When homes and businesses in Russell City were demolished, residents lost more than just their property. An entire community was uprooted as families were scattered across the Bay Area. Some who were able to resettle relatively close made a concerted effort to keep the bonds forged alive through ongoing gatherings.
“People lived and worked together, and watched out for each other’s children that would play in the surrounding open fields,” said Sam Nava, a former Russell City resident. Nava, the grandson of Pancho Villa, moved to Russell City with his family in 1942, when he was 2 years old, and fondly remembers the strong sense of community and pride among residents, as well as the nightclub near his house where he would get ice cream during the day as a child.
Nava, now 82 years old, remains in close contact with other former residents and their descendants through an annual picnic celebration at Kennedy Park in Hayward where families gather and reflect on the good times in Russell City. The annual picnic had been going on for over 20 years until 2018, when renovations began at the park. The park was scheduled to reopen in the spring of 2021 but was delayed.
Nava created a wall-size cardboard sign filled with photos submitted from former residents and a hand-drawn map of Russell City where descendants can write their names by the streets where they used to live.
“Russell City is a good example of showing that people, no matter their race or creed, could get along,” said Nava. “Those people were down to earth. We all saw each other as equal.”
Aisha Knowles, 44, a Hayward resident and descendant of Russell City residents remembers attending the annual picnic at Kennedy Park every year since she was a child and learning more about the history of the community. Her family owned an auto shop called Honest Abe and Sons, and her grandmother and great-uncle, Fannie Knowles and Bill Eastland, helped found the First Baptist Church of Russell City in 1943.
“I grew up hearing so many different stories and loved meeting other people from Russell City,” said Knowles. “I was pleased to see the commission’s work. It was one step and component that makes sure Russell City is never forgotten.”
In the wake of the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, other Bay Area cities have been grappling with their own discriminatory pasts, and in recent months have shown a willingness to acknowledge and apologize for damage done. On Sept. 29, the San José City Council held a ceremony at the Circle of Palms Plaza to apologize to Chinese immigrants and their descendants for deliberately setting fire to San José’s Chinatown in 1887, destroying businesses and displacing over 1,000 people. Over the summer, the Antioch City Council apologized to the Chinese community for burning down its Chinatown in 1876.
Credit: Source link