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Oakland is a city in California. The population is about 400,000. Oakland it part of the San Francisco Bay Area metropolitan area, which together has a population of over 7 million, making it the sixth largest mertropolitan area in the United States. To Oakland's north is Berkeley, and to the west across the San Francisco Bay and the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge is San Francisco.

Downtown Oakland in 1930s

Posey Tube

The Posey Tube is the underwater auto tunnel that opened in 1928 to connect Oakland to Alameda. Designed by George A. Posey, chief engineer and surveyor for Alameda County, the tunnel incorporated many state-of-the-art ideas. In addition, the Art Deco architecture of the tunnel portals, designed by Henry Meyers, won praise for combining aesthetics and utilitarian functions. The only shortcoming of the Posey Tube was that the greatly increased automobile traffic went far beyond the estimates of peak load envisioned by the tunnel's planners. Still in use after almost seventy years, the Posey Tube is a monument to the age of the automobile.


In the 1920's the Ku Klux Klan was very active in Oakland. Klansmen reflected the overall native-born white male population in Oakland and had more representation among white-collar and skilled workers. Klansmen enjoyed political success in opposition to ethnic patronage for Catholics and machine politics, basing their appeal on local, specific issues such as road paving. The collapse of the Klan in the city came about because some Klan members gave in to the corruption of machine politics, not because the Klan had lost its socioeconomic base or support due to its ideological marginality.[1]

World War II

During World War II, an influx of black and white migrants taking jobs in shipbuilding drastically altered the demographic make-up of the East Bay cities of Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, and Richmond, which had previously consisted of mostly white lower- and middle-class communities. Most of the newcomers lived in newly constructed public housing that defined the patterns of racial and class segregation that lasted for the next quarter century. There was considerable political turmoil as the new residents sought to wrest control of local government from the white business establishment. This was especially apparent in Oakland, where reform-minded activism persisted through the 1950s.

The housing policies of both the federal and local governments during the war encouraged the racial and ethnic tensions that still remain. The acute housing shortage that developed with an influx of workers for the shipyards forced the federal government to step in to assure wartime production. The programs turned working-class neighborhoods, which had been racially and ethnically diverse, into ghettos like those in eastern cities. At the same time, the Federal Housing Administration favored loans for houses in new all-white developments on the urban fringes. [2]


In 1946 the Retail Merchants Association (RMA) of Oakland refused to allow two member stores to negotiate with Retail Clerks Union local 1265. Workers from Kahn's and Hastings department stores retaliated by striking, and soon were battling not only their employers and the RMA, but also the city council and the Oakland Tribune, both controlled by powerful, antiunion publisher Joseph Knowland. When even the police joined the fray, 130,000 workers from 142 American Federation of Labor unions throughout the city took December 3, 1946, as a "work holiday" to support the strikers and protest police partiality. Out of worker solidarity grew political activism. Together, Oakland's workers put labor members on city council, forced the RMA to accept collective bargaining, and created the progressive Oakland Voters League.

Black Radicals

The city has a reputation for radicalism and leftist politics. In 1977 Oakland elected the city's first African American reform mayor, Lionel Wilson. Conservative candidates have not fared well. For example, Ted Dang's loss in the 1994 mayoral race to African-American incumbent Elihu Harris can be attributed primarily to his inability to unite diverse Asian-American groups, his conservative emphasis in a predominantly leftist city, and an antagonistic campaign strategy that exacerbated racial tension. His antigovernment and negative themes ran counter to Harris's attempts to create an activist government and a strong multiracial coalition. Dang's failure to balance ideology, interest, and racial identification, lack of political experience, and overreliance on his campaign manager ultimately cost him the race.

Opposition to Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system encouraged West Oakland activists to create a strong local identity. BART supporters valued regional mobility and blamed ghetto poverty on the inaccessibility of suburban jobs. However black activists blamed BART for harming the ghetto poor by encouraging job migration to the suburbs and displacing residents. As compensation, they demanded that BART hire black workers and increase relocation payments. While West Oakland activists largely failed to influence BART, the newly unified community did gain local control of schools and urban poverty programs.

The Black Panther newspaper was founded in 1967 in Oakland as the main vehicle of expression of the Black Panther Party. Devoted to the cause of radical black nationalism in the United States, the paper was developed not only as a means of reaching its local constituency but also as a means of gaining national media exposure. During its 12 years of existence, it served to give definition, form, and substance to a particular vision of black identity. Subsequent revivals of the paper in the 1990's demonstrated the continuing allure of the Black Panther movement and the relevance of its role in the black nationalist movement.

Marcus Foster (1923 – 1973) was an outstanding black educator who gained a national reputation while serving as associate sSuperintendent of schools in Philadelphia, and as the first black Superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District. He was murdered in 1973 by the Symbionese Liberation Army as a political statement.

On the far left, Democrat Ron Dellums (1935- ), represented Berkeley and Oakland in Congress, (1971-1998). He became the chair of the powerful House Armed Services Committee in January 1993. A strong pacifist, his district nevertheless houses a major naval facility that faced closure in the current phase of downsizing the military budget. Dellums was thus placed in a curious position of being philosophically opposed to military spending but pragmatically defending his district's interests. He was the first African American elected to Congress from Northern California, and was replaced in 1998 by the equally militant, but much less powerful, Democrat Barbara Lee (b. 1946).


In sports, Oakland is home to the NFL's Oakland Raiders, MLB's Oakland Athletics, and the NBA's Golden State Warriors.

Further reading

  • Elkind, Sarah S. Bay Cities and Water Politics: The Battle for Resources in Boston and Oakland. (1998). 246 pp.
  • Johnson, Marilynn S. The Second Gold Rush: Oakland and the East Bay in World War II (1994). 302 pp.
  • McCory, Jesse J. Marcus Foster and the Oakland Public Schools: Leadership in an Urban Bureaucracy. (1978). 163 pp.
  • Oden, Robert Stanley. "Power Shift: A Sociological Study of the Political Incorporation of People of Color in Oakland, California, 1966-1996." PhD Dissertation U. of California, Santa Cruz 1999. 248 pp. DAI 2000 60(11): 4193-A. DA9951415
  • Self, Robert. "'To Plan Our Liberation': Black Power And The Politics Of Place In Oakland, California, 1965-1977," Journal of Urban History 2000 26(6): 759-792.
  • Ware, Alan. The Breakdown of Democratic Party Organization, 1940-1980. (1985). 275 pp. compares Oakland and Berkeley


  1. Chris Rhomberg, "White Nativism and Urban Politics: The 1920s Ku Klux Klan in Oakland, California." Journal of American Ethnic History 1998 17(2): 39-55.
  2. See Johnson (1994)