WWII EMPLOYMENT AND EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES
Story of Gerald Carter an Eva Bell
Artists: Brien O’Thiele and Zoe Thiele-Seidenberg
Writer: Sara Bruckmeier
Original completed 2007
Re-Envisioned in 2018
Gerald Carter’s grandparents found him at an orphanage in Oakland in 1930. He was 2 years
old. To this day he does not know how they discovered he was there. “Thank God for grand-
parents,” he says. His high school graduation ceremony was held at the Greek Theater: “I was
the first person on my grandfather’s side of the family to graduate. It was very touching to me when they
called my name to receive my diploma. I heard [my grandfather] in the background say, ‘That’s my boy!’
When I came up to him he had tears of joy in his eyes.”
As a teenager in the Bay Area in the 1940s, Gerald worked every summer. Child labor laws allowed
up to 8 hours work per day and there was a manpower shortage due to WWII. He worked at the Del
Monte Cannery in San Francisco and at the Naval Supply center in Emeryville. At age 18 instead of wait-
ing to be drafted, he enlisted so that he could choose the branch of service: the Airforce. He wanted to
be a paratrooper. He served from 1947-1950.
After military service, Gerald attended West Contra Costa Junior College, temporarily housed that
first semester in the shuttered Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond. He remembers his “outstanding” college
counselor, a veteran, who took all the veterans under his arm and made sure they took university level
courses. Gerald successfully transferred to UC Berkeley. The GI Bill covered college tuition and expenses
for veterans, millions of whom came from poor and working class families who had never before been
able to afford college.
Graduating with a B.A. in Architecture and a specialization in Naval Architecture, he was hired at
Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard to work on surface craft and aircraft carriers. After a 30 year career as a
Naval Architectural Technician, Gerald Carter retired at age 55 with excellent benefits. He is pictured in
the foreground of the painting at the drafting table.
Also pictured is Eva Bell, who moved many times before landing in California. “I would go wher-
ever I had some people and wanted to go.” Her mother taught her to work and take care of herself and
she never had a problem getting a job or passing a test. “At my home, when you graduated high school
you knew something.” For a year Eva lived with her sister in Oregon and they both worked at different
Kaiser shipyards. Eva remembers, “I was working on the aircraft carriers in the superstructure. I was the
only black woman, a girl really, about 18 years old. My crew was white, but me.”
After Oregon, Eva moved to San Francisco to live with her uncle, a preacher, and work at the post
office. “I passed the test and could have worked that evening, but they needed fingerprints. I got finger-
prints and started the next day.” By 1945, she had married and moved to Berkeley.
The wartime shipyards were famous for the speed at which they could assemble a liberty ship.
Once they held a competition to see which shipyard was the fastest; the winner built a ship in 4 days, 15
hours, 29 minutes. Brien, the artist, was thinking of the skill of the workers as he painted this mural.