Over 50 years ago, a tight knit community on the West Coast, once a cultural haven popular with famous Blues musicians, was bulldozed like many other thriving Black communities. Now, the city of Hayward, California is apologizing for displacing nearly 1,400 Black and Latino residents in what was once known as Russell City.
The Hayward City Council issued a news release for their new resolution apologizing and formally acknowledging decades of missed intergenerational wealth and buried history.
Russell City, a shoreline city established in 1853, was an unincorporated hub of Black, Indigenous, Californio, Mexicano, Latino and other people of color following World War II. Then in the 1950s, city officials voted to turn Russell City into an industrial park. In 1963, the county started to forcefully relocate Russell City residents.
“They took the whole damn city. They changed every street name. They tried to erase it,” said Ronnie Stewart, head of the West Coast Blues Society, to the East Bay Times. Stewart remarked that the city was a major contributor to the history of West Coast Blues, with visiting performers like Ray Charles and T-Bone Walker.
According to the Times, the apology was issued on Nov. 16 to the residents, their descendants and those affected by the city’s history of racist and discriminatory practices. The city is attempting to make things right with both word and action.
From the Times:
Some steps have already begun, such as planning for a new series of public art installations at Heritage Plaza in recognition of indigenous people, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and the eviction of Russell City residents. The city has also been training city employees to use a racial equity lens in their everyday work.
Upcoming efforts could include working with Russell City descendants to “determine appropriate restitution” and creating a first-time homebuyer assistance program, according to city reports.
Berry said she’s optimistic real changes are coming.
“You’ve got to go beyond just the words, and the city of Hayward stepped up,” she said. “I want to see other cities look to little Hayward and say, ‘Wow, how did y’all do that?’”
In the news release, the city council cited that it participated in decades of federally sponsored urban renewal projects that displaced many communities of color in the 1960s and 1970s.
The resolution also called out the past city government, and the real estate and banking industry for participating “in the discriminatory practice of redlining, which prevented black, indigenous and people of color from owning property within Hayward city limits.” The council vows to take steps in addressing institutional bias in its future policy and decision making.