Jackie Peterson is an independent curator and exhibit developer in Seattle, Washington. She curated an exhibition called “The Atomic Frontier: Black Life at Hanford” at the Northwest African American Museum from October 2015-March 2016. In this interview, Peterson describes the exhibition and what she learned about African American experiences at Hanford during the Manhattan Project. She explains how African Americans came to the Tri-Cities, the kinds of work they were able to obtain, and the (largely informal) segregation they faced. She also contrasts how African Americans and Japanese Americans were treated by the federal government during World War II.
Phil Gardner was in charge of labor recruitment for the Hanford site in a region comprising seven states. He discusses how he worked nonstop to hire workers from of all fields across the country for a project he was told nothing about. Gardner recalls travelling over 100,000 miles by planes, buses, trains, and cars. He worked around bureaucratic obstacles in an effort to satisfy ever-increasing quotas.
Luzell Johnson joined the Manhattan Project at Hanford in the spring of 1944. Johnson worked as a cement finisher and helped with the construction of various site facilities, including the 100-F Area reactor building. As an African-American, Johnson discusses what it was like for blacks working on the project and recalls some of the illicit activities that took place in the barracks. He also discusses his experience playing center field for the Hanford baseball team, which included both blacks and whites.
The VanWycks, Fred (“Van”) and Diana (“Di”), moved to Richland (near Hanford) in 1944 from Charleston, West Virginia, where Van worked at DuPont’s Belle Plant as a technician. At Hanford, Van was a plant operator, while Di raised their sons and volunteered actively in the community. In this era, Richland was a raw, new, wind-blown, almost treeless town. The VanWycks watched it change to a pretty city of more than 30,000, with shade trees in abundance and grass that halted the sand storms of the 1940s. Richland had been a government-owned town, and remained so until 1957 when the Atomic Energy Commission allowed private ownership of residences.