Whether in a cartoon by Morrie Turner, a plaque memorializing her civic and labor achievements, or an iconic photo of her marching against racism and discrimination, Frances Albrier was an unflinching social and political activist.
Born in Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1898 and raised by her grandmother, a midwife born into slavery, Albrier embodied many of the fundamental demands of human rights proposed by Booker T. Washington, who founded the institute where she was born. She began her remarkable service to the nation in 1920 in Berkeley, California, where she trained as a nurse, married, and settled into a home on Oregon Street.
Racism and discrimination prevented Albrier from securing employment as a nurse, but she was able to secure a job with the Pullman Company as a maid and become active in a labor union. Almost from the beginning of her association with labor, she became active in a series of campaigns to challenge discrimination and social injustice wherever it reared its ugly head, including marching against stores and companies that refused to hire people of color. Emblematic of this commitment is the photo of her boldly marching in protest against this practice.
In Berkeley, Albrier was instrumental in organizing protests in the school district to hire its first Black teacher. This activity led to her participation in the “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work Campaign,” which gained national attention after A. Philip Randolph and Adam Clayton Powell inaugurated such rallies and demonstrations on the streets of Harlem.
In 1939, Albrier became the first Black person to run for Berkeley City Council. That was unsuccessful, but she later held prominent positions in the California Democratic Party for several decades.
Despite acquiring hours of training as a welder, Albrier was denied an opportunity to work in the Kaiser Shipyards during World War II. Once again, she was forced into action, demanding an end to what she perceived as racial discrimination. Ultimately, she was successful and became Richmond’s first Black woman welder. Her determination and persistence allowed thousands of African American and women workers to gain better-paying jobs in the Bay Area shipyards.
Among a long list of pertinent leadership roles, she was president of the Cooks and Waiters Auxiliary and vice president of the Berkeley Democratic Club. She expressed a relentless opposition to the war in Vietnam and served on Berkeley’s Model Cities program, which brought federal dollars to the community. A community center was named after her in Berkeley in 1984, three years before her death.