Guardians of the Black Working Class: Labor and Racial Politics in Postwar San Francisco
Rosen, John J.
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“Guardians of the Black Working Class” tells two intersecting stories of postwar urban America. First and foremost, it examines the impact of the “Second Great Migration” on San Francisco and in particular the way in which black labor migrants experienced and transformed the city in the decades following World War II. Second, it provides a different perspective from which to view the “urban crisis” and the fate of postwar liberalism. Contrary to the dominant declension narrative that dominates the historical writing about postwar cities and liberalism, San Francisco seemed to survive the urban crisis comparatively well and represents a place where liberalism remained preeminent in the local political culture. Drawing upon an array of union archives, manuscript collections, government records, African-American newspapers, and oral histories, this dissertation argues that black trade unionists, with the support of their unions and especially the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU), had a lot to do with this. Arriving in a city with a weak black political and civil rights tradition, a cadre of African-American workers who settled in San Francisco during and shortly after World War II emerged as influential community and civic leaders in the 1950s and 1960s. This study suggests that black trade unionists, who considered themselves the guardians of the city’s black working class in the postwar period, occupied a unique social, economic, and political niche from which they sought to lead the fight for racial justice and strengthen liberalism in the postwar era. Placing them at the center of the story of civil rights, urban crisis, and liberalism sheds new light on the history of race, class, and politics in postwar urban America. Although San Francisco’s past does not always conform to the dominant Midwest-Northeast-centered postwar narrative of African American, political, and urban history, it should not be dismissed an exception or an anomaly. Rather, its distinct and regional characteristics should be considered as variations, alternatives, and contingencies that existed alongside the more well-known histories of its thoroughly-studied counterparts. This dissertation contends that San Francisco can draw our attention to historical developments that might not be as apparent in other places.
SubjectInternational Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Unions (ILWU)
Transport Workers Union (TWU)
Black Panther Party
National Association of Minority Contractors
Negro American Labor Council
National Negro Labor Council