Stolen Legacy Project 01: West Oakland

We're covering West Oakland's urban renewal history and taking it to the streets. The 5 phases explored include pre-white flight, black migration & white flight, Harlem of the West, Urban Renewal, and the War on Drugs.


Through restorative justice art, Alena Museum will give an artistic portrayal of what happened to the vibrant Black Culture of West Oakland as a result of urban renewal. By examining the role of black leadership in being the face of white power strategic plans, we will educate community about urban planning, how it works, and how we can be involved. Our community will be able to know what to look for so that we are not displaced. Our work will hold space for our community on the streets and allow us to reflect on the present state of Black land ownership

restorative justice

art experiences

Exploring our history and holding space through creative community experiences including: Outdoor interactive art installations / community giving walls / photography exhibits / Pop-up gardens / walking tours / stories from elders / digital information hub / + more!

Phases to explore

1. Pre-White Flight

Oakland got sold out from the get go – the entire region was to cater to the business and political class. Oakland was never designed for the people. The objective of MOAP was to make the concrete spaces a place to produce capital. Advertised as a place with plenty of jobs, affordable real estate, and a sunny climate, Oakland became a lively gateway for Europeans and protestant middle Americans.    

2. Black Migration + White Flight

Oakland lacked the row of houses so the vision of MOAP was realized outside of West Oakland – moves away meant a larger yard, bigger bedrooms, and quieter streets.

Homeownership was a strong desire for the working class, and west Oakland became east bay’s main African-American community. A rising middle-class that thrived from economic and educational success, a black community was built off discriminatory lending practices and racist zoning laws that confined Black folks together as their population grew.

3. Harlem of the West

With the incoming of thousands of migrants, West Oakland was booming off the new residents and created an equitable environment for black, brown, and indigenous cultures to thrive with flourishing black-owned businesses, professional offices, jazz clubs, women’s clubs, churches, and fraternal lodges.

There was a sense of a transplanted community from both the arrival of southerners and immigrants.

The African-American journey involved finding a place, building homes, making community, winning the battle for civil rights, and then hoping to dwell. A key feature of west Oakland’s bustling streets was a sense of safety and familiarity that was nurtured by shared acts of kindness; the small town, face to face networking unified community and helped blacks prosper through the ability to be independently self-supporting.

4. Urban Renewal

Urban renewal involved decisions about west Oakland were made outside its boundaries. Absent from the process were poor people, black people, and women. Segregation was naturalized among white policymakers – it was violently enforced as the region was divided by boundaries based on zones of affluence. Economic growth, high property values, low property taxes, and racial segregation was the terms of suburban development associated with upward mobility.

City leaders used federal funds to remove aging infrastructure and hosing stock near downtown and replace with higher uses, making property redistributed to primarily the private sector of developers at a fraction of the city’s costs.

Entire communities were demolished and the interests of business leaders to clear the ghetto, controlled where blacks went. Planners controlled the direction in which people could move, with tools including highways, massive buildings, and open space, all which inhibited travel in and out, and stopping community from connecting.

5. War On Drugs

As drugs and guns flooded the “ghetto” border, the break-up of the Black family was imminent. The fabric of black values and culture was torn by a war that was supposed to save rather than destroy.

Military strategies and weapons swarmed into communities, making fear and drug trade more rampant and violent; blocks turned into war zones, and lock ups or killings were common.

Neighbors stopped talking, families lost jobs and homes, and all in all, adults lost trust in one another and children had less people to count on. Extreme sentencing legislation and funding triggered the need to add more fuel to the fire; instead of treating addicts as suffering people, they were criminals.

As people cycled in and out of jail while losing everything from child custody to self-respect and health, there was a shared struggle of finding hope in a criminal justice system that doesn’t see Black people as humans. As police power grew and Black and Brown kids became viewed as the biggest problem, our community turned against itself. We need the political will and pressure from each other to insist on putting families and communities first.