In February 2023, the African American Museum and Library at Oakland (AAMLO) celebrated another Black History Month under the theme of Black Resistance. From public museum tours, to a quilting exhibit, a seed workshop and much more, AAMLO lifted up the many ways in which Black people have resisted oppression and continue to resist in this country. I was fortunate to attend the museum tour on February 11th and the Black Resistance: Starting from a Seed Workshop led by Ms. Claudia Noble-Levingston on February 25th.
During the museum tour, I learned the stories of many Oakland heroes. Did you know that in 1926 Prescott School hired Ida Louise Jackson (1902-1996) making her the first Black teacher to work in Oakland Public schools? Previously, the Oakland Unified School District had denied her application for employment numerous times. It was not that she was unqualified. In fact, by 1924 Jackson had already earned a BA and Masters from UC Berkeley. The Oakland Unified School District at the time simply refused to hire Black teachers. After being hired, Ida was met with hostility and protests; however, she persevered and was still greatly loved by many of the students she taught. Ruth Acty (1913-1998) followed in Jackson’s footsteps. Though she too faced barriers to employment, she went on to teach in El Centro, Berkeley and Monterey. Jackson and Acty were not the only ones who paved the way for Black teachers and students in Oakland through resistance. In 1957, Elizabeth Thorn-Scott (1828-1967) and her husband Isaac opened a school for Black children from their home in Oakland. The tour also featured William Watts (1885-1980) who in 1926 founded Oakland’s first African-American hospital, Royal E. Towns (1899-1990) who in 1941 became the first African-American to serve as chief operator of the Oakland Fire Department, Emmanuel Francis Joseph (1900-1979) the first professional Black photographer in the Bay Area and many others.
Of course I had to come back for more excitement. At the Black Resistance: Starting from a Seed Workshop, I enjoyed hearing more about Ms. Claudia who is a fourth generation land steward with roots in Virginia. I learned that during the second Great Black Migration from 1940 to 1970, almost six million African-Americans fled the Jim Crow South moving to places like New York, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle and Philadelphia. Many of them brought seeds to plant black eyed peas, okra, collard greens and other traditional crops. Towards the end of the session, Ms. Claudia showed us how to start our own legacy garden by planting seedlings in paper cartons. We left with plenty of seeds and even sweet, organic homegrown tangerines. Thanks to AAMLO’s seed lending library, my family and I are hoping to enjoy purple tree collards, tomatoes, golden peppers and bush beans later this year.
Though Black History Month has come to a close, my heart is filled with the stories of Black people who have and are still resisting in Oakland. As a Black woman educator from Oakland, I leave this Black History Month holding my head a little higher, knowing the names of my ancestors who have paved the way for me.