Oakland’s Hoover-Foster neighborhood encapsulates more than a century of Black Liberation struggles. It was a destination for migrants fleeing the Jim Crow South to find work in the East Bay’s booming shipyards or as Pullman Porters. The newcomers brought their music, cuisine, and creativity with them, changing California forever. Civil rights leaders, pioneering writers, revolutionary activists, and athletes who smashed through racist color barriers all lived and worked here.
The elders who came of age during the post-World War II years recall growing up in a flourishing and close-knit community. However, as this ethnically diverse neighborhood became predominantly African American, the forces of institutional racism literally came crashing down upon it. The construction of freeways destroyed dozens of blocks of homes and businesses, displaced thousands, and encircled the area with a dangerous border of pollution and noise. Then a Drug War characterized by mass incarceration and police abuse flooded these streets with misery and death, leaving a legacy that still lingers heavily. In more recent years, predatory banks, institutional investors, and real estate speculators exploited this devastation for quick profits, pushing many long-time residents out of Oakland altogether.
But instead of giving up hope, many who still remain are working to restore this neighborhood’s reputation as a beacon of Black self-determination and achievement. One of the organizations leading this push is the Friends of Hoover-Durant Public Library, who have been hosting “pop-up streetcorner libraries” to build momentum towards re-establishing a permanent library in this community, which hasn’t had its own branch in four decades. As an outgrowth of this effort, third generation Oaklander David Peters brought together a group of neighbors, artists, educators, programmers, and other volunteers to highlight this neighborhood’s history through a self-guided Black Liberation Walking Tour. For the past several months, I’ve been collecting oral histories of current and former Hoover-Foster residents and today’s episode of East Bay Yesterday is a preview of the Black Liberation Walking Tour, based on what I’ve gathered.
More details will be coming soon, but the plan is to launch the first phase of this tour in June, with additional phases and attractions to follow in the coming months, including a new mural created by the Bay Area Mural Program. Many people are involved with making the Black Liberation Walking Tour happen – my interviews are only one part of a much bigger project – but if you want a taste of what to expect, listen now to the the first episode of the “Hoover-Foster Stories” mini-series, co-hosted by David Peters and featuring interviews with: Crystal and Lynette Martin of Flint’s Barbecue, Alternier Baker Cook of the Friends of Hoover-Durant Public Library, and community organizer Annette Miller. (Apple / SoundCloud / Spotify)