From 1619 to the 1900’s, African Americans continued to be oppressed in the United States. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded in 1909 by interracial activists to fight for equal rights and eliminate racial prejudice in the interests of colored people1. Furthermore, they worked towards voting rights and educational and employment opportunities. In 1929, about 239 NAACP branches were accounted for throughout multiple cities in the United States, including San Diego, California2. San Diego’s NAACP branch president (1929), Rebecca Brown Craft, advanced African Americans in society by getting them jobs they were not allowed to occupy, and she strengthened the community by building centers that gave them a platform to voice the injustices at the time. This was the beginning of Craft’s involvement in fighting for the social justice of African Americans in San Diego.
As the population increased in the United States, there was a shortage in employment and housing. Having said that, African Americans received the short end of the stick and were being segregated from the rest of the population in low income housing and limited to the worst jobs. Not only that, violence towards African Americans increased. An example is lynchings, in 1917 the NAACP created an anti-lynching campaign and about 10,000 New York habitants marched to protest racial violence1.There was a small population of African Americans in San Diego, yet it was still “a very prejudice city”; “Colored people [in San Diego were] not allowed in restaurants, nor to drink soda water in drugstores, nor can they rent bathing suits at any bathing house or beach in this city”3. They did not have a NAACP branch that would help them gain equality, so the desire for one was strong. W.E.B. Du Bois, co-founder of the NAACP, traveled from Los Angeles to San Diego in 1917 as part of his western states tour, when he noticed their need of a strong branch3. The NAACP branch in San Diego was officially approved for charter status in early 19193. With a stronger foundation they began fighting for social justice and on September 7th, 1927, the NAACP “was victorious in the fight for admitted colored girls as nurses in the San Diego County Hospital…”4. African Americans in San Diego began to see change when leaders like Rebecca Brown Craft dedicated their time to bettering the community.
Rebecca Brown Craft became the president of the NAACP San Diego branch in 19295. She was born in 1887 in Versailles, Kentucky where she graduated from the Kentucky Normal and Industrial Institute for Colored Persons, now known as Kentucky State University5. Craft was a school teacher in Kentucky until she and her husband John E. Craft moved to San Diego, California. However, she had to stop teaching when they moved to San Diego because the city school board did not employ black people as teachers. She was very involved in the community, she was also the founder and leader of many groups such as the Baptist Young People’s Union, the Logan Heights Young Peoples Community Center, and the Negro Women’s Civic League amongst many others 5. Craft participated in these community centers because she knew African Americans lacked basic community resources, like reliable meeting places, temporary housing, employment, and networking opportunities6. These centers were a safe place for African Americans, the youth enjoyed recreational activities and were educated about race pride and the community roots in San Diego6. Moreover, it encouraged empowered black women to initiate fundraisers for the community and the money raised went towards things like college scholarships6. They had meetings to discuss how they will tell the city officials to improve things like the street lights in Logan Heights since that is where the majority of African Americans lived6. In addition to Craft’s involvement in the establishment of these centers, she continuously participated in events to help the community. During World War II Craft worked as a packer for the Pacific Parachute Company, which was a black-owned firm4. She also counseled and planned activities for black soldiers through the USO4. This is another example of how Craft started practices of community building because anyone could participate in these activities, which helped African Americans thrive in society.
While she was president of the NAACP, she raised money for a scholarship that was awarded to a black student that attended San Diego State University4. Black women especially, were treated poorly at the time and Craft was aware that racial oppression also intersected with gender. Thus, she founded the Logan Heights Women’s Civic League. She helped many individuals achieve their dream, starting with Lorraine Van Lowe who became the first black teacher in San Diego5. Craft fought to have black teachers employed even though she had been denied such a position despite her experience. She also helped individuals like Jasper Davis to become the first black policeman in the city4. Although Craft only got two people a job, this meant that society would begin to accept that African Americans work for them, and soon after they would begin hiring them everywhere.
What made Craft such an important leader was that she was the first female president of the NAACP branch in San Diego. In the first branches of the NAACP in Louisiana there were no female members, and once women started to get involved their only role was to “organize and to [keep] to the background to support the male leadership”7. Women were expected to participate in groups that included nursing, education, and women’s groups; “The Branch constitution specifically defined women’s role being ‘to raise funds for the Branch and to assist in the educational and junior work…”7. Although it seems like women had small jobs, they actually held the strongest role because they were in charge of building “a comprehensive system of work for juniors”; the future of the NAACP depended on how well they educated the youth7. Despite the gender divide in the branches, it was “acknowledged that women were the backbone of the organization”7. Craft was no different from the women in Louisiana, she advocated for education, raised money, created community centers for the youth and women, etc. and made a big impact in the life of San Diegan African Americans. The only difference was the titles they had, nonetheless, it is evident that women have worked endlessly to assure African Americans feel safe and equal in their communities.
Sadly, Rebecca Brown Craft died of cancer on December 6, 1945 at the age of 584. She made a mark in the success of American Americans in San Diego, her accomplishments will never be forgotten. Craft made history by doing things like getting the city of San Diego to hire the first African American police officer, and starting the Negro Women’s Civic League that encouraged women empowerment. Craft deviated from societal norms and worked hard as the first female president of the San Diego NAACP branch to reach social justice.