After a three-year hiatus due to COVID-19, the Black History Month walking tour organized by the South Berkeley Legacy Project resumed this month.
Led by Tina Jones Williams, the tour paid homage to historic locations in the heart of the Black neighborhood where she was raised in South Berkeley. African Americans, who migrated from the South to Berkeley, settled in South and West Berkeley because of redlining practices during the first half of the 20th century.
On a crisp Saturday morning in February, a couple of dozen people wrapped in jackets and hoodies gathered on the corner of Sacramento and Julia streets, feet away from a bronze statue of William Byron Rumford Sr.
Rumford was a civil rights advocate who became the Bay Area’s first African American elected to the California Legislature in 1948. He owned a pharmacy on Sacramento Street and authored the Rumford Fair Housing Act, which outlawed housing discrimination in California half a decade before the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was passed.
Rumford’s statue, Berkeley’s first permanent sculpture of a Black man, was the first stop along the tour, which included stops at the South Berkeley History Mural, the Ephesian Church of God in Christ on Alcatraz Avenue and Reid’s Records on Sacramento Street.
The tour began with an opportunity to see Rumford’s multigenerational impact on Berkeley’s Black community. Carole Davis Kennerly, the first African American woman elected to the Berkeley City Council and chosen as vice mayor, joined current Vice Mayor Ben Bartlett in recognizing Rumford’s impact on civil rights history.
It moved across the street to Rumford Sr.’s family pharmacy, where Julia Street meets Sacramento Street. There, his grandson, William Rumford Ⅲ, shared the significance of the pharmacy to the community and what made it special to him.
Participants walked toward Adeline Street as the tour proceeded east before stopping at the Ephesian Church of God in Christ. Williams said the church opened in 1936, making it one of the oldest Black churches in Berkeley.
Williams told stories of an active and vibrant Black neighborhood that no longer exists due to gentrification. She spoke of friends and families that had to sell their homes due to rising rent and property costs and Black businesses like Reid’s Records that are no longer open. Williams also shared experiences of being Black in Berkeley while growing up through her personal experiences and that of her relatives.
“Every morning when [my father] went to a job site in the east hills, he would be stopped by the police every morning asking why he was in the neighborhood,” Williams said. “It was such a ritual that he put his tools on the front seat of the car so that he could just point, ‘this is why I’m here.’ And it was such a ritual that he left a half hour early because he knew he was going to be stopped and didn’t want to be late for work.”
Eventually, the tour ended where it began. Although the tone of some of the stories was somber, the attendees remained in high spirits as they remembered the legacies of some of Berkeley’s early Black trailblazers. To honor that history, Bartlett read a proclamation from the city reflecting on some of Rumford Sr.’s highest accomplishments.