1963, 1964 — Youth For Jobs (YFJ) organizes black and white youth in the East Bay
Roscoe Proctor and the YFJ
In 1963 and 1964, union and civil rights activist Roscoe Proctor brought together young people in his working class Berkeley neighborhood. Proctor's desire was to create an avenue for working class white and black youth to address the lack of jobs available to them in the Bay Area. I had known Roscoe since I was a young child and looked up to him and his wife Ginnie as mentors and friends. Roscoe and Ginny's home was always open to everyone, it seemed, and their kitchen turned out many meals for kids hungry for something to eat, hungry for ideas, and hungry for caring adults.
Why I got involved with YFJ
I was attracted to the idea of working with the kind of working class black and white kids I grew up with as a youngster in Albany, CA's Codornices Village, a low-rent housing development created for WWII veterans like my dad, Saul Wachter.
YFJ developed into a convivial group of people my age and younger. For the most part, they were the children of progressive and/or working class parents, some of whom I had known since childhood.
Although I had graduated in 1963 from UC Berkeley (B.A. Biochemistry) and had participated in many campus political activities, I did not feel a strong kinship with my mostly white, middle-class political associates. My left-wing parents were college graduates, but held working class jobs as part of their political outlook. They admired and advocated "working class values," values which I absorbed and still hold to. YFJ was a place where I could socialize and politicize with friendly, black and white working class people who preferred to get out and do things rather than hold endless, talky meetings and conferences. Principles, rather than Ideology were the primary motivation for what we did in YFJ, and that was fine with me.
With Roscoe's help, YFJ rented a vacant, decommissioned firehouse on 61st Avenue in Oakland. At the time, I was working as a chemist for a company that made paint for Sears. I was able to get free paint that had been colored ("tinted") incorrectly and could not be sold in stores. I met my future wife, Sheryl Nichols, at that company. Sheryl shared my love for black music and culture and joined me in many of my YFJ activities. YFJ members painted the inside of our decommissioned firehouse a purplish, mauvish color that was only acceptable because it was free.
We held concerts and other gatherings at the firehouse. Saxophonist John Handy and his group played for a benefit there, and we used the space on the second floor for ping pong, pool and other games.
See the photographs below. The captions describe some of our activities. YFJ functioned for a few years, but was unable to mobilize enough people to have a significant impact on the job situation. It did, however, have a positive effect on the lives of dozens of young people, myself included. My experiences in YFJ were some of the best times I ever had in "politics."
Who were Roscoe and Ginny Proctor?
Roscoe was a leading semi-public member of the Northern California Communist Party, and a cogent writer and thinker on issues affecting black workers. Ginny was one of the founders of the Welfare Rights Organization in Oakland. Ginny and Roscoe divorced in the seventies and Roscoe left the Bay Area and died at the age of 65 from Leukemia. His extensive political library is now shared with that of Marxist Professor Karl Niebyl. Their combined library is available at the Niebyl Proctor Marxist Library/Community Center at 6501 Telegraph Avenue, in Oakland, CA, which is run by Cassandra Lopez (affectionately known in the community as "Mama Cassie"), a retired high school teacher, and her husband Juan Lopez. After the Welfare Rights Organization ceased to function, Ginny became involved in the long and eventually successful anti-Vietnam war campaign. She was active in progressive causes until her death, around the year 2000.
Youth For Jobs organized more than one "march" for jobs through the streets of Oakland. This one was held downtown.
YFJer on a march through Oakland.
Mark Comfort, Joe Grimes and Bill Proctor, all members of Oakland families involved with YFJ
YFJ leader Joe Grimes, with flag, in downtown Oakland.
YFJers marching in Oakland for jobs
Roscoe Proctor, home rehabber, writer and organizer of Youth For Jobs.
Taking a break from marching.
Youth For Jobs held a "Freedom March" in Oakland in support of the civil rights movement in the South
Local 6 of the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU) was a reliable source of support for the civil rights movement in the Bay Area.
Milan Melvin, a member of Youth For Jobs, spoke to the local press at a YFJ job action at the Oakland Employment Department. Milan was my roommate in the early sixties and unbeknownst to me was a paid FBI informant, something he later apologized for on the air as a DJ for KFAT radio in Gilroy, CA
Playing ping pong while others shoot pool at YFJ's 61st Avenue center, a decommissioned Oakland firehouse.
Noted alto saxophonist John Handy with Mark Comfort at a YFJ Firehouse benefit concert
Mark Comfort playing a conga drum at a benefit held at the YFJ Firehouse. That's John Handy's saxophone on the folding chair
Youth For Jobs members and supporters at the state capitol in Sacramento, demonstrating for jobs