During World War II, the Portland-area African American population grew from 2,000 to 20,000 as workers flooded into the area seeking work in the three enormous Kaiser shipyards. Despite the shipyards' pressing need for labor, black workers were denied employment in most of the skilled trades because the Boilermakers Union would not admit black members, and neither Kaiser nor the U.S. government enforced President Roosevelt's non-discrimination decree. Black workers' struggle against job discrimination, in Portland and throughout the country, laid the groundwork for the victories of the Civil Rights era.
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John Linder teaches fifth grade in the Portland Public Schools and is a member of the Portland Association of Teachers and Portland Area Rethinking Schools. In 1979-80, he worked as a potroom worker at Kaiser Aluminum's refinery in Chalmette, Louisiana, where he could still read "Colored" through several coats of paint on a restroom door. He was also a member of the Committee to Overturn the Webber Decision, which sought to protect an affirmative action program that black Kaiser workers, with the support of the United Steelworkers Union, had won to reverse decades of racial discrimination by the company.