The City of Oakland boasts an impressive roster of Black achievers and historical landmarks. During the years surrounding World War II (1939-1945), many Black people moved to Oakland for defense industry jobs and established a vibrant community of blue collar workers, professionals, and merchants. Today we acknowledge only a few of the.many notable personalities and places that have contributed to Oakland's proud legacy.
Day 15 - O is for Oakland Black History
(1915 -1993) Oakland native Williams attended Peralta Elementary School, Claremont Jr. High, and University High School. He won the Gold Medal in the 400 meter race at the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics. "Archie F. Williams was one of the legendary African-American track stars whose decisive victories at the 1936 Berlin Olympics publicly demolished Hitler's propaganda of Aryan supremacy." He was one of only 14 African American pilots commissioned to the aviation meteorological cadet program during WWII, and the first flight instructior of the Tuskegee Airmen.
(1938-1997) Flood attended McClymonds High and graduated from Oakland Technical High. In 1956 Flood was signed by the Cincinnati Reds for $4,000, and 2 years later was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, where he played for 12 years. From Flood’s very first season he believed in the power of merit-based pay for ballplayers. He engaged in a legal battle with the League over players' rights and pay. He lost, but his battle set the stage for today's free agency.
Russell attended West Oakland's McClymonds High School (class of '52). Russell went on to the University of San Francisco. He was drafted by the St. Louis Hawks in 1956 and won a gold medal with the US team in the 1956 Olympics. He joined the Boston Celtics late that same year. He was the NBA Most Valuable Player for 1957-58 and played with the Celtics from 1956-1969, winning 11 championships in 13 years. His style of playing defense, and his teamwork are said to have changed the game. Russell was the first Black NBA coach [playing and coaching at the same time] in 1966, and head coach and general manager of the Seattle SuperSonics from 1973-1977.
Born and raised in Oakland, Payton played high school basketball at Skyline High. He was a nine-time NBA All-Star and nine-time All-Defensive First Team member. He redefined the guard position with his defense and helped lead the Sonics to the 1996 NBA Finals. Ten years later, he was with the Miami Heat, with Shaquille O'Neal and Dwayne Wade, winning the 2006 NBA title. Nicknamed "The Glove" for his defense, he was menace on the court.
History & Culture
African American Museum & Library
The African American Museum and Library at Oakland (659 14th St.) is dedicated to the discovery, preservation, interpretation and sharing of historical and cultural experiences of African Americans in California and the West for present and future generations. The reference library supports the archives and museum with a special, non-circulating collection of materials designated for library use only.
West Oakland's 7th Street
"The Harlem of the West"
In the 1940s and early 1950s, Seventh Street became a nationally reputed cultural haven for African-Americans. Jazz and blues musicians from around the country would perform in the Street’s myriad clubs, producing a sound and scene known as the West Coast Blues. During the day, it served as a bustling place of commerce hosting a myriad of businesses such as markets, cleaners, restaurants, hotels and gyms. At night, its many nightclubs offered a thriving social scene that drew the hottest names in jazz from around the country.
To hear the West Coast Blues, the place to be was Slim Jenkin’s, the most renowned club on the West Coast. It attracted a mixed clientele and the hottest names in jazz and blues like Nat King Cole, B.B. King, Charles Brown, The Ink Spots, Aretha Franklin, Duke Ellington, and Sarah Vaughan. Lines would bend around the corner, while taxis zipped in and out filled with people waiting to listen to Jenkin’s next big act.
"As the nation’s oldest Black-owned independent bookstore, Marcus Books’ mission is to provide opportunities for Black folks and their allies to celebrate and learn about Black people everywhere. It is a space that affirms and reflects back every beautiful shade of black. At Marcus Books we understand literature as essential to building cultural competency and intellectual awareness. We cherish Black makers of literature and art. Marcus Books stocks an essential catalogue of works including children's and young adult fiction and nonfiction, classics, bestsellers, cookbooks, ancient and contemporary history, poetry, biography and graphic novels."
Black Panther Headquarters
Along the Victorian lined streets in West Oakland was where the Black Panther Party's headquarters was located. Central HQ was the hub for all national party decisions and directives. The headquarters at 14th and Peralta Streets saw famous members like Huey Newton and Bobby Seale host rallies, speeches and parties that would shape the East Bay as we know it. It was also where the Black Panther Party newspaper staff was located. After 1972 Central Hdq was moved to 85th Ave. and international Blvd.
Soul Beat Television
Oakland's Soul Beat Television was one of the first Black owned TV stations in the country. Founded by Chuck Johnson in 1978 and airing until 2003, the modest station showed Black music videos not played on white stations. Local artists like MC Hammer, Too Short, and Tony Toni Tone got exposure on Soul Beat. Though low budget in its technical execution, there is no disputing Soul Beat's role as a unique Oakland Black history moment.
Simmons (1950-1982) was born in San Francisco to a musical mother who enrolled him in the SF Boys Chorus. Simmons was serving as assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic when he was appointed music director of the Oakland Symphony in 1979. He became the first African American to lead a major American orchestra. He was 28 years old. A mural of Calvin Simmons resides under the freeway at the intersection of Grand Avenue and the 580 Freeway in Oakland. His portrait in a rapidly fading mural is one of only a few reminders in Oakland of this incredibly gifted and exceptional man who died tragically in a boating accident in 1982.
Oakland native Sheila E. is a world-class drummer and percussionist who has worked with some of the most critically acclaimed artists of all time, including Marvin Gaye, Beyoncé, Herbie Hancock and Diana Ross. She was Prince’s drummer and musical director during Sign O’ the Times, Black Album and Lovesexy, but was already an artist in her own right, having scored hits such as “The Glamorous Life” and “A Love Bizarre.” Her fusion of pop, R&B, funk, rock, Latin and jazz influences make her a thrilling songwriter and performer.
The Pointer Sisters have enjoyed a long and successful career in the music industry. They began their formal vocal training in their father's church, The Church of God in West Oakland, California. They went on to achieve world-wide fame and have secured a place in pop music history. In 2017, Billboard listed them as one of the Top 5 female groups of all time.
Born Stanley Kirk Burrell in Oakland in 1962, as a young baseball fan, he was a bat/ball boy for the Oakland A's, where he entertained fans by dancing during breaks in the game, and earned the nickname "Hammer" for his resemblance to all-time home run leader "Hammerin'" Hank Aaron. MC Hammer truly brought rap music to a mass pop audience. His second album, Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em, became the best-selling rap album of all time. He broke down numerous doors for rap music in the mainstream, demonstrating that hip-hop had the potential for blockbuster success in the marketplace.
Morrie Turner, Cartoonist
Morris "Morrie" Turner (1923 – 2014) was an Oakland-based artist and the first nationally syndicated African American cartoonist, with the comic strip Wee Pals (1965). Turner grew up in West Oakland and attended McClymonds High School but graduated from Berkeley High.
Wee Pals was the first strip with a diverse ethnic makeup of the children in a cartoon. At first, the comic strip ran in only five major newspapers, but within three months of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the cartoon was in over 100 newspapers. Turner's intentions in drawing the Wee Pals comic strip were to "portray a world without prejudice, a world in which people's differences -- race, religion, gender, and physical and mental ability -- are cherished, not scorned."
Click Here for Day 16 - P is for The Poets
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