The Duration – Summary
In this chapter, we see Dorothy Vaughan struggling to balance her work at Langley and her family life in Farmville. She becomes an expert at working eighteen-hour days, taking the earliest bus possible to Farmville when she can, and returning late at night to Langley. However, over the July Fourth holiday in 1944, Dorothy decides to make her temporary stay in Newport News more permanent by signing a lease on a two-bedroom apartment in Newsome Park. This was a comfortable and safe place to live and included a community center, shopping center, and walking distance to Newsome Park Elementary, making it an ideal location for her and her children. While Dorothy’s mother-in-law was resistant to the idea of the family moving, Dorothy was determined to create a stable home for her and her children in Newport News.
The chapter describes the changes that took place in southeastern Virginia during World War II due to the war effort, including the development of new infrastructure, housing, and military bases. The article then discusses the celebrations that took place after the war ended, followed by the challenges of converting back to peacetime. Women who had taken on jobs during the war faced the possibility of returning to domestic life, while African Americans faced renewed discrimination in employment. Virginia’s Democratic senator, Harry Byrd, was a vocal opponent of the Fair Employment Practices Commission, which had helped to promote employment opportunities for minorities during the war.
Dorothy committed to leasing an apartment in Newsome Park despite the uncertain future of the neighborhood and her job status. The residents of Newsome Park had postwar idealism and wanted to create a model community. Despite the desire to return to their former lives, many found that they could not, and the war had changed their lives irreversibly. Dorothy adapted to her new life by hosting a party and becoming close with Miriam Mann and her family. She attended a concert with Miriam at Hampton Institute and watched her children become entranced by the contralto voice of Marian Anderson.
Racism and Inequality:
The chapter touches on the racism and inequality that existed during the time period, with Langley Research Center not offering permanent positions to their black female employees despite their contributions to the war effort. Additionally, the chapter mentions the slum clearance laws that were being used to dismantle predominantly black neighborhoods like Newsome Park while nearby white middle-class neighborhoods like Hilton Village remained untouched.
The chapter also highlights the sense of community that developed among the residents of Newsome Park, as they banded together to create a “model community” and supported each other through the challenges of post-war life. Dorothy Vaughan, in particular, forms close bonds with her neighbors and co-workers, creating a sort of extended family to help her navigate her new life in Newport News.
Luck, Persistent Action, and Hard Work:
The story of the black women at Langley Research Center exemplifies the importance of hard work and persistence in the face of adversity. Despite facing discrimination and limited opportunities, women like Dorothy Vaughan worked tirelessly to prove their worth and advance their careers. Additionally, Dorothy’s decision to lease an apartment in Newsome Park was a risky move, but one that ultimately paid off through her hard work and determination to create a better life for herself and her family.
Scientific Progress vs. Social and Political Progress:
The chapter touches on the tension between scientific progress and social and political progress during the time period. While Langley Research Center was making groundbreaking advances in aeronautics, they were also perpetuating discriminatory hiring practices that limited the opportunities of black employees. Additionally, while Newsome Park residents were working to create a model community, their neighborhood was at risk of being dismantled under slum clearance laws, highlighting the limitations of social and political progress in the face of entrenched racism and inequality.
1. What makes Newsome Park an attractive place for Dorothy to live? How does it differ from Newport News?
Newsome Park was an attractive place for Dorothy to live because it offered her and her family a fresh start and a chance to be part of a model community that was not just for Newport News, but for the entire United States. The neighborhood was built as part of a war effort to provide housing for workers in the local shipyard, and it offered affordable, modern housing that was different from what was available in Newport News. The homes were equipped with modern amenities, including indoor plumbing, central heating, and electricity, which were not available in many of the older homes in Newport News.
Moreover, the community in Newsome Park was characterized by postwar idealism, where the residents were committed to creating a model community. The residents were filled with a sense of purpose and a desire to make a better life for themselves and their families. This was different from Newport News, which was a more established and traditional community that had not gone through the same changes that had occurred in Newsome Park during the war.
In addition, Newsome Park offered Dorothy and her family a sense of belonging and community. She was able to forge close friendships with her neighbors, including Miriam Mann and her family, who became like one large extended family. The neighborhood also had St. Paul’s AME Church, where Dorothy and her family could attend services and feel connected to a larger community.
Overall, Newsome Park offered Dorothy and her family an opportunity to be part of a vibrant and growing community that was committed to making a better life for themselves and their families. It was different from Newport News in that it was newer, more modern, and characterized by postwar idealism and a strong sense of community.
2. How did the end of the war and V-J Day change working conditions in the U.S.? What did it mean for women, in particular?
The end of the war and V-J Day brought significant changes to working conditions in the U.S. The war effort had led to a significant increase in employment opportunities, especially for women who had taken on many traditionally male jobs. However, with the end of the war, many of these jobs were eliminated, and women were expected to return to their traditional roles as homemakers.
In chapter 7, we see that Dorothy, a mathematician, had been employed by the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory during the war, working on calculations for the development of aircraft. However, her employment status was still uncertain, as her wartime employee status had not been converted to permanent. This highlights the insecurity of employment for many workers at that time.
The end of the war also led to significant social changes. The chapter describes how the war had brought people from diverse backgrounds together, creating a sense of unity and shared purpose. However, with the end of the war, these bonds began to fray, and old social divisions began to reassert themselves.
In particular, women faced significant challenges as they tried to reintegrate into society. Many had enjoyed newfound independence and opportunities during the war but found themselves relegated to traditional roles once again. The chapter mentions how Dorothy’s older children had mourned the loss of their small-town freedom, highlighting the challenges of adjusting to new circumstances.
Overall, the end of the war brought significant changes to working conditions and social dynamics in the U.S., with women facing particular challenges as they tried to navigate these changes.
3. Why does Virginia senator Harry Byrd oppose the FEPC?
Virginia Senator Harry Byrd opposed the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) because he believed that it was an intrusion on states’ rights. He and other southern politicians argued that the federal government did not have the authority to regulate hiring practices of private businesses within a state. Byrd was also a proponent of segregation and believed that the FEPC would lead to integration of the workplace, which he vehemently opposed. He argued that the states should be allowed to regulate their own employment practices without interference from the federal government.
Names mentioned in Chapter 7
Miriam Mann: She is a friend of Dorothy Vaughan and her family, and they become like an extended family. They often take advantage of the many activities available on the Hampton Institute campus together.
Marian Anderson: She is an acclaimed contralto singer who announces a performance at the Hampton Institute’s Ogden Hall. Dorothy and Miriam buy tickets in advance to secure their seats and attend the performance together.
VJ Day: VJ Day refers to Victory over Japan Day, which marks the end of World War II in the Pacific with the surrender of Japan to the Allied Powers on August 15, 1945.
Uncle Sam: Uncle Sam is a personification of the United States government or the American nation, often depicted as a tall, thin man with a white beard, top hat, and red, white, and blue clothing. In the above texts, Uncle Sam is mentioned as the symbol of American patriotism and the driving force behind the war effort during World War II.
Newsome Park: Newsome Park was a wartime housing project in Newport News, Virginia, designed to provide housing for African American shipyard workers and their families during World War II. The project was built on an abandoned golf course and contained over 300 prefabricated houses. Despite being a temporary housing solution, Newsome Park was seen as an opportunity for African Americans to escape the rural poverty of their home communities and take advantage of better-paying jobs in the shipyards. The community was described as one that was brimming with postwar idealism, with residents calling upon each other to create a “model community, not just for Newport News, but for the entire United States.” However, the future of the neighborhood itself was uncertain as nearby neighbors attempted to dismantle Newsome and Copeland Parks under slum clearance laws.