Tag Archives: Ishmael Reed

Replay 8/17/07: Geese Crossing

31 Aug

I’m reading Blues City: A Walk in Oakland, by Ishmael Reed, and in it, he does an interview with Malcolm Margolin, author of The Ohlone Way. Here’s part of what Malcolm has to say about why birds keep coming back to Lake Merritt:

Along the northern Pacific coast the watersheds that supported migrating geese have been taken over by city populations… It’s hard to tell geese that after millions of years, that’s not your land anymore… the geese population at Lake Merritt is not a result of the offspring… It’s actually a result of the geese trying to find a safe place before they lose all their flight feathers for six weeks and become land-bound.

Reading this reminded me of a night earlier this year, when I was driving a friend of mine to his apartment east of the lake. As I slowly pulled up to a red stoplight, a family of stark white geese waddled in a single-file line from the lake to the other side of the street, using the cross walk. They didn’t make it across the street before the light changed, but I’ve seen pedestrians do worse.

It was a beautiful sight and one of those Oakland memories that I’ll never forget. It’s sad to know that birds have few safe places to land, but I’m glad to know that Lake Merritt is one of those safe spaces.

Reading about the O: Books

4 Jan

I recently finished the third book I read last year about Oakland, and it got me thinking about just how much I read about Oakland and how lucky we are that there are so many alternatives available to the Tribune and TV news. So I thought I’d reflect on all that I read about Oakland in 2007, starting with the books. Check back in a few days for a review of my favorite Oakland blogs.

Books

Oakland: The Story of a City, by Beth Bagwell

If you’re going to read just one book about Oakland, this is it. Bagwell traces Oakland’s history from it’s Native American origin through the 1950s (and a bit beyond). She thoroughly delves into city politics, not shying away from covering the corrupt power-plays that made this city what it is today. Almost no detail is left out, with topics including the environmental landscape, schooling, economics, racial issues, transportation, and development.

This book was part of my inspiration to start this blog, and I think it should be required reading for anyone who cares about Oakland. Actually, I think I might re-read it again soon to refresh my memory on Oakland’s history now that I have a better understanding of the city’s current socio-political sructure.

The Second Gold Rush: Oakland and the East Bay in World War II, by Marilynn S. Johnson

The Second Gold Rush, which I just finished, is a nice follow-up to Bagwell’s book. Since Johnson hones in on a shorter time period, she’s able to delve into great detail about Oakland and the greater East Bay before, during, and after World War II. Particularly interesting to me was what I learned about housing during this time. Apparently, as the war began, there was such a shortage of housing in the East Bay that the federal government ran ads asking residents to rent out rooms in their houses to migrant workers, as a way of expressing their patriotism and support for the war. After the war, the housing situation was even worse, as temporary public housing was destroyed and never replaced, forcing thousands of African Americans out of their housing, without providing them with sufficient alternatives.

There are also some fun highlights about city life during the war that could serve as an inspiration for what’s to come, like this quote from a woman about the bustling of downtown: “My husband and I often walk the downtown streets after dinner just for the pure joy of the movement all about us.” I know I look forward to a day when I can think of downtown in that way.

And there are of course tidbits that are pretty frightening and make me feel pretty good about the current state of affairs in our city, like the scapegoating of women…

One old timer claimed that the upsurge of barroom brawls and violence was due to the presence of women. “The police records are full of brawls, stabbings, he result of drunken jealousy. And all these things because women frequent the saloons of today.” Local officials also tended to blame women for the increase in rape and sexual assault cases… Some people even claimed that women accepting pick-ups were abetting the crime wave and should be punished along with male offenders. Public officials responded to women’s “promiscuity” by controlling their access to bars and other public spaces [by denying access to unaccompanied women].

Unfortunately, I’m not sure how easy this book is to find. I stumbled upon it in the East Bay section on the top floor of Moe’s, which is wear I buy most of my books, but I’m sure it can also be found online.

Blues City: A Walk in Oakland, by Ishmael Reed

This is a quick read that follows Reed as he walks through Oakland, visiting several landmarks and participating in cultural events. Unlike the other two books, Reed looks at Oakland not only through a historical lens, but also touches on current themes. Reed’s writing style is conversational, yet engaging, as he paints a beautiful, though sometimes harsh, picture of the city.

Like Bagwell and Johnson, Reed doesn’t shy away from difficult issues, especially in the chapter titled “The Killing Comes to My Neighborhood… Again,” where he writes:

It dawned on me why Oakland really is Blues City. The killing that was breaking out all over town, even threatening people’s safety in the tony Oakland hills, had come to my neighborhood again. I had talked to the victim hundreds of times… He was a handsom, elderly black man who usually stood in the driveway next to his room when he wasn’t walking through the neighborhood… He had been murdered by his son, just as he had murdered one of his sons…

Despite this acknowledgment of a dark reality, Reed also acknowledges the inspirational aspects of Oakland, especially when reminiscing about the past. He tells stories and sometimes interviews varied figures that served important roles in Oakland’s history, including Blues musicians, members of the Black Panthers, writers, artists, and activists.

Though I don’t always agree with Reed’s political views, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and learned a lot about the culture of Oakland and about some very interesting cultural contributers that I’m sure I would not have learned about elsewhere.

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I know there are other great books about Oakland out there, and I hope to read many more. Any come to mind that you think Oaklanders should check out?

Geese Crossing

17 Aug

I’m reading Blues City: A Walk in Oakland, by Ishmael Reed, and in it, he does an interview with Malcolm Margolin, author of The Ohlone Way. Here’s part of what Malcolm has to say about why birds keep coming back to Lake Merritt:

Along the northern Pacific coast the watersheds that supported migrating geese have been taken over by city populations… It’s hard to tell geese that after millions of years, that’s not your land anymore… the geese population at Lake Merritt is not a result of the offspring… It’s actually a result of the geese trying to find a safe place before they lose all their flight feathers for six weeks and become land-bound.

Reading this reminded me of a night earlier this year, when I was driving a friend of mine to his apartment east of the lake. As I slowly pulled up to a red stoplight, a family of stark white geese waddled in a single-file line from the lake to the other side of the street, using the cross walk. They didn’t make it across the street before the light changed, but I’ve seen pedestrians do worse.

It was a beautiful sight and one of those Oakland memories that I’ll never forget. It’s sad to know that birds have few safe places to land, but I’m glad to know that Lake Merritt is one of those safe spaces.