The historical markers are important embellishments to Richmond’s waterfront and a significant component of the new Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park. Punctuating over two miles of spectacular shoreline, they link several of Richmond’s parks and the Rosie the Riveter Memorial, as well as the Ford Assembly Building, future home for the National Park’s Visitors Center.
The markers describe a broad range of home front experiences and the dramatic changes that Richmond experienced during World War II – from the incarceration of Richmond’s Japanese-American community to the city’s lively wartime nightlife, advances in civil rights and other legacies.
In Richmond, war stirred thousands to roll up their sleeves and build new ships. They shared a single goal: to win against the enemy. War kindled fear and long-held prejudices, and America’s own citizens became suspect. Immigrants from Japan and Italy who’d lived in Richmond for decades were labeled "enemy aliens."
Japanese Americans were forced to shutter their businesses and piled onto trains, each passenger clutching the two suitcases they were allowed to carry. They were incarcerated, behind barbed wire, in Topaz Relocation Center, Utah. Italian-American families were split in two: non-citizens were forced away from the waterfront, while others could stay in Richmond. Yet citizens of both communities enlisted to defend US ideals. Despite the wounds of war, many who were sent away returned to Richmond. They rebuilt. The greenhouses filled with roses and carnations.
As war in Europe escalated, Parr convinced Henry Kaiser to build shipyards here. The enterprise further shaped the Inner Harbor into a tidy rectangle of pre-fabrication yards and shipways for the frenzied activity of building wartime vessels.
For the next 50 years, Lucretia Edwards and other activists launched petitions, raised money and convinced officials to open miles of wave-lapped shore. Each generation’s vision shaped the view we have today.
Although life in Richmond was a great improvement, Jim Crow practices followed migrants from the South. At church, at the movies, in Scout meetings and in the union halls, black residents were separated from their white neighbors.
By 1945, Richmond’s NAACP was one of the most influential civil rights organizations in the region. Their call for equality and interracial solidarity inspired the next generation of activists.
This marker uses its proximity to the founding place of Richmond’s NAACP to discuss racial discrimination on the home front and struggles for civil rights during and after the war.
This "forced melting pot" labored together in shipyard crews. Workers transformed discord into harmony, braving discomfort and danger to toil together, three shifts a day. To boost morale, Kaiser management organized lunchtime entertainment. Hollywood stars brought glamour to bare wooden stages, costumed dancers whirled and shipyard musicians in overalls and hard hats played swing and bluegrass. When the work was done, ship launchings celebrated shared accomplishment.
As patriotic anthems swelled and champagne sprayed over the new ship’s bow, each worker took pride in what they’d built, and could believe in the slogan “United we win.”
Three shifts a day, crowds from Richmond and surrounding cities made the journey to the shipyards, walking miles on foot, organizing carpools, hopping the shipyard train and hanging onto bus straps. "Downtown was suddenly just a mass of moving people of all kinds," recalled Phyllis Gould.
At shift’s end, the human tide changed direction. Shoppers jostled in the streets. Fingers snapped to blues bands at Tapper’s Inn; jitterbugged to "Jersey Bounce." Folks went to church, had dinner and a game of whist. Mexican movies played at Rio Theater and the Moose Club held a Friday night fish fry. The city danced with lights, music and Saturday night joy.
War work swelled the city’s population from 23,000 to 100,000 in three years. American Radiator and Standard converted from making "bathtubs to bombs."
Fifty-five other businesses produced everything from aviation fuel to vitamins for defense. Jobs outnumbered beds despite 25,000 units of federally-sponsored defense housing, so newcomers slept in chicken coops, cars and took shifts in rented “hot beds” still warm from the previous occupant.
With World War II officially ended, Richmond filled with celebration in September 1945. Years would pass before residents fully understood how much the war had changed their lives. A wave of new civilians bought homes and enrolled in college thanks to the "GI Bill."
Although "old-timers" expected them to go home, most wartime migrants remained in the Bay Area. Having fought for democracy, veterans of home front and battlefield would not accept second class status; the path to integrated schools, fair housing and workplace equity was worn by their marching feet. Women had succeeded at men’s work, and they wanted more.
From 1942 to 1945, the Ford Assembly Plant prepared tanks for the battlefront while Kaiser Shipyard Three, across the channel, added to the mechanical din. When the buildings turned to civilian life, cars rolled from the Ford plant; Shipyard Three became the first campus for Contra Costa College and later the Port of Richmond. Plans to level everything in sight, including Brooks Island, followed in the next decades.
Congress recognized Richmond’s national significance in 2000, passing this law: "In order to preserve for the benefit and inspiration of the people of the United States as a national historical park certain sites, structures and areas located in Richmond, California... there is established the Rosie the Riveter /World War II Home Front National Historical Park."