With the recent week-long broadcast of Ken Burns’ “The Roosevelts: an intimate history” and a number of key anniversaries passing this year, the study of World War II is as popular as ever.
The Oakland Public Library is following the trend with its current exhibit, “East Bay Home Front during World War II.” This display tells the story of how Oaklanders and other East Bay residents mobilized to assist in the war effort. Men and women not only volunteered for military service, they worked in shipyards, canneries, the aircraft industry, and the burgeoning construction trades. They grew victory gardens at home, observed curfews and blackouts, and reduced their meat and milk consumption to abide by rationing rules. They became blood donors and civil defense officers. They even volunteered their dogs for service!
World War II forever changed the size, economy and look of the East Bay. Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, migrant workers from all over the country flooded into the Bay Area for war industry jobs. They were motivated by patriotism, economic need, and a desire to escape segregation and racial violence. According to a 1945 US Census report, the African American population of Oakland, for example, rose from 8,462 in 1940 to 37,327 in five short years. Women entered the work force in unprecedented numbers and forever changed the dynamics of the American family. Small cities like Richmond and Hayward rapidly expanded to accommodate the workers and their families. New communities like Oakland's Brookfield and San Leandro's MacArthur Park sprang up almost overnight. Suddenly the Bay Area was a much larger and more diverse place with all the benefits and challenges that come with those changes.
The legacy of the war is still being felt today. Carpooling, couch surfing, employer-sponsored childcare, women working in nontraditional jobs, recycling, and fuel conservation--things that we have come to think of as commonplace--all have their roots in World War II.
To learn more about this period and its impact on our region, come to the Main Library's Walters Auditorium on Wednesday, October 22 at 6 p.m. Oakland History Room librarian Dorothy Lazard and rangers from the Rosie the Riveter/World War II National Historical Park in Richmond will host a program that will explore this history. In the meantime, check out these books at an Oakland Public Library:
- Double Victory: a multicultural history of America in World War II/ Ronald Takaki
- The Bad City in the Good War: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Diego/ Roger W. Lochtin
- Embattled Dreams: California in war and peace, 1940-1950/ Kevin Starr
- Only What We Could Carry: the Japanese American internment experience/ Lawson Fusao Inada
- The Port Chicago Mutiny/ Robert L. Allen
- The Second Gold Rush: Oakland and the East Bay in World War II/ Marilynn S. Johnson
- World War II Shipyards by the Bay/ Nicholas A. Veronico