Community members who live near the corner of Sacramento Street and Ashby Avenue have taken beautification into their own hands by creating a large mural to celebrate two neighborhood civil rights leaders, and cover the front of a property that has been vacant for decades.
The two men honored on the mural are William Byron Rumford, the first African American elected to public office in Northern California and the legislator who introduced the 1963 Fair Housing Bill (also known as the Rumford Fair Housing Bill); and Burl Toler Sr., who played football professionally and was the first African American official in the NFL.
Zach Franklin, Seth Martinez and Sofia Zander were the driving force behind the mural in their neighborhood. The small property at 2951 Sacramento St., a liquor store until 1984, has been vacant for nearly 30 years, attracting dumping and graffiti as well as creating a neglected feel in the neighborhood, said Franklin. The idea of a mural had been floating around for a while and came together at a community meeting held in Martinez’s dance studio, MVMNT, the property just south of 2951.
“I came in at the right time” in the process to help, said Martinez. Franklin had already contacted the owner of the property — a descendant of Toler — and gotten permission to create a mural. Martinez and Franklin, who had researched Rumford’s career and impact on the civil rights movement, wanted the art to reflect the neighborhood and continue the revitalization of the area. “The mural is exciting,” said Franklin, “but the message is, ‘A lot of cool stuff is going on around here.’”
The mural was painted on large wooden panels mounted on the wall of the property. The view it shows – the hills of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge — is a view seen from the highest point in the Sacramento-Ashby neighborhood. The words “pride” and the name of Martinez’s studio, MVMNT, are also on the mural, to emphasize “pride in movement” and in the community, said Martinez.
The project, which was completed in late July, was the combined effort of seven or eight people, including Martinez, he said, and the city agreed to pay for materials when Franklin and Martinez proposed the mural. “Art and Berkeley are a dangerous combination,” said Franklin, so they were initially worried about what the community response would be like; but so far, it’s been “all positive feedback,” he said. And it’s a big conversation piece.
Although his eponymous bill was an important precursor to later civil rights legislation, Rumford is not particularly famous, perhaps because he spent more time legislating and less time pushing himself into the spotlight, said Franklin. Before he was a legislator, his pharmacy at Ashby and Sacramento was a “political salon,” said Franklin.
The hope is that, with this mural and continuing efforts to revitalize the community, the area will stop being a drive-by intersection and become a hotspot of commerce and community, said Franklin. Even as they were painting the mural, people stopped by to ask questions about the project and the area.
“All layers of the community are impressed,” said Franklin.
Learn more about the CalJulia neighborhood group at its website.
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Eden Teller, a graduate of Berkeley High School, was a summer intern at Berkeleyside. She will be attending Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, this fall.
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