Joe Debro on racism in construction, Part 16

A study of the manpower implications of small business financing

by Joseph Debro

A 1968 book-length report, titled “A Study of the Manpower Implications of Small Business Financing: A Survey of 149 Minority and 202 Anglo-Owned Small Businesses in Oakland, California,” was sent to the Bay View by its author, Joseph Debro, prior to his death in November 2013, and his family has kindly permitted the Bay View to publish it. The survey it’s based on was conducted by the Oakland Small Business Development Center, which Debro headed, “in cooperation with the small businessmen of Oakland, supported in part by a grant, No. 91-05-67-29, from the U.S. Department of Labor, Manpower Administration, Office of Manpower, Policy, Evaluation and Research.” Project co-directors were Jack Brown and Joseph Debro, and survey coordinator was Agustin Jimenez. The Bay View is publishing the report as a series. A prolog appeared in the December 2013 Bay View, Part 1 in January 2014, Part 2 in February, Part 3 in April, Part 4 in May, Part 5 in June, Part 6 in August, Part 7 in October, Part 8 in November, Part 9 in January 2015, Part 10 in March, Part 11 in May, Part 12 in October, Part 13 in December, Part 14 in May 2016, Part 15 in February 2017, and this is Part 16 of the report.

Education (from the chapter, “Oakland’s Profile of Poverty”)

Do-not-buy-where-you-cannot-work-2-young-Black-women-protesting-1940-by-Afro-American-Newspapers-183x300, Joe Debro on racism in construction, Part 16, Local News & Views
Clerking in stores was off limits to Blacks until boycotts all over the South – and in the Bay Area too – integrated those jobs in the ‘60s and ‘70s. A theme of protests large and small for decades was some variation on “Don’t shop where you can’t work!” These brave young women are picketing in 1940. – Photo: Afro American Newspapers

The authors of “Sub-employment in the Slums of Oakland” also point out that there are profound educational differences between the Target-Area and non-Target Area populations of Oakland. Their findings revealed that 35 percent of the adult population over 24 years of age had not gone beyond the eighth grade, whereas in the Hill region of Oakland, only 16 percent of the population was in this category. Likewise, 59 percent of all adult ghetto residents in Oakland had not completed high school, whereas 32 percent of the remainder of Oakland’s population had not completed a secondary education.

The 1960 Census data revealed that in the Oakland Target Areas there were a total of 10,701 adults or 12.4 percent of the total who had not been educated further than the fourth grade, whereas only 8,463 or 9.8 percent had some college or had received at least a bachelor’s degree. Some 29,433 adults or 34.1 percent had completed from five to eight years of grammar school, whereas only 20,109 or 23.2 percent had some high school but had not been awarded the diploma. Only 17,794 or 20.6 percent had finished this minimum education required in today’s competitive world.

Thus, 60,243 of a total of 86,503 or 69.7 percent had less than a high school education in Oakland’s Target Areas. Whether the data presented in this and the preceding paragraph from the 1960 census are more or less accurate than those collected in the 1966 survey is of little import. The magnitude of the problem is enormous regardless of which ciphers we employ.

A further elaboration of educational levels attained in the Flatlands reveals that 52 percent of all Spanish surnamed individuals and 44 percent of all Negroes above the age of 25 had finished no more than an elementary school education. In the city as a whole, only 29 percent of Anglo adults were in this disadvantageous educational position.

The proportion of minority group high school drop-outs is several times that of Anglo drop-outs in Oakland. In a rapidly changing society where greater and greater increments of schooling are necessary for economic survival, the resources available to ghetto families are woefully inadequate.


Recent data indicate that, as in the nation as a whole, Oakland’s minority groups are steeped in poverty. A comparison of Target and non-Target Areas reveals that there are far more families with poverty and marginal levels of income in the Flatlands than in the Hills. Furthermore, the median income levels of those census tracts in the ghettoes are significantly lower than those in middle class neighborhoods.

An analysis of income data provided by the 701 Survey in 1966 indicates that in Oakland there were about 71,300 persons in poverty, of which 47,000 or 66 percent dwelled in the Target Areas. Of these 47,000 persons, 64.7 percent were Negroes, 4.3 percent were other nonwhites, and 14.2 percent were Spanish surnamed individuals; 7,900 Anglos or 16.8 percent completed the total of persons in poverty in the Target Areas.

Recent data indicate that, as in the nation as a whole, Oakland’s minority groups are steeped in poverty.

The highest concentration of Negro poverty is in West Oakland. Spanish surnamed poverty is most concentrated in Fruitvale, and Anglo poverty is to be found outside the Target Area (Regal, 1967:3). Regal also points out that one third of all individuals in poverty live in non-Target Areas, and that there are about equal numbers of whites (including Spanish surnamed persons) and non-whites who are poor. (1967:1).

Labor-management views of minority employment

The early history of union development in the San Francisco Bay Area is a book unto itself. Neither time nor space permits us to examine this topic in detail. Instead, let us look at organized and big business just after World War II and attempt to trace some broad trends which affect minority employment.

Stripp (1948) interviewed union officials in 205 locals in San Francisco and in the East Bay. These locals were divided into two Federations, let us say, A and B. About one third (55) of a total of 163 unions in Federation A had no Negro members, whereas 14 percent had fewer than 10 from this minority group. Thus 48 percent of Federation A locals had very few Negroes or none at all. Some 50,000 jobs were represented by the 55 unions which admitted no Negro members.

In Federation B there were a total of 42 unions sampled. Of these, six (14 percent) claimed no Negro members, and nine others (21 percent) admitted fewer than ten colored workers. Five thousand jobs were represented by the six unions which admitted no Negro members.

Thirty percent of all Blacks in Federation A were concentrated in five unions in which the unskilled abound; two of common laborers, two of culinary workers, and one of molders. Two locals representing building service workers comprised another 15 percent of all Negroes unionized, while nine locals of carpenters made up about 10 percent more. Thus, about one 10th of all locals in Federation A accounted for 55 percent of the Negro union membership.

Of 13 San Francisco transportation locals with a membership of about 13,000, 11 locals had no Negroes, and two had but a negligible number. Shipyard locals of electrical workers boasted 150 Negro members, while outside electrical and radio workers’ locals counted none in their numbers.

Among department store workers, only 75 of about 5,000 total employees were Black. Neither male nor female Negroes were employed as sales personnel.

Joseph Debro, born Nov. 27, 1928, in Jackson, Miss., and a pillar of Oakland until his death on Nov. 5, 2013, was president of Bay Area Black Builders and of Transbay Builders, a general engineering contractor, former director of the Oakland Small Business Development Center and the California Office of Small Business, co-founder of the National Association of Minority Contractors and a bio-chemical engineer.