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Are There More Whites Than Blacks In Oakland? City Seems To Be At Least More Segregated

I remarked to a friend that a visit to the Oakland Lake Merritt Farmers Market -- and to stores on Lakeshore -- revealed something I've never seen before: very few African Americans. It was the first time in all my life that I was able to look into a place like the Lake Merritt Cafe and see not even one black person for a time.

The friend remarked that Oakland had more white people than black -- so I found this article below. And while it may not be accurate, it does seem that the flight from San Francisco's high housing costs have produced this dynamic. And it also may -- in fact I assert that it does -- explain the rising level of racism in the City's core neighborhood.

Oakland historically has been the most diverse and less segregated city in America. I fear that era may be coming to an end.

To be sure, the picture is more complex. There are more interracial couples than in the past, but the city itself seems to have divided into black, Latino, and white areas, with no really mixed zone -- Lake Merritt was that mixed place.



OAKLAND

Whites edge past blacks in population
Trend has major implications for politics, economy
Jason B. Johnson, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, June 5, 2006

Correction: This story, asserting that the number of whites in Oakland had surpassed that of African Americans, and that the city's overall population had declined, was based partly on U.S. Census Bureau estimates and not an actual count of the population. Therefore, it is impossible to verify the trends reported in the story.

For decades after migrating to Oakland to work in the East Bay's rail and shipyards during World War II, blacks were the city's largest racial group, shaping its culture, commerce and politics.

But no more.

For the first time since the 1970s, whites have edged past blacks, according to census data. And though whites lead by only the tiniest margin, the implications speak to deep changes within the city and reflect a trend seen in black communities statewide as the Latino population grows, analysts said.

"That's a huge transformation that's taking place," said Robert Smith, professor of political science at San Francisco State University, who specializes in African American politics. "Growth in Latino population will lead to this kind of transformation. And that's true across the state."

The change has been fueled in part by rising home prices that have sent blacks in search of cheaper homes in the suburbs, and whites and Latinos moving into new homes built during the housing boom during Mayor Jerry Brown's administration.

Oakland had 399,484 residents in 2000; of those, 35.7 percent were black and 31.3 percent were white. Those numbers changed to 31.4 percent and 31.7 percent, respectively, by the end of 2004, when the population dropped to 365,266. Census officials expect the trend to continue this year.

The change can be seen in countless ways. There are fewer African American nightclubs, membership in traditionally black churches is falling, and Oakland's once-dynamic rap scene -- which produced no less a star than 2Pac -- has become almost a footnote.

But perhaps nowhere is it more apparent than in the political structure of a city that gave birth to the Black Panthers and the Black Power movement of the 1960s, when the proportion of African Americans surged.

Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale ran for mayor in 1973, supported by newly registered black voters, and made it to a runoff against incumbent John Reading. Four years later, Lionel Wilson was elected Oakland's first black mayor. He was succeeded by Elihu Harris in 1990, who served until former Gov. Jerry Brown was elected in 1998.

"That strong black political structure has not been in place for a long time," said Oakland City Council member Larry Reid. "I've watched a (City) Council that's gone from a majority that's African American down to where there's just two of us."

Black politicians in Oakland, as elsewhere in the state, are forging alliances with Latinos, and many black leaders in all fields see mayoral candidate Ron Dellums as their last, best chance to retain a measure of political clout.

But just as whites left Oakland in the 1960s, blacks are leaving today, driven to the suburbs and exurbs -- if not beyond the Bay Area entirely -- many said, by rising crime and rising home prices.

The Rev. James Payton was raised in Oakland and had deep roots in the community as pastor of New Greater Faith Baptist Church on Seminary Avenue. But he retired five years ago and moved to Stockton.

"My objective was to move to the valley with more affordable housing so I could pastor the church full time," said Payton, 57, who has watched other black families make the same move.

Membership at Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland has fallen from more than 5,000 to about 4,800 in just two years, said its pastor, J. Alfred Smith. Younger members say they can't afford to buy a home in a city where the median price for a single-family home in April ranged from $380,000 in parts of east and west Oakland to $861,000 in the hills.

With prices like that, many people are moving, often as far away as Las Vegas, Dallas and Atlanta. Seniors who own homes are cashing in and moving to areas where the cost of living is lower.

"It's like a hemorrhaging," said Smith.

For many of the city's 3,000 or so black-owned businesses, the changing population has been a concern since 2000, said Kelvin McCaskle, executive director of Oakland's African American Chamber of Commerce.

"A lot of them are complaining that their most loyal customers are gone," he said. "You're having to market yourself even more intensely because some of the customers you've had for years are gone."

Oakland was long known for black-owned businesses and entertainment districts, such as Seventh Street, that drew patrons from throughout the East Bay. And the 1980s and 1990s saw artists like MC Hammer, 2Pac, Digital Underground and Tony! Toni! Tone! springboard from Oakland into national prominence.

"Unfortunately, there's no place like that any more. We don't have that one concentrated area that we did in the past," said McCaskle.

When Shari Wooldridge opened Stepping Out -- the Urban Shoe Spa two years ago, she knew her women's shoe store would have to cater to whites and Latinos. She works with a local radio station popular with Latinos to develop a marketing campaign, is learning Spanish and plans to advertise in local Spanish-language publications.

"When I originally opened up and did my business plan, I took into account the diversity of Oakland," said Wooldridge, who has lived in the city more than 20 years. "I knew there was a change, so I haven't catered just to the black woman."
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