"Berkeley, A City in History"
by Charles Wollenberg
Chapter 8 - A Kind of Peace
On August 7, 1945, the United States destroyed most of the Japanese city of Hiroshima, dropping an atomic bomb fueled by uranium-235 made in Berkeley. Two days later another atomic weapon was dropped on Nagasaki. This time the bomb was fueled by plutonium, an element originally discovered in Berkeley by Cal scientists Glenn Seaborg and Edwin McMillan. Five days after the Nagasaki attack, on August 14, Japan surrendered and World War II was over. In Berkeley, the Daily Californian put out a "Peace Extra," and the Campanile bells played patriotic songs. Hundreds of students and residents paraded down Shattuck Avenue behind the university marching band. Car horns blared and people threw firecrackers and confetti into the air. Some students lit a large bonfire on the streetcar tracks. But Berkeley's reaction was restrained compared to that of San Francisco. There drunken mobs staged a full-scale riot on Market Street, battling city and military police for hours before order was restored.
In spite of the public celebrations, many economists at UC and elsewhere feared that peace would bring a return to the high unemployment of the 1930s. Without the benefit of huge defense expenditures, they argued, the economy would never be able to absorb the millions of war veterans who were returning to the labor market. As it turned out, these fears never materialized. Wartime rationing and shortages produced a huge backlog of consumer demand, and a surge in household spending after the war eased the economic transition. The war promoted technological and structural improvements in the United States economy and left the country with few international competitors whose economies were not damaged or destroyed. Government educational benefits contained in the G.I. Bill allowed colleges and universities rather than the labor force to absorb many of the veterans. Finally, almost as soon as military demobilization was completed, the United States began rearming to fight a Cold War against the Soviet Union. The postwar period, then, was generally prosperous for the nation as a whole and California in particular. It was an era of "a kind of peace," a not-quite-wartime period that brought important social and political changes to the nation, changes that inevitably affected Berkeley and its university.
A Central City in a Suburban Age
During the post-war period, Americans moved in ever greater numbers to the suburbs, establishing what one scholar has called "the Crabgrass Frontier." Between 1945 and 1970 the population of the nine-county Bay Area doubled, yet the old central cities, San Francisco and Oakland, actually lost population. While San Francisco and Oakland contained more than half of all the people living in the Bay Area in 1940, they accounted for only about a quarter of the regional population in 1970. Berkeley was part of the Bay Area's urban core by 1945, but unlike San Francisco and Oakland, it was able to maintain if not increase its population of about 115,000 during the next quarter century. Nevertheless, thousands of white, middle and upper middle class families left Berkeley during these years for the suburban periphery.
Key to the suburban growth was a vast public investment in the automobile. Although the construction of the bridges across the bay in the 1930s marked the final victory of the auto in Bay Area life, the Depression and wartime gas rationing delayed the full implications of that fact. After the war, the automobile culture reigned supreme, and in 1947 California embarked on a massive freeway program. The Federal Government weighed in with the interstate system in 1956. In Berkeley, the old Eastshore Highway became a freeway, eventually a segment of Inter-State 80. The city was particularly affected by the Highway 24 freeway in Contra Costa County, which facilitated the commute through the Caldecott Tunnel to Berkeley from Orinda, Lafayette, Walnut Creek and beyond. In the 1960s Walnut Creek's population grew from 10,000 to 40,000, and many of those new residents were former Berkeleyans.
The suburban boom was also influenced by the policies of government housing agencies. Middle class families found it easier to get low-interest FHA, VA, or Cal-Vet loans for suburban homes than for buying or upgrading housing in racially mixed urban neighborhoods. Until they were declared unconstitutional in 1948, the FHA actually encouraged the imposition of restrictive covenants, and it was not until the Kennedy presidency in the 1960s, that racial discrimination was outlawed in FHA loan programs. The overwhelmingly white post-war suburbs may have been the product of "free market" forces, but they were heavily subsidized and supported by public funds and policies.
In Berkeley much of the out-migration was matched by a continuing in-migration of African Americans. During the war, with its full employment and good wages, black families accumulated some wealth, and after the conflict, they were anxious to fulfill the American dream of home ownership. The Berkeley flatlands continued to be one of the few areas in the Bay Area where well-kept affordable houses were available to blacks. Some unscrupulous realtors engaged in "block busting," scaring whites into selling with the threat their street would became predominantly minority, thereby reducing property values. Throughout the city's history South and West Berkeley had been "mixed" neighborhoods, initially as multi-national immigrant areas and then as multi-ethnic working class districts. As late as the 1940s most black and Asian Berkeleyans lived in such mixed neighborhoods, but by the 1950s the city was becoming increasingly segregated, with the hills and campus area remaining predominantly white and large parts of the flatlands becoming mainly African American. For the first time observers began talking about Berkeley's "ghettos." In 1940 more than 90 percent of the city's population was white and less than 5 percent was black. By 1970, the white proportion had dropped to 65 percent and the black had grown to nearly 25 percent.
Another source of new residents that offset the suburban out-migration was the growth of the university. The G.I. Bill, which provided World War II veterans federal financial aid to attend college, began the era of mass higher education in America. Millions of men and women from poor and working class backgrounds had a college education as an option for the first time in U.S. history. California, which had already established the nation's most extensive system of public higher education, was better prepared than most states to respond to the new demand. Between 1945 and 1948 Cal's enrollment more than doubled to over 25,000.
To cope with this unprecedented growth, the university began a massive construction program that included physical expansion of the campus into the South Campus neighborhood. Sproul Hall occupied the east side of what had once been a block of the Telegraph Avenue business district. Some years later, construction of Sproul Plaza, the new student union and Zellerbach Hall completed the incorporation of everything north of Bancroft Avenue, south of Hearst Street and east of Fulton Street into the campus. Massive university dormitories, play fields and parking structures were also subsequently built in the South Campus district. Telegraph Avenue increasingly became a commercial area for students and campus habitués rather than a shopping district for the entire neighborhood. Meanwhile, in areas adjacent to the campus, property owners divided up single-family dwellings to create student rentals and tore down old homes to make way for hastily-built apartments. Berkeley songwriter Malvina Reynolds may have coined the phrase "ticky-tacky" to refer to suburban tract homes south of San Francisco, but the term could apply equally well to much of the speculative housing slapped up around the campus in the post-war years.
It was ironic that just as the undergraduate enrollment soared, the dominant value system of the university increasingly de-empathized the importance of undergraduate education. In 1938 the American Council on Education rated UC and Harvard as tied for first among American universities in a survey of the number of distinguished departments at various elite institutions. Cal's prestige steadily increased after the war, based in part on its participation in the Manhattan Project. During the 1940s and 50s seven additional university faculty members received Nobel Prizes, thus reinforcing the institution's already exalted image. But the reputation for eminence was based on scholarship and graduate programs rather than undergraduate education. In seeking out new faculty members, departments evaluated candidates on the basis of their published research and their ability to attract government money and foundation grants. Many of the new faculty were in fact excellent teachers and committed to undergraduate education, but that was not why they were hired or why they received tenure. Departments even offered light undergraduate teaching loads in order to attract promising scholars. In large lower division lecture classes, undergraduates usually had more contact with graduate teaching assistants than with tenure-track faculty.
The Politics of Anti-Communism
The most serious debates on campus, however, were not regarding educational policies and priorities but about the implications of the politics of anti-communism. In 1940 the regents had prohibited the hiring of communist faculty members, but during the war the alliance with the Soviet Union had largely put anti-communist crusades on hold. With the rapid deterioration of American-Soviet relations into a state of "cold war," anti-communism reemerged as a potent political force. Many industries, communities and, for that matter, universities benefited from defense dollars spent in the name of anti-communism. Although Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin may have been the most reckless and irresponsible anti-communist politician, he was hardly unique. Long before McCarthy was a household name, California State Senator Jack Tenney's legislative committee was making headlines by investigating alleged communist influence in very high profile places.
One of those places was the Berkeley campus. In hearings held from 1946 to 1948, Tenney dredged up a number of cases of pre-war leftist activism in Berkeley, including J. Robert Oppenheimer's support for liberal causes and contacts with Marxist friends and family members. Although no specific charges of disloyal activity were ever made against Oppenheimer, his pre-war political associations were eventually used as justification for denying him security clearance after he opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb.
The publicity generated by the Tenny committee particularly concerned James Corley, the university's comptroller and chief Sacramento lobbyist. He suggested that the regents require all university personnel to take an anti-communist loyalty oath as a way of deflecting some of the bad press and political flack caused by the Tenney hearings. President Sproul agreed and formally recommended the oath at a March, 1949 meeting of the regents. During the noon hour break, a university attorney drafted specific language, and after lunch the regents unanimously adopted the measure.
For Corley, Sproul and most of the regents, the loyalty oath was a non-controversial public relations gesture. But for much of the Berkeley (and UCLA) faculty, it was a violation of First Amendment rights and a threat to academic freedom and tenure. Led by distinguished Psychology Professor Edward Tolman, the Academic Senate urged the regents to revoke or revise the oath, and the stage was set for a dramatic struggle for power and principle. For more than a year Sproul and senior faculty members like Joel Hilderbrand unsuccessfully attempted to find a compromise. In the end Sproul concluded it was better to delete the oath than provoke a faculty revolt. Governor Earl Warren, a loyal Cal alum and former classmate of Sproul, agreed with the president, claiming that a "Communist would take the oath and laugh." But a slim majority of the regents eventually voted to fire any employee who refused to sign.
Thirty-one faculty members, including Professor Tolman, and several dozen other employees held out to the bitter end and were dismissed. They promptly sued, and in 1952 the California Supreme Court held that the university could not impose a loyalty oath different than that required of all other state employees. Tolman and his colleagues got their jobs back, but in the meantime, the legislature had passed the Levering Act, which did in fact establish an oath for all state workers. In 1967 the U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled the Levering Act unconstitutional, and after eighteen years of campus controversy, matters were right back to where they had been in 1949 when Comptroller Corley first raised the issue. Meanwhile, on the Berkeley campus, the regents had approved construction of Tolman Hall, a new education and psychology building named in honor of Edward Tolman, the very professor they had tried to fire a decade earlier.
The politics of anti-communism affected the city at large as well as the university. Berkeley public school teachers, for example, also had to take the Levering oath. When the school board after much debate allowed Marxist singer and actor Paul Robeson to perform in the new Berkeley Community Theater, the matter became a major issue in the next city election. Doris Walker, a Boalt Hall graduate who eventually became a prominent Bay Area attorney, was fired from a clerical job at Cutter Laboratories because of her leftist political beliefs. Her union, the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen's Union, took her case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the justices let the firing stand. The ILWU itself was kicked out of the CIO because of charges of "communist infiltration."
In spite of the dominant anti-communist mood, Berkeley leftists had some important local institutional power bases of their own during the post-war years. In 1949 KPFA went on the air as America's first listener-sponsored radio station. Although financial problems caused a temporary shut down in 1951, the station recovered and has been in operation ever since. Founded by pacifist Lewis Hill, KPFA was open to a remarkably wide range of perspectives and during the 1950s,was often a lonely outlet for leftist viewpoints. Another institution with a leftist heritage, the Berkeley Consumer Cooperative, thrived in the post war era. It built a large supermarket on Shattuck Avenue in North Berkeley and established an active consumer education program. In 1962 the Co-op bought out the Sid's supermarket chain and transformed the large Sid's store on Telegraph Avenue into another Co-op market. In the 1970s it established additional stores in El Cerrito, Oakland and Marin County. In Berkeley during the seventies, the Co-op operated three markets, a pharmacy, bookstore, garage, hardware store and credit union. To have a low Co-op number, indicating that you were among the original founders of the institution, was very much a status symbol in some Berkeley circles.
Although pro-business Republicans dominated Berkeley politics during the 1940s and 50s, demographic trends were working against them. Not only were largely Democratic black voters moving into the city, but it was often conservative whites who moved out to the suburbs. Their places were sometimes taken by young, university-affiliated families who also tended to vote Democratic. Liberal activists gravitated toward the Berkeley Democratic Club, which had been founded in 1934 to support Upton Sinclair's unsuccessful run for governor. In the 50s, the Berkeley club was affiliated with the liberal California Democratic Council, and Berkeley Democratic activists worked enthusiastically on Adlai Stevenson's presidential campaigns and Pat Brown's successful run for governor. In 1958, the same year that Brown defeated stalwart East Bay Republican William Knowland, a liberal-labor coalition beat back a Knowland-supported state "right-to-work" initiative.
In Berkeley, liberals not only allied with labor but also with an increasingly politically active African American community. In the 1920s, businessman D.G. Gibson had started the Appomattox Club as a way of organizing East Bay African Americans into a voting bloc. Like most blacks at the time, Gibson was a Republican, but growing African American support for Roosevelt and the New Deal moved him and his organization into the Democratic camp during the 1930s. The huge black population increase of the 1940s allowed Gibson to become something of a power broker. Black union members participated in the brief Oakland general strike of 1946 and were part of a liberal-labor group which unsuccessfully attempted to gain control of the Oakland City Council in 1947. In 1948 Gibson put together a coalition of CIO union activists, white liberals and African American voters to campaign for Sacramento Street pharmacist William Byron Rumford, who was running for the state assembly in a district that included much of Berkeley and part of Oakland. Rumford won the election, becoming the first African American from Northern California to serve in the legislature. He eventually authored two of the state's most important civil rights laws---the Fair Employment Practices Act of 1959 and the Rumford Fair Housing Act of 1963.
By the middle 50's, the liberal-labor-African American coalition was ready to challenge the traditional Republican leadership of Berkeley city government. Lionel Wilson, future mayor of Oakland, received the Berkeley Democratic Club endorsement for a seat on the Berkeley City Council. He didn't win, but white liberals like City Planning Professor Jack Kent did. Labor leader Jeffrey Cohelan became the first Democrat elected to Congress from Berkeley in decades. But the big Democratic breakthrough came in 1961, when liberals finally won a majority on the city council and school board and elected the first two African American local office holders in Berkeley history---Wilmot Sweeney to the council and Reverend Roy Nichols to the school board.
The new council majority immediately faced a major land-use decision. At the turn of the century, a portion of Berkeley tidelands was purchased by the Santa Fe Railroad for a right-of-way that was never used. In 1913 the state granted Berkeley an additional 7.32 square miles of San Francisco Bay that was shallow enough to fill. The city master plan, approved in the 1950s, provided for the filling and development not only of the private tidelands (most of which had already been filled), but also of the city grant, which was still almost entirely open water. From the point of view of the business-oriented city governments of the 1950s, the waterfront properties offered an opportunity for dramatic new growth and economic development.
But three East Bay women, Catherine Kerr, Sylvia McLaughlin and Ester Gulick, were concerned about the aesthetic and environmental impacts of the proposal. In the early 60's, they organized an ambitious grass roots campaign to change the plan and greatly limit future bay fill and development. The new city council majority eventually agreed and limited future fill to what is now the Berkeley Marina (which was created by about forty years of Berkeley garbage dumped into the bay). Most of the marina was planned as parkland and recreational facilities, with only a small portion of the fill devoted to restaurants and a hotel. On the basis of this success, Kerr, McLaughlin and Gulick went on to organize the Save San Francisco Bay Association, which in 1965 won powerful state legislation strictly limiting fill and controlling shoreline development throughout the bay. By 2000, the former Santa Fe lands along the Berkeley waterfront west of the I-80 freeway were also preserved as open space, having been incorporated into the new Eastshore State Park. In an another important land-use decision in the early 60s, the liberal council majority joined Republican mayor Wallace Johnson in supporting a bond issue to keep the Berkeley BART line underground. The new rapid transit system would thus not visibly divide East and West Berkeley as rail lines had in the past.
Civil Rights Politics
Given the realities of Berkeley and national life in 1961, it was inevitable that the most dramatic actions of the new liberal majorities on the council and school board would involve race. The Civil Rights Movement had existed in the South for more than five years and the presence of segregation and discrimination in northern and western cities like Berkeley could no longer be ignored. In Berkeley, white liberal candidates had won black votes by specifically promising to bring about measurable change. After taking office, the new city council appointed an eighteen-member citizen's committee to study the issue of housing discrimination. Not surprisingly, the committee found such discrimination endemic and called for a strong local ordinance outlawing the practice. After a number of contentious meetings, the council passed a tough law that included criminal penalties for those guilty of discrimination.
The opposition immediately began collecting signatures to bring the matter before the voters in a 1963 referendum election. In just three weeks they collected more than three times the number of signatures needed. Most of the referendum supporters argued that the "fair housing" law violated basic property rights, some advocates even claiming it smacked of communism. But a few of the referendum proponents specifically brought up the issue of race. One man asserted that the housing law was "a plot to Congo-lize our city," and a Thousand Oaks neighborhood realtor said "The day I have to sell to a Negro and ruin this fine district, I'll close up and get out of the real estate business."
By a small margin the voters passed the referendum and thus overturned the law. In the same election Republican mayoral candidate Wallace Johnson, who favored the referendum, narrowly defeated liberal Democrat Fred Stripp, a referendum opponent. A few months later Byron Rumford got a more moderate fair housing law through the California legislature. After the measure was signed by Governor Brown, the California real estate industry sponsored a statewide initiative to overturn it. Ironically, in that election, Berkeley voters chose to support the Rumford Act and turn down the initiative, while the California electorate as a whole supported the initiative and turned down the act. The final chapter was written by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled the initiative unconstitutional in 1967. Thus the Rumford Act was reinstated and is still in force.
Not to be outdone by the city council, the new school board took on the even more explosive issue of school segregation. By 1961 school enrollments reflected the racial pattern of housing in Berkeley. Flatland elementary schools, particularly in South Berkeley, had predominantly black student bodies, while hill schools were virtually all white. Garfield Junior High in North Berkeley was overwhelmingly white, while Burbank on University Avenue was largely black. Willard Junior High on Telegraph Avenue (named after the nineteenth century WCTU leader Frances Willard) was ethnically mixed, as was Jefferson Elementary School in North Berkeley. But these two institutions were unusual; most Berkeley kids went to largely segregated schools until they reached Berkeley High. Even there "ability tracking" often kept racial groups in separate classrooms. While the courts were slowly enforcing the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, outlawing educational segregation in the South, schools in northern and western cities like Berkeley were becoming ever more segregated. The fact that northern and western segregation was "de facto," the result of residential patterns, rather than "de jure," the result of discriminatory laws, made little difference to civil rights activists.
In 1964 Berkeley's liberal school board voted to desegregate the city's junior highs by turning Burbank into a ninth grade school for the entire city and distributing seventh and eight graders to Garfield and Willard in a racially balanced matter. The city's daily newspaper, the conservative Berkeley Gazette which had previously opposed the "fair housing" law, claimed the school board was "destroying a city to test a theory." Some Garfield parents led a recall campaign against board members who supported the plan. Although the campaign lacked the overtly racist rhetoric of the fair housing debate, emotions were high on both sides. The future of Berkeley's children seemed at stake. In the end voters overwhelmingly rejected the recall, and the board took that as a mandate to proceed with elementary school desegregation.
Under the leadership of School Superintendent Neil Sullivan, voluntary elementary desegregation was instituted in 1966, and a large citizen's committee began studying the possibility of a mandatory plan. In 1968 the board accepted the committee's recommendation to put such a plan into effect. It involved "two-way busing," black children transported to hill schools and white children transported to flatland schools. In the fall of 1968 Berkeley became the only city in the nation to institute comprehensive two-way elementary school busing for desegregation purposes without a court order requiring it.
In one form or another, the two-way busing program remained in effect for more than 25 years. It was not substantially altered until the 1990s. The results were mixed---not the end to all racial barriers and hostilities that the most idealistic supporters had hoped for, and certainly not the end to the educational achievement gap between white and black students. But desegregation also did not cause the destruction of the school system and produce an overall decline in student achievement as the most determined opponents had feared.
If all that had happened in Berkeley in the 1960s was the fight over fair housing and the attempt to desegregate the schools, the city would have attracted considerable national attention. Indeed both stories made it into the New York Times and onto Walter Cronkite's "CBS Evening News." But of course far more than these two controversies occurred in Berkeley during that decade. The city gave birth to a social and cultural rebellion that, for better or worse, came to define much of what the "The Sixties" was all about. It was as if an historic decade that affected the nation and the world was born and bred in Berkeley.