While the Papers of Albert Gore Sr. and Congressman Bart Gordon do not highlight the experiences of African American residents of Oak Ridge, their stories are a necessary element to the local history. African American workers occupy a severely underrepresented minority in the history of the Manhattan Projects. Like women workers, the prospect of higher pay and amenities drew many African American workers to the Oak Ridge area. Once there, however, African Americans were met the with same discriminatory measures of Jim Crow laws as any other southern city. They were restricted to a segregated community and cramped living quarters called “hutments.”
These “hutment” facilities were also separated by gender. African American women were assigned to the “Pen.” This was a space behind a large barbed wire fence that divided them from men and had guards stationed outside the fence for their protection. Even married couples were not permitted to live together. And African American children were refused any form of access to the secret city. This mandate was left unchanged until after the war when families were allowed to reunite.
Work opportunities were also highly restricted as African American workers were only permitted access to janitorial, domestic, or construction positions. Histories of African American scientists’ early involvement with Oak Ridge construction however are slowly surfacing. Brittany Crocker in her article “Bias Kept Black Scientists Out of Oak Ridge’s Atomic Bomb Work” discusses this by highlighting two key scientists, J. Ernest Wilkins Jr. and George Warren Reed, whose scientific merits were overlooked in the early days of the Oak Ridge project.
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