Who Was Frances Albrier?
Frances Mary Albrier (September 21, 1898 to August 21, 1987) was an advocate for civil and labor rights in her work as a maid, nurse and welder. She also fought for racial equality and opportunity via organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Congress for Racial Equality, as well in local groups around her home in Berkeley, California. Later in life, Albrier spoke out for peace, disarmament and rights for the disabled and elderly; in 1971, she was a delegate to a White House conference on aging. The National Museum of African American History and Culture now holds a collection of Albrier's scrapbooks, photographs and letters.
Activist in Berkeley
After moving to Berkeley, California, in 1920, Albrier couldn't find work as a nurse (this was different from where she grew up in the South, as black nurses were often hired there). However, she became involved with the Universal Negro Improvement Association after hearing a speech by Marcus Garvey and was able to join the organization's Black Cross Nurse Corps.
In 1939, Albrier ran for Berkeley's City Council. Though she didn't win the election, she felt the experience provided a valuable platform to share her view that black taxpayers weren't represented. Her activism continued outside of elected office; when she led the Citizens Employment Council in 1940, stores that took money from black customers while not welcoming black employees were picketed with the slogan "Don’t Buy Where You Can't Work," which Albrier had seen used in Chicago years earlier. These demonstrations helped change discriminatory employment practices.
As president of the East Bay Women's Welfare Club, an interracial organization, Albrier spent years pushing Berkeley to hire black teachers. This was accomplished when Ruth Acty was hired in 1942. Albrier was also the first black woman to join the city's League of Women Voters.
Frances Albrier Community Center
In her later years Albrier spoke up for the rights of the elderly and disabled; the city of Berkeley commended her in 1978 for helping senior citizens with portable meals. Today there's a Frances Albrier Community Center in Berkeley.
Welder in World War II
During World War II, women were asked to work in industries such as shipbuilding. Albrier trained as a welder, with twice the number of hours required, and received certification for this job. But in 1942 a shipyard in Richmond, California, refused to hire her.
Albrier stood her ground; after threatening a lawsuit, she ended up becoming the first black woman hired at Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond. She stayed there until 1943. Her actions at the shipyard, and in her role as state superintendent of the Department of Women in Industry, helped open the door for other women of color.
Pullman Maid and Organizer
From 1926 to 1931, Albrier traveled the country as a maid on Pullman train cars. She also got involved in union organizing, trying to convince her fellow African-American workers to join A. Philip Randolph's Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
There were many reasons for maids to organize: the Pullman Company required new hires to work wherever needed, no matter the schedule (a practice called "running wild"). Maids also had to pay for their own uniforms, meals, lodging and even tools to give passengers manicures. Yet Albrier found it difficult to interest everyone in the union: some maids were scared of being penalized at work or getting fired; others were simply too busy to join.
Traveling for Pullman also meant Albrier had to board her young children with others. However, she got the chance to meet passengers such as then-Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor while on the Twentieth Century train from Chicago to New York.
In 1938, Albrier became the first woman elected to California's Alameda County Democratic Central Committee. She stayed involved with the Democratic Party for years, and in 1960 was able to talk with Martin Luther King Jr. at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.
Albrier became director of the Alameda County Branch of the NAACP in 1940. She was also a member of the board of directors for the National Negro Congress.
When Was Frances Albrier Born?
Frances Albrier was born as Frances Mary Redgrey in Mount Vernon, New York, on September 21, 1898.
When Did Frances Albrier Die?
Frances Albrier died at her home in Berkeley, California, on August 21, 1987.
Marriages and Children
As Frances Redgrey, Albrier married William Albert Jackson in 1922. Together they had three children: William Albert (1923), Betty Frances (1925) and Anita (1927). Jackson, who'd trained as an engineer, grew frustrated when racial discrimination made it difficult for him to find work. The couple had separated before his death in 1930.
While Albrier was working as a Pullman maid, she met porter Willie Antoine Albrier. The two wed in 1934, making her Frances Albrier.
Early Life and Education
Albrier was just three years old when she lost her mother, who passed away days after giving birth to a second child. Albrier and her younger sister were sent to Alabama to live with their paternal grandparents. Her grandmother, who had been born into slavery, worked as a midwife; her grandfather, a Blackfoot Indian, was a farmer.
In 1904, Albrier began attending the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. She remained a student there until her graduation in 1916. She then had a brief stint at Fisk University before transferring to Howard University.
Albrier received her B.A. from Howard in 1920. While there, she encountered Mary Church Terrell and became a member of the National Association of Colored Women. After graduating, Albrier reunited with her father when she moved to California.
Albrier was recognized numerous times for her activism, including in 1954 when the NAACP gave her its "Fight for Freedom Award." In 1976, she was named a NAACP Life Member and acknowledged by Berkeley for improving the health and living of citizens.
In 2010 one of Albrier's daughters donated some of her mother's papers and photographs to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Among these items are a scrapbook from a trip Albrier took to Africa in 1960; she attended celebrations for Nigerian independence while there.
Another scrapbook at the museum dates from 1956-57, when Albrier was president of the San Francisco chapter of the National Council of Negro Women and worked to register voters with the slogan "A Voteless People is a Hopeless People." This was just one of the many actions she undertook as a community activist who wanted to improve the world for succeeding generations.
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