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Town Bizness: A Breakdown of Oakland, CA

The Short Oakland Ghetto Story

Northern California’s most popular city located in the Bay Area and often referred as “The Town”, Oakland is rich in black history as the urban community of the Town created the likes of the Black Panthers, the country’s first all-black labor unions with the Pullman Porters, and many iconic black figures.

West Oakland, the historical black community of the Bay Area shows the growth of the black population as the African Americans went from only residing in small sections of West Oakland to becoming the predominant racial group in the city, at least before gentrification began to take over.

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West Oakland Black History

With the help of the railroads providing employment opportunities as black workers would work on trains as Pullman Porters, mainly servants assisting the passengers whenever needed, the community of West Oakland would be created.

With the city of Oakland being one of the last and first stops for the trains, many blacks decided to create their home in the Bay Area city with West Oakland becoming the main community for the Oakland black population.

North of Grand Avenue in the two communities of Clawson, also known as Dog Town, and Hoover-Foster, also known as Ghost Town, were the first areas that African Americans occupied before the 1940s.

west oakland

Today’s Hoover-Foster neighborhood, also known as Ghost Town.

With the United States entering World War II, the black population of Oakland grew as southerners relocated for wartime employment, either working in a factory or serving in the military.

Section of West Oakland were somewhat integrated with multiple racial groups, but with an increase of southerners relocating into the city tensions began to rise between the different demographics, which led to the city to segregate the housing complexes of West Oakland into being mainly for African Americans, while all-white housing was constructed in East Oakland.

Today’s Acorn housing complex, one of the last housing complexes of West Oakland to be built.

Another reason for the West Oakland, and the town of Oakland, black population to increase was the displacement of African Americans from other East Bay communities in cities like Richmond as the wartime housing complexes were being demolished following the ending of World War II, forcing the relocation.

With the increase of West Oakland’s urban population, the community became very congested and compacted with African Americans, at least before the ending of segregation and white flight from East Oakland allowing black families to relocate into the East Side of Oakland.

Eventually, 7th Street of West Oakland became the mecca for the East Bay’s black population with resemblance to a Harlem or San Francisco’s Fillmore District as the area was filled with black owned businesses and local entertainment.

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West Oakland from 1970s to Present Day

Despite being small, West Oakland was a well reputable area in California with ‘hoods like the Acorn Projects, the Lower Bottoms, Cypress Village, Dog Town, Ghost Town and others.

While East Oakland was widely more known during the days of the Town’s crack era, street activity of West Oakland from the drugs to the pimps and prostitutes has been going around long before the white flight from the East Side.

Well into the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s the West Side of Oakland was much segregated, but not between racial groups and demographics, between different ‘hoods and sections with many have conflicts with one another.

Bloods and Crips never entered the streets of Oakland, so the city never had a true gang problem, but local authorities would consider each neighborhood that had a few residents indulging into the street life as a gang.

The Lower Bottoms neighborhood.

West Oakland was at a point where every block was affiliated with a separate ‘hood from the next one, from the likes of housing complexes like 2-4 Village around 24th and Linden and Kane City (Acorn Projects) to small blocks like Milton Street.

Street activity in West Oakland calmed down as gentrification was entering the area, which began during the late 1990s and the early 2000s with the community being one of the Bay Area’s most sought after neighborhoods.

With the rise in rent and property values, the urban population of West Oakland has been decreasing as many are being forced to relocate with the fear that there will be no original West Oakland residents left in the neighborhoods.

An example of West Oakland’s redevelopment in the background.

Before gentrification, the community did experience something similar with urban renewal and the construction of the Interstate 80 highways, I-980, I-880, and I-580 and the construction of the Acorn projects during the 1960s, which removed some residential areas and single family homes from the West Oakland community.

Many fought to stop urban renewal during 1960s that would later displace hundreds of residents by razing and demolishing key parts of the black community, as previously stated.

Into present day, will West Oakland still be West Oakland in five or ten years as the future seems to state that the total culture of the Town’s West Side will be totally changed from previous generations.

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Outside of West Oakland (East and North Oakland)

While the original black community and urban population was based in the city’s West Oakland neighborhood, beginning around the late 1960s and 1970s white flight left many homes in Oakland communities of the North Side and East Side vacant.

With the vacancy, and a growth of Oakland’s urban population, many saw an opportunity to move into communities of East Oakland and North Oakland as somewhat a fresh start or moving into a better setting.

east oakland ghetto

The North Side, which is neighboring Berkeley’s urban community of South Berkeley, probably became the last side of Oakland to gain an urban population.  Nicknamed as Ice City or NSO (North Side Oakland), this small section would not have the reputation as the much larger East Oakland or not be as historic as West Oakland, but there is much respect for the North Side.

The respect of Oakland’s North Side comes with the help of Bushrod Park area around Shattuck Ave., or the Gaskill area as many North Oakland communities can be viewed as an extension of West Oakland, with Market Street leading directly into the heart of the North Side.

The largest section of Oakland is without a doubt East Oakland.  Divided into two sections, East Oakland and Deep East Oakland, which can be considered to begin around 73rd and continue as far as Sobrante Park.

east oakland ghetto

As stated above, Oakland’s black population was once forbidden to reside in the communities of East Oakland, but all change by the 1970s as the black community made its way into the East Side of The Town.

With obviousness, East Oakland is the largest section of the city, which would later help bring to light some of California’s most reputable areas from the likes of the FunkTown neighborhood to the likes of the infamous 69th Street housing project, the former home of the 6-9 Mob.

While we will not go to in depth on Oakland’s street activity, even though there is much to be said about the history of the streets within The Town, from high level pimping to the numerous drug kingpins, and not just Felix Mitchell, to the street wars within the city’s urban neighborhoods.

Ironically, unlike most cities around the country the Bay Area, and especially Oakland, never adopted gangs in the form of Bloods and Crips.  Instead, Oakland was often divided among crews, cliques and, without a doubt, neighborhoods.

east oakland ghetto

Neighborhoods like 23rd Avenue of East Oakland would adopt monikers that fitted the communities reputation, like the Murder Dubbs, as well various others as the street activity truly began during the 1970s, despite for illicit activities being around for generations, but reached its peak through the 1980s and well into the 2000s.

Currently, the streets are much calmer than previous generations, while gentrification has taken over many East Side neighborhoods, like the Funk Town community, while only leaving Deep East Oakland to still be part of Oakland’s urban society.

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*Note: All information is provided either through people of the community, outside sources, and/or research. Some information might not be current and/or 100% accurate.

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