There’s a myriad of stories to be told about Oakland’s Black history. Or, more simply put, Oakland’s history. The community, also known as “The Town,” is located on the eastern shores of the San Francisco Bay and has been largely shaped by the trailblazers who played a major role in fighting for equity across the Bay Area and the country.
“People may not know that there has been a Black community in Oakland since the 1850s and that the history of activism stretches back just as far,” says Emily Foster, Oakland History Center Librarian. “Some of the very first Black Oaklanders were fighting for civil rights like school integration and participating in the Colored Conventions movement, while owning their own businesses and building churches and clubs to serve their community.”
Ed Howard, 85, moved from Louisiana to Oakland at the age of five. Since then, he’s owned multiple businesses—from a nightclub to a production company—and was actively involved in his local Afro-American Association. Howard also recalls having close ties to Huey Newton, an Oakland-based political activist and a co-founder of the Black Panther Party.
“I feel I am Black Oakland,” says Howard.
And decades later, Howard believes it’s his duty to help champion a community he believes is often misunderstood and negatively represented. He founded the platform West Oakland Stories to spotlight the community’s layered history through the lens of joy and unity. The initiative, which Howard refers to as a “positive feeling movement,” is behind a documentary that spotlights Oakland’s Black pioneers through the years.
“Everything we touched, we just progressed, progressed, progressed,” says Howard. “I’m creating a movement for Black people to be very positive with each other. No negative speak. That’s the key.”
Other Oakland residents, like Elisha Greenwell, are fueling similar movements. As important as protests are, Greenwell was finding that this was the only time she was around huge gatherings of Black communities. “We are so much more than our fight,” she says. “We’re so much more than our struggle. There’s so much to celebrate.”
With that in mind, Greenwell founded Black Joy Parade—an Oakland-based event that, since 2018, has been banding the community together with a lineup of performances, vendors and educational opportunities. The main goal is to celebrate Oakland’s vibrant Black culture.
Greenwell is hush about what attendees can expect from this year’s Black Joy Parade, which takes place on Sunday, February 26 and is free to attend (donations are encouraged). Past years have brought out organizations such as the Black Cowboy Association, Diaspora Dance and AfroComicCon, and performers including Jidenna and Ashanti. Last year’s Black Joy Parade hosted more than 30,000 attendees.
“In order for it to be the Black Joy Parade, we have to bring in everyone’s versions of joy—everyone’s stories, everyone’s ancestors, everyone’s futures, everyone’s hopes,” says Greenwell. “One of the reasons that we’re able to capture all of the stories and all the narratives past, present and future is because there’s so many people’s voices in it.”
Learn all the ways you can celebrate Oakland’s Black excellence below—this month and all year long.
LUNAR NEW YEAR X BLACK HISTORY MONTH: CELEBRATION OF BLACK & ASIAN SOLIDARITY
- Date: Saturday, February 4 (Note: This event already took place)
- What To Go For: An intentional space to create solidarity and honor the intersections of Black and Asian communities in Oakland, continuing to honor Asian-American cultural traditions.
- Date: Saturday, February 25
- What To Go For: A curated showcase of top Black-owned wineries and vintners, all in one place.
- Date: Sunday, February 26
- What To Go For: A massive celebration—think food, performances and vendors—highlighting Oakland’s array of contributions to the Black experience.
- What To Go For: An extensive archival collection that preserves Black History across California and the West, plus a variety of self-guided and group tours.
- What To Go For: The intimate history of Oakland and the East Bay through a variety of lectures, educational programs, tours and exhibits.
- What To Go For: An array of exhibitions including the ongoing showcase, “Angela Davis—Seize the Time.”
- What To Go For: A visit to some of the buildings instrumental to Oakland’s rich history, including the “Oakland Auditorium” (renamed the Kaiser Convention Center) and City Hall.
- What To Go For: A spotlight on the landmarks across Oakland where history was made by the Black Panther Party, including their famous headquarters.