Gwendolyn Faison served as Mayor of Camden from 2000-2010. The former mayor is now part of a documentary about African American women who participated in the war effort during World War II. Her story as an electronics assembler at RCA during WWII will be featured in Invisible Warriors: African American Women in World War II. Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor had a chance to speak with Faison about her WWII contribution, as well as her time as mayor and what Camden needs to do to improve the lives of its residents.
Looking back at Camden during the war years, Faison says nostalgically that Camden was a beautiful town filled with employment and educational opportunities. “People had homes, they could educate their kids, we had the New York [Shipbuilding Corp.], we had RCA, we had Campbell Soup. We had [everything] from paper clips to battle ships,” she said.
It was during this time that Faison was hired by RCA, making what she calls a “widget” which required her to work on a conveyer belt.
“The conveyer was running fast and you didn’t have time to take care of your personal needs because you had to keep working,” she recalled. “Even though it was during the years that we had some of the segregated things going on we didn’t like, we still made a good contribution by keeping all those supplies going for the wartime.”
She was soon promoted to a timekeeper position when her aptitude for math was discovered. It was a position, she says, led to other opportunities within RCA. “When I was 29, I actually modeled TVs for RCA,” Faison said. “I was later on promoted to one of the supervisors and many, many times I represented RCA as an African American female.”
The Camden of her youth was marked by prosperity, a place brimming with social and economic activity, she says.
“We had about 15 different movies, we had Horn & Hardart, we had restaurants, we had hotels, but when all that left the city, it left it in despair.”
Those days are a far cry from the Camden of today, a city that is riddled with crime and high unemployment. During her time as mayor, Faison says she made a point to listen to the residents, not just the people who could bring investment to the city.
“People are your resources,” she said. “Some of the things that I did and it was beneficial and profitable. We organized outreach to empower the people and they enjoyed it.”