Frances Albrier: Californian Rights Activist
The life of West Coast activist Frances M. Albrier (1898-1987) brings into sharp focus the unsung role of Californians in the early fight for American civil, labor and human rights.
The granddaughter of formerly enslaved people, Albrier moved to Berkeley, California, from Alabama in 1920, beginning nearly six decades of community activism while working as a nurse, maid and union organizer. As early as 1939, Albrier campaigned as the first African American candidate for Berkeley’s City Council. By 1940, she had formed the Citizens Employment Council to fight for jobs and fair employment practices for the city’s black community. After being denied work at the Kaiser Shipyards during World War II, Albrier fought for and won a job as the first black woman welder in the company’s Richmond shipyards. Her victory paved the way for thousands of African American and women workers to secure better-paying jobs in the Bay Area’s booming shipyard industry.
Albrier would go on to integrate Berkeley’s League of Women Voters and the Red Cross, teaching first aid classes to local youth for many years. During the 1950s, she created the first Negro History Week displays to be shown in an Oakland department store window. A champion of voter rights, Albrier was a prominent member of the National Council of Negro Women and the Citizenship Education Project. In her later life, Albrier became a peace and disarmament activist and a pioneer in fighting for the rights of senior citizens and people with disabilities.
One of the greatest things is to inspire young people to the higher things of life ... that you be able to do something to help them and make it better for them. I think that's the inspiration and that's the goal of all of the leaders in the world.FRANCES ALBRIER 1978 Oral History
The Frances Albrier Collection
The Frances Albrier Collection, donated to NMAAHC in 2010 by Albrier’s daughter, Anita Black, contains scrapbooks, photographs, and letters documenting Albrier’s role as a human rights activist. Albrier’s work showcases and the collection humanizes, the central role women played in these struggles during the 1940s, 1950s, and beyond. Her story also acknowledges California's role as an early stage for crucial work advancing civil, labor and human rights.
Highlights of the collection include two scrapbooks. The first is from 1956-57 and features Albrier’s term as president of the San Francisco Chapter of the National Council of Negro Women and the Citizenship Education Project. The second scrapbook documents Albrier’s trip to Africa and highlights the celebrations surrounding Nigeria's independence in 1960. Also notable are photographs from 1951 of Albrier teaching first aid along with letters and photographs from a Moral Re-Armament Assembly of Nations conference on Michigan's Mackinac Island during the 1950s.
Registering voters was just the first phase of the Citizenship Education Project. Between the registration deadline and Election Day, the CEP hosted several and information sessions to educate African Americans in the Bay Area on issues facing voters on the November ballot. Outreach efforts included a program with Assistant Secretary of Labor J. Ernest Wilkins Sr. from the Eisenhower Administration and Rep. Charles Diggs from Michigan. The CEP even set up a voting machine in its headquarters to demonstrate the actual voting process to first-time voters.
By Election Day on Nov. 6, 1956, the Citizenship Education Project estimated it had contacted more than 15,000 people in the San Francisco area by mail or at meetings. San Francisco's The Sun-Reporter awarded the Albrier-led chapter of the National Council of Negro Women its, "Club of the Year, 1956" award for its work on the Citizenship Education Project.