Portland YWCA and World War II

Document 1

Document 2

Aid to Women

Interracial Charter

Youth on the Move

 

World War II: Interracial Charter, 1946

Research by Rose M. Murdock and Melanie Wright

National Convention, 1946

       In response to pressure from within YWCA branches, notably black women activists in and around Washington, D.C., the YWCA National Convention passed an "Interracial Charter" at Atlantic City in 1946 and took a strong public stand against racism. "Wherever there is injustice on the basis of race, whether in the community, the nation or the world," read the Charter, "our protest must be clear and our labor for its removal, vigorous and steady." What the Charter meant in practice, however, varied greatly throughout the country. Hopes ran high in Portland, and the actions of African-American and Asian-American women staff made a strong and positive impression on many other members of the organization. "There is an excellent racial philosophy in the Business and Professional Department," noted one report on the Portland YWCA, "both in relation to the Negro and Japanese leadership."[1]

       However, there were rough spots. As in other cities,
Integrated Christmas Choir, 1946
integration usually meant transforming "colored branch" YWCAs into integrated "centers." The Committee of Management at Portland's Williams Avenue Branch was thus expected to provide an integrated program, a feat difficult to accomplish given war-time migration and the resulting changing demographics of the surrounding neighborhood in Northeast Portland. A white staff person was installed at Williams and an historically black girls' club, the Trianon Girl Reserves, was disbanded. These changes, plus the fact that Asian-American youth remained in segregated clubs, created pain and tension among YWCA young people. Despite the Portland YWCA's hiring of Marjorie H. Jackson as Associate Executive Director in 1945, the first black woman in the country to hold such a position, black women and girls' participation dropped over 50% during the war and never recovered. Unfortunately, Portland was far from alone as a national YWCA report noted in 1946 that the local staff seemed to be in "quite a confused state as to what is meant by 'interracial.'"[2]

1. "Visitation Report," by Winnifred Wygal, March 10-13, 1941, Community Files, Administrative Affairs, National YWCA Records, New York City (Microfilm, Reel #207).
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2. Quote from "Report of Local Visit," by Esther Briesemiester, February 21-23, 1945, Community Files, Administrative Affairs, National YWCA Records, New York City (Microfilm, Reel #207). See also Teen-age Department Annual Descriptive Report, 1945, Portland YWCA Archives, Portland, Oregon.
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