Today is February 26th, there are 3 days left before March arrives. I have spent just about every day this month thinking, researching, and then overthinking how to honor Black History Month. We live in a city of diversity, a city famous for its role in our country’s African American history. As an Oakland native and voice representing things I love about Oakland, I knew Oakland’s critical role in black history was an important topic which I was excited to tackle. However, I struggled with how to do it “correctly”.
I became overwhelmed with how to honor black history in a way that was appropriate and respectful, that would not appear silly or irrelevant coming from someone of my skin tone. I have spent a lot of time mulling over different topics, historical and current, wondering if I could write something that was honorable. In the end, as the days of the month wound down, I decided I had run out of time to do it properly. My fear of how I would come across got in the way. The other day I was walking in my neighborhood, once again mulling it over, and I realized that even though I had not come up with a post I felt was appropriate, I had learned a tremendous amount about local black history. In that respect, I had accomplished what is at the core of this month’s purpose; to honor and learn. So I decided to share…
I learned about the many faucets of the Black Panther Party after watching the amazing documentary done by Stanley Nelson, which aired on KQED, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. I was fascinated by the parties involvement in social programs and their level of community engagement. I spent time reading about Ericka Huggins and her involvement in the party and her awe-inspiring contributions to society over the past few decades. I learned about Emory Douglas and spent time online viewing his thought-provoking and impactful artwork done for the Black Panther Newspaper.
I hope to make a trip to the It’s All Good Bakery, family owned by Oakland native and former rapper Kim Cloud for 10 years. The bakery is operated out of the building that was the 1st headquarters of the Black Panther Party.
I read about the Oakland Black Cowboys through their local association webpage and was fascinated by this facet of history which we don’t often hear about. They host a parade every year in October, honoring their role in the Old West. It is the only parade of its kind in the United States and has been a local tradition for over 40 years.
I considered doing a post about Oakland’s role in West Coast Jazz, reading about the post-war music scene on 7th Street in Oakland during the 1940’s-1950’s. I researched the colorful pasts of historic venues such as Esther’s Orbit Room and Slim Jenkin’s Supper Club.
I love books. I love the way they look, feel and smell. A good bookstore is my happy place. When I learned that Oakland is home to 2nd storefront of Marcus Books, the oldest black bookstore in the nation, I was inspired to add a trip to my list of things to do when I am in need of some quality “me time”.
Oakland was the western terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad. When George Pullman designed his luxurious sleeping cars, he hired black men to work as his “Pullman Porters“, resulting in an eventual creation of a black middle class and lending a major hand to the settlement of West Oakland. C.L. Dellums, uncle to former mayor Ron Dellums, was one of the founders of the 1st labor organization founded by African Americans, The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. A statue of him sits in a place of honor at the Jack London Amtrak station. Furthermore, I have become intrigued by the historic 16th Street Station and hope to visit and experience its grand spaces.
I immersed myself in the exploding Oakland food scene in search of black owned restaurants and cafes. From now famous spots like Brown Sugar Kitchen, Miss Ollies, and Pican, to the historic charm of Lois The Pie Queen. I loved reading about the story behind Lena’s Soul Food Cafe, a loving tribute to a women’s cooking from her five children. I learned how Everett & Jones came to be.
I read about black artists in Oakland. I read an extensive article done by East Bay Express about the question, “Where Are Oakland’s Black Artists?”. I discovered the Thelma Harris Art Gallery and read about Oakstop and the work they are doing to revive the book series Black Artists on Art, a critical work done in 1969 by Dr. Samella Lewis.
So…I hope my journey this month inspires you to take a few moments to honor Oakland’s rich and far reaching roots entwined in the black history in America. I learned a lot, I am inspired to delve deeper, and I am further appreciative of the the history of our city.
Top Row (from left to right): Lois the Pie Queen – Eugene Kim via flickr / Black Cowboys – Black Hour via flickr (with crop edits) / The Black Panthers – Thomas Hawk via flickr / Esther’s Orbit Room – RadioNicole via flickr (with crop edits) / Slim Jenkins Supper Club – via LocalWiki
Middle Row (from left to right): Waffles and Fried Chicken (Brown Sugar Kitchen) – Sonny Abesamis via flickr / Black Cowboys – via Geni.com / Emory Douglas Artwork – Elvert Barnes via flickr / Marcus Books – Thomas Hawk via flickr
Bottom Row (from left to right): Pullman Porters – via socialwelfarehistory.com / C.L. Dellums Statue – Don Shall via flickr / Black Artists on Art (image from Petaluma Arts Center) – Scott Hess via flickr / Black Panthers – The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense site