UAW Black History Month Spotlight: Ben Gross
Gross became a UAW member in 1949 when he joined UAW Local 560 at Ford Motor Co. in Richmond, California, and began a 62-year long affiliation with the UAW that included a string of groundbreaking positions. In 1950, he became the first African-American elected to the local’s bargaining committee. Four years later, as chair of the local’s housing committee, he helped create the Sunnyhills cooperative development in Milpitas, California, the first labor-sponsored, planned, interracial community in the United States. It was especially noteworthy in a city that, according to U.S. Census data from 1960, was 94 percent white, with 6,179 white residents and 277 blacks.
In 1961, Gross was elected to the Milpitas City Council, a first for an African-American. In 1966 and 1968, city residents elected him mayor, the first African-American mayor to represent a predominantly white California town. He answered the UAW’s call to come to Detroit to serve as the UAW’s assistant director of the Civil Rights Department in 1971, and stood strong with the UAW at key civil rights demonstrations across the country, bringing his pursuit of justice and racial equality to all of his work with the UAW until his retirement in 1986. Following his death in 2012, the City of Milpitas honored the civil rights champion and UAW leader by naming a street in the Sunnyhills development after him.