Thursday, November 1, 2007

Hollers- Atlas Ship

“It was a bright June morning. The sun was already high. If I’d been a white boy I might have enjoyed the scramble in the early morning sun, the tight competition for a twenty-foot lead on a thirty-mile highway. But to me it was racial. The huge industrial plants flanking the ribbon of road—shipyards, refineries, oil wells, steel mills, construction companies—the thousands of rushing workers, the low-handing barrage balloons, the close hard roar of Diesel trucks and the distant drown of patrolling planes, the sharp, pungent smell of exhaust that used to send me driving clear across Ohio on a sunny summer morning, and the snow-capped mountains in the background, like picture post-cards, didn’t mean a thing to me. I didn’t even see them; all I wanted in the world was to push my Buick Roadmaster over some peckerwood’s face” (14).

Bob works as a leaderman and then as a mechanic at Atlas Ship. The Shipyard is a manifestation of social violence. When Mr. Leighton suggests that working on the production front for the war would be interesting, Bob replies, “ ‘It’s a killer’ ” (87). The shipyard houses a violent racism that slowly kills Bob. The working conditions at Atlas Ship encourage him and other workers to kill. It is a place of social violence— a space carved out of LA’s landscape to produce war ships that will be used to kill. Atlas Ship then, builds violence on many interacting levels of society. It is the place where racism dominates blatantly and unapologetically—where workers bring their race to work. “The white folks,” Bob explains, “had sure brought their white to work with them this morning” (15).

“ ‘Racism [in Los Angeles] became an inescapable fact of life for me. I’d been able to ignore segregation up until then, but now I couldn’t. I felt I could ‘see’ racism… It was like a disease I couldn’t shake’ ” (xv).
–Chester Himes

Image of cargo ships at a west coast shipyard during WWII:

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