In 1931, while serving as secretary for the Northern Board of the California Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, Vivian fought hard to stop a racist bill that would have segregated children in recreational areas. The proposed law was written in response to a battle in Los Angeles to integrate public pools. Letters co-written by Vivian were reproduced in full in the Oakland Tribune as part of Delilah Beasley’s “Activities Among Negroes” column.
One letter to Frederick M. Roberts, the first African American man to be elected to the California State Assembly read:
Dear Sir: The California Federation of Colored Women’s clubs … on the 6th day of January 1931, have unanimously gone on record as protesting the passage of the discriminatory act sponsored by the League of California Municipalities. This bill proposes to discriminate against colored boys and girls by setting aside for them certain hours and days in public playgrounds and swimming pools. Speaking for the thousands of colored voters, we petition you to use your best efforts before the legislature to prevent the passage of this bill.
The legislation was defeated.
Later in the decade, Vivian campaigned relentlessly at universities and women’s clubs to help get anti-lynching legislation passed. In 1938, the California Eagle newspaper reported on a lecture-reception Vivian was hosting: “Her appearance in Los Angeles is expected to draw throngs and ovations similar to that received in the South,” it wrote, “especially at Fisk University where [writer and civil rights activist] James Weldon Johnson gave up his scheduled appearance in order that students might hear her.”
The Eagle quoted Vivian as saying, “If we keep constantly demanding of our senators that they vote for it, the [Wagner-Van Nuys-Gavagan anti-lynching] bill will be passed. Many of them are coming up for reelection and women’s auxiliaries should know those who supported the measure and use their vote accordingly.”
The anti-lynching bill ultimately failed to pass after four senators from Texas, Georgia and Florida filibustered for 30 days straight to block it. But the frustrating failure did nothing to dull Vivian’s fighting spirit.
hroughout the 1930s, Vivian was focused on helping young Black people across the nation. In California, she was Supervisor of the State Federation of Colored Girls. As part of her role as Delta Sigma Theta’s national president (1935-’39), she organized a traveling library for children in rural Georgia. Then she created a program called Teen Lift, which covered travel and ticket costs for underprivileged Black children to attend operas, symphonies, concerts and other live events.
During the Great Depression, Vivian was the first Black woman on the West Coast to take on the position of state supervisor of the National Youth Organization. Working in the Division of Negro Affairs, she was tasked with finding jobs for unemployed people of color between the ages of 16 and 25 and ensuring that other parts of the organization were free from discriminatory practices.