VALLEJO — Vallejo’s African-American community existed back to the Civil War, but it was the great migration from the South between the 1920s and World War II that created the community that exists today, according to a new book by Vallejo author Sharon McGriff-Payne.
It will be released Dec. 17.
“African-Americans in Vallejo” completes a history that was still a work in progress when she published her first book, “John Grider’s Century – African Americans in Solano, Napa and Sonoma Counties from 1845 t9 1925,” in 2009, which covered the North Bay’s black pioneers from 1850, when former slave John Grider arrived in Vallejo.
“After writing the first book, it kept nagging me that I needed to write the rest of the history of African-Americans here,” McGriff-Payne said.
“I really needed to expand and talk about the people who were here, especially in Vallejo after 1924,” said McGriff-Payne, whose own parents came to Vallejo during World War II, “which is considered the second part of the great migration from 1910 to 1970.”
McGriff-Payne, a lifelong resident of Vallejo, spent several years uncovering the history of African-Americans in the North Bay region. She previously worked as a journalist for nearly 20 years, which included time as owner and publisher of The North Bay Progress in the early 1990s. It covered news and events in Vallejo’s African-American community.
Her new liberally illustrated book centers on Vallejo and moves it forward to the period between 1910 to 1970, when the bulk of Vallejo’s black community arrived from the South, looking for better opportunities and new freedoms from the South dominated by Jim Crow laws.
“More than 6 million blacks left the South during the great migration. They were so courageous to leave the South,” she said. “They had to get up and leave a place that was home, but they realized that they wanted to make better lives for their children.”
It was important to get the photos and stories of the growth Vallejo’s black community now because many of those from the World War II and 1950s era are dying, she said.
There has been a small black community in Vallejo since the 1860s. It grew to a couple hundred residents in 1940, then expanded massively during the war, due to Mare Island and its need for defense workers in the shipyards.
While there was employment and housing discrimination to overcome, there were a lot more opportunities for blacks to run their own lives here, McGriff-Payne said.
“The black community here became more political, even if not running for office,” McGriff-Payne said. “They started seeking positions that had not been offered to blacks before.”
The book is published by Arcadia Publishing in its “Images of America” series. Arcadia has published more than a half-dozen histories of local communities such as Fairfield, Vacaville, Dixon, Benicia, Vallejo, Rio Vista and Travis Air Force Base. This is the second book on one of Vallejo’s ethnic communities: The first publication was “Filipinos in Vallejo.”
“African-Americans in Vallejo” will be available through Costco, Barnes and Noble and the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum, as well as through Arcadia’s website at www.arcadiapublishing.com.
McGriff-Payne’s research for this book also uncovered more material from before the 1920s that she plans use in a second, expanded edition of her first book, she said. That project was started a couple of months ago.
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