A podcast about history

That's not stuck in the past

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Ruth Beckford was known as “the Dance Lady” because she mentored several generations of young women through her popular classes and introduced the Bay Area to Afro-Haitian styles with her electrifying performances. She also co-founded the Black Panther Party’s free breakfast program, which FBI director J. Edgar Hoover called “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” Ruth Beckford passed away on May 8, 2019. Reflecting on the diverse accomplishments of her former teacher and lifelong friend, Deborah Vaughan said “Ms. Beckford rode life until the wheels came off.”

A towering image of Ruth Beckford (below the word “arts”) is the centerpiece of the Alice Street Mural, which will soon be blocked by a new development. The Community Rejuvenation Project painted this tribute, which is explored in the film “Alice Street.”

Although an iconic mural of Ms. Beckford will soon be covered by a new development, her 93 years of joy, activism and strength still looms large. This episode explores the life of a woman who collaborated with Maya Angelou, volunteered in women’s prisons, and much more. Featuring interviews conducted by the African American Museum & Library at Oakland and by Penny Peak for the Museum of Performance and Design, listen now for a powerful trip through nearly a century of Oakland history.

Ruth Beckford’s Oakland Tech graduation photo, class of 1944
“She could do things with her body most people couldn’t do. It was amazing to watch her.” -Deborah Vaughn, former student and lifelong friend of Ruth Beckford
FBI director J. Edgar Hoover called the Breakfast for Children Program “the most influential activity going for the Black Panther Party.”
St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church on Telegraph Ave & 29th St. hosted the Black Panther Party’s first Breakfast for Children Program, which quickly spread to dozens of cities and inspired many other Community Survival Programs. [Correction: Thank you to Ed Robinson, who noted that the Panthers’ breakfast program started at St. Augustine’s original location, which was located at 27th St. & Telegraph.]
“Dance can be a way of sharing history with generations to come, so they respect it and can pass it on,” according to Deborah Vaughan, co-founder of Dimensions Dance Theater
Ruth Beckford at the Marcus Books release party for “The Picture Man,” which she co-wrote with Careth Reid (seated at right). The book features photographs by E.F. Joseph, who “documented the daily lives of African American in the Bay Area from 1927 until 1979.”
Ms. Beckford lived in the Tudor Hall Apartments near Lake Merritt for many decades.
Ruth Beckford, seen here wearing stained glass earrings she created, said, “I have no regrets, because I had a full, fun life.” Her final wish was for her ashes to be scattered in the Bay. (Photo courtesy of Deborah Vaughan)

If you enjoy the episode, please support East Bay Yesterday: www.patreon.com/eastbayyesterday

“I enjoyed every day”

A tribute to Ruth Beckford
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