AFRICANGLOBE – Oakland, whose thriving African American community for decades shaped Black identity for the nation, lost nearly a quarter of its Black population in the past decade, U.S. Census data shows.
Now, Oakland has nearly as many White people as it does African American. It also has nearly as many Latinos.
The exodus left the city with a net loss of 33,000 African American residents and made Oakland one of the few big California cities to decline in size. Oakland, which had the second largest overall population decline in the state, lost about 2 percent of its population, which now stands at 390,724. Only Santa Ana lost more residents.
African Americans have been moving in large numbers from urban areas to the suburbs and beyond for the past two decades in California. But the migration has particular significance in Oakland.
Oakland was where the Black Panther Party was founded, the place that produced iconic Black politicians, athletes and entertainers. Hall of Fame athletes Joe Morgan, Bill Russell and Rickey Henderson all grew up in Oakland. So did entertainers like the R&B group the Pointer Sisters. Black congressional leaders Ron Dellums and Barbara Lee are both from Oakland.
Oakland’s Black community “brought African American identity into the mainstream, instead of the margins,” said Ishmael Reed, author of “Blues City: a Walk in Oakland” and a longtime resident. “I just hate to see the decline.”
Black people remain the single largest ethnic group at 27.3 percent of the population, just slightly greater than the White and Hispanic populations, which are 25.9 and 25.4 percent of the population respectively. Asians account for 16.7 percent. In 1980, Black people accounted for 46 percent of the city.
2nd Largest Population
Oakland has 106,637 African Americans, still the second largest Black population in the state. Only Los Angeles, with 347,380 Black people, has more – but they make up 9 percent of the population. All of the state’s major cities, except Sacramento, saw declines in their Black populations. Inland areas saw gains. African Americans make up 5.8 percent of California’s population.
Some of the movement is out of state.
California’s overall African American population has been declining since 1980, when it was 7.5 percent, according to Hans Johnson, a demographer at the Public Policy Institute of California.
Integration A Factor
The movement from traditional strongholds into new areas shows, in part, the continuing “success” of integration, some claim.
“The traditional idea of a Black community is dissolving,” said Dowell Myers, a professor of policy planning and development at the University of Southern California. “That’s the positive outcome of decades of racial equality. The downside is the breakdown of community.”
African American ministers and politicians point to a variety of factors that have led people to leave Oakland for cities like Stockton, Fairfield, Antioch and Sacramento. A lower cost of living, the lure of jobs, frustration with schools and the search for safer communities all played key roles.
“African Americans are no different than anyone else: They want to live in safe neighborhoods,” said Oakland Councilman Larry Reid. “They want their children to be able to play on the street, where next door neighbors look after children.”
Too Much Crime?
Crime was the reason that Stephen Shaw finally moved out.
In the seven years he lived in North Oakland, Shaw had his home broken into, his daughter’s car broken into twice, and had two separate houseguests have their cars get broken into. He could hear occasional gunfire and car chases.
The final straw was when he had his own car broken into twice in one night last June. The next month, he moved to Walnut Creek.
“I love Oakland for the cultural value and African American history,” said Shaw, 43, who still works downtown, goes to Oakland churches and socializes on weekends in the city. “But it’s not a safe place.”
That doesn’t mean Oakland is not a destination.
On Thursday, there were well over a hundred elderly Black people at the Ira Jinkins Recreational Center in East Oakland.
They came to play dominoes, line dance and shoot pool.
Many live outside the city, like Estrene West, who lives in San Leandro.
“San Leandro don’t have it going on like they have it here,” she said, taking a break from the dance floor.
Sherman Taylor, who was playing dominoes, said the decline of the city’s Black population was not something to be sad over.
Taylor, 69, has lived in Oakland for 66 years. His father came to Oakland in the 1940s to work at the naval base in Alameda during World War II.
At the time the family came, there weren’t that many Black residents. But by the time he went to Castlemont High School in 1957, Black students were a quarter of the student body.
The Black population grew substantially in later years. Now, the city has changed again.
“I see it coming full circle,” Taylor said. “There’s still a big, significant Black community here.”
By: Matthai Kuruvila
Illegal Immigrants Unite To Drive Blacks Out Of California