They, you know, the common word is, was 'nigger-lover', you know. A nigger-lover and a nigger were the same thing practically, you know. It, it wasn't that blatant in the north. The, the, there was an opportunity for people to see their kinship, and moreover, do something about it.

INTERVIEWER:

Do you think that was because they were all in the same hard times together?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Yes. Yes, I would say so.

INTERVIEWER:

Towards the end of the decade  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] ? Oh, OK, let's—

[cut]
[missing figure]ITF6PhqjTBo
QUESTION 13
[slate][change to camera roll 318:08][change to sound roll 318:04]
INTERVIEWER:

Talking about the end of the decade, and this is before the War, and the prosperity, and the jobs, when we're coming up to '38 and '39, and even '40, did it feel like things were getting better, or was the Depression just going to go on forever?

JOSEPH JAMES:

During the Depression, as I experienced it, I didn't have any feelings of, say, how long is this terrible situation going to last, when is it going to get better, or anything like that. I lived my life from day to day, and dealt with what I encountered during the course of the day. The next day I did the same thing, and on and on and on and on, I didn't give much thought to, to the conditions or, or whether they would improve or not.

INTERVIEWER:

Well, what I'm wondering is, did you, did you notice them improving before you actually went to work for the shipyards? Did things get better at the end of the decade, as far as you remember?

JOSEPH JAMES:

I wasn't conscious of any significant improvement in conditions.

INTERVIEWER:

Until when?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Of course, the outbreak of the War as far as the United States was concerned, actively, brought about an immediate change of how you'd proceed, as I've mentioned previously. But, conditions overall, perhaps because I wasn't analyzing things as, as, you know, as I was living. I was just dealing with problems, to try to analyze it now is kind of like hindsight, you know, you have to go back, and a lot of things I've forgotten, and I would have to go back and read something, you know, to, or have somebody like you come and make me recall some things. [laughs]

[missing figure]ITF6PhqjTBo
QUESTION 14
INTERVIEWER:

Well, but, but, I'm wondering, you know, some things are stronger than other things, like, when you think, remember the decade, what is it that really stays with you about living through the Depression? What's the most important part about that, for you?

JOSEPH JAMES:

The most important part about living through the Depression, strangely enough, probably, is the theater. That was, as I remember, that was the most vivid part of the Depression, as far as I experienced it. And, when the theater was killed, I, I had a feeling, as I said before, a feeling of outrage, and a sense of loss, of course. But, the one thing that the Depression, in my view, taught the American people, was—incidentally, they seem to have forgotten it—that when they come together, something can be accomplished.

INTERVIEWER:

Would you say that one more time without the "having forgotten it," just say, "one thing it taught them was, coming together"?

JOSEPH JAMES:

What did you say?

INTERVIEWER:

Would you say that one more time without the fact that they've forgotten it, put that at the end if you like.

JOSEPH JAMES:

Oh, I see. One thing
** the Depression, the experience of the Depression, taught the American people, that when they came together around common problems,
** they could get something, together they could accomplish something.
** For example, Social Security, unemployment insurance, things like that. It, it took struggle, and, you know, a tremendous amount of work, but it was accomplished. The election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the accomplishments that were made under his administration: the, the Wagner Act, that guaranteed the right of, of working people to organize unions. All of those things were accomplished,  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  stemming out of the Depression. Now, unfortunately, it seems that, that the people, working people now seems, seem to have forgotten that, of, if they ever knew of it, probably because there's not much written or spoken about it in public circles.

INTERVIEWER:

But those were all real accomplishments?

JOSEPH JAMES:

Yes. They're being whittled away, but I look forward to the time when the people will again become active, and, and do something for themselves, as they did in the 30s.

INTERVIEWER:

Let's cut. How much do we have on this, Bonnie?

[cut]
[missing figure]ITF6PhqjTBo
QUESTION 15
[slate]
INTERVIEWER:

Take eleven. OK, the last area I'd like to get a few of your thoughts on, is, what you felt then when you, when found out that the Japanese were going to be put in camps in 1942, how did that strike you?

JOSEPH JAMES:

That was, that's indescribable. The thought of these people being shipped off to what was fancily called, fancifully called "relocation centers." They were concentration camps, let's tell the truth about it. My next-door neighbors and friends were a Japanese family, the Tatomotos. When we would go out on a concert tour, or out of town for any reason, we would give them our keys, they would water our garden, take care of our plants, take in mail, and all of that sort of thing for us. It was likewise with them. They were our friends, and when this order came down, it was devastating to both of us, my wife and me, and the Tatomato, er, Tatomoto family. When they finally left, you know, under compulsion, some of their prized household possessions they left in our safe-keeping. We kept them for that family, until they finally received permission to relocate in Cleveland, Ohio, and thereupon we shipped their belongings to them there.

INTERVIEWER:

Do you, do you see any sort of parallels or connections between what they experienced and what you were fighting in the shipyard, with the segregated union? Do you see any connection between those issues, as far as what democracy means.

JOSEPH JAMES:

Well, the same, the same elements, interestingly enough, who were responsible for the, the banishment of the Japanese ancestry people, were the same elements that we were fighting on the basis of discriminatory policies. After I got into, more into the purely general civil rights struggle, being involved with the NAACP, and all that, that's where I made that discovery. The very ones who were clamoring for the banishment of the Japanese people, were the ones who, who, who tried to maintain segregation and discrimination amongst not only Asians, but black people, and all non-white people. It was the same.

INTERVIEWER:

But unlike you, they really couldn't defend themselves, could they? The Japanese.

JOSEPH JAMES:

Well, that's right, they couldn't. They later began to organize and all like that, the, notably, the Japanese-American Citizens League, which was patterned roughly after the NAACP. To an extent which I wished had been greater, the NAACP and the JACL worked together. In fact, I'm an honorary member of the JACL, I don't know what—

[audio and video cut]
[end of interview]