Posted in Black History, East Oakland, People, West Oakland

African American Women’s Clubs

During the later part of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th black women in Oakland established clubs and institutions to address the growing demands of the black community.

I will highlight some of them here.

Fanny Jackson Coppin Club

The Fanny Jackson Coppin Club was founded in 1899 by members of the Beth Eden Baptist Church

Colored Directory 1917

Not failure, but low aim is the crime.

Motto

The club was named in honor of Fannie Jackson Coppin (1837-1913) who was born a slave in Washington, D.C. and became a renowned educator 

Fannie Jackson Coppin

The Fannie Jackson Coppin Club is known as the “mother club” of the African American women’s club movement in California. 

At first, the club’s priority was to provide African American travelers who could not stay at segregated hotels welcoming places to spend a night.

The club was involved with the creation of the Home for the Aged and Infirm Colored People in Oakland, to provide care for elderly African Americans in the state of California.

Oakland Tribune June 26, 1959
California Club Journal 1973

Art and Industrial Club

In 1906, a branch of the Art and Industrial Club was formed and devoted itself to the arts and to “uplift of the race.”

Deeds Not Words”

Motto
Colored Directory 1917

Mother’s Charity Club

Founded in 1907

Lift as We Climb”

Motto

The Mother’s Charity Club was founded in 1907. They were dedicated to philanthropic endeavors. During its earliest years of activity, the Mother’s Charity Club fed and cared for many children and sick and needy persons.

Colored Directory 1917
1959-60

Elmhurst Progressive Club

The Elmhurst Progressive Club was founded in 1912.

Progressive

Motto
Colored Directory 1917
Oakland Tribune 1914

Imperial Art and Literary Club

The Imperial Art and Literary of Oakland was founded in 1912. They provided charity and promoted art and literary work.

Love and Truth

Motto
Colored Directory 1917
Oakland Tribune 1931
California Club Journal 1973

Self Improvement Club

Self Improvement Club of Oakland was founded in 1916. Their goal was to improve humanity and the surrounding communities.

He who is true to God, is true to Man”

Colored Directory 1917

Rhododendron Self Cultured Club of Oakland

The Rhododendron Club was formed in the early 1950s

Like Ivy we Climb–Lifting as we Climb

Four women holding presents at the Rhododendron Club fashion show at Slim Jenkins

Rhododendron Club fashion show contestants posing at Slim Jenkins

Fidelis Art and Culture Business Women’s Club of Oakland

California Club Journal 1973

The Art Social Club of Oakland

California Club Journal 1973

Royal 10 Society Club of Oakland

I only found this photo. I will update if I find more.

Members of the Royal 10 Social Club attending Hawaiian-themed luau party
Undated
African American Museum

Linden Street YWCA

In 1920, a group of African American clubwomen formed The Linden Street branch of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). 

They provided religious training, counseling services, vocational training, art classes, adult education classes, and all types of cultural events. 

 Located at 828 Linden Street, the branch was housed in a two-story building with four club rooms.

By 1938, the Linden Street “Y” had a membership of over 750.

In 1944 following a new national policy, the board of directors of the central Oakland YWCA integrated the Linden Street YWCA.

“to make its program available to all women and girls irrespective of race, creed, or color.

It was renamed the West Oakland Center of the YWCA. The two-story building was razed in the early 1960s

Group portrait of Les Elites Industrial Club Linden Branch Y.W.C.A

More Info:

I will add to this if I find more.

The End

Posted in Black History, People, Transportation, West Oakland

Oakland’s First African American Cab Driver

Phillip Richard Springer (1874-1952) was the first black man in Oakland to own a taxicab. He was born in Barbados, in the British West Indies and left home at age 16. At first he operated under a jitney permit in Oakland, but he later had the license changed to a taxicab permit. By 1915, Springer’s Cab Company was well established.

The Pullman Porters and West Oakland

The 1916 Directory listed Springer at 1926 Chestnut Street with chauffeur as his occupation

1916
1926 Chestnut – Google Maps

In the 1917 directory, he is listed at 835 Union Street with chauffeur as his occupation.

1917

In the 1925 directory, he is listed along with his wife Edna at 879 Campbell Street with taxi cab driver as his occupation.

1925

From 1927 until his death in 1952, he lived at 957-35th Street with his family. The 1930 census reports that he owns his home, and he was a taxi cab driver at his own stand.

1935
The Springer Home from 1927-at least 1952
957- 35th Street – Google Maps
Exhibit at the African American History Library Oakland
Oakland Tribune Nov 1952

Taxicab Driver Robbed

Oakland Tribune 1942
SF Examiner Jan 1947

Accident

The End

Posted in Black History, People

Lydia Flood Jackson (1862-1963)

When Lydia Flood Jackson died at the age of 101 in 1963, she was the oldest native of Oakland.

1963

She was the daughter of a freed slave, the first Negro to attend an integrated Oakland public school in 1872, and went on to become a leader of the women’s suffrage movement in 1918.

Oakland Tribune Jul 10, 1963

Lydia was born on June 9, 1862, at her family home in Brooklyn Township, now a part of Oakland.

She died on July 8, 1963. Services were held at the First A.M.E. Church in Oakland, California, formerly known as the Shiloh African Methodist Episcopal Church, which her parents helped found in 1858.

Funeral Program – Flood Family Papers

Negro Trail Blazers

Her father was Isaac Flood, and her mother was Elizabeth Thorn (Thorne) Scott Flood.  They were among the outstanding Negro pioneers of California, according to the historical publication “Negro Trail Blazers of California.”

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.

Elizabeth Thorn Flood – African American Library

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.

 Education

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:

Oakland Tribune July 1963

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

Lydia Flood Jackson – Flood Family Papers

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”

Lydia Flood Jackson 1918

Entrepreneur and Inventor

She founded Flood Toilet Creams, a successful West Coast cosmetic business which manufactured toiletries, creams, and perfumes. (I wish I could find more information on this)

Carolyn Carrington pins corsage onto Lydia Flood Jackson as they stand before the altar of church Circa 1960s
Oakland Tribune June 1962

Lydia Flood Jackson was honored on her 100th birthday by the City of Oakland as their “oldest living native and daughter of the first Negro school teacher in California.”

Oakland Tribune June 1962

Lydia Flood Jackson lived at 2319 Myrtle later in life.

More Info:

The End

Posted in Black History, Buildings, East Oakland, Laurel, Schools, Then and Now, West Oakland

Then & Now – Oakland School Part 16

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.

Central National Savings Bank Map 1923

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.

Groundbreaking Oakland Tribune Feb 1959

The estimated cost of the school was $1,638,445. The school was designed by the firm of Confer and Wills.

Oakland Tribune Jun 1958
 

Oakland Tribune Jun 1958
  • Twenty-six classrooms
  • Gymnasium
  • Library
  • Multipurpose room
  • Administrative Offices
  • 800 Students

In October of 1960, the board ok’d the name “King Junior High” for the new school in King Estates.

 

Oakland Tribune Sept 06, 1960

School Shooting

 

Oakland Tribune March 18, 19

Oakland Tribune March 1973

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

 

Google Maps
 

Google Maps
 

OUSD Photo
 

Google Maps
 

OUSD Photo

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.

More Info:

Ralph J. Bunche Elementary

No early pictures of Bunche Elementary

 

Oakland Tribune

Named in Honor of

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.

Oakland Tribune Dec 11, 1971
 

Oakland Tribune Dec 11, 1971

Ralph Bunche died on December 9, 1971.

As good as anyone”

Shirley Coleman, 5th grader

Shirley Coleman, 5th grader

Shirley Coleman, 5th grader

Bunche School Today

Ralph J. Bunche Continuation School – 9-12

The school is located at 1240 18th Street

 

Ralph J Bunche Today _ OUSD
 

Ralph J Bunche Today _ OUSD
  • Ralph J. Bunche website – OUSD
  • Who is Ralph J. Bunche – OUSD

More Info:

McFeely School

No early pictures of McFeely School

McFeely elementary school opened in Sept pf 1947. The school was located at the corner of Fifth and Peralta Streets.

 

Oakland Tribune 1947
 

Oakland Tribune
 

Oakland Tribune 1949

The school was closed in the early 1960s because it was in the way of the New Post Office in West Oakland

More Info:

Redwood Heights Elementary School

No early photos of Redwood Heights

The school was called the Laurel Annex School and was organized in May of 1935.

The name officially changed to Redwood Heights School in June of 1935.

 

Location of the first School

The first school was located at 4359 Bennett Place.  Avenue Terrace Park is there now.

New School and location

The Oakland Board of Education officially broke ground on the site of the new school at Mountain Blvd and 39th Avenue. The new school was the tenth building as part of the 1948 tax election.

The two-story building had 11 classrooms, a kindergarten, an auditorium, and a library. Donovan and Kerr were the architects.
4401 39th Ave, Oakland, CA 94619

 

Redwood Heights Construction 1959
Oakland History Room Photo

Redwood Heights Today

4401 39th Ave, Oakland, CA 94619

 

Redwood Heights Home – OUSD
 

Redwood Heights Home – OUSD
 

Redwood Heights Home – OUSD
 

Redwood Heights Home – OUSD

Westlake Junior High School

No early photos

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.

 

Oakland Tribune 1928

Westlake Junior High was known as Lakeview Junior High.

Dedication Ceremony

The formal dedication of the school was held on March 14, 1928.

Name Change

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.”

Oakland Tribune June 1928
 

Oakland, CA December 13, 1953 – Heralds from Westlake Junior High School opens the Christmas Pageant at the Oakland Auditorium. (Russ Reed / Oakland Tribune Photographer) (Photo by MediaNews Group/Oakland Tribune via Getty Images)

Westlake Today

2629 Harrison Street, Oakland, California 94612

  • Westlake Middle School website – OUSD
 

Westlake Today – OUSD
 

Westlake Today – OUSD
 

Westlake Today – OUSD
 

Westlake Today – OUSD

More Info:

The End

Posted in Black History, Business, People, West Oakland

Slim Jenkins Supper Club – Market

Harold “Slim” Jenkins was an African American entrepreneur and owner of the renowned Slim Jenkins Supper Club on 7th Street in West Oakland.

Exterior entrance of Slim Jenkins nightclub and coffee shop.
 E. F. Joseph Photograph Collection

Liquor Store and Market

SF Examiner

Slim Jenkins saw the economic opportunity in the business district and opened a liquor store on December 5, 1933, the same day as the repeal of Prohibition. Soon the business expanded a cafe.

1934
The exterior of Slim Jenkins Super-Market
 E. F. Joseph Photograph Collection
SF Examiner 1938

Coffee shop opens in April of 1938. The rest is history.

The interior of Slim Jenkins Super-Market
 E. F. Joseph Photograph Collection

The exterior of Slim Jenkins nightclub
 E. F. Joseph Photograph Collection
Oakland Tribune 1955
Oakland Tribune

More Info:

The End

 

Posted in Black History, Oakland, People

OPD – First Black Women Recruit

In 1970 Saundra Brown was the first black woman accepted for the Oakland Police Department’s Recruits Academy.

SF Examiner Dec 18. 1970

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 had her eyes set on working with juveniles and looked into law enforcement as a possible field. She applied to OPD immediately after her June 1969 graduation. No opening existed.

She was working as a claims adjuster when she heard that OPD was looking for a “black policewomen.”

Police Academy

Saundra Brown, the first black woman on the Oakland police force, gets instructions on how to shoot a shotgun, 1970.

At that time, a MALE recruit needed only a high school diploma or a score of 262 on a GED course. WOMEN must have a four-year college degree or four years’ experience in law enforcement. She had that.

She attended the same 15 weeks 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

Graduation

SF Examiner Dec 18, 1970

On December 18, 1970, she accepted her star and the congratulations from Police Chief Charles Gain as the only woman 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 policewoman, she joined a slightly more significant 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 served with OPD from 1970-77

Life after the OPD

She then received a Juris Doctor from the University of San Francisco School of Law in 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 the Public Integrity Section of the United States Department of Justice from 1982 to 1983. She 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.

Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong official portrait art by Scott Johnston, oil on linen, 38×27-inches, collection of the United States District Court of Northern California, Oakland

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

https://blackthen.com/the-real-cleopatra-jones-saundra-brown-1970-look-at-her-now/

More on Saundra Brown

The End

Posted in Black History, Buildings, Business, West Oakland

Wrecker Uses Sherman Tank To…

Project Gateway – West Oakland

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.

Oakland Tribune Aug 26, 1959

The postmaster general officially named the Oakland project “Project Gateway”

Oakland Tribune Aug 26, 19

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.

Evictions

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,

Oakland Tribune Jul 19, 1960

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.

Sherman Tank

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

Oakland Tribune Aug 16, 1960

It took 90 minutes to flatten and remove all 6 houses

Oakland Tribune Aug 16, 1960
Oakland Tribune Aug 16, 1960
Oakland Tribune Aug 16, 1960
Oakland Tribune Aug 16, 1960
Oakland Tribune Aug 16, 1960
Oakland Tribune Aug 16, 1960
The Daily Texan Aug 16, 1960
More on Project Gateway in West Oakland

The End

 

Posted in Black History, Business, People, West Oakland

Stephens’ Family

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.

Stephens Restaurant at 200 East 14th Oakland
Circa 1925 – photo by M.L. Cohen
Stephens Family papers, MS 5, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California.

The Stephens Family

William Stephens Circa 1901
Stephens Family papers, MS 5, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California.

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, Stephens completed coursework at Heald College before taking a job with the Southern Pacific Railway in 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.

Pauline Stephens circa 1898
Stephens Family papers, MS 5, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California.

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

Oakland Tribune May 24, 1929

William died on November 21, 1932

Oakland Tribune Nov 22, 1931

Stephens Restaurant

Group of men standing in front of Stephens’ Restaurant & Lunch Room at 110 East 14th circa the 1920s
Stephens Family papers, MS 5, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California.

Eventually, Stephens opened his own restaurant in Oakland. Known as Stephens’ Restaurant, it grew from small quarters into an ample establishment seating over 200 people, occupying three locations near Lake Merritt.

William Stephens (right) and employee inside Stephens’ Restaurant circa the 1920s
Stephens Family papers, MS 5, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California.

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.

The final location of the restaurant was 200 East 14th (now International Blvd) at 2nd Ave. I am not sure when it closed as it was still in business after Stephens died in 1932

Stephens Restaurant – 1925
Photo By ML Cohen
Stephens Family papers, MS 5, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California.
Oakland Tribune 1930

Virginia Stephens

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 Stephens on the left -The Jewel City, San Francisco, 1915:
PIPE – 100 Years
Oakland Tribune May 01, 1952

Virginia attended the University of California at Berkeley and received a bachelor’s degree in science in 1924.

Graduation Portrait of Virginia Stephens – 1929
Stephens Family papers, MS 5, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California.

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.

1929 Bar Card
MS005_B01_F01_004
Stephens Family papers, MS 5, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, 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.

Members of Rho Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, University of California, Berkeley (left-right): Virginia Stephens, Oreatheal Richardson, Myrtle Price (in back), Ida Jackson (sorority president), Talma Brooks, and Ruby Jefferson (1921), 
African American Museum and Library at Oakland. 

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:

Virginia Stephens Cokerundated
Stephens Family papers, MS 5, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California.

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.

More of the Stephens Family

The End

 

Posted in Black History, History, People, Then and Now, West Oakland

Royal E. Towns – Engine Company No. 22

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. 

Royal E. Towns

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.

The exterior of Oakland Fire Department Engine no. 22
3320 Magnolia Street

Three firefighters sitting in Oakland fire truck parked in the driveway of fire Engine no. 22

Royal Towns was the 11th black Oakland fireman when he was hired in 1927.  The 12th wasn’t hired for another 15 years. 

Royal E. Towns and his colleagues with Engine Company No. 22 of the racially segregated Oakland Fire Department. (1943)

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.

Royal E. Towns (center) and his colleagues with Engine Company No. 22
of the racially segregated Oakland Fire Department. (1943)

Towns was instrumental in helping desegregate the fire department. He helped train many other black applicants to pass the fire department test.

Royal Towns on the left with Oakland firefighters standing in front of fire engine no. 22 – Circa 1943

Personal Life

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

Royal E. Towns died July 23, 1990, and is buried in Mountain View Cemetery

More Photos

The photos are courtesy of the Royal E. Towns papers, MS 26, African American Museum and Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California. Photos at Calisphere

3320 Magnolia Street Oakland – Then and Now
It is no longer a Fire Station

Rolling Hoses in front of Engine No 22

Two firemen attaching hoses to a fire hydrant, firefighters practicing with fire hoses in the park in the background – on Peralta Street

Peralta Street – Then and Now

Firemen holding fire hose in the street next to
Gleason and Company building – Circa 1950s
at the corner of Magnolia and 34th Street

34th and Magnolia – Then and Now

Firemen holding fire hose in the street next to Gleason and Company building
Circa 1950s – 34th and Magnolia

Across from the Gleason Company today

Firemen holding fire hose in the street next to Gleason and Company building
Circa 1950s – 34th and Magnolia

Looking down Magnolia towards 34th St.
Circa 1950s

Looking down Magnolia towards 34th St.
Then and Now

Dog climbing ladder to get an apple in front of Oakland Fire Department Fire Engine No. 22 – circa the 1950s

Fireman jumping off the ladder in front of Oakland Fire Department fire Engine no. 22

More on Royal E. Towns

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Posted in Black History, History, People

Calvin Simmons – 1950-1982

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.

Calvin
Calvin Simmons Conductor

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.

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Sarah Chambers Director of Education and my Mom

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.

By age 11, he was conducting the San Francisco Boys Chorus.

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SF Examiner September 19, 1969

The Maestro Kid

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.

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Oakland Symphony

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.

His debut or audition was in early 1978.

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SF Examiner April 1978
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SF Examiner April 1978
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A wordless Maestro – September 1978

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SF Examiner September 26, 1978

His final concerts were three performances of the Requiem of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the summer of 1982 with the Masterworks Chorale and the Midsummer Mozart Festival Orchestra.

Finale – 1982

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.

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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.

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Various articles from August 1982

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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.

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Calvin joined the Youth Orchestras tour in July of 1982

More on Calvin

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