Her father was born a slave in South Carolina and was freed in 1838, he traveled to California during the Gold Rush, settling in Oakland.
In 1854 her mother founded California’s first Negro School in Sacramento and was the first teacher. She also founded a private school for minority groups in Alameda County in 1858, when Indians, Negroes, and Chinese were not allowed in White public schools. The school was at their home at 1335 East 15th Street in Oakland.
The Flood’s had son George who is believed to be the first African American child born in Alameda County. Elizabeth and Isaac Flood were not only one of the earliest African American families in the Oakland area, but they were also one of the most prominent and progressive.
In 1871 her father, a leader of the Colored Convention, successfully fought to have Negro children admitted to public schools.
The Oakland School Board passed the following resolution:
In 1872 his daughter Lydia became the first student to attend the Swett School (later the Old Bella Vista School). Then she attended night school at Oakland High and later married John William Jackson in 1889.
Activist and Clubwoman
Jackson was a member of the Native Daughter’s Club and the Fannie Jackson Coppin Club for forty-two years. Jackson was also a leader in the California Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. While a member of the Federation, she on them to demand women’s suffrage. While addressing the organization’s 1918 state convention, she told her audience.
Today we are standing on the threshold of a great era looking into futurity to the mid-day sun of Democracy”
In this series of posts, I hope to show Then and Now images Oakland Schools. Along with a bit of history of each school, I highlight. Some of the photos are in the form of drawings or postcards, or from the pages of history books.
Note: Piecing together the history of some of the older schools is sometimes tricky. I do this all from home and online — a work in progress for some. I have been updating my posts with new information or corrections.
Let me know of any mistakes or additions.
King Estates Junior High School
In 1956 the city of Oakland and the Board of Education (OUSD) agreed to purchase a 46-acre tract on Mountain Blvd. near the Oak Knoll for future development as a combined school and recreation area.
They purchased the land from the heirs of Arthur Dale King a Hillsborough millionaire, who died in 1952.
Under the agreement, 19 acres of the total 46 were for the two new schools.
In June of 1958, the Board of Education approved the plans for the new King Junior High School on Fontaine Street.
The estimated cost of the school was $1,638,445. The school was designed by the firm of Confer and Wills.
In October of 1960, the board ok’d the name “King Junior High” for the new school in King Estates.
In March of 1973, 15-year-old Leonard Key watched his mother die by a sniper’s bullet outside the school gym. Leonard’s mother, Mrs. Kay Key, and two sisters had just seen him play in an all-star basketball game.
Police arrested two 15-year-old boys who confessed to firing random shots onto the campus with a sawed-off shotgun and a .22-caliber pistol.
King Junior High Today
In 2005 two small highs schools opened at the campus; they are the Youth Empowerment School and East Oakland Community High School.
Now Rudsdale Continuation School and Sojourner Truth School are there.
The school named for Ralph Johnson Bunche (1903-1971). He taught Political Science at Howard University and was the first African American to get a Ph.D. in political science from an American university. He worked with helped Martin Luther King Jr. He was the first African American to be honored with the Nobel Peace Prize. He helped form the United Nations and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President John F. Kennedy.
Bunche Visits the School
In 1966 Ralph Bunche paid a visit to the school that bears his name.
“I have been waiting to come and see you since the school was established.I’ll try not to do anything that would anything that will embarrass you.”
Ralph K. Bunche 1966
Ralph K. Bunche 1966
Ralph K. Bunche 1966
He spoke to the 450 students in the play yard of the school. He then spent about an hour shaking hands with all the children and signing autographs.
After the event, some of the children said:
“He’s real nice, I liked the way he talked,” said Claudia Mason age 10
“He’s an intelligent man,” “He’s a real fine gentleman “
said Wayne Jackson age 10
Tribute to Bunche
Ralph Bunche Day was held on November 19, 1971. The children of the school paid tribute to the man the school is named after.
The Board of Education approved plans for the new school in February of 1927.
The plans called for a two-story steel and concrete structure at an estimated cost of $260, 000. The “Spanish type” building constructed in the form of an L and had 35 classrooms, a gymnasium, shops, and an auditorium.
Westlake Junior High was known as Lakeview Junior High.
The formal dedication of the school was held on March 14, 1928.
Renaming the school became necessary to avoid conflict with Lakeview elementary school.
The students wanted the school named after Col. Charles Lindbergh. The board decided against that. Lakeview Junior High became West Lake Junior High in May of 1929
One hundred sixty-two students graduated from West Lake Junior High on June 06, 1929. “The Biggest Class Ever.”
In 1970 Saundra Brown was the first black women accepted for the Oakland Police Department’s Recruits Academy.
I ‘m kind of optimistic”
Saundra Brown December 1970
Born and raised in Oakland. She felt she knew the problems of the young here. She said “in a city like Oakland, with its Black Panthers and militant groups there is a special need for minority police officers”. She worked with teens during her college days.
Saundra graduated from Fresno College with a degree in sociology. She always ad her eyes set on working with juveniles and looked into law enforcement as a possible field. She applied at OPD immediately after her June 1969 graduation. No opening existed.
She was working as claims adjuster when she heard that OPD was looking for a “black policewomen”.
At that time a MALE recruit needed only a high school diploma or a score of 262 on a GED course. A WOMEN must have a four-year college degree or four years’ experience in law enforcement. She had that.
She attended the same 15 week Police Academy as the 22 males in her class. She was expected to compete with the males.
She took courses in criminal law and report writing, first aid traffic investigation and the Oakland penal code. There were also defensive tactics, involving strenuous activities such as calisthenics, some judo, a little karate.
Oh, I did alright I guess” she laughed. I can throw the biggest guy in the class.
Saundra Brown – December 17, 1970
During the course she learned for the first time in her life, to handle firearms.
I used to be scared of guns,” she laughed,. “but now I feel safer with a gun in possession because I know how to use it”
Oakland Tribune Dec 14, 1970
On December 18, 1970 she accepted her star and the congratulations from Police Chief Charles Gain as the only women in the police academy of 24.
She finished near the top of her class . She hoped to be assigned to the juvenile division. However Chief Gain had other ideas
As the only minority-group policewomen, she joined a slightly larger minority. There were 710 men on the force; only 7 women.
At that time women were not allowed to compete with men for advancement. Fascinated with the legal issues she encountered on the job as a policewoman, Saundra decided to attend law school while continuing to serve her hometown of Oakland as a police officer until 1977.
She was a judicial extern, California Court of Appeals in 1977, and was a deputy district attorney in Alameda County, California from 1978 to 1979 and from 1980 to 1982. From 1979 to 1980, she was a senior consultant to the California Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice.
She was a trial attorney of Public Integrity Section of the United States Department of Justice from 1982 to 1983, and then served as a Commissioner on the Consumer Product Safety Commission from 1983 to 1986, and on the United States Parole Commission from 1986 to 1989.
She was a Judge on the Alameda Superior Court, California from 1989 to 1991.
On April 25, 1991, Armstrong was nominated by President George H. W. Bush to a seat on the United States District Court for the Northern District of California vacated by William Austin Ingram. She was confirmed by the United States Senate on June 14, 1991, and received her commission on June 18, 1991.
She earned a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) from the Pacific School of Religion in 2012 and she assumed senior status on March 23, 2012
The world’s largest and fully mechanized mail handling facility designed to serve central California and the Pacific ocean area
Postmaster General – Aug 1959
It was announced the facility would be built on a 12-block site in West Oakland bounded by Peralta, 7th and Wood Streets, and the Southern Pacific railroad yards.
The postmaster general officially named the Oakland project “Project Gateway”
Major Problems –
City officials were excited that construction will begin in about one year. They expected an Oakland payroll of some 750 workers and the clearing of some 20 acres of sub-standard homes for a significant redevelopment project.
Oakland Mayor Clifford E Rishell noted that the post office project presents some significant problems – chiefly the relocation of some 300 families (about 1000 people) in the project area.
The Oakland Redevelopment Agency was in charge of the relocation. A survey at the time determined that half of the 300 families had moderate incomes that will permit them to rent or purchase a home in other sections of the city. The other half will probably require public housing.
The job we face isn’t easy, but it isn’t impossible
Arthur Hoff – Oakland Redevelopment Agency
One of West Oakland’s most revered landmarks was lost with the razing of the New Century Recreation Center and adjoining school property at Atlantic, Pacific, and Peralta Avenues.
Also lost in the project would be a junkyard, few businesses, and McFeely School, which opened in 1949.
In a March 1960 special meeting of city officials and postal officials were told that 34 families had already received eviction notices. The families lived in homes already sold the government by Southern Pacific. 21 families had already found new homes.
August 1, 1960, was when they were to begin clearing the site,
A squadron of bulldozers was set to plow into the 12-block place of buildings. All put 12 parcels of the 187 total had been acquired in negotiation. Commendation orders were entered for the holdouts.
The postal officials were perplexed when building wrecker Aldo S. Allen submitted a low bid of $64,000 to clear the 20-acre site for Project Gateway. He was $10,000 lower than the next lowest bid and $50,000 lower than the highest bid.
“I got an idea” Allen a one time midget car racer explained.
Aldo S. Allen – 81st Ave Oakland CA
His idea consisted of $2,000 purchasing a surplus Sherman Tank of World War II vintage, a 73,000- pound dreadnaught powered by a 500 horsepower engine. The tank would be much more powerful, faster, and safer.
He was Right!
Aldo climbed into the tank, which was in front of a row of six houses. He first practiced on a tree,
SNAP! Down went the tree.
Without pausing, he went towards the first house and bore a tunnel through the house. The second story remained intact. Again he aimed for the home, there was a roar, and the second story came down burying the tank for a moment.
10 Minutes Flat! The time to clear the first house
It took 90 minutes to flatten and remove all 6 houses
The William M Stephens family was a very successful African American family from Oakland. They owned the Stephens Restaurant, and Virginia, their daughter, won acclaim at the age of fourteen when her name “Jewel City” was selected for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition buildings in a competition sponsored by the San Francisco Call-Post. Virginia went on to be the first African American woman to receive a law degree University of California Berkeley‘s Boalt School of Law in 1929.
The Stephens Family
William Stephens was born in 1870 in Accomack County, Virginia. He moved out to California while still a child and attended school in Oakland and San Francisco. After graduation, he completed coursework at Heald College before taking a job with the Southern Pacific Railwayin 1886. Beginning as a Sleeping Car Porter, he worked his way up to a clerkship under H.E. Huntington, assistant to the company’s President.
In 1894 he lived at 1132 Linden Street in West Oakland.
In 1898, Stephens resigned from Southern Pacific and took a position with the Crocker family, traveling with them throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Through these travels, Stephens learned about the hotel and restaurant business.
In 1901, he married Pauline Logan (1874-1929) of Tehama, California.
Pauline gave birth to one daughter, Annie Virginia (who went by Virginia), on April 7, 1903. Due to his daughter’s health problems as a young girl, Stephens resigned from his post with the Crockers and began working at an Oakland social club. He moved on from this position in 1915 to manage the Clubhouse at the Hotel Del Monte Golf and Country Club in Monterey County.
Pauline died in May of 1929
William died on November 21, 1932
Eventually, Stephens opened his own restaurant in Oakland. Known as Stephens’ Restaurant, it grew from small quarters into a large establishment seating over 200 people, occupying three locations near Lake Merritt.
During the 1920s and 1930s, the restaurant enjoyed great success and was usually filled to capacity. Stephens took great delight in employing African American high school and college students so they could earn money for their education.
Stephen’s daughter, Virginia, won acclaim at the age of fourteen when her name “Jewel City” was selected for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition buildings in a competition sponsored by the San Francisco Call-Post.
Virginia attended the University of California at Berkeley and received a bachelor’s degree in science in 1924.
Encouraged by her father to attend law school, she enrolled in Boalt School of Law at UC Berkeley and earned a degree in 1929. At that time, she was only the second woman to receive a law degree from the school and the first African American woman to complete the program. Virginia passed the California Bar in the same year, the first African American female attorney in California.
While at Berkeley, Virginia and Ida L. Jackson were charter members Rho Chapter in 1921 and Alpha Nu Omega, a graduate chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha. These were among the first Greek sororities for African American women west of the Mississippi.
Virginia married attorney George Coker (1906-1970). The Cokers helped tutor African American students for the State bar exams. They moved to Virginia and maintained a private law practice there for almost a decade.
In 1939 after working in private practice for ten years, they moved back to California, settling in Sacramento. Virginia received an appointment as Attorney in the State Office of the Legislature Council in Sacramento in May 1939. In this capacity, she helped with drafting and amending legislative bills, and worked under four different legislative councils:
Upon her retirement in 1966, Virginia had attained the position of Deputy of the Indexing Section. Virginia died in Sacramento at the age of 83 on February 11, 1986.
Royal Edward Towns (February 10, 1899–July 23, 1990) was one of the first African American firefighters in Oakland and was instrumental in helping desegregate the fire department. Towns was born in Oakland in 1899, and when denied union membership in his factory job because of his race, went to work as a railroad porter.
He joined the OFD in 1927 and was assigned to Engine Company No. 22, a segregated firehouse in West Oakland. The station was located at 3320 Magnolia Street. He helped train many other black applicants to pass the test, and was scoutmaster for a Boy Scout troop that included Sam Golden, who went on to become the first African American fire chief in Oakland.
Royal Towns was the 11th black Oakland fireman when he was hired in 1927. The 12th wasn’t hired for another 15 years.
In 1971 there were only 35 black firemen.
Towns became the first to be promoted in the OFD. He became a chief operator in 1941 and retired as a lieutenant in 1962.
Towns was instrumental in helping desegregate the fire department. He helped train many other black applicants to pass the fire department test.
Royal Towns was born in Oakland on February 10, 1899, to William Towns and Elizabeth Towns.
Towns married Lucille Dennis May 26, 1920. Together they had three children. The family lived in various locations within Oakland
A special edition of my blog, in honor of Black History Month and a wonderful man.
I was lucky enough to know Clavin Simmons personally. He was the conductor of the Oakland Symphony when I worked there.
Let me back up a little bit my Mom Sarah Chambers started working at the Oakland Symphony in 1977 when I was still high school. She began as the receptionist and worked her way up the ladder to the Director of Education.
During the summer, she would sign me up to hand out flyers at lunchtime events. One of our board members would do the same as her daughter Libby Schaff, now the Mayor of Oakland.
I was hired in 1980 as the receptionist, and I also worked my way up the ladder to Box Office/Marketing Assistant. We both worked for the Symphony until September 1986 when they filed for bankruptcy.
Before the Oakland Symphony
Calvin was born in San Francisco in 1950.
Music was apart of his life from the beginning. He learned how to play the piano from his Mother.
He was the assistant conductor with the San Francisco Opera from 1972 to 1975, winning the Kurt Herbert Adler Award.
He remained active at the San Francisco Opera for all his adult life, supporting General Director Kurt Herbert Adler, first as a repetiteur and then as a member of the conducting staff. He made his formal debut conducting Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème with Ileana Cotrubas. His later work on a production of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District drew national attention.
In 1979 he conducted the premiere of Menotti’s La Loca at San Diego.
He made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera conducting Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, returning the following year. He was on the musical staff at Glyndebourne from 1974 to 1978 and led the Glyndebourne Touring Opera.
Simmons became musical director of the Oakland Symphony Orchestra at the age of 28 in 1978. He was one of the early African-American conductors of a major orchestra.
On Sunday, August 22, 1982, I was next door helping my husband, who was repairing our neighbor’s roof. All of a sudden, my mom screams out the window that Calvin has died. Such a sad day. It took another week to find his body. I t was such a loss to Oakland and to the music world. He was on his way to greatness.
Calvin was visiting friends in Upper State New York. Connery Pond was a place he went to a lot to unwind and regroup. While waiting for dinner, Calvin decided to take a canoe ride out in the pond. He was by himself about 150 feet from the shore, he was a good swimmer. A woman was taking pictures of the sunset from the shore. She pointed her camera towards Calvin, and he must have noticed that, and being the ham he was, he stood up to pose. He then fell into the water.
Various articles from August 1982
A Final Tribute
There was a memorial service on September 07, 1982, at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, more than 2200 people attended.
There was a memorial concert on September 20, 1982, at the Paramount Theatre.
Calvin joined the Youth Orchestras tour in July of 1982