Eighty years ago in San Diego Howard “Skippy” Smith founded what was believed to be the nation’s first Black-owned and managed war production factory.
Smith’s Pacific Parachute Co. was dedicated with the help of actor Eddie Anderson, best known as “Rochester,” for his roll as the valet of Jack Benny.
This 1942 article uses outdated racial terms.
From the Tribune-Sun, Friday, March 27, 1942:
U.S. Precedent in War Plant Run by Negroes
By Harold Keen
A symbol of democracy in action was dedicated to national defense here yesterday.
Believed the first Negro-financed and managed defense factory on the coast, and probably in the nation, the Pacific Parachute Co. was opened officially in ceremonies featuring the financial “angel” of the concern, Eddie (Rochester) Anderson, Negro film and radio comedian.
Actually, the company has been in operation two weeks in a workshop at 627 Eighth ave., where approximately 20 girls — white and Negro—work side by side on power machines producing pilot, bomb and flare parachutes for the prime contractor, Standard Parachute Corp. of San Diego.
Smith Heads Concern
Anderson arrived by train from Los Angeles for the dedication, and a local “citizen’s committee” of colored people, headed by Rev. C. H. Hampton, arranged an elaborate reception. A contingent of Negro state guardsmen, and a unit of Women’s Ambulance and Transport corps paratroopers, as well as representatives of the city, state, and organized labor were on hand.
Head of the new concern is Howard (Skippy) Smith, onetime exhibition parachute jumper and more recently an inspector at the Standard Parachute Corp., who obtained the financial backing of Anderson, a friend of several years.
A public dedication ceremony was held in Memorial Junior high school and auditorium last night, under auspices of the royal Eagles club, colored men’s social group of the Logan Heights district.
First Pay Checks Distributed
“Rochester” himself distributed the first pay checks to the plant employes yesterday after dedicatory speeches which emphasized that the new concern demonstrated the removal of race, creed, color or religion as a barrier against defense industry employment, in accordance with a presidential executive order issued last June 25.
The Negro and white girls, some of whom are of Mexican descent, were trained in large part by the national Youth administration power sewing project, 1902 Kettner blvd, according to Mrs. Kathleen Miller, technical supervisor of the project, who was present at yesterday’s ceremonies. Most of the girls have had public school instruction to the 10th grade, she said. The forelady is a white woman, Mrs. Dorothy Hudson, of 3060 1/2 Main st, formerly a power machine operator at Standard Parachute corp.
Director Trained at U.C.
Personnel director is Mrs. Mary L. Godfrey, formerly of Berkeley, a graduate of the University of California, where she received secretarial training. She is a Negro.
Speakers at the afternoon ceremony, presided over by Rev. Hampton, included Rev. Robert C. Fleisher, who utter the invocation; W.B. Moss, representing Gov. Olson; vice Mayor arley Knox; Frank P. Davis, of the civil aeronautics board; John W. Brown, A.F.L. official; Col. C.E. Fauntleroy, head of Standard Parachute; several NYA officials; Mrs. Callie Hill, captain of the women paratroopers, and Lt. Andrew J. Slaughter, in charge of the Negro state guardsmen.
Smith said the plant is dedicated to the memory of a fellow parachute jumper, Mack Gravelly, killed in Los Angeles in June 1940.