“A lot of people have an image of Oakland as this post crack era high crime area with a lot of dysfunction. That’s not the cultural roots of Oakland. And that was a particular phase that we went through and a particular time in this country that a lot of urban areas, and rural areas experienced. So for those of us like me and there’s a lot of us who think this way, we are trying to organize and ally to kind of preserve some of the culture and the community, that exists here. So I think it’s an obligation for myself to kind of address some of the social issues we see, to organize with our neighbors and maybe most importantly, to welcome new folks and at the same time continue being stewards of our cultural traditions.”
What’s your name?
David Ervin Peters
What neighborhood are you from?
I am from what I call the Hoover Durant neighborhood. Some folks now call it officially Hoover Foster it used to be known for a period of time as Ghost Town. We don’t call it that anymore, although some folks think or appear to think of that it gives it some additional credit or refer to it.
Do you know where the name Ghost Town came from?
You know, there’s a lot of controversy about that. I don’t know specifically in exactly, my speculation is it comes from the ghost town boys, which was a gang here, I had never heard it referred to as Ghost Town until maybe the eighties or nineties. I call it Hoover. And so officially if you look on a map, it’s called Hoover Foster for Hoover school, that’s right across the street. And then Marcus Foster school, which has since been torn now named after former Oakland Superintendent Marcus Foster, who was assassinated by the Symbionese Liberation Army. I want to say 74, may have been earlier than that down in front of the Oakland Education building, Oakland Public Unified School district building downtown. That foster school replaced the elementary school that I went to called Durant which I think it was built in 1950] and replaced Durant’s school on that location on West and 29th. I want to say that was there earlier.
What does it mean to you to be a multigenerational Oakland resident?
Wow, that’s deep. I immediately get a swelling of pride when you say that and I think more so because Oakland gets dissed so much and has been dissed so much. I love this town man, and I think a lot of it has to do that we’re San Francisco’s a redheaded stepchild or however you want to put it and have also just been dissed, you know, regionally, nationally, locally. But I think that’s what has helped make Oakland a treasure for a long time. Because for the longest time it was people who are attracted to this area for a reason, you had to kind of overcome the negative perceptions then choose to want to be here. And so I think that helped attract open minded people who didn’t accept kind of the conventional wisdom is the way I’ll put it. For me, I’m particularly proud of the activists, revolutionary and radical traditions that come out of here and for me, those who are particularly expressed in black nationalism, liberation movements, C.L. Dellums who was second in command of the Sleeping Brotherhood of Car Porter Unions. A. Phillip Randolph, I think a lot of people are familiar with founded that union. And this is in the 1920s. Of course the railroad terminus was here and it was a focus of activism at a time when there were very few black people in Oakland. We kind of jumped into a 4% black population in the forties and you had a lot of people come from the south and they brought that southern culture here. And so while I was young, I’ll be 55 years old this year, born in 1964. And so for me, growing up late sixties through the 70s, probably through to mid seventies particular the culture here was really southern Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas. I think a lot of people from that part of the south came west, all the people who were further east probably just went north and they brought those traditions. And so, you know, chickens in the backyard, you know, growing your food in the backyard, just all the skills, trade skills that came with being working class people and just being self reliant. The way that the community depended on each other, relied on each other. They helped each other, turned on each other, fought with each other, I certainly don’t want to make it into this bed of roses that it necessarily wasn’t.
But growing up in that environment and I think particularly at the time when I was coming up, there was a pride in the Black Panther movement, there was pride in the black is beautiful phraseology. It was really a flowering of black cultural nationalism that I am rooted in. I think it helped to form my character and my perspective and I didn’t grow up anywhere else, so I can’t talk about what that may have been like somewhere else. But for me, that really symbolizes the Oakland that I know, love and grew up in. If I think about, you know, other things, what it means to me, man, Raiders, A’s, Warriors in the 70s, you know, were some good times. This is a area that always has had a rebellious spirit. I think in certainly that’s safe to say a rebellious spirit that I have, question authority, think for yourself, be who you are, live in that live. Those are the ethos, the ethics and I think some of the values for me of Oakland. I think Oakland today as for me as somebody who was born and raised here and lived here most of my life I feel a responsibility to try and protect, reclaim, share that culture that I was just talking about. It’s important for those of us who love this town. I want to preserve some of what this town was and I’m not against change. I recognize that some people want to see some different things and sometimes different things are good but I think the reason a lot of people I think love this town so much is this particular uniqueness that comes out as some of the things that I talked about in terms of those roots of activism and culture.
I think it’s a responsibility to try and preserve those things, to communicate what culture is like here. And this is something that we talked about it initially, that a lot of people have an image of Oakland as this post crack era high crime area with a lot of dysfunction. That’s not the cultural roots of Oakland. And that was a particular phase that we went through and a particular time in this country that a lot of urban areas, and rural areas experienced. So for those of us like me and there’s a lot of us who think this way, we are trying to organize and ally to kind of preserve some of the culture and the community, that exists here. So I think it’s an obligation for myself to kind of address some of the social issues we see, to organize with our neighbors and maybe most importantly, to welcome new folks and at the same time continue being stewards of our cultural traditions.
Are there any memories of growing up in Oakland that you want to share that you feel like is a kind of stood out as a very defining Oakland moment?
It snowed in 1976 I think the people that were here then, everybody remembers that day. (Laughing loudly) That was a huge moment. I mean, defining though. I think there’s been so many defining moments. I mean, in my early years, for me personally, my earliest, some of my earliest memories were, or the protest on the steps of Alameda County courthouse, the chants to free Huey. That resonated the neighborhood, the feeling of pride that I got watching brothers with the berets and the leather jackets of the Black Panther party for self defense in this neighborhood. And while that may not be a single memory for me, that feeling of pride, safety. You know, we were talking about Frantz Fanon and some of the psychologies that happened to colonized people. And I think one way to analyze the framework of black folks in America is as a colonized people, that kind of that psychological safety, liberation. I don’t know what the right word is that came from those experiences of seeing the paper boy that had the route for the house that are grew up in. When he became a panther, there’s a lot of pride for me in that. Festival at the lake, were some joyous memories before that kind of went off the rails. Warriors championship in 75, Raiders in 76, A’s in 72,73,74, those were times that I think really united The Town on the surface and brought us together.
What do you think it is that makes everybody want to move to Oakland now?
I think a lot of people that are moving here don’t necessarily want to move here. They can afford it, but still means you’re pretty well off. You can afford to move to Oakland in this day. Some people come here and they wanted to make it more like where they came from. You know, and we were talking about that earlier about trying to preserve those values, but I think there’s also a lot of people that choose to come here because they see what’s happening here. This is a city that has a strong history and tradition of activism, of people getting involved and engaged about changing things politically, socially, economically, and internally, psychologically, artistically. I think those are some of the reasons that people want to move here. The weather’s great. And I think there’s just a spirit of the town, the camaraderie that we have for each other, in some ways it’s having that kind of negative perception in the media and across the country, probably across the globe. We all know if you say to somebody, you’re from Oakland, there’s a certain percentage of people who are going to go shrink back and go, oh, you survived. [12:13] And that’s funny cause I had that perception moving down to central coast. I would say I was from Oakland and people would act like I was like some bad ass. Ooh, you’re a tough guy. You survived. I’m like man I’m just a middle class black kid from Oakland. Don’t have any horror stories or any war stories. But I think some of that mythos motivates people to have a perception of Oakland as dangerous. I think that some of the reasons that people are attracted here is it’s physically very beautiful, the weather is great, varied housing sizes, lots of things. And so you’ve got this culture here, across all kinds of different cultures that I think is attractive for people to come here. I think we’re one of the most diverse cities in the country, almost equal parts, Asian, latinX, Black and White. I think that’s beautiful. I think it’s still undiscovered to a certain extent. You know, San Francisco gets all the pub and I think there’s something to people wanting to kind of go to the next hot place.