In June 2020, in response to George Floyd’s unlawful death by police, three young adult residents of Upper Rockridge chalked a mural on the Sunflower Path stairs between Proctor Avenue and Morpeth Street in Upper Rockridge with the names of 83 Black lives lost to police violence.
The mural was repeatedly vandalized with sayings like "criminals" and “Blue lives matter!” or erased completely with water. The young artists/activists redid the mural several times over the course of June and July, a process that takes more than 5 hours to complete. They were repeatedly harassed by residents who disagreed with the message.
The artists gathered community members virtually over the summer to discuss the best ways to maintain the mural, and residents contributed time and materials to do so. In early July, a resident filed a complaint with the city about graffiti on the stairs, and a city worker power washed half of the mural away before running out of hose length (read about it here). After a parent organizer and her young daughter were harassed while maintaining the mural in early September, the community decided it was no longer safe to maintain. Click to read about the community stair vigil.
The neighborhood of Upper Rockridge was created in the early 1900's by developers as a whites-only area, with racial covenants on deeds that forbade homes from being sold or rented to Black people or people of color (POC). In the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, the city of Oakland adopted exclusionary zoning laws in many of the city’s mostly white neighborhoods that prevented the construction of apartment buildings, which might rent to low income Black or POC residents. As of 2017, those zoning laws were still in effect, and Upper Rockridge remains a predominantly white neighborhood.
For more details on the history of Upper Rockridge, check out this article from East Bay Express. To see real estate ads for the neighborhood from 1909-1910 that clearly state the exclusions, go here.
PERMANENT MURAL PROPOSAL
THE OAKLAND STAIRS PROJECT is a team of community members committed to celebrate equality and equanimity in the Oakland hills through public art. The Sunflower Path stairs mural will bring into service local artists and volunteers from the community to help fund, plan, execute and maintain the project, and carry its messages and importance into the neighborhood’s schools.
With the intention of reclaiming this point in Oakland from redlining and a shamefully racist history, THE OAKLAND STAIRS PROJECT aims to echo the original intention, and evolve it into a permanent stair mural that embodies a new ideal of racial equality, unity and change. We hope this mural gives the Oakland hills a fresh voice, elevates the Sunflower Path stairs into a local landmark, inspires a positive impact on local residents and visitors, and reflects our now diverse community, including and welcoming Black and of color residents.
We are gathering signatures on our petition to show neighborhood support and inviting local black artists and artists of color to submit proposals. We've received endorsement from Councilman Dan Kalb, and we're working with the Department of Transportation and Paint the Town for approval.
Contact us to get involved!