African Americans in California After the World War I
Learn about the role African Americans played in California after the First World War.
Learn about African Americans in Post WWI California
Joe: In the first decades of the 20th century, the African-American population of the Central Valley remained small but barely a few thousand people.
Modesto for example, only had half-dozen African-American families in 1905. While they usually found steady work in blue collar jobs, a significant number of African Americans opened their own businesses catering to a diverse clientele.
There were simply not enough black costumers to keep them afloat—among the best known spots, Dunlap’s. The Dunlap family had been a part of Sacramento since the 1850’s when Isaiah Dunlap came for the gold and stayed.
In the 1930’s, Louise and George Dunlap needed work and found it at home.
Milita Rios-Samaniego: He and his wife were having bad times during the Depression as everyone was and they determined that the way to make a living was to turn their house into a dining room
Joe: Dunlap's Dining Room became a Sacramento hot-spot, attracting the capital's movers and shakers
Milita Rios-Samaniego: This was small dining room, a very comfortable place where people could relax, have a good conversation and do business at the same time while enjoying good home-cooked food.
Joe: The rise of black-owned businesses coincided with a number of firsts in the community. In 1929, Sacramento native Anne Coker became the first African American woman admitted to the California Bar. The city's first permanent black physician, dentist, and policeman followed.
It wasn't until the 1940s and the buildup to World War II that the black population boomed in the Central Valley.
Clarence Caesar: McClellan Air Force Base, Mather Air Force Base, Beale. All the local military facilities in and around northern California attracted large numbers of African Americans," said Clarence Caesar. "These African Americans worked in these facilities and after the war was over many stayed or moved to other areas of northern California where opportunities continued to exist on a greater level
Joe: At the same time, the fight for equal access to jobs and housing took off, thanks to organizations such as the NAACP and people like Nathaniel Colley—a prominent African American attorney who began his practice in the 1940s.
Ola Marie Brown: One of the things that I know he was most proud of was the Fair Housing Act which permitted anyone to live anywhere in the State of California that they chose to live.
Robyn Brown: There are so many people growing up. I can remember growing up in high school who would come up to me at the grocery store and say, “Your grandparents helped me because—” and “We're so grateful to them because—”
Joe: Another force in the African American community emerged in the early 1960’s on the cusp of the nation’s Civil Right’s Movement.
Joe: In 1962, Dr. William Lee and his wife Katherine founded the Sacramento Observer, good news, news paper serving the valley’s black citizens.
Katherine Lee: We did not want any negative stories in the paper. We didn’t want any crime stories. We just wanted positive thing so our children can look in the paper and say, “I want to be like him. I want to grow to be a school teacher. I want to be principal.”
To the State, you’ll never pick up an observer with glaring sensational type headlines—always positive.
Male: I know —Chicago just to get, to keep that account going.
Joe: Keeping the paper afloat was a struggle those first years. Selling ads to companies not accustom to a black owned paper proved to daunting but lease never gave up. Their readers depended on it.
Dr. William Lee: They were so important to the community. We saw the need, we saw the impact they was having on the lives of many people but the cost was just enormous and no one knew that.
Joe: The Sacramento observer eventually thrived and remains an important source for the positive and the growing African-American community. Dr. Lee has been a judge for the respective—a testament to his family’s journalistic talents and perseverance.
Dr. Muhammed: Here, we have original World War II call it recruitment poster and it says, “The colored if no slacker.”
Joe: Another force in the valley’s black community Dr. Tchaka Muhammed, a Sacramento Base educator and collector. His house has been transformed in to a museum honoring the accomplishment of African Americans.
Dr. Muhammed: This is a list of black Medal of Honor winners from the American Revolution to Vietnam—The Congressional Medal of Honor.
The specialist of Life Magazine talks about the dream then and now.
Male: As we look to the future he says,” Remember this.”
Dr. Muhammed: They say America is a melting pot and it’s not. I tell my student America is not a melting pot because when you melt something it always together, it looks alike. The American is a salad bowl and in a salad, you have different ingredients and each piece has it’s own individual flavor, when we talked about black race which everybody’s history because you can’t separate it.
Joe: The groundbreaking work of African American pioneers, whether those who came for the gold rush or 100 years later paved the way for all future generations. Challenges remain but so much has already been accomplished. Thanks to the hard work of the people which came before us, people whose history and accomplishments deserve recognition in our communities and our schools.
Dr. Muhammed: I do my school program and they are over 840 languages in California schools, including California schools and I look at this generation from 13 to 22 and well I realize this is the only generation that has never had to struggle for civil rights and be in a classroom with people from all over the world.
Female: The youth of the people, the Nigerian people have a saying, “We stand on the shoulders of those who come before us and those who come before make us what we are.” and so it’s a very important to have people, he who achieve things and who open doors.
Ola Marie Brown: There are a lot of people here and our history needs to be thought so that we can better understand one another and we can value our own presence and what the contribution where there are people and others made to make California what it is today.
Joe: Thanks to the people who came before us, who brought new ground and broke down barriers. This Central Valley has emerged. This one of the most diverse communities in the country form old Sacramento, I’m Joe Oliver. Thank you for joining us for this look at African Americans in California’s heart land.
African Americans in California After the World War I
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