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The Rich Black Genealogical Roots of Oakland’s Political and Publishing Greats

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As we prepare to celebrate the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the beginnings of Black History month in February, it is important and instructive that as we appreciate the present growth of political achievements that we know the roots of the bay area’s local African American political organizations at the turn of the W.J. Oglesby was the first African American to run for public office in the Township of Oakland and in Alameda County.

Oglesby also was the first African American to pass the California bar examination making him the first African American licensed to practice law in California.

In 1918 Frederick Madison Roberts, a Republican from Los Angeles, was the first African American elected to the California Legislature. His opponent campaigned with the slogan that he was running against a “nigger.”

Roberts, one of the first African Americans elected to a state legislature west of the Mississippi, served eight terms and became known as the “Dean of the Assembly.” He was defeated in 1934, by the legendary Augustus “Gus” Hawkins.

Hawkins rode the Democratic wave from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1932 election which saw a major exodus of African Americans from the Republican Party.

Even though Roberts was elected as a Lincoln Republican with a distinguished record of scholarly achievements, he was considered a “race man” (Black Nationalist.)

I especially want African Americans in California to understand the economic, political, and social struggles experienced by the first wave of Black migration to the state.

Roberts, along with his brother William, inherited the A.J. Roberts and Son Funeral Home, which was one of the state’s first African American enterprises. Roberts was the owner and publisher of the American Eagle, an African American weekly. He was actively engaged in fighting intolerance and racial segregation.

He co-sponsored anti-lynching legislation with assemblyman William “Bill” Knowland who also was the publisher of the Oakland Tribune.

His legislative successes also created the University of California at Los Angeles. Thomas L. Berkley, founder of the Oakland Post and the first Black Port Commissioner, graduated from UCLA in 1938.

Roberts sponsored legislation that doubled fines to businesses that discriminated against minorities.

He married Pearl Hines Roberts in 1921. She was raised in Tulare County and her family then moved to Oakland, and in 1918, she graduated from Oakland High school. She later studied classical music at the Boston Conservatory of Music.

Roberts was born September 14th, 1879 in Chillicothe, Ohio. He was the son of Andrew Jackson Roberts, a graduate of Oberlin College. His mother was Ellen Wayles Hemings, the granddaughter of Sally Hemings and President Thomas Jefferson. Sarah “Sally” Hemings was an enslaved woman of mixed race owned by President Thomas Jefferson

Sally Hemings’ elder sister Mary, was the great aunt of Monroe Trotter, thus making Trotter and Roberts first cousins.

Monroe Trotter’s genealogical tree connects to Oakland through his niece Virginia Craft Rose, the wife of Oakland’s first Black councilmember Joshua Rose.

Roberts graduated from Los Angeles High School and is believed to be its first African American graduate. He attended the University of Southern California and graduated from Colorado College.

In 1908 he edited the Colorado Springs Light newspaper. He became the President of the Mound Bayou Normal & Industrial Institute, in Mississippi. Mound Bayou, an all-black town was founded in 1887 by former slaves.

In 1912, Roberts returned to Los Angeles, where he founded and edited The New Age Dispatch newspaper until 1948. On July 19th, 1952, Roberts died in an automobile accident in route to the Republican State party convention.

This narrative is an excerpt from Virtual Murrell’s book “I had an Angel on my Shoulder”. All rights are reserved

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Activism

IN MEMORIAM: Oakland’s Own Bill Russell, 88, Greatest Athlete/Civil Rights Activist Ever (Part 1)

NNPA NEWSWIRE — William Felton Russell was born on Feb. 12, 1934, in Monroe, La., and his family moved to West Oakland in 1942 when he was 8. His father found work on the waterfront and in the Bay Area shipyards in the middle of World War II. They instilled in him a history of racial and family pride that helped him survive in a racially discriminatory Boston environment while playing for the Boston Celtics.

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As the first-ranked and highest respected Black sportsman, Bill Russell used his status to lead the nation’s leading Black athletes which included Jim Brown, Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar) and many others to support Muhammad Ali’s stance against the Vietnam War.
As the first-ranked and highest respected Black sportsman, Bill Russell used his status to lead the nation’s leading Black athletes which included Jim Brown, Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar) and many others to support Muhammad Ali’s stance against the Vietnam War.

By Paul Cobb, Post News Group Publisher

Bill Russell, the center of attention in professional basketball, died at 88 after becoming the most decorated athlete in all of the team sports in the United States.

The star of the Boston Celtics from 1956-1969, he changed the way basketball was played by applying his rare combination of basketball and track and field athleticism to fashion a defense-centered dominance. In a sport where one’s ability to score points was prized, he reversed the focus by making defensive thinking to prevent others from scoring.

He died on July 31, after more than 70 years of basketball and civil rights activism.

William Felton Russell was born on Feb. 12, 1934, in Monroe, La., and his family moved to West Oakland in 1942 when he was 8. His father found work on the waterfront and in the Bay Area shipyards in the middle of World War II. They instilled in him a history of racial and family pride that helped him survive in a racially discriminatory Boston environment while playing for the Boston Celtics.

In his early years his home was only three blocks east from Ron Dellums, Oakland’s first Black congressman, and just three blocks west from Frank Robinson, Oakland’s first Black Major League Baseball coach.

While living near Ninth and Center streets, he learned early on that one must fight for honor, dignity, and respect by never backing down from any challenge whether through fisticuffs or verbal slights.

He was mentored at Defremery Park and Recreation Center by the late Dorothy Seale Pitts and George Scotlan along with Bill Patterson, who now serves as an EBMUD Director, to stay centered on what mattered.

Even though he pioneered greatness as an athlete and as a scholar/athlete/civil rights activist who fought to achieve dignity and respect for African Americans, his path to recognition and honor was not easy because was not considered good enough to crack the starting five basketball Warriors lineup at McClymonds High School in West Oakland.

He never stopped trying and practicing with his teammates who were better shooters and scorers. But, at 6-foot 10 inches, he was taller and could jump higher and played defense above the rim. He even became the Warriors’ mascot who created a stunning nimble artistic dance routine as the team’s mascot.

(His achievements attracted many who sought to follow in his footsteps with stylized dance routines that were featured during halftime breaks.)

His mother died when he was 12, never seeing Bill win two state prep titles and two national college crowns at the University of San Francisco after being ignored by many colleges because he was Black.

He was a five-time NBA Most Valuable Player and captain of the 1956 U.S. Gold Medal team at the Melbourne Olympics. He drastically altered defensive play by excelling in rebounding, shot-blocking, and passing to ignite a fast-paced style of play.

He won eight consecutive NBA titles from 1959-1966. As a player-coach in his final three seasons, Russell was the first Black coach in North American sports and the first to win a title, doing so in 1968 and again in his 1969 farewell campaign.

He was the first Black player inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 by Barack Obama, America’s first Black president, for his civil rights and basketball achievements.

Russell was first among Oakland’s and the country’s athletic achievers. His USF team was the first major college to start three Black players. His Celtics team was the first to start five Black players. He was the first to become a player-coach. And he was the first player-coach to win an NBA title. He was first to be invited by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak at the 1963 March on Washington. He was the first athlete to utilize his celebrity by traveling to Mississippi to use sports to bring racial healing after the KKK killed NAACP leader Medgar Evers.

As the first-ranked and highest respected Black sportsman, he used his status to lead the nation’s leading Black athletes which included Jim Brown, Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar) and many others to support Muhammad Ali’s stance against the Vietnam War.

He always remembered his friends and mentors here in Oakland. Whenever he traveled to Oakland, he would often check in with Maxine Willis Ussery and reminisce about the days when his family would visit her family’s cleaning establishment.

She said he was protective of her and wanted to meet and give his approval to any of her dates and he insisted that he go to dinner with her and fiance Wilfred Ussery to give his approval. Maxine is now the office manager at the Post News Group (Oakland Post).

He paid one of his highest compliments to Bill Patterson for guiding and counseling him since his high school days. He said Patterson helped him understand that he must never allow himself to be a victim. He was proud of Coach Ben Tapscott, the McClymonds’ basketball coach, who not only continued to maintain the school’s tradition as the winningest high school in the country with an emphasis on academic achievements.

He invited Tapscott to share the glory with him when he was inducted and honored by the University of San Francisco.

In an interview with Russell and former WNBA Coach Nancy Lieberman, just months before his passing, he was making plans to donate a jointly signed basketball to salute the achievement of Oakland’s African American Sports and Entertainment Group for purchasing the Oakland Coliseum.

Bill Patterson, Geoffrey Pete, Ben Tapscott, Joe Ellis, Jumoke Hinton, Rev. Gerald Agee, Ray Bobbitt, Arif Khatib, Virtual Murrell, Gary Reeves, Nancy Lieberman, Jonathan Jones, Al Attles, Jr. and many others have asked The Post to put them on the task force to gather the list and honor the Bay Area’s historic cavalcade of Athlete/Activists who also became “firsts” in their respective sports. For those who want to volunteer to be included, please contact Maxine Ussery @510-287-8200 or mussery@postnewsgroup.com.

“We must find a way to honor our highest achievers,” said Bill Patterson and Ben Tapscott

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Activism

Over 500 Attend Police-Free Event to Reimagine Safety in Oakland

Night Out for Safety and Liberation started in 2013 by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch captain and is held as an alternative to the police-centric National Night Out. Since 2013, the event has spread across the country with over 50 events scheduled this year where communities make the night about the power of community, not cops.

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Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson
Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Night Out for Safety and Liberation Events Held in More Than 50 Communities Across the Country

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

OAKLAND, CA — Over 500 people and families filled Josie de la Cruz Park in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood on Aug. 2 to enjoy performances, kids activities, and mutual aid to celebrate Night Out for Safety and Liberation (NOSL), an annual national event that redefines what safety and joy is without policing. The free community event included free diapers and books for all ages, food, bike giveaways, air purifiers, self defense training, a drag show, and performances from poets and artists such as Lauren Adams, TJ Sykes and Voces Mexicanas.

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Night Out for Safety and Liberation started in 2013 by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch captain and is held as an alternative to the police-centric National Night Out. Since 2013, the event has spread across the country with over 50 events scheduled this year where communities make the night about the power of community, not cops.

“We have been reimagining what safety means beyond police for our communities for over 25 years at the Ella Baker Center. When we create safe spaces for our community to come together and support each other, when we provide living-wage jobs so people are able to put food on their table, when we empower our children and provide opportunities for them to thrive, when we invest in healthcare and mental health resources, this is how we create real safety,” said Marlene Sanchez, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center.

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Through Night Out for Safety and Liberation, communities are creating safety not through policing but through healing and restorative justice, through creating gender affirming spaces and protecting trans and LGBTQIA communities, through reinvesting funding into community-based alternatives and solutions that truly keep communities safe.

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

“We don’t need more police in our streets. We don’t need more surveillance. What we need is resources!” said Jose Bernal, Organizing Director with the Ella Baker Center. “What we need is housing, diapers, legal resources, jobs. This [Night Out for Safety and Liberation] is what keeps us safe. This is resilience.”

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

The event was emceed by Nifa Akosua, Senior Organizer and Advocate with the Ella Baker Center, and TJ Sykes, author and community activist–both natives of Richmond, California. The show included entertaining performances from Oakland Originalz break dancers, Voces Mexicanas mariachi band, singer Lauren Adams and a drag show from Afrika America.

“Night Out for Safety and Liberation is about neighborhood love and neighborhood safety. It’s about connecting, showing up for each other and staying connected as a community. That’s how we keep each other safe,” said Nifa.

More than 20 organizations and vendors participated in Tuesday’s event, offering community resources, face painting, giving away 500 books for all ages, and free diapers. Those participating included: Help A Mother Out, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, ACLU of Northern California, TGI Justice Project, Urban Peace Movement, Ella Baker’s Readers & Cesar Chavez Public Library, Alliance for Girls, Bay Area Women Against Rape, Centro Legal de la Raza, Common Humanity Collective, Street Level Health Project, Malikah – Self Defense, East Bay Community Law Center, Unity Council, Young Women’s Freedom Center, East Bay Family Defenders, Bay Area Workers Support, L’Artiste A La Carte, Education Super Highway, Cut Fruit Collective, and WIC.

Other Night Out for Safety and Liberation events were held in Oakland, San Francisco, Chicago, Portland, Phoenix, Denver, Minneapolis, Atlanta, St. Louis, Dallas, Houston, Waco, Hampden, Conway, Washington D.C. and other cities. Follow the conversation and see photos from events in other cities using #SafetyIs and #NOSL22.

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Activism

OPINION: Are We About to See the Permanent Exclusion of Most Black People from Construction Jobs in Oakland?

How is that possible in this city that is believed by the world to be very progressive? Most of the work goes to members of the construction unions that have historically and currently excluded Black people through a complex set of membership requirements.

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The City Council established a task force to discuss the racial issues involved in construction and the possibility of a Project Labor Agreement. The task force included some community members, including the publisher of the Oakland Post, and was mandated to address racial discrimination first.
The City Council established a task force to discuss the racial issues involved in construction and the possibility of a Project Labor Agreement. The task force included some community members, including the publisher of the Oakland Post, and was mandated to address racial discrimination first.

By Kitty Epstein

For decades Black people in Oakland have obtained 9% or less of the work hours on publicly funded construction projects. So…for jobs that are paid for by all of our tax dollars, Black residents, who make up 23% of Oakland’s population, get only 9% of the relatively well-paid work doing construction.

How is that possible in this city that is believed by the world to be very progressive? Most of the work goes to members of the construction unions that have historically and currently excluded Black people through a complex set of membership requirements.

Nationally, only 7.2% of the carpenters’ union members are Black; 8.3% of the electricians’ union members and so on. The City of Oakland has done two very thorough reports of these racial equity issues. You can find this important information at the end of this story.

But the leadership of the construction trades now insist that that they should obtain an even larger portion of the construction hours and that this practice should be set in stone by something called a Project Labor Agreement. It is now being inaccurately called a “Community Workforce Agreement,” which is nonsense because it doesn’t help the community.

Why would progressive Oakland consider giving exclusive benefits to organizations that practice well-documented racial discrimination? At least one part of the reason is that the construction unions spend enormous amounts of money on Oakland elections. They were instrumental in former City Councilmember Desley Brooks’ defeat in District 6, for example, because they did not consider her sufficiently compliant with their demands.

The City Council established a task force to discuss the racial issues involved in construction and the possibility of a Project Labor Agreement. The task force included some community members, including the publisher of the Oakland Post, and was mandated to address racial discrimination first.

The community members proposed that the entire task force work collectively throughout the process of making proposals and negotiating solutions. The City rejected this proposal and began meeting with the building trades alone, saying that they would return with a proposed Project Labor Agreement, although there has been no demonstrated change in the racial exclusivity practiced by the construction trades.

This is outrageous on three levels:

  1. These are the tax dollars of Black residents, as well as others.
  2. The community’s interests in racial justice have not been resolved in any policy venue.
  3. The community belongs at the table throughout whatever process takes place.

The usual arguments for labor/employer negotiations do not apply. The construction unions are NOT city workers. If they were city employees, they would have both the rights (negotiations) and the responsibilities (non-discriminatory hiring) of the city. Since they are not held responsible to Include Black people in their organizations, they should not have the right to exclusive negotiations about anything

I am hopeful, of course, that the City will reject the continuation and expansion of racial discrimination policies practiced by the leadership of the trades unions and will insist on the drastic changes necessary for Black people to obtain 23% of the work hours they are due by virtue of their proportion of the population and tax dollars contributed.

These two documents below provide information that is both illuminating and horrifying.

Oakland Equity Indicators: https://www.oaklandca.gov/projects/oakland-equity-indicators

Disparity Study – https://www.postnewsgroup.com/disparity-study-examines-patterns-of-discrimination-seeks-remedies-for-city-practices-of-selecting-contractors-in-construction-goods-and-services/

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As the first-ranked and highest respected Black sportsman, Bill Russell used his status to lead the nation’s leading Black athletes which included Jim Brown, Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar) and many others to support Muhammad Ali’s stance against the Vietnam War.
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