Friday, February 02, 2007

Lost Conversations: Richmond shipyard's rich African-American history will boggle your mind!

Sometimes we get sidetracked by the standard histories we read in grammar school and miss out on some of our country's true history. I got sidetracked for sure by the all stories of the white "Rosie the Riveters" for whom a national park in Richmond, California was founded and named -- but my friend Betty Soskin didn't get sidetracked at all. She knew. She knew that buried beneath the slums and sad decay of what is now Richmond, California's abandoned dock-sides and poverty-stricken Iron Triangle, was to be discovered a most amazing story. Of course it was the story of the heroic white Rosies who worked long and hard hours in those World War II shipyards, but it was also the story of the African-American Rosies too. And what a story they have to tell.

Did you even KNOW that there had been African-American "Rosies"? I didn't.

Recently Betty sent me a short video entitled "Lost Conversations," a sample of the work she has been doing, putting together a visual scrapbook of the stories of the African-American heroes of the World War II Richmond shipyard. These photos and snippets of film are unique. Please consider pausing to watch this video now. You'll be glad that you did -- and you may even see your father or grandmother here!

I asked Betty if I could share the URL of this video and she was delighted! "Yes, of course" she replied. "Do with it what you will. Let's get this story out! And please send as many viewers to the site as you can so I can brag to my bosses when the counter numbers rise." And if the counter numbers rise, maybe the project will get more funding too -- that is, if there is anything left after Bush gets done sucking every red cent in the U.S. Treasury off into his private Swiss bank account.

"There is little real information about Richmond these days," continued Betty, "except for the negative stuff. We are working as hard as we can to change all that."

"But where did all these photos and documents COME from?" I asked.

"Most of the footage was collected from Berkeley's Marguerite Roles, widow of the secretary-treasurer of Boilermakers Union A-36," Betty replied. "The photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. was taken by George Harris Jr. when Martin visited Easter Hill United Methodist Church on Cutting Blvd. And the one of Lena Horne is from Marguerite's collection as is the one of the Port Chicago burial ceremonies. Plus there are a few pictures I picked up here and there and a few were from the Library of Congress. The research was a blast to do. I still have tons of material that I haven't used yet and I plan to lengthen the video and add them to the re-write."

Betty also came upon a photo of C.L. Dellums at age 17 from a historian who is with Kaiser Permanente. "I don't even know if [Oakland Mayor] Ron [Dellums] has it. And wouldn't you love to get into the papers that document the naming of the Toussaint L'Overture! That decision was made in Richmond at the shipyards and we're searching high and low for the records. I only have the ship's logs that list every ship launched in Richmond with the dates of the launchings. 747 ships were built in less than four years"

Betty, who has an amazing history herself -- of over a half-century of civil rights work -- is delighted with this project. "I'm havin' a ball doing this research! It's like being turned loose in a candy store... Please spread the word."

For more information about the "Rosie the Riveter" National Park and how to visit it, please go to There is now no good reason for all these important connections to stay lost!