WWII - Increases in Population and Employment Business Opportunities in South Berkeley

HereStories would like to thank Epic Arts, the California Council for the Humanities, and the East Bay Community Foundation and Malcolm X Elementary School for supporting this project. Without Epic Arts we would never have been able to bring together the inspiring individuals to create South Berkeley Senior Stories.

Who We Are

HereStories produces public art projects that bring people together in a fun and interactive environment where every person’s voice is honored. While sharing stories, learning about community history, and creating art, the participants have the time to get to know each other and build lasting relationships. When the process of creation is over, the public art remains in that place to share the experience with every person who passes by.

South Berkeley Senior Stories Community Mural Project

The idea for the South Berkeley Senior Stories Mural began with… a mural. Several years ago, a group of Berkeley residents got together (with a big push from Eve Cowen, now director of Future Leaders Institute, www.thefutureleadersinstitute.org.) to paint the “South Berkeley Shines” mural on the corner store at Ashby Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Berkeley.

That mural included a portrait of Mr. Charles, “the Waving Man.” Mr. Charles was a man who stood on the corner of Oregon St. and Martin Luther King Jr. Way in South Berkeley every morning  before work and waved. He wore bright yellow-orange gloves, and he said, “Have a GOOD day” and “Keep on smiling!” He did this for thirty years. People remember waving to him as children, then growing up and seeing their children wave at him. He was and is very much loved by South Berkeley. Sara Bruckmeier felt the love as she painted his portrait on the wall. People walking by would say, “Hey, that’s Mr. Charles!!” and smile. One man said, “A man like that makes a neighborhood!”

So, when a few of us felt inspired to paint another mural, we remembered Mr. Charles and wondered how we could honor more elders of the South Berkeley community. That was how the idea for the South Berkeley Senior Stories Mural began.

South Berkeley Senior Stories is inspired and supported by the contribution that elders make to their community. We interviewed local seniors and archived their oral histories for the California Council of the Humanities. From these stories, we painted a series of historical murals that illuminate the stories shared by our elders. These murals, painted on 4' x 4' plywood panels, are mounted on the fence in front of Malcolm X School in South Berkeley. This outdoor gallery is a place where members of the community can enjoy the portraits and stories of the people that helped to make the community what it is today.

All of us, like our neighborhoods, are so much more than what can be seen on the surface. And murals, like music and theater and dance, can open windows into the soul. They have the potential to reveal the love, pain, struggle and triumph flowing through our houses and neighborhoods, crossing all boundaries, real and imaginary. At least, that is our intention.

We each make history every day. Let’s continue to listen to our elders, remember the future of our children, and make the best choices we can.

As a result of this project, we founded HereStories, a community group motivated to create murals that honor place, spirit, and community history. If you would like to meet with us, make a donation, volunteer, or participate in any way, please contact HereStories at Epic Arts .

World War II - Increases in Population and Employment in South Berkeley

Artist- O’Brien Thiele
Gerald Carter, foreground and Eva Bell, mid-left
Gerald Carter interviewed by Sara Bruckmeier
Eva Bell interviewed by O’Brien Thiele

Gerald Carter transferred to UC Berkeley under the GI Bill, which provided financial aid to WWII veterans. Millions of men and women from poor and working class backgrounds were, for the first time in US History, able to go to college thanks to new sources of financial aid.

Eva Bell worked as an electrician in the shipyards during WWII. She is one of the many women who found work outside the home for the first time during the labor shortages of WWII.

Business Opportunities in South Berkeley

Artist- Yvonne Brown
Ratha Watkins interviewed by Gwen Reed

During World War II population increases supported growth in economic and political clout of the African American community. Economic strength would ebb again when the shipyards closed in the 1950's. Many African Americans were without jobs in a nation where racism excluded them from workplaces. Nevertheless, the 1950’s were an auspicious time to found a business in South Berkeley, and that is just what Ratha Watkins and her two colleagues did.

This panel depicts Ratha Watkins, mementos including her diploma from Institute Myriam Carange in Paris, and many of her grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

Let Us Never Again Fear Our Neighbors
Japanese-American Internment - World War II

Artist- Bonnie Borucki
Min & Yaeko Sano interviewed by Bonnie Borucki

Minoru Sano was a sophmore at UC Berkeley when his education was interrupted by WWII. His family was sent to Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno for six months.. They were detained in Topaz, Utah for another two and one half years. In Topaz the detainees ,uprooted from their homes and jobs, were forced to live in barracks in harsh desert conditions. Minoru met his wife Yaeko while he was at Topaz. They moved back to Berkeley and were married in 1946.

Color Coded Neighborhoods - The Legacy of Housiong Discrimination in Berkeley

Artist- Sara Bruckmeier
Adam Jones Jr. interviewed by Sara Bruckmeier

This map is a snapshot of housing distribution by race in Berkeley in 1960, before the 1963 Fair Housing Act. The map shows which areas  were open to people of color and which areas were restricted. Boundaries were enforced in several ways.  Property developers included “restrictive covenants” in the deeds of their properties, a clause that prohibits the owner of that property  from renting or selling to people of color. Other property was excluded from people of  color by social practice. For example, some real estate agents would not show vacant  homes in white neighborhoods to people of color.

Rumford Fair Housing Act - Byron Rumford Fights Housing Discrimination

Artist- Clayton Anderson
Lillie Mae Harris interviewed by Sara Bruckmeier

In the 1950’s, Sacramento Street, in the heart of South Berkeley, was alive and bustling with African-American owned businesses. One of these shops belonged to Byron Rumford, a pharmacist. Well-known and respected in the community, Byron Rumford played a key role in the battle to defeat housing discrimination in California. The first African American from Northern California elected to the state assembly in 1948, Rumford brought the fight against discrimination to the statewide level. The Rumford Fair Housing Act passed in June 1963.

Social Clubs Support Social Justice

Artist- Clayton Anderson
Mary Trahan interviewed by Sara Bruckmeier

Community organizations, including social clubs and church groups, play a major role in Berkeley culture. During WWII, when the primarily African American and Asian community of South Berkeley began to push against the restrictions of racism, the existing social network reflected this shift and took on a stronger political role. Francis Albrier founded The East Bay Women’s Welfare Club in 1938, with the intention of getting the school board to hire a Black teacher. Other clubs formed to promote voter registration and anti-discrimination legislation. Each club approached the work from a slightly different perspective, and this multifaceted effort began to create conditions for political change.

AVoice for Justice - Personal Activism

Artist- Michael Jacobson
Margo Norman interviewed by Aliza Wasserman

Margo Norman combines activism with creative cultural work. She started the Bay Viewer magazine in the 1970s, and was the editor for 7 1⁄2 years. She acted in two stage plays: Claire’s Old Manner., and Queen of Afric; and published many of her poems, short stories, and the novel "Reaching for 2100 AD". Today she’s volunteers as a Commissioner on Aging in Berkeley: fighting for Section 8 affordable housing. She also raises money for homeless seniors, including holding a weekly yard sale with the help of many seniors in her building, the Harriet Tubman Terrace.

Voluntary School Integration in the 60's - The Challenge

Artists- Lynn Orlando & Bonnie Borucki
Betty McAfee interviewed by Bonnie Borucki

Betty McAfee started teaching in the Berkeley Unified School District in 1968, the year Berkeley started a voluntary school desegregation program. Betty wanted to get a job and become part of that incredible effort. “We called it integration, but ultimately we knew we were only desegregating, because of the whole issue of how to integrate not just culturally and racially different children, but we saw huge class differences in Berkeley. We were bringing kids from poverty areas of Berkeley and kids from affluent hills areas into the same classroom and it was a very challenging task.”

Neighboring Through Storytelling

Artist- Leif Aamot
Mary Beth Washington, AKA Orunamamu interviewed by Bonnie Borucki

In her life Orunamamu has changed jobs many times. She first started teaching in Wisconsin, then in Palo Alto, then in Utah, then here in Berkeley. Between jobs people would ask her what she does, and she’d say, “ I’m a storyteller”. It wasn't’t as honored as it is today. but as time went on, it got to be real. It got to be a real job. The first training she took was at UC Berkeley in a class called, Storytelling as an Art. She now wants to leave a legacy of storytelling as an art. Orunamamu calls what she does “neighboring through storytelling”.

Neighborhood Activism

Artists Monika Lea Jones, Lou Silva,
Frank & Louise Brown interviewer: Bonnie Borucki

Frank was also president of the (Berkeley) NAACP for 27 years. He is now president emeritus and still active. Frank & Louise have been members of several neighborhood groups in Berkeley. They first formed the Newberry Neighborhood Association to protest the existence of a junkyard then owned by the Southern Pacific Railroad. They rallied to bring a full service grocery store to this spot. They also successfully petitioned to have BART tracks run underground in their neighborhood. There isn't’t a Mayor, past or present, Board of Education, or City Council Member from Berkeley that doesn't’t know them.

SBSS Murals
Malcolm X School Murals