Monday, February 25, 2008

Oakland's history

This short history of Oakland and its primary subgroups will help you understand the city a bit more.

A Very Short History of the City of Oakland

When gold was discovered in California in 1848, the region was flooded with newcomers. Oakland quickly became the mainland staging point for passengers and cargo traveling between the Bay and the Sierra foothills (remember, there was no Bay Bridge at the time). Also, since Oakland was located near a large, old-growth redwood forest, it became the center of major logging operations which provided the lumber for the Gold Rush construction boom (wharves, buildings, etc.). A few years later in 1852, the city of Oakland was officially founded.

In the 1860’s, Oakland was designated as the western terminus of the First Transcontinental Railroad which was built to link railways of the Eastern United States with California. The wagon trains of previous decades were made obsolete. Oakland’s status as a national destination point and center of commerce was secured when this railroad was completed in 1869.

After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, people and businesses relocated across the Bay and Oakland’s population more than doubled. With a growing population that needed housing, a streetcar system (the “Key System”) was developed to increase access to outlying areas in conjunction with new housing tracts that mostly featured “California bungalows.”

During these years most Oakland residents were European American. However, there were also some Asian, Hispanic and African American residents who had arrived before and during the Gold Rush, after the Civil War, during the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, and in the decades that followed. Oakland experienced a significant demographic shift during World War II when the region became the nation’s leader of shipbuilding.

Laborers were needed to work in Henry J. Kaiser’s shipyards and steelmaking plants. Large numbers of African Americans from Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Arkansas were recruited to the Bay Area. Oakland’s African American population soared from 8,462 (1940) to 47,562 (1950). The shipyards also employed a number of Chinese workers. To his credit, Kaiser developed a health care system for his employees. It eventually became the Kaiser Permanente system that continues to provide health care to the community today.

In the postwar years, thousands of jobs evaporated as many major local industries closed down. Meanwhile, many of Oakland’s more affluent residents moved into the newly developing suburbs east of Oakland.* Many blue-collar whites moved to adjacent cities such as San Leandro and Alameda. To accommodate the expansion, massive highway construction projects were started throughout the area, uprooting many thousands of Oakland residents. The combination of postwar joblessness, “white-flight,” and the demolition of hundreds of homes in order to clear the path for the freeway led to rising poverty, segregation, and the break-up of communities in Oakland.

The 1960’s and 1970’s were a time of upheaval and social change. In the 1960’s Oakland’s local government was still dominated by conservative, white leadership. Faced with rising crime and a police shortage, they recruited white officers from the Deep South. With a population that was increasingly poor and increasingly African-American, community tensions escalated and became severe. In this era of political activism and the civil rights movement, a group of young citizens formed the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in 1966.

In 1973, Oakland’s highly respected first black school superintendent, Marcus Foster, was assassinated and his deputy superintendent, Bob Blackburn, was critically wounded by the Symbionese Liberation Army (S.L.A.), a self-styled urban guerilla warfare group. Following the Vietnam War, considerations for political refugees and liberalized immigration laws led to an influx of Asian immigrants to Oakland.

In 1982, the Oakland’s Symphony’s stellar conductor Calvin Simmons, the first black conductor of a major symphony orchestra, died tragically in a drowning accident. Also in the 1980’s, many of Oakland’s families were devastated by the effects of the Crack Epidemic.

During the 1990’s, Oakland’s Latino population started to grow. The increase was primarily due to immigrants from Mexico, with some from other Latin American countries. According to 2004 figures, Oakland was 19.4% Asian, 31.4% Black/African American, 22.5% Hispanic/Latino and 31.7% White.

*You can see this by looking at Walnut Creek’s population change: 1960=9,903, 1970=39,844, 1980=53,643, 2000=64,296

The City of Oakland History timeline is at

Find out more by reading “What Divides Oakland's Current Debates” by J. Douglas Allen-Taylor @

Also, visit the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond and see and

No comments: