African Americans in Shipbuilding
Shipwrights and other shipyard workers were among the first workers in this country to be unionized. As was often the case, the existence of craft unions meant that African Americans were largely excluded from most major shipyards. The exception to this was in the South.
In 1902 at the Newport News shipyard in Virginia, about two thirds of the 5000 employees were African Americans. During the building boom of World War I, African American employment rose rapidly, again mostly in the South.
By 1919 there were 24,500 African American shipyard workers in the country, about 20% in skilled trades. During the period between the wars shipbuilding virtually ceased, throwing most shipyard employees out of work.
On the West Coast, the great shipbuilding program of World War II brought tremendous opportunities for African Americans in the industry.
Prior to the war, African Americans comprised no more than 3%, or 1,800 workers, out of a workforce of approximately 60,000. By 1945 there were more than 700,000 workers in western yards, and about 7%, or 50,000, were African American men and women.
In the Bay Area the total African American population rose from less than 20,000 in 1940 to over 60,000 in 1945. Shipbuilding jobs were the primary factor in this migration which has been called "...the most important event in the history of African Americans in the Bay Area."