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Perils of Probate



In the early 1900s in the Bay Area, African-American lawyers were unwelcome and faced hostile opposition in the legal community.



It was not until 1943 that the American Bar Association allowed Black Attorneys into their organization, and although local bar associations admitted Blacks, their practice was restricted.



In 1955, the first African-American Bar Association, the Charles Houston Law Club, was formed in the Bay Area by 32 African American lawyers. Many went on to become judges, ambassadors, mayors, county supervisors and successful businessmen.



One of those founders was attorney Hiawatha T. Roberts, an advocate and champion of civil rights causes during the 62 years of his career.



Known for his “solo guerrilla lawyering” tactics, Roberts, guided by G.B. Gipson, of the East Bay Democratic Club and Assemblyman Byron Rumford, fought for the integration of the drug store at 13th and Broadway in Oakland that for years had refused service to Blacks.



Roberts served as general counsel for the United Auto Worker (UAW), obtaining integrated housing for minorities near the Ford plant in Milpitas.



He integrated the realtor organization so that Blacks could become members, assisting Ray Collins’ appointment as president to the Alameda County Board. To assure a fair price for homes, Roberts represented Russell City African American’s facing annexation to the City of Hayward, who previously were offered pennies on the dollar in order to use the property to build houses for white folks.



In 1958, Roberts turned from criminal to civil court practice. From 1956 to the present, he has practiced probate law where he discovered discriminatory practices and a “white male only” policy that has denied him fees of approximately $1 million.




Racial discrimination against him began in 2008 while representing Milburn Fort, who died with a $200,000 Deed of Trust on his condo on Lake Merritt.



Upon Fort’s death, the $200,000 dollar lien was on the property, with no written document it secured. This made transfer of the property or the closing of the estate impossible.



It took 17 years of litigation to find the secret judgment regarding the note on the property.



Judge Marshall Whitley, an African-American seated in Probate court, encouraged Roberts to proceed to litigate the matter to conclusion although the estate had run out of money.



Roberts invested $65,000 of his personal money and incurred fees exceeding $235,000. On the eve of closing the estate, Judge Whitley removed Fort’s son as executor, denying the son access to the property even though his nephew had offered $400,000.



The judge appointed attorney Dwayne Leonard as special administrator, who sold the property for $300,000. He then paid off liens and inferior claims to creditors with the exception of Roberts, who he allowed $11,000 on his claim of over $300,000, a priority claim by law.



“When Black lawyers in Alameda County are representing clients, the judge inevitably appoints a court representative for the estate,” said Roberts.



“ There is a 25 court appointed attorney (on a) list – all white males – and those white administrators often make no effort to represent the desires of family members desiring to keep their property.



“They request exorbitant fees while cutting Black attorney fees 40 percent to 50 percent, which only covers overhead. The end result is a denial of profit.



“I’ve made no money, and this has happened to me at least six times, rendering me insolvent. This is a gross violation of the judge’s discretion to the point that it is illegal.



“At age 89, I am now insolvent, leaving my wife and I to live solely on social security at $2,600 a month, while the court has denied me close to a million dollars in fees over the past 10 years.



“I have sought an audience with probate judges for years regarding this racial injustice to no avail.”


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City Must Pay Contractors, Businesses, Non-Profits Promptly

By restoring the Prompt Payment Ordinance, local organizations working for Oaklanders will be compensated in a timely manner and can do more work for Oakland as a result.



Sheng Thao

I have introduced legislation to restore the City of Oakland’s Prompt Payment Ordinance and it will be heard at 1:30 p.m. by the City Council on October 19 because local contractors and local businesses need to be compensated in a timely manner for work they do on behalf of the City.

It’s unacceptable that the city is using the COVID-19 pandemic to delay payment to these local non-profit organizations.  By restoring the Prompt Payment Ordinance, local organizations working for Oaklanders will be compensated in a timely manner and can do more work for Oakland as a result.

In March 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, then-Interim City Administrator, Steven Falk issued an Emergency Order suspending parts of the City’s codes to give the City the flexibility to navigate the uncertain times.  Few would have guessed then that the world would still be navigating the COVID-19 Pandemic nearly 18 months later. One of the ordinances suspended by the Emergency Order was the Prompt Payment Ordinance.

Oakland’s Prompt Payment Ordinance requires the City to compensate local businesses and contractors executing City grants or contracts within 20 days of receiving an invoice.  This allows local organizations providing services on behalf of the City of Oakland to be compensated in a timely manner and builds trust between these organizations and the city.  Local contractors and businesses provide a diverse set of services to the City, covering areas ranging from trash removal and paving to public safety.

Almost 18 months since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Oakland’s Prompt Payment Ordinance is still suspended.  Even as City staff have adjusted to working remotely and the City has adjusted to operating during the pandemic, there is no requirement that the City compensate its contractors or local businesses in a timely manner.

Oaklanders can comment at the meeting by joining the Zoom meeting via this link or calling 1-669-900-6833 and using the Meeting ID 885 2765 2491 and raising their hand during the public comment period at the beginning of the Council meeting.


The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Black History

Ruth Carol Taylor: Breaking the Sky-High Ceiling

During a 1997 interview with Jet magazine, Taylor described herself as a “blacktivist,” and admitted that she had “no long-term career aspirations as a flight attendant but only wanted to break the color barrier.”



Ruth Carol Taylor. Fair Use Photo

It was the 1950s. The United States had been dubbed “the world’s strongest military power.” The economy was booming. Jobs were overflowing; housing was plentiful. But for Black Americans, racism was on fire, the Civil Rights Movement was gaining speed, and the best-paying jobs were for whites.

The airlines were no exception.

None of this stopped Ruth Carol Taylor (1931–), a journalist and nurse from New York City, from submitting her application to Trans World Airlines (TWA) for the position of airline stewardess (known today as flight attendants).

Her application was rejected almost immediately because she “did not meet the airline’s physical standards.”

Stewardesses, at the time, were selected because of their physical attractiveness and height/weight conformity. But the decision made to reject Taylor’s application was racially motivated. She filed a discrimination complaint with the New York State Commission and approached other airlines offering the position.

Mohawk Airlines, a regional passenger airline operating in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S., mainly in New York and Pennsylvania, began advertising open positions for stewardesses. The company also announced the open recruitment of Black women. More than 800 applied, and Taylor became one of the new hires. This made her the first African-American airline flight attendant in the US. It was 1958.

When asked about being the only Black hire, Taylor said that she believes it was “due to nearly white-passing skin and features.” She completed her training in early 1959 and was ready to take on her first flight.

After a few months, TWA, threatened by the lawsuit, brought its first Black stewardess onboard: Margaret Grant.

A short time later though, Taylor was grounded. She was let go from Mohawk on another discriminatory practice: she met and married Rex Legall and was forced to resign from her position. A ban against stewardesses being married or pregnant was not uncommon at that time.

Due to the decisive court case of Diaz vs. Pan Am., the no-marriage rule was eliminated throughout the US airline industry by the 1980s.

Taylor and Legall traveled and lived abroad for a few years. After their divorce, Taylor, in 1977, returned to New York City and nursing.

Best known for breaking the color barrier in the airline industry, Taylor was also an activist for minority and women’s rights. In 1963, she covered the March on Washington as a journalist for a British magazine, Flamingo.

By 1977, she began to focus more on her work as an activist. In 1982, she cofounded the Institute for Inter-Racial Harmony Inc. There she developed testing designed to measure racial bias in educational, commercial, and social settings.

During a 1997 interview with Jet magazine, Taylor described herself as a “blacktivist,” and admitted that she had “no long-term career aspirations as a flight attendant but only wanted to break the color barrier.”

Today she lives in Brooklyn.

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A’s Owner John Fisher Port Proposal No Good for Oakland

Billionaire John Fisher, owner of the A’s, has things to do before he can take over Oakland’s public port property to build malls and housing for the rich. 



Howard Terminal on Port of Oakland Map


Billionaire John Fisher, owner of the A’s, has things to do before he can take over Oakland’s public port property to build malls and housing for the rich. 

It is such a bad idea and the costs to the public are so ridiculous that logically it shouldn’t happen.  But this right-wing, Trump-supporting Republican has a boatload of money and a few corporation-oriented politicians to help him push it through.  

So, Oaklanders need to be active, or he might get it. Here are two of the things we need to act on: 

  1. Fisher won’t spend his own money.  So, he wants Alameda County to give up spending on things like the COVID-19 pandemic, so we residents can pay for his project with taxpayer money.  The vote on this will come up to the Board of Supervisors on October 26.  If you’d prefer that the County fund health care, housing and other resident necessities, ask them to vote “No.” Call your supervisor at 510-208-4949 and/or attend the meeting.
  2. The Oakland City Council will make the ultimate decision about Fisher’s project and there are a zillion reasons they should say “No.”  Among them: a) Fisher’s project requires that thousands of people run across the tracks of a busy railroad, which killed a number of people even before there were big crowds needing to get to their condos or a stadium.   b) And  Fisher’s project would wreck Oakland’s Port.  The “Seaport Compatibility Measures” necessary to keep the Port alive would cost hundreds of millions of dollars which would not be needed if it were not for Fisher’s project.  So, Fisher, not taxpayers, should pay for them. c)  And then there are all the other ways it will hurt the waterfront, the environment, and Port workers.

You can get contact information to reach your Council member here –

Personally, any public official who votes for Fisher’s project will never get my vote again.   Call me hard-headed, but the harm to  Oakland as a working-class, multi-racial city, the harm to the ILWU (the union of Port workers, perhaps the most progressive union in America)  and the opposition of the people of East Oakland are enough to make my hard head think that’s what solidarity requires.

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