Thursday, December 02, 2004

Today was an important planning session for the new national park.

Leading up to this series of meetings has been a major public relations campaign. In addition to the local park staff, several NPR people from the regional office in Denver also attended and conducted a series of small workshops. It was well planned and executed. In all, there have been five such meeting held this week in the attempt at involving the community in the process. The last is taking place tonight at the Civic Center.

I learned from the park superintendent that during an interview on NPR - twice yesterday there was coverage on my experiences of the war years working in that small auxiliary union hall. My name wasn't used, but during her interview, she'd provided the reporter with the story as taken from my oral history from the Bancroft Library.

Would like to have heard it and there's a chance that this will be possible. She told me that there is a service that is able to retrieve such pieces and that she will try to get a copy.

What is most interesting about this is:

Though I've never been asked to tone down my criticism of the trials lived by non-whites in those times -- and I surely don't imply that there has been anything but encouragement for me to be as outspoken as I dare -- there is a subtlety that continues to concern me. Whenever Boilermakers A-36 is referred to by me (my place of employment) I use the words "Jim Crow union auxiliary." When the NPS refers to it, it comes out "she worked for one of the parallel unions." The use of such language suggests an alternative equally empowered organization. It was not that. The auxiliary was created because white workers refused to belong to unions to which blacks were also members. The auxiliary had little or no power of its own and none in the context of the larger body. It was a facade that kept membership records as required by the Kaiser Corporation but had little or no power to act on complaints or grievances. It was a false front "Jim Crow" union where all members carried cards with "helper" or "trainee" behind their names. There was no opportunity for advancement into journeyman status, or to compete with whites for union jobs when the war ended; a crippling practice with echoes into our times, I firmly believe.

And you know what? To object to the softening of the language sounds so much like nit-picking that it's hard to force the correction. Yet, it's in just this way that history becomes revisionist and made less honest to those who might benefit by being allowed to re-visit those times armed with the knowledge of later gains in human relations and civil rights.

Felt that again today when I realized that -- over the national public radio network the softened version had described my homefront experience, and I felt disappointed at our continuing inability to confront our reality and learn from the past without shame.

No comments: