Tag Archives: black history month

Freedom Songs at Studio Grand

After doing everything and anything I could to take advantage of last weekend’s gorgeous sunshine, balmy temperatures, and springtime blooms, I could have easily planted myself on the couch to rest my weary bones in front of some mindless TV. But I opted instead to hit this show–solo even, since I could find no other takers on a Sunday night–and I’m so glad I did.

Not just for the show, which was beautiful, inspiring, and quite moving. But also for the introduction to Studio Grand, a space about which I am incredibly excited. It’s the kind of place I’ve fantasized about creating for a long time… a gallery, no… a performance space, no… a community art center. Oh sweet Jesus, it’s all of the above! I can’t wait to learn more and explore some of their super-interesting upcoming offerings.

But on to Sunday’s show…
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Freedom Songs was listed in my Friday post about weekend activities to celebrate Black History Month, and is the one event I attended. It featured four local Bay Area vocalists (Valerie Troutt, Amy Lacour, Tiffany Austin, Kimiko Joy) performing selections from the traditions of gospel, spiritual, folk, and soul.

I arrived just in time for the second set which highlighted mostly contemporary works by Nina Simone, Sam Cooke (by way of Mahalia Jackson), Jill Scott, Stevie Wonder, Mos Def, and more. My guess is that the first half focused on more of the early gospels and folk songs, and I’m sorry to have missed this.

Each woman in turn performed a song of her choosing, perhaps giving a little history of the song and why she selected it. The set transitioned from songs of struggle during the civil rights movement (Too Slow, A Change Is Gonna Come, Someday We’ll All Be Free, and Visions), to songs of celebration (Golden, Tree of Life, and Shine A Light).

It’s hard to describe how touching these performances were. My words can’t convey the power of these women’s voices and the heart and love that they projected into the crowd. The song that really got me was right in the middle of the show, rounding out the songs of struggle with one emphasizing disappointment, yet still so full of hope.

It’s one of the less well-known songs from Stevie Wonder’s wildly popular and seminal album Innervisions, which featured such hits as Too High, Living for the City, and Higher Ground, and garnered several Grammy’s including Album of the Year.  It is considered by many to be one of his greatest and most important works, addressing such issues as “drugs, spirituality, political ethics, the unnecessary perils of urban life, and what looked to be the failure of the ’60s dream.”(wikipedia).

Visions is the mournful embodiment of this last issue, and Amy Lacour’s rendition brought tears to my eyes. Here are the lyrics for those who aren’t familiar with it…

People hand in hand
Have I lived to see the milk and honey land?
Where hate’s a dream and love forever stands
Or is this a vision in my mind?

The law was never passed
But somehow all men feel they’re truly free at last
Have we really gone this far through space and time
Or is this a vision in my mind?

I’m not one who makes believe
I know that leaves are green
They only change to brown when autumn comes around

I know just what I say
Today’s not yesterday
And all things have an ending

But what I’d like to know
Is could a place like this exist so beautiful
Or do we have to find our wings and fly away
To the vision in our mind?

The current gallery exhibit Abstracts in the Way of Being by Todd Thomas Brown, though difficult to fully appreciate at night, seemed the perfect backdrop for this show, with bold abstracts in striking reds and blacks. The vocalists were all accompanied by the incredibly soulful stylings of pianist Joe Warner. And the show culminated with a group performance including all four of these beautiful women, encouraging the crowd to sing along.

I was singing all the way to my car… in my head as I went to bed that night… and on into this week. I want to thank Studio Grand for hosting an excellent show, and to all of these courageous artists for sharing their hearts with us!

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Get Your Black History Month On…

black history month quotes

There’s just one week left. So if you haven’t yet done something to honor our black brothers and sisters of Oakland, here are a slew of diverse and interesting options to choose from this weekend…

Friday – 2/21

  • African American Heritage through Storytelling (2pm)

    Kirk Waller is a storyteller who utilizes his musicality, physicality, emotion and spoken word to convey a wide array of African and African American Folktales, Stories and Legends. Fun for the whole family.
    Oakland Public Library, Main Branch 125 14th St., Oakland 510-238-3134

  • Blackball Universe: Black Minus Afrika (7pm – 12am)

    Black Minus Afrika is an exhibition that takes a look at modern perceptions of Africa as well as contemporary notions of ‘Blackness’. The exhibit features art by Oakland-based artist Gathinji Mbire, among many others, and runs through the end of March. This reception is FREE and open to the public and will feature refreshments and music by Fantastic Negrito.
    Blackball Universe – 230 Madison St., Oakland 94607

Saturday – 2/22

  • Black History Month Walking Tour (10am – 12pm)

    FREE downtown walking tours highlighting African-American leaders who helped shape present-day Oakland. Learn how Lionel Wilson, Delilah Beasley and Marcus Foster changed the city and the Bay Area. Simply meet at AAMLO shortly before 10am to participate.
    African American Museum and Library at Oakland – 659 14th St.
    510-238-3234  www.oaklandnet.com

  • The 18th Annual Art of Living Black Exhibition (12pm – 6pm)

    Bay Area Black Artists Exhibition and Self-Guided Art Tour features emerging, mid-career and established artists of African American descent from the San Francisco Bay Area. FREE and open to the public.
    American Steel Studios: 1960 Mandela Parkway, Oakland 94607

  • Black Vines: A Toast to Black Wineries & Diverse Art (1pm – 4pm)

    The third annual celebration of art, culture, and wine, bringing together African American artists and vintners. Tickets presale $30; door $40 purchase tickets here
    Betti Ono Gallery – 1427 Broadway, Oakland 94612

    African American Heritage through Storytelling (2pm)

    Kirk Waller is a storyteller who utilizes his musicality, physicality, emotion and spoken word to convey a wide array of African and African American Folktales, Stories and Legends. Fun for the whole family.
    Oakland Public Library, Montclair Branch 1687 Mountain Blvd., Oakland 510-482-7810

  • Blackball Universe: Black Minus Afrika (7pm – 12am)

    Black Minus Afrika is an exhibition that takes a look at modern perceptions of Africa as well as contemporary notions of ‘Blackness’. The exhibit features art by Oakland-based artist Gathinji Mbire, among many others, and runs through the end of March. This reception is FREE and open to the public and will feature refreshments and music by Fantastic Negrito.
    Blackball Universe – 230 Madison St., Oakland 94607

Sunday 2/23

  • The 18th Annual Art of Living Black Exhibition (12pm – 6pm)

    Bay Area Black Artists Exhibition and Self-Guided Art Tour features emerging, mid-career and established artists of African American descent from the San Francisco Bay Area. FREE and open to the public.
    American Steel Studios: 1960 Mandela Parkway, Oakland 94607

  • Freedom Songs: Valerie Troutt, Amy Lacour, Tiffany Austin & Kimiko Joy (6:30pm – 8:30pm)

    Four Bay Area vocalists in the round featuring selections from the traditions of gospel, spiritual, folk, and soul. 6pm doors, $10-15 suggested donation
    2013 Studio Grand – 3234 Grand Avenue, Oakland 94610

TONIGHT: Art & Wine Gallery Night with Friends of OAM

Fun event tonight at two very cool uptown galleries, Classic Cars West and Warehouse 416. I’ve written about both in previous posts, which I’ll link at the bottom…

Tonight is a fundraiser and membership drive for Friends of OAM. Tickets are $15 for the individual event. Or with the purchase of an annual membership of $50, you get free admission tonight and to all other quarterly gallery nights such as this one. Your contribution is tax-deductible and supports an organization doing great work in our city.

Friends of OAM work to “support the Oakland Art Murmur in its mission to increase awareness of and participation in the visual arts in Oakland.”

Classic Cars West is hosting Passage by Night, a unique installation of work by collaborative team Isaac Amala and Liz Simpson, featuring sculptural and painterly constructions from neckties.

And Warehouse 416 presents In Search of Sheba: Black Women Artists 2014 in honor of Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March). Numerous artists’ works in a variety of mediums (sculpture, painting, textile fashion, video, photography, pen & ink, and découpage) will be featured.

Hope to see you there…

FOAM-gallery-night

Historical posts:

Black History Month Wrap Up…

Can you believe February is almost over?! I realize it’s a short month – I’m sure some comedian’s done a riff about how African Americans got their own history month, but dammit if they didn’t get the shortest month of the year!  In any case, this is likely my last post of the month so I want to write just a bit more about some of the Black History of our city…

For those who want to research more of the contributions of Oakland’s influential African American leaders on their own, tomorrow is the last chance till summer rolls around to take the New Era / New Politics walking tour offered by the City of Oakland.  If interested,  meet on steps of AAMLO tomorrow, Saturday the 27th at 10 am.

I already wrote about the Pullman Porters, the union they ultimately organized – The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and their West Coast leader, C. L. Dellums.  Today I’ll talk just briefly about our current city mayor Ron Dellums (C.L.’s nephew), as he is exemplary of the second generation of blacks in the Bay Area.

Born here in 1935, he is truly one of Oakland’s native sons.  He attended Oakland Technical High School and McClymond’s High School, served two years active duty in the United States Marine Corps, then received his A.A. degree from Oakland City College, a B.A. from San Francisco State University, and later his Masters degree in Social Work from U.C. Berkeley.

He worked as a social worker in Berkeley before running for City Council there, serving 3 years, and later ran for Congress (one of few non-lawyers to do so).  He was the first African American elected to Congress from Northern California. Representing Oakland, Berkeley and surrounding areas, he was re-elected 13 times before retiring mid-term, to be replaced by appointment by his first assistant Barbara Lee.

Known for his opposition to the Vietnam War, his politics earned him a place on the so-called Nixon’s Enemies List. “In January, 1971, just weeks into his first term, Dellums set up an exhibit of Vietnam war crimes in an annex to his Congressional office. The exhibit featured four large posters depicting atrocities committed by American soldiers, embellished with red paint.” (Wikipedia)

During his 28 years in Congress, he became known as an expert in military and foreign policy, and was the first African American ever to serve on the Armed Services Committee, ultimately rising to Chair of the Committee.

“[He] used his leadership positions to question US policy and brought about the first real strategic debates on military policy in the post-Cold War world. He led successful fights to stop the misguided MX missile system, to limit the Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”) and B-2 bomber programs, as well as other expensive and unusable nuclear war-fighting weaponry. As important, his leadership resulted in substantially improvements in the working and living conditions of those serving in the military and their families. Despite opposition to US military policies, Ron continually fought to better the conditions of the men and women who were the instrument of these policies.” (http://www.mayorrondellums.org/career/)

After retiring from Congress, Dellums worked as a legislative lobbyist for years before throwing his hat into the Oakland Mayoral race in 2006.  Defeating Councilpersons Ignacio De La Fuente and Nancy Nadel, he assumed office in January 2007.  I’m not going to offer up much commentary on his accomplishments to date (and there are some, including bringing millions of dollars in stimulus funds to our city)…  many others are far more qualified to do so, but in general I would have to say that, in my humble opinion, he has been less effective than his predecessor Jerry Brown.

I’ll just leave it at that, and move on to a bit more history, including the creation of the Federal Building below that bears his name…

oakland city federal building, ron dellums

WHITE FLIGHT

“In the postwar decades, Oakland suffered through many of the same urban crises that afflicted other cities: chronic unemployment, racial tensions, physical deterioration of the central district and some once-proud neighborhoods… Oakland’s decline seemed self-perpetuating, since a lack of faith in the city meant an acceleration of its abandonment.” (Oakland: The Story of a City, Beth Bagwell)  Let’s just say things looked pretty bleak back then.  But two significant things happened in the re-development of Oakland:

  1. BART
  2. City Center

The Bay Area Rapid Transit System was conceived in the early 1950’s to replace the already demolished Key Rail System.  “In 1951, the State Legislature created the 26-member San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit Commission, comprised of representatives from each of the nine counties which touch the Bay. The Commission’s charge was to study the Bay Area’s long range transportation needs in the context of environmental problems and then recommend the best solution.” (BART History) After years of study, the commission recommended development of high-speed rapid rail network linking commercial and suburban centers in five counties (San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and San Mateo – who both would later withdraw).

I won’t go into all the history of BART’s development, because it is extensive and you can find exhaustive information on their website (see link above).  But according to our tour guide Renate, it was relatively easy to build BART through the heart of downtown Oakland in the late 60’s and early 70’s because so many buildings at the time had become neglected and/or abandoned.

Passenger service began on September 11, 1972 and the importance of this transportation system to Oakland’s eventual revitalization cannot be understated.  In fact, it is still being touted today… “Oakland’s central business district has 10 million square feet of Class A office space and is served by two BART stops.  By comparison, San Francisco’s central business district has 40 million square feet of Class A office product and is served by two BART stations.  The foundation is in place for Oakland to experience tremendous growth.” (2009 Oakland’s Uptown/Downtown CBD pamphlet)

After BART came City Center. Initially consisting of just two buildings (the Wells Fargo building built in 1973 and the Clorox building opened later in 1976), City Center now comprises five buildings and 1.5 million square feet of Class A office and retail development, including the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building complex which was opened in 1994.

Consisting of two identical towers connected by an elevated sky-bridge, the Federal Building, though bearing the name of our current mayor, can really be attributed to the efforts of Lionel Wilson, the first African American mayor of Oakland, who served from 1978 until 1990.  In the early 1980’s, the federal government decided they needed a West Coast presence and it was Mayor Wilson who sold them on Oakland… namely for the price of free.  Though BART then provided easy access, much of downtown Oakland was still deserted at the time.  Where the new Federal Building now stands, an old abandoned department store once existed, sold to the federal government for something like a single dollar.  Who could refuse that deal?

With its opening in 1994, including an IRS office and Veteran’s Administration office, the new Federal Building brought 1700 new employees to downtown Oakland, virtually overnight. Thus began the revitalization of Oaktown…

Dave Chappelle played Oaktown!

Ok…  I’m backtracking a bit here, so no spoiler alert necessary… I’m sure everyone and their brother knows by now that Dave Chappelle played a great, relatively new (opened in October 2009), little club in Oaktown called The New Parish.  What folks may not know, is that I was lucky enough to see one of these shows.  Woo hoo!!

First, The New Parish at 18th and San Pablo.  It was called “Town Hall” prior to its new debut last fall, and apparently Dave made a super-secret appearance there in April of 2009 (his first appearance in Oakland since 1996)… not a bad notch to have on your belt.  Prior to its short-lived incarnation as Town Hall, the venue was known as Sweet Jimmie’s after its proprietor Jimmie Ward, who opened the club in 1990 (he had a previous location, opened in 1982, but it was damaged during the Loma Prieta earthquake).

“Sweet Jimmie” Ward died just a couple of weeks ago at the age of 74… I’m going to quote extensively from a blogpost I found about his passing (Sweet Jimmie Ward Dies – Aimee Allison | Oakland Seen) because his story fits neatly into the framework I discussed last week, of that first generation of Southern Blacks who came to Oakland in search of better opportunities, to leave their lasting marks on our city:

A former longshoreman, he was one of hundreds of thousands who came from the South to work at the shipyards or on the Army base during World War II and stayed to raise families and start businesses and shape neighborhoods. Ward made Sweet Jimmie’s into the place to go – dressed to the nines – where old soul from Mississippi and Louisiana and Georgia was alive.

Those in Sweet Jimmie’s generation brought small town manners and blues and political organizing and art. They created a legacy and culture in Oakland that defines us today. Now, Oakland’s black population has plummeted under the weight of unemployment and police sweeps and shady mortgages. But you can still see the storefront of the old Sweet Jimmie’s at 577 18th Street in downtown Oakland. Many people don’t know that for many years it was an important meeting place for African-American political and community organizations. It was a center of influence. And while many celebrate the remaking of culture and nightlife in the city, I am taking a moment to mourn what we lost. See, Sweet Jimmie’s wasn’t just another nightclub, Jimmie Ward just another nightclub owner. He represented an era here in Oakland. And that era is over.

While that era may be over, it is no secret that Sweet Jimmie’s nightclub suffered a decline in its later years.  There are some entertaining stories on YelpEven Dave Chappelle did a riff on this during his show, spoofing on the scene from Sixth Sense… “I see dead pimps… and they want me to do things for them!” The crowd roared in hilarity, because before the whole remaking of the Uptown district of Oakland, this little stretch of San Pablo was known to be hella-ghetto, to put it bluntly.

One era ends… another begins… and I am here to loudly celebrate the new era of The New Parish, Uptown, and Oakland at large.

But let’s get back to the show…

For those who don’t know (I didn’t know) Dave is known for his ridiculously long sets… My friend who went to the late show said she left at 4:15 am and Dave was still going strong! We went to the early show… Thank God!

While we lined up outside, we were told that Dave was across the street at the Piedmont Piano Company.  Doing what you might ask?  Well… I assume playing piano.  And if you’re gonna play piano, this is a pretty sweet spot indeed.

piano company, piano company on san pablo, uptown piano company

Housed in the historic California Furniture building, just one of dozens of Art Deco gems in downtown Oakland (stay tuned… I’m hoping to do a whole Art Deco series next month), the new location just opened a few weeks ago. They’re a family owned and operated business, providing not just new and used pianos for sale, but rentals, tuning services, music lessons (including guitar, drums, and more), and recitals. That’s right… they’re utilizing this gorgeous space for live performances too. Next performance is March 13th at 8:00pm Rebel Tumbao…  “merging Roots Reggae and Roots Afro-Latin vibrations with original compositions and wicked arrangements of Bob Marley’s music, all with a critical progressive social message for our times.”  Sounds pretty cool, eh?

But I digress…
waiting in line, dave chappelle, new parish

As we waited in line, we chatted with all the folks who were equally excited to see Dave in such a small venue. I don’t know for sure but my guess would be that the Parish holds about 300 people. The line ran right past the windows of the new restaurant next door, Hibiscus, where Dave would later eat dinner after he tired of his piano playing. I heard from friends the drinks are good. We’ll have to check them out another day…

The Parish staff were ultra-professional and seriously buttoned-up. Notices were posted along the full length of the line about restrictions on photography, video, and most interestingly, heckling… “NO HECKLING WILL BE TOLERATED.” Who the hell would heckle Dave?! Anyway, despite all the notices, the doorman gave us the full verbal run-down as well… You can’t do this, you can’t do that, you will get thrown out. I asked, “Jeeezzz… Are we allowed to laugh?!” Absolutely. Enjoy the show.

new parish, oakland new parish, oakland music clubs

Above is the one and only picture I took inside, taken well before Dave took the stage… there was no way I was getting thrown out of that gig. It’s a pretty bad shot, but it gives you a feel for the space. I’ve been to one other show at the Parish and there was no seating as there was for this show (to enforce the two drink minimum). Typically there’s a nice dance area directly in front of the stage with wrap around areas on three sides and an upstairs with another bar and prime viewing from on-high.

What else can I tell you? Dave was hilarious. Of course. There was a ton of interplay between him and the crowd and I was surprised how conversational the show was… definitely not a scripted routine. The man is smart. And quick. Of course race played a big theme throughout the show, but not just black vs. white and not your stereotypical race-based humor. The crowd was incredibly diverse, as is our city, and Dave poked fun at all of us equally. The female scientist from Tunisia. The hipster Saudi with his trucker cap askew. And the hippy kids from Nevada who entered the club with backpacks in tow. I could try to replay the jokes, but I know they’d fall flat. I’ll just say we all laughed together, at each other, at ourselves, and for me, it was a truly transcendent experience. Props to The New Parish… Thank you!

“Fight or be slaves!”

Ok, let’s see…. we left off talking about the Pullman Porters of West Oakland.  These men were part of the first wave of African Americans migrating to California in search of better opportunities.  C. L. Dellums was one of these men.

“C.L. Dellums’ father was born in slavery, just two and a half months before Juneteenth (June 19), 1865, the date emancipation belatedly came to Corsicana, Texas. C.L. left Texas for California determined to become a lawyer, declaring that ‘I don’t plan to wear these overalls for the rest of my life.’ But in the 1920s there were few decent jobs for African Americans, and Dellums went to work as a Pullman railroad porter as a last resort, reading constantly to learn about the world and ideas.” [‘Fight or be slaves!’ by Albert Lannon]

He was exemplary of the first generation of blacks in the Bay Area who found their options more limited than they had imagined. Though the porter jobs provided many with steady work and income, the conditions were not ideal…  wages were low and employees of the Pullman Company were dependent upon tips from white customers to supplement their income.  They were also required to pay for food, uniforms, and lodging out of their wages, and also were uncompensated for additional work time spent in preparatory and clean-up duties.

As a result of these conditions, the porters organized themselves into the first African American labor union in the United StatesThe Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.  First organized in 1925 by a group of 500 porters in Harlem, after years of having organizing efforts squelched by the company, they not only launched their campaign in secret, but also chose A. Philip Randolph, “an outsider beyond the reach of the Company, to lead it. The union chose a dramatic motto that summed up porters’ resentment over their working conditions and their sense of their place in history: ‘Fight or Be Slaves'”.

Randolph realized the need for a West Coast counterpart in organizing the Pullman Porters and chose C. L. Dellums, designating him Vice President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1928, at which time he was promptly fired from the Pullman Company.  It took more than a decade for them to have any real negotiating success, but in 1937 the Brotherhood finally won a contract with the Pullman Company.  “It was the first economic agreement ever signed between African Americans and a white institution. It sent the message of unionism to the black community nationally.” [‘Fight or be slaves!’ by Albert Lannon]

Uncle of former congressman and current Oakland City Mayor Ron Dellums, C.L. became a major figure in Oakland’s African American Community, personally exemplifying the possibility of black empowerment.  He went on to serve as western regional director of the NAACP, and later was also instrumental in the organization of the 1941 March on Washington.  After his death, the new Amtrak station at Jack London Square was dedicated in his honor, a statue of Dellums adorning the entrance.

His nephew Ron Dellums is exemplary of the greater opportunities available to the second generation of African Americans in the Bay Area… thanks to the tireless efforts and sacrifices of those who came before them.  I’ll try to get more of this history up in the next few days, but again, I’ll just mention that most of this information was provided free of charge on Oakland’s city walking tour “New Era / New Politics” which will be offered one more time later this month… February 27th at 10am (meet on steps of AAMLO).

The rise of a black middle class…

I took a city walking tour about a week ago in honor of Black History Month… titled “New Era / New Politics” and offered by the city of Oakland free of charge, it’s one of eight walking tours covering different topics in Oakland’s history.  The tours typically only run during summer months from May through October, but this one exclusively is offered three times during February to celebrate the contributions of influential African American leaders to Oakland’s development.  In fact, this tour was developed and first offered in conjunction with the opening of the African American Museum and Library at Oakland (AAMLO) in 2002.  We met on the steps of the AAMLO to begin our tour…

Our guide, Renate, began with a broad statement…  that Oakland, as a medium-sized American city, is unique in its diversity, and specifically its history of diversity. And she attributed this difference primarily to the success of the Pullman Porters.

For those not familiar with the Pullman Porters, a bit of history… In the late 1800’s, Oakland was designated as the western terminus of the Transcontinental Railway.  This railway system connected the eastern portion of the United States with the new western states, and more specifically the burgeoning city of Oakland directly with the more established metropolis of Chicago.  Around this same time, George Pullman, an inventor and entrepeneur based in Chicago, developed railway sleeping cars, designed to offer trans-continental transport in a manner of luxury previously unavailable.  His first cars – containing sleeping berths, curtains, carpeting, upholstered chairs, and washrooms at each end – were called Palace Cars, and were marketed with the motto “luxury for the middle classes.”

To complement this experience of luxury, Pullman exclusively hired African American men to staff his cars as porters and wait-staff, believing that they were well-suited for these positions as “people who had been trained to be the perfect servant[s].” Though the jobs were not particularly well-paying and advancement was limited, they afforded many steady employment and income, as well as the ability to travel… novel concepts for blacks in that day and age in America.  By the 1920’s and 30’s the Pullman Company was one of the largest employers of blacks in America, many of whom lived and worked in West Oakland around the now defunct 16th Street Central Station.

When California joined the ranks of the “united” states in 1850, it did so as a free state with a constitution that abolished slavery.  But despite this, our tour guide Renate informed us that prior to the 1920’s, there were very few blacks in California.  It wasn’t until the railway system was completed and the relative prosperity of the early 20th century offered greater mobility that the first migratory wave of African Americans settled in California, many coming to Oakland in search of greater opportunities.  Throughout our tour, Renate emphasized the differences between this first generation of blacks in the Bay Area, those who had roots in the east and south, and the second generation, their offspring born and raised in California.  The opportunities available to the first generation would be fewer than expected… those coming with hopes of obtaining university educations to establish careers as doctors and lawyers were frustrated to find themselves excluded in ways that had not been expected in the reputedly liberal state of California.

But the Pullman Porters jobs allowed many families to settle in West Oakland… employees were actually required to establish residency within running distance of the train station. These early entrants into the formal blue collar workforce of America took hold of a rung from which they propelled themselves into the mainstream middle class of American Society (Rising From The Rails by Larry Tye).  One of my favorite quotes from the tour was something along the lines of the following:

Once you have an educated middle class,”historical consciousness” comes into being.

With that consciousness, a slew of early black leaders were able to assess the quality and context of their current station in life, and envision a different future possible.  A handful of these visionaries formed the East Bay Negro Historical Society, the remnants of whose archives now form the foundation of AAMLO’s archives.

There is much more to tell, but I am finding it exceedingly difficult to write this from Mexico.  Lo siento.  You can imagine how the gently swaying palms and lapping turquoise waters do distract… Forgive me.

For those interested in delving into this on their own (or too impatient to wait for my vacation-scheduled recap – can you say mañana?), the New Era / New Politics tour will be offered one more time this month… on Saturday the 27th, meets at AAMLO, starts at 10 am.