The Shipyard’s African American Legacy
The Hunters Point Shipyard, now home to artists working in its historic wartime buildings, was a significant reason for the African American migration from the South to San Francisco during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Opportunities for well-paid jobs at the Shipyard were plentiful, while the Fillmore provided housing that was left vacant after the internment of Japanese residents.
At its peak, the Shipyard had a workforce of 18,000, half of whom were African Americans, supporting Navy ships during WWII. This surge of African Americans sparked the emergence of the “Harlem of the West,” a new destination for Black culture in the Fillmore District, which persisted until urban redevelopment destroyed it in the 1960’s.
However, post-war layoffs and the eventual closure of the Navy facility in 1974 led to job losses for the Shipyard workers. African Americans faced continued employment and housing discrimination, and unequal treatment within their unions. The restrictions in place made it challenging for many to secure new jobs or homes.
It’s a stark reminder that not too long ago, even Giants baseball legend Willie Mays faced racial discrimination, unable to buy a house in the posh St. Francis Woods district in San Francisco in 1957, due to his race. The Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s was instrumental in putting an end to many of these racist practices.