May 312011

The demographics of San Leandro have changed dramatically in the last few years.  According to the 2011 census, just 27% of San Leandrans identify themselves as white, down from 51% in 2000.  In 1970, however, a full 97% of San Leandrans were white.  Africans American today make up almost 12% of the population; in 1970 they were 0.1%.  Those numbers were not happenstance, rather, they were the result of very specific and very successful policies of racial discrimination that kept non-whites, and in particular blacks, from moving into the city.   Originally, non-whites were kept out of town by restrictive covenants.  Once these were ruled unconstitutional, elected officials, the Chamber of Commerce, homeowner associations, apartment owners and realtors all conspired to prevent blacks from renting or buying property in town.  Realtors would not show houses to blacks, owners would not sell them, and anyone who refused to tow the line would feel the pressure from the rest.  Only in the late ’80s did San Leandro start to integrate.

San Leandro’s dirty history as one of the most racist town in America was definitely known to African Americans in nearby communities.  It became known to the rest of the country due to a couple of TV news stories (The Suburban Wall and the Invisible Wall) that showcased the problem.  But as time went on, and new people came to town, San Leandro’s racial history seemed to be forgotten.  It wasn’t until comedian Brian Copeland started his one-man-show “Not A Genuine Black Man”, which deals, in part, about perils he suffered as a black boy who moved into San Leandro in the 70’s, that the issue came back to light.  But not everyone was happy with that.

In 2005, City Manager John Jermanis and Public Library Director David Bohne decided to commission a book on the history of San Leandro.  They hired a young writer to do this, he produced an outline that included a chapter on this unpleasant aspect of San Leandro history.  The writer also proposed to talk to Brian Copeland about his own experiences.  Jermanis and Bohne ordered him to leave that part out of the book; when he refused on ethical grounds, they cancelled the whole book project.   Of course, they did that as quietly as possible.

I found out about the botched history book through an e-mail by Brian Copeland that a friend forwarded.  I set out to find out what had actually happened, and contacted Jermanis, Bohne and several city council members.  Jermanis originally talked to me, but when he realized that he couldn’t make his actions look in any way legitimate, he quickly stopped the conversation.  Bohne, meanwhile, made excuses for months to not accept my calls.  When I finally met him at a public event, he refused to even speak to me.  Jermanis, meanwhile, ordered the then public information officer Jane Crea to come up with a “story” to justify what they had done.  Unfortunately, her story had many holes and contradicted other facts.  What I learned from all of this, was that the racist policies that had driven this city until the 1980’s were alive and well at City Hall and at the Public Library.

I documented some of my conversations at the time on a webpage that I shared my friends and colleagues.  I’m sharing it with the public now because history – even history about the desire to censor history – needs to be known.

Jermanis retired a few years ago as City Manager, but Bohne continues to head the library.  Neither the City Council nor the Library Commission ever held either of them into account for their attempts to censor San Leandro history.

  54 Responses to “A short look back in time: When San Leandro tried to censor its own history.”

    • Wow, David knows racism is bad which is why he doesn’t want to talk about it or admit it exists, and yet he is racist anyway, knowing that racism is bad. We see you and we know you, David.

  1. Wow, David, you must be young if you consider anything that happened 6 years ago “ancient”!

  2. The subject matter (redlining) is. The obsession over who lives where is. The self-flagellation over what people did 60 years ago, unfortunately isn’t. Give it up. San Leandro is now one of the most “diverse” cities in the East Bay, if you like to define “diversity” as as declining/low numbers of white, non-Hispanic people, which it seems you do. Berkeley considers itself “diverse” though with twice as many whites. Maybe we should call it a wrap and move on to discussing something useful

  3. Or you could have had the lovely experiences of Milwaukee or Chicago, Detroit or St. Louis. The civic narcissism of the Bay Area extends even to immodest apologies when the past societal divisions here were practically a speedbump compared to other “Northern” cities. Never mind the simple fact that the large majority of people here had absolutely nothing to do with the past redlining, given that 70+% of people who live here now weren’t allowed to, and probably about 60+% of the remaining white people were born afterwards. So there’s maybe 10%, tops of the entire population that was alive and maybe had something to do with it, assuming 100% of the white folks here over 60 were active enough in their 20’s and 30’s to support redlining etc, which I think is a stretch. So, you’re really talking about 5% or less of the population that had anything to do with SL’s “eeeeevil” past. *yawn*

  4. My connection is working strangely, so I apologize if I already posted this (I don’t see it). David, we are not talking about 60 years – we are talking about 20, San Leandro did not start integrating until the late 1980s. And while people of color have moved to town and they are now a majority of the citizens, they are not represented in the power structures. There is one person of color out of 7 in the City Council, 2 in the School Board, and you can use your fingers in one hand to count those in city management. I haven’t looked at the demographics of the police but I wouldn’t be surprised if the percentages were just as low. The whiteness of our institutions is not coincidental. Of course, talking about race makes white people uncomfortable (including those with black grandmothers) because it’s talking about their privileges, but it’s a conversation that we have to have if we want to live together harmoniously.

  5. And David, some of the participants on this scheme have died, but as I mentioned, it only ended 25 years ago or so, so many are still around. Jermanis, for example, was Maltester’s protegee – one of the reasons why Jermanis fought the book is likely that it would have made his mentor look like the racist pig he was. And while Jermanis is out of office, the people he hired are still there. When you see City Hall fighting the Bal, for example, understanding this history will make it easier for you to figure out what the hell is going on.

  6. So non-whites can’t vote? can’t be candidates? Give me a break. SL is soooooo racist, non-hispanic whites are the third most populous group. You want racist, take a look at the power structure of Berkeley. Or maybe it’s not because of “racism,” maybe it’s just how it turned out.

  7. David, nonwhites can vote (as long as they’re legal citizens) and they can run for office – but in order to win they need to have access to know how, support and money. It’s MUCH, MUCH easier to get those three if you are an establishment candidate, and in San Leandro that has usually meant white. The biggest campaign contributors in San Leandro are usually the Sentinels – a group composed mostly of white, old men who used to be the “powers that be” in San Leandro and pretty much run the town. They don’t now, but the money they give candidates can go a long way – so you can’t underestimate their influence.

  8. Uh huh. They’re so effective that they made SL one of the least “white” inner East Bay cities. I’m underwhelmed by their demonstrated power. However, Berkeley, that paragon of diversity and racial sensitivity increased its white population significantly, and saw about 1/2 of the black population leave in the past decade. Perhaps we should investigate Berkeley’s nefarious white power structure.

  9. David, Berkeley is a university town, and the UC did away with affirmative action quite a few years ago. Perhaps the two are related.

  10. Except that pattern (blacks leaving, whites moving in) also happened in Alameda, Oakland (to a lesser extent, but still significant numbers of blacks have left Oakland, replaced by whites, Asians and Hispanics), and if I recall, in El Cerrito too. So, perhaps these other cities have secret, but much more successful/powerful entrenched white power structures. Or perhaps it’s just not real, or if such a group exists in SL, it clearly has no real power. I linked to the population changes of Alameda county and inner East Bay cities somewhere before; again, SL has had more “whites” leave than any other inner East Bay city. So much for the Sentinels.

  11. Well, David, all that has to do with property prices. Property prices went up dramatically in the Bay Area. Alameda and El Cerrito have fairly good school districts, which attract people with more money, which tend to be white (or Asian). Poor people, blacks and Latinos, are displaced by rising rents. In San Leandro the reverse is happening, the schools were not able to adapt to the changing demographics and they went down considerably in value – thus white families are fleeing to areas with better schools.

  12. Kevin, the town is not racist, the power structure is. And as a responsible person, I believe in changing racist power structures. The first step is to acknowledge them. Clearly, you have a problem doing so. Perhaps you never did anything to a person of color, but what did you do /for them/? How did you fight to integrate San Leandro in the 70’s and 80’s?

  13. Interesting theories, but again, not shown in practice. The two ethnic groups that increased the most in SL were Asians and Latinos. So if Asians love good schools, why’d they move here? If Asians have more money, again, why’d they move here? El Cerrito is no more expensive than SL, less convenient for most commuters, so what kept whites there; why did blacks leave? *Pssst* the racist white power structure, right? Give me a break. I’ll agree that a lot of whites left due to the schools (which again, belies the “racist” aspect of your argument), but then, what does that mean? According to your suppositions, the power structure must be racist…against whites. What else could explain the massive flight of white families and influx of Asians. I bet the power structure is *really* a racist cabal of Asians. Diabolical. You running dog you…

  14. Kevin, if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem. When you see a social problem around you and you look the other way, you can’t go around complaining when things don’t go your way. Living in a community is about looking for each, not just yourself, and that seems to be what you failed to teach your children.

  15. David, El Cerrito is WAAAAY more expensive than San Leandro. We used to live in the Richmond Annex, just across the street from El Cerrito – and we couldn’t buy anything there at the time. Actually, we couldn’t even afford the Richmond Annex on our budget. Now, it may be that El Cerrito prices are comparable to those in north San Leandro, but that’s just a small section of town. As for why are Asians moving to SL? This is pure speculation but I suspect that because they can get very good value for their money housing-wise, and they believe that their cultural values can overcome school deficiencies.

  16. Kevin, I can only judge what you write here. And what you write is an apologia. Unlike David, you lived here during those times, you could have helped integrate San Leandro, but you did not, and you do bear moral responsibility for that.

  17. So, let me get this straight. The racist power structure that controls SL is causing whites to flee; Asians, Latinos and (to a much lesser extent) blacks to move in, the schools to decline, and property values to crash. In other towns, the non-racist power structure is causing whites (and often Asians and to a lesser extent Latinos) to move in, blacks to leave, schools to level off or improve and property values to improve. You’re right, we definitely need a new power structure, just based on the empirical evidence. I rather doubt it’s due to racism though. Incompetence perhaps, which is rather color-blind (witness Dellums, or of course our current President).

  18. Oh, come on David! You are not in grade school, you know that there are multiple factors and multiple motivations working at the same time. But hey, here is the problem – to understand what the motivations and the factors at play are, you have to look at history. And that seems to make you very, very uncomfortable.

  19. SL, are you in grade school? One of the things you learn in science is to experiment in order to see if something is able to be replicated. You posit that the “racist white power structure” in SL is operating to …well, I don’t exactly what, but it’s not:

  20. but it’s not: keeping non-whites out of SL, keeping whites from leaving SL, or doing anything that “racist white power structures” might be imagined to do.

  21. Indeed, as I pointed out, the lily-white power structures of Berkeley are doing a much better ‘job’ of keeping that city whiter than it’s been in decades, ditto for Alameda, Albany etc. So, following your hypothesis, either much more power racist white power structures run those towns or the one supposedly running SL is the most incompetent white power structure this side of the Keystone Kops.

  22. You want a segregated city with a white power structure (and a black ‘sub-structure), do yourself a favor and look up how things get done in Chicago. For real.

  23. David, you confuse “goals” with effectiveness in achieving those goals. I think you probably will agree that no matter what goals you ascribe to City Hall, they are not achieving them. Unless their goals is to make as much a mess out of a city as possible, that is 🙂 But I would say that the fact that our city government is so incompetent is in part due to the fact that it is so non-diverse, which in part is the result of our racist past. You see, it’s much easier for people to chose people to a position that they are more like them. So we hire city managers whose main attribute is being “one of the boys”, who in turn hire staff who they feel comfortable with. Problem is, the person you feel most comfortable with may not be the best qualified for the job – specially in a changing environment. Even from a purely selfish point of view you should welcome diversity in government 🙂

  24. Actually, “diversity” is merely a state of being “diverse”-there’s nothing inherently positive or negative about it. As for City Government, there’s always room for improvement in terms of financial management, but SL is better managed that way than all-white Berkeley city gov’t or “diverse” Oakland or all white+Asian SF. By far. Of course that’s a least-ugly comparison, but it’s true. As for the schools, well, they’re run more separately from the city government as you know. I’m not confusing goals with efficacy at all. Read my reply above. If this racist power structure exists, they do a terrible job at keeping non-whites out and whites in. Worse job than all-white Berkeley-much worse. As I wrote above, either you believe that they exist and are morons, it doesn’t exist, or it exists, but doesn’t have the goals you ascribe it. What I DO see, however, is more “liberal” places making life unbearable for the lesser educated and working class folks who are a bit disproportionately non-white, and causing those people to leave. You see it on a state-wide level (blacks etc leaving Chicago, SF, California, etc) and on a local level (blacks etc leaving Berkeley, SF, Alameda, Oakland) and going to less “liberal” places (Georgia, Texas, Arizona, or locally, SL, Hayward, etc)

  25. What makes government, universities, and businesses better is not skin color tokenism, but diversity of THOUGHT. And actually in SL, we have more of that (although not enough) on the City Council than there is in Berkeley, SF, or Oakland (although I think Oakland has at least one somewhat more conservative councilman).

  26. You cannot apply natural selection ideas to skin color diversity on a city council. There are many reasons why, but the main is that there is no “survival advantage” to a council having whites, non-whites or a mix thereof.  Imbecile incumbents don’t “die” and smart managers don’t “win.” Again, berkeley’s council is all-white, oakland’s is “diverse” and sf is white & Asian.  They’re all worse off fiscally than sl.
    And again, if the sentinels or whoever are so ineffectual, (as has been demonstrated) who cares?

  27. David, you are a molecular biologist, and as such I’m pretty sure you must be quite familiar with evolutionary science. You must know, thus, that diverse populations are much more able to adapt to a changing environment than homogenous ones. And you are right, it is diversity of thought that we need, but those are often the results of different life experiences. And that’s what we don’t really have in the council. We have painfully few people who know what it’s like to be something other than a white middle-class professional. I don’t think we even have anyone in the council right now who is bilingual or has lived in another country (or even state, if you don’t count college). The diversity you see there is between those who are super-pro labor and those who are semi pro-labor, or those who are super-pro-empolyee or semi-pro-employee. But even that is giving them too much credit, in general we have a reactive council that does what city staff tells them and has no desire or plan to improve city life. … (I wish I could make parragraphs). Now, I never ascribed the goal of “keeping whites out” to the existing power structure. That was the goal of the structures until the 80’s, where that situation became unsustainable because of economic factors. I think their goal since has been to limit the impact of having a diverse population, but I don’t think they have a clue as to how to do it – so they throw darts like trying to stop Faith Fellowship from expanding or the Bal from having live shows.

  28. David, the way to measure a town is not only fiscally. It’s by “quality of life”. And that’s where SL is lacking. The fact that property prices are so much higher in Berkeley and Oakland (outside crime-ridden areas) in general, tell you that people think they get a better quality of life there than in SL.

  29. It costs more to live in nyc.  Do they have a higher quality of life? Or just think they do?  Why have so many non-whites fled berkeley and oakland? Higher costs mean lower quality of life, not the other way around.  What benefits do higher property taxes in oakland get you? Crappy schools, higher crime and more bureaucracy. No thanks.

    David Nierengarten, PhD

  30. Interestingly enough, in one of those documentaries is former mayor Tony Santos along with an all-white cast of HOA leaders trying to give the impression that they have no role in keeping blacks out of San Leandro; even though that’s exactly what was happening.

    Then there’s the selling off of a brand-new high school in the 80’s because it was the “black” school in San Leandro. Unfortunately, both racism and stupidity are long engrained in the “leadership culture” of San Leandro.

  31. Kevin, thank you for illustrating what racism still looks like in SAn Leandro.

  32. As far as “racism,” if that’s what it looks like in SL, that’s pretty thin gruel, Marga.

  33. honey my family, including my husband is FAR from being racist. I have taught my children that the color of ones skin does not matter!! Dont judge someone you dont know!

  34. i dont think politicians should say anything ! You people are the last to judge what goes on cause your all scared of the ‘real world’ , last i check my dad and mom raised me perfectly fine , if you knew who my family is the last thing you would say is “and that seems to be what you failed to teach your children” , so check yourself . your parents obviously failed to raise you .

  35. And if you wanna know something about today’s Racism in San Leandro ask somebody from todays time , cause you clearly don’t know

  36. Frank, you are so right. The racist foundation of San Leandro is pervasive and will not change until the past is brought fully to light.

  37. David, that’s what racism always looks like.It’s been decades since racists burnt crosses and hid behind white hoods. Even San Leandro in the 80’s was more subtle: “blacks don’t live here because they don’t want to”. Racism is ultimately about creating the categories of “us” vs “them”. It’s what Kevin does when he defends himself (against nothing that had been personally directed towards him) by complaining about what the “others” (blacks? latinos?) did against him or by screaming “reverse discrimination” when his white privilege is challenged. Now, you can argue that Kevin’s racism is inconsequential, he doesn’t have power to act on it. The problem is that others feel like him, and do.

  38. Carla, if you have taught your children that the “color of one’s skin does not matter” – why does the color of the skin of the people who “assaulted, robbed and threatened” your husband matter?

  39. Yes, it’s inconsequential (even if you categorize what he wrote as “racist”). Just like the “Sentinels.” If it’s inconsequential, it’s not a problem. As written originally, ancient history, forget about it, etc.

  40. The only reason racism is still here is because racism is still here is cause old people like you , once you all die off our world will be a much better place , I see you mention my dad one more time its bad , so shut your mouth

  41. Joshua, yes, your parents did a great job raising you. They should be proud. David, we’ll have to disagree about the importance of hiistory. But if you really want me and others to forget, the best thing you can do is make sure that we have no reason to remember – changing attitudes that blame a whole group of people for the actions of one is a start.

  42. Kevin, you were robbed and attacked by ONE person (or TEN people, whichever number it was). You were not attacked by the whole black population. For you to ascribe blame to anyone but the person(s) who attacked you is COMPLETELY racist. Now, in the case of Brian and San Leandro, it wasn’t just a racist landlord that wanted him out. It was the whole town, including people like you, who were conspiring to keep blacks out. Do you really not the see the difference here?

  43. Really? Every single person in sl?
    And all those people are still here making life so terrible for non-whites, that “minorities” are the majority?  Such a hell that so many want to enter.

  44. David, there was a small group of people that worked to integrate San Leandro. They were a clear minority and had a pretty hard time. Have you watched the documentaries, yet?

  45. Does it truck in trying to make white people feel guilty for things that they bear no responsibility for?  Do you see any difference between that and the other comments here that you take umbrage at?

    David Nierengarten, PhD

  46. Kevin, if you haven’t read Brian’s book or gone to his one-man show, and therefore if you don’t know his story, don’t you think it’s a bit silly for you to try to compare your situation to his? And Kevin, when you make racist statements you can’t cower down and pray for others not to judge you on them.

  47. David, we all bear responsibility for our actions and our inactions.

  48. I lived in San Leandro in 1972. I went to McKinley Elementary school. My first boyfriend was Sheldon. A very cute African American boy. He was the only African American kid I can remember at the school. But I was 5. My family thought he was adorable. Not everyone who grew up in San Leandro was racist. But it was something that everyone who lived in the town was well aware of.

  49. Thomas and Frank, I couldn’t agree more.

    Sweeping the past under the carpet does nothing to help move on from it and learn from it, but that’s exactly what many of the “old guard” in San Leandro have tried and succeeded in doing over the past dozens of years.

    Marga, I’m glad to see you post this previously invisible bit of history. It is knowledge of how our city leaders have behaved that can inform us as to how things like the sexual harassment in the police force could be allowed to occur.

    Whether the people victimized are female, African American, Latino, or just opposed to the views of the powers that be, it is still victimization of the other.

    It is sad that nothing came of this issue at the time, it hit front page of the Daily Review the day Brian Copeland had a book signing at Zocalo which sold out of over 75 books World of Book had!

    • Tim, it is pleasing to see your post in support of acknowledging the pervasive evil of white supremacy that has been part and parcel of San Leandro since the city’s incorporation.

      One has only to use the resources of the San Leandro Library to read The Morning News, the San Leandro morning paper that faithfully records the separaticism and racicsm that is still here in town.

      This will not go away until the past is fully exposed to daylight and discussion.

  50. […] Leandro. While it does absolutely nothing to erase the memory of San Leandro once being one of the most racist suburbs in America (akin to Parks and Recreation’s Pawnee, IN being the fourth fattest town in America) it was a […]

  51. Tim Holmes. Thank you for your comments and insights. As a Bay O Vista girl of the late 1960s and early 1970s even I knew something was institutionally amiss racially when looking a few blocks over into Oakland and in my all white classroom at SLHS

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