In 1942, Baltimore geared for war. The port was mobilized as a key shipbuilding center for the Navy. During World War II, the Bethlehem-Fairfield shipyard alone built nearly four hundred Liberty ships. That created thousands of jobs, many for immigrants and African Americans.
When I first came to Baltimore and my father took me around to Key Highway, I guess you would call that Maryland Shipbuilding or whatever it was, but the ships came right up to -- almost right up to the street. When I saw that, I mean these huge ships, it was fascinating to me. I was awestruck. I mean, I had never seen anything like that before... Things were going on. Everybody was busy, everybody was working, doing something. It was exciting, to say the least, for me. It remained that way for a long time.
I can recall my father when he came up from Virginia he started to work at the shipyard driving rivets. I'm told that that was a tough hot type job with steel rivets into shipbuilding. Somebody in my wife's family that worked at Maryland Dry Dock, worked there for many years. It was hard. I don't know all of the things that they did in repairing and building ships, but it was hard work. But it was one of the places that paid fairly well and you could get a job.
-- William "Dewey" Parrish, shipyard labor leader, on the wartime shipyards
People who had been filling bags with fertilizer suddenly had jobs riveting ships together," says Baltimore journalist Fraser Smith. For thousands of families like the Parrishes, shipyard work was a hot crucible of opportunity.