The Shaping of a Region by War
Throughout history, there have been countless wars that transformed the nations involved. World War II is no exception. This war is considered by many historians to be the most revolutionary in human history. It made drastic changes to certain regions of the world. However, most people fail to consider the changes that were brought about in America, particularly in California. Marilynn S. Johnson focuses on these changes in her book The Second Gold Rush: Oakland and the East Bay in World War II. However, she "moves beyond the structural dynamics of wartime cities to explore the human dimension of the war experience as well."1 She discusses the general state of the East Bay before the war, then delves into detail about the influx of migrants as a result of the war. Johnson then concludes her book with a description of the region after the war, with the intention of stating the lasting changes that were brought about by WWII and how the East Bay was altered forever.
In the first chapter of The Second Gold Rush, Johnson describes the East Bay prior to WWII. It had a colonial and self-sufficient economy, though it was heavily affected by the Great Depression as most of the nation was. The majority of Blacks resided in Oakland; not many were found in the rest of the Bay Area. Contrary to popular belief, Oakland was the urban center of the Bay Area during this time, not San Francisco. According to Johnson, it was "staid and tranquil."2 It was the endpoint of the prodigious transcontinental railroad, which boosted its importance. The city of Richmond boomed as well, for it hosted Standard Oil and the Pullman Car Company. This chapter is significant because Johnson explains the mass arrival of migrants from Oklahoma as a result of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. This migration predisposed native Californians to react towards newcomers with hostility. Chapter 2 deals with the influx of migrants from all over the nation in the beginning of WWII. For the first time, migrant workers could enter skilled jobs due to the lack of employees available for wartime defense work. Most skilled workers were participating in the war. This labor shortage led to a mass increase in California's population, especially among its Black population. Large companies resorted to recruiting laborers using techniques such as flaunting the "California Dream."3 Several demographic changes occurred as a result of these changes. Blacks replaced the Chinese as the largest minority group, and in turn replaced them as the central targets for bigotry. Also, women were allowed to venture out of the realm of domestic service. As Johnson clearly states, "By 1944, the Bay Area population was younger, more southern, more female, and noticeably more black than in 1940."4
In Chapter 3, Johnson discusses the changes that dealt with labor. These usually were centered around shipbuilding since that was the most prominent industry in the region. The entire workforce was reorganized, often to the expense of the "old-timers."5 Migrants entered skilled jobs and "occupational segregation" was altered.6 White people were no longer brought to the top automatically. Many migrants held higher positions than they were ever allowed to before. This is due to the fact that the white men who previously held the jobs were participating in the war. Another change in labor was the rapid rise of shipyard prostitution. Such activities put strain on family life by spurring extra-marital relations. One lasting change that arose from this time period was the emergence of anti-discrimination groups in major cities such as San Francisco, Portland, and Los Angeles. The rise of such organizations planted the seeds that were to bloom during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Johnson speaks on the subject of war housing in Chapter 4. She describes the rapid construction of temporary war housing for the swarm of migrants that arrived. This brought about the issue of newcomers vs. old-timers into the East Bay neighborhoods. This situation along with the financial woes of many migrants led to the construction of shipyard ghettos, in which many laborers resided in shared housing. The separation of migrants from pre-war residents characterized post-war urban communities.
Chapter 5 deals with the dynamics of migrant families and communities. Due to the heavy discrimination that migrants faced upon arrival in California, they relied largely on family ties to stay together. However just as all wars do, WWII separated many newcomers from one another. In addition, many couples migrated without their children, who were left in the care of a relative at home. Wartime stress also led to increased conflicts and fears of marital infidelity. These conflicts, coupled with overcrowding in the temporary housing, brought about several social issues. The government attempted to aid such communities, but ultimately failed. In Chapter 6, Johnson discusses boomtowns and the control of urban space. When faced with a rapid increase in the population of the lower class, the East Bay witnessed an inevitable crime wave. This brought about another major issue which was the belief among pre-war residents that the "migrants had ruined the West Coast."7 The war drastically changed Easy Bay society. The traditional social hierarchy was broken down as the old middle-class and new working-class clashed. Many signs of modern-day cities became present during this time such as traffic congestion, lack of parking, and the replacement of small stores by supermarkets.
The focus of Chapter 7 is politics during WWII. Many significant political changes occurred during this period. There was a major general strike in 1946, which was the accumulation of years of laboring woes. There was also an electoral revolt against the conservative Knowland machine. The 1947 election parade was significant because it led to the OVL defeating the Knowland machine, establishing liberal rule over conservativism in the Bay Area. However, city officials were still overwhelmed with wartime issues and the dominance of the business community continued. Another large issue was the emergence of Proposition 12, which was a right-to-work initiative. The East Bay played an important role in defeating this proposition. The wartime social programs, such as aiding the impoverished and the establishment of housing reform, became models for the future and were reflected in many of the programs that emerged later. Johnson claims that the 1940s was a "bridge between the class-based movements of the 1930s and the cultural or community-based social movements that have emerged since the 1960s."8 In Chapter 8, Johnson focuses on the East Bay after WWII. Many changes occurred that gave way to the East Bay that we know today. For example, the city of Richmond evicted countless minority and low-income tenants and razed the war housing to make way for private development. Veterans returning from war received priority housing. A major conflict occurred when Whites began reacting violently to Blacks moving into the Bay Area. These housing conflicts led to the infamous Civil Rights Riots of the 1960s.
Johnson’s thesis in The Second Gold Rush is rather complex. She acknowledges the claims of other historians, then makes the statement that both sides are valid, for the truth is a combination of the two beliefs. Johnson writes "Some argue that the war was a watershed in American history; others find that it merely accelerated existing social and economic trends."9 In each chapter of her book, Johnson describes the major changes that occurred in all aspects of East Bay life, while also explaining the state of things before the war. For example, the massive influx of migrants from the Midwest established anti-migrant sentiment among native Californians long before WWII even began. However, it is indisputable that the war caused thousands of more migrants to enter the region. Johnson does not fail to support her thesis that WWII was a watershed in American history, but also built upon existing sentiments and situations.
Marilynn S. Johnson is currently a professor at Boston College in Boston, MA. She focuses on modern U.S. urban and social history, which influenced her decision to compose a book about the demographic changes in the East Bay as a result of WWII. She is interested in the causes and effects of immigration and usually focuses on a particular city or region. Johnson is currently in the process of completing a book about new immigrants in Boston since the 1960s titled Boston’s New Immigrants. She received her PhD from New York University in 1990. Her familiarity with large cities such as New York and Boston may have influenced her knowledge of the condition of immigrants in city life. The Second Gold Rush was published in 1993. According to the author, this period witnessed an increase in the study of the effects of migration. Johnson states that "little attention has been given" to the effects of internal migration after 1920.10 However, she also claims that "recently, a few historians have begun to address this issue."11 This newfound interest in the topic may have influenced Johnson's decision to focus on the WWII years and on a particular region. Also, since The Second Gold Rush was written in the 1990s, enough time had passed since WWII to make it acceptable to challenge the fact that it was a watershed. In the years following the war, it was generally unacceptable to downplay the importance of WWII since so many Americans had lost their lives because of it. However, 50 years after the war, historians began to disagree with the statement that it was a watershed.
Relatively speaking, Johnson's book The Second Gold Rush fared well with critics. The majority of reviews of her book shower it with praise, while only very small fractions of them cite its few deficiencies. For example, Albert S. Broussard of Texas A&M University describes the book as "an important study" and a "cogent and well-written book."12 He continues to explain the factors that make it unique, such as its discussion of nearly every aspect of life in the East Bay. Broussard also praises Johnson's inclusion of the effects of the war on post-war conflicts, particularly racial ones. Despite the overall admiration he has for the book, Broussard does not fail to mention some of its deficiencies. He claims that Johnson focuses too much on Oakland and Richmond and neglects the other East Bay cities. Moreover, Broussard criticizes the lack of mentioning the important interracial organizations that were established in the 1940s to combat discrimination.
Charles Wollenberg of Vista College also has mostly positive feedback for Johnson. He appreciates her thesis that WWII was both a watershed and a catalyst in American history because it provides a unique stance on the opposite opinions of two renown historians, Gerald Nash and Roger Lotchin. Nash's studies on WWII suggest that the war drastically and unimaginably changed life for Americans, but Lotchin argues that these same changes were already underway and would have occurred regardless of WWII. Wollenberg, like Broussard, praises Johnson's thorough description of the changes in everyday life such as "the growth of blues clubs, cowboy radio music, and Protestant evangelical churches."13 However, also like Broussard, Wollenberg does not fail to mention some of the book's weak points. For example, he claims that the book would have been enhanced if it had included a discussion of the East Bay's WWI shipbuilding boom compared with that of WWII. He also states that Johnson should have mentioned the crucial role of the Berkeley campus in the Manhattan Project. Despite these deficiencies, Wollenberg agrees with Broussard that the strong points of The Second Gold Rush far outweigh its weaknesses and Johnson successfully composed a book about the changes in the East Bay during and as a result of WWII.
Marilynn S. Johnson skillfully wrote a book on a subject that had seldom been written about before. The topic of The Second Gold Rush is extremely limited and detailed since it deals with the East Bay during WWII. Having such a limited time frame and region benefitted Johnson because it allowed her to delve into great detail about all aspects of the East Bay, from the shipbuilding industry to the rise of blues music. One of the main strengths of the book is its in-depth description of the situation in the East Bay before and after WWII. This allows the reader to truly understand to what extent the war changed or did not change life in the East Bay. It talks about the great migration of Midwesterners prior to the war, as well as the Blacks during the war. Johnson then explains that the massive increase in the Black population completely transformed everything about the East Bay and that "race would thus become the main dividing line in postwar urban politics."14 It is also interesting that Johnson discussed the increased tension in family life as a result of the war. For example, shipyard prostitution became an issue because men and women were working alongside one another for the first time and it exponentially augmented the fear of marital infidelity. Clearly, the war placed a great amount of stress on everyday life in a variety of ways. Despite the strengths of the book, Wollenberg was correct when he stated that Johnson should have paid more attention to the other East Bay cities, not just Oakland and Richmond. Although they were the most important with regard to the economy, the East Bay contains many cities other than those two, and neglecting to mention them tarnishes the book. However, the weaknesses of the book are rather insignificant compared to its strengths.
Many historians believe that because of the magnitude of WWII, the 1940s was a watershed in American history. This claim is logical due to the amount of political, social, and economic changes that occurred during this time. However, many historians also believe that the seeds of the changes that took place had already been planted prior to WWII. This would mean that the war was not a watershed, but simply catalyzed certain inevitable changes. Marilynn S. Johnson states that "clearly, there is some validity to both claims" and does not agree or disagree with the contention that the 1940s was a watershed in American history.15 She claims that although the war undoubtedly changed the entire nation drastically, war-as-watershed historians should focus on how and where specific changes occurred, rather than simply the magnitude of these changes. Johnson's stance on this question is unique and significant because most historians agree with one side or another, but she attributes validity to both and explains how both are true in the case of the East Bay. Although it is impossible to prove whether the same changes would have occurred without WWII, Johnson effectively explains the existing tensions and sentiments that may have been more responsible for those changes than the war.
Although WWII is one of the most widely discussed events in American history, "little attention has been given" to its effect on the West Coast.16 In The Second Gold Rush: Oakland and the East Bay in World War II, Marilynn S. Johnson focuses on the effects of the war in the East Bay. She discusses political, social, and economic changes while creating a book that accurately and effectively describes the unobvious effects of the most destructive war in American history on a region that was never directly involved in it.
1. Johnson, Marilynn. The Second Gold Rush: Oakland and the East Bay in WWII. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. 2.
2. Johnson, Marilynn. 13.
3. Johnson, Marilynn. 36.
4. Johnson, Marilynn. 58.
5. Johnson, Marilynn. 61.
6. Johnson, Marilynn. 63.
7. Johnson, Marilynn. 151.
8. Johnson, Marilynn. 208.
9. Johnson, Marilynn. 235.
10. Johnson, Marilynn. 2.
11. Johnson, Marilynn. 2.
12. Broussard, Albert S., and Marilynn S. Johnson. "The Second Gold Rush: Oakland and the East Bay in World War II." The American Historical Review 100.3 (1995): 966. Print.
13. Wollenberg, Charles, and Marilynn S. Johnson. "The Second Gold Rush: Oakland and the East Bay in World War II." Pacific Historical Review 35.6 (1996): 313-314. Print.
14. Johnson, Marilynn. 215.
15. Johnson, Marilynn. 235.
16. Johnson, Marilynn.2.
Marilynn S. Johnson is a professor of history and chair of the history department at Boston College. She received her PhD from New York University in 1990. She has received several awards for her works dealing with urban and social relations in late 19th and 20th century America. Johnson is currently writing a book focusing on new immigrants in greater Boston since the 1960s.