In World War II, women were called upon to work out­side of the home to keep the econ­o­my going after mil­lions of Amer­i­can men shipped off to war. The gov­ern­ment led a cam­paign fea­tur­ing women work­ing indus­tri­al jobs, and the cul­tur­al­ly icon­ic ‘Rose the Riv­et­er’ was born. More than 6 mil­lion women entered the work­force to replace enlist­ed Amer­i­can sol­diers. In the span of just five years (1940 to 1945) the num­ber of  women in the work­force increased from 27% to 37%.

Although there was a demand for more work­ers, due to seg­re­ga­tion and racial dis­crim­i­na­tion, the call didn’t imme­di­ate­ly res­onate with black cit­i­zens. One for­mer riv­et­er named Bet­ty Reid Soskin recalls the order in which black women were allowed into the wartime work­place:

…work­ers were in demand, but there was a hier­ar­chy Soskin says. First hired at the Rich­mond ship­yards were men who were too old to fight and boys who were too young to go, then sin­gle white women, then mar­ried white women…then black men to sup­port the Rosies – do the heavy lift­ing. Even­tu­al­ly black women, but that wasn’t until 1944. Though there were some excep­tions.

Up until 1944, black women were lim­it­ed to jan­i­to­r­i­al or cafe­te­ria jobs. Due to the increase in demand for work­ers, roles in pro­duc­tion were now avail­able to black women. Under pres­sure from the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, the Packard Motor Com­pa­ny attempt­ed to inte­grate their work force. How­ev­er, they were met with staged strikes from the white employ­ees. When Packard Motor Com­pa­ny pro­mot­ed three black men to the air­craft assem­bly line, 25,000 white work­ers walked out on a wild­cat strike. Sim­i­lar­ly, when three black women were pro­mot­ed to work with the drill press, white women went on strike and vowed not to return until the women had been demot­ed.

Though they were met with much adver­si­ty, 600,000 black women served in the labor force dur­ing this time.

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But even after being admit­ted into the work­place, blacks work­ers were exclud­ed from unions such as the Boil­er­mak­er Union. This led to the estab­lish­ment of aux­il­iary union, Local A-36, which helped to ensure high­er wages for black work­ers.

Plant foremen point to 20-year-old Annie Tabor as one of their best lathe operators, despite her lack of previous industrial experience. Employed by a large Midwest supercharger plant, this young woman machines parts of aircraft engines. Source
Plant fore­men point to 20-year-old Annie Tabor as one of their best lathe oper­a­tors, despite her lack of pre­vi­ous indus­tri­al expe­ri­ence. Employed by a large Mid­west super­charg­er plant, this young woman machines parts of air­craft engines. Source
Kaiser shipyards, Richmond, Calif. Miss Eastine Cowner, a former waitress, is helping in her job as a scaler to construct the Liberty Ship SS George Washington Carver launched on May 7, 1943. E. F. Joseph. (OWI) NARA FILE #: 208-NP-1KKK-3 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 807
Kaiser ship­yards, Rich­mond, Calif. Miss Eas­t­ine Cown­er, a for­mer wait­ress, is help­ing in her job as a scaler to con­struct the Lib­er­ty Ship SS George Wash­ing­ton Carv­er launched on May 7, 1943. E. F. Joseph. (OWI) Source
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Anna Bland, a burner, is shown at work on the SS George Washington Carver as it was being rushed to completion in the spring of 1943. Source
Anna Bland, a burn­er, is shown at work on the SS George Wash­ing­ton Carv­er as it was being rushed to com­ple­tion in the spring of 1943. Source
Belle Calhoun, employee of the Lincoln Wire Company chosen Miss Negro War Worker Source
Belle Cal­houn, employ­ee of the Lin­coln Wire Com­pa­ny cho­sen Miss Negro War Work­er Source
IAM members from District Lodge 751 were among the African-American Rosie the Riveters who played a large part in building planes during WWII. Source
IAM mem­bers from Dis­trict Lodge 751 were among the African-Amer­i­can Rosie the Riv­et­ers who played a large part in build­ing planes dur­ing WWII. Source
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Black women with no pre­vi­ous indus­tri­al expe­ri­ence are recon­di­tion­ing used spark plugs in a large Mid­west air­plane plant, Buick plant, Mel­rose Park, 1942 Source
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Oper­at­ing a hand drill at Vul­tee-Nashville, a woman is work­ing on a “Vengeance” dive bomber, Feb­ru­ary 1943. Pho­to Cred­it: Pho­to­graph Cour­tesy of the Library of Con­gress Source
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douglass aircraft black woman
A woman works on air­craft at the Dou­glas Air­craft Com­pa­ny Source
Riveter at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation in Burbank, Calif Source
Riv­et­er at Lock­heed Air­craft Cor­po­ra­tion in Bur­bank, Calif Source
Beginning as a helper at $4.56 a day in the Washington navy yard, Miss Juanita E. Gray graduate trainee of the National Youth Adminstration War Production and Training Center now earns $45 a week. Source
Begin­ning as a helper at $4.56 a day in the Wash­ing­ton navy yard, Miss Juani­ta E. Gray grad­u­ate trainee of the Nation­al Youth Admin­stra­tion War Pro­duc­tion and Train­ing Cen­ter now earns $45 a week. Source

Did you know there were black riv­et­ers?

Rinny

Tex­an by birth, Los Ange­leno by sit­u­a­tion. Lover of Tame Impala and Shoegaze music. Come­di­an by trade. Mac­a­roni and Cheese con­nois­seur by appetite.

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11 Comments on "16 Rare Images of Black ‘Rosie the Riveters’ from World War II"

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Debi

WOW, I am so impressed and proud that this his­to­ry is accu­rate­ly report­ed. Thank you!

Cris Bailey

Thank You Rin­ny! Quite a col­lec­tion! Much need­ed his­to­ry.…

Fataah Ewe

My friend Toughie’s moth­er, from Berke­ley Calif, worked in Rich­mond CA, as a Rosie riv­et­er. She bought a house in the course of such work.

Mikayla

At 24, I’m an air­craft elec­tri­cian in the Air Force Reserves and a mil­i­tary con­trac­tor as a civil­ian. I’ve always felt grate­ful know­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ties I’ve been giv­en wasn’t always avail­able to some­one like me. Fig­ures like Eugene Bullard and William J. Pow­ell who were blacks work­ing in avi­a­tion in a time when they weren’t accept­ed have inspired me. This is even cool­er. Ah! This makes me so proud! Thanks for the arti­cle RIn­ny.

Aly

No I didn’t! This is amaz­ing!!!

JojoRaze

Love these pic­tures. I smiled from ear-to-ear.

maralondon

All in vein to dis­cred­it Black peo­ple. Just don’t men­tion that we made huge con­tri­bu­tions to the soci­eties we have lived in. We have the same issue in Britain because the British don’t want to recog­nise that they called for many of our Ances­tors and some still liv­ing to help in every aspect of their wars, so every year when they have remem­brance day you bare­ly see black sol­diers being rep­re­sent­ed.

Sithé Annette Ncube

Glad the title changed from “Rosie the Riv­et­er was Black”. Some­times these posts get too sen­sa­tion­al. I’m hap­py to find out these women exist­ed.

Darla Jones

I must say, I love and enjoy being Black!

Youngin girl

I did not know about them. I wasn’t taught this in grade school along with many oth­er things I wasn’t taught about. This was exclud­ed out of the text­book I had in 11th grade. I learned about World war 2 a cou­ple of times but there was no men­tion about Rosie the rivers. This is cool and this is worth shar­ing on google.

7err0r_404

Great arti­cle! I too am Tex­an by birth, Ange­leno sit­u­a­tion..

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