For Refuge and Strength: The San Diego Young Women’s Christian Association Branch for African Americans from 1925 to 1951
“For Refuge and Strength” examines African American women’s activism in establishing a community center for black women and girls in San Diego in the early twentieth century through the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). With San Diego as the central focus, this thesis argues that through networking, African American women utilized local organizations to create black and female communal spaces, and secure social services for underserved African Americans in San Diego. They also used the community center that they acquired through the YWCA as a launching point to strategize and mobilize for civil rights. This story is set within the context of mass migrations of African Americans from the South and Midwest to the West during the 1920s, Great Depression, and World War II. With an increasing black middle class population settling in San Diego, racial discrimination was prevalent through employment and housing restrictions. African Americans sought agency through community organizing, which provided structures to dismantle racial discrimination in San Diego. As African Americans had the long-term goal of achieving full citizenship rights and equality, African American women also approached the barriers through practical and immediate solutions of youth recreational services. The mission eventually broadened to develop safety nets for African Americans in San Diego, as well as obtain community resources, including, temporary housing, employment, and a community center. Although African American women were able to acquire these social service resources through a racially separate facility through the San Diego YWCA, they occupied the space to advocate for black women and advance civil rights. It is significant to examine African American women’s activism through the YWCA to see how they used space and place to remedy discrimination.