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Unlike neighboring Hayward and San Leandro, Russell City didn’t have racist housing covenants stipulating that only white families could own certain homes. After World War II, it grew into a small but tight community of Black and Latino families that once included seven churches.
On weekends, children played on the unpaved streets as their parents, many of whom worked in the shipyards, sat on porches, and on some foggy nights, Ray Charles and Big Mama Thornton played shows at one of the town’s music venues, called the Country Club.
“It was vibrant,” said Monique Henderson-Ford, who grew up hearing stories about Russell City from her mother, grandmother and cousins.
After leaving Louisiana in the 1950s, her grandparents lived briefly in San Francisco but were displaced by an urban renewal project. Using savings from years of work at Pacific Gas & Electric, her grandfather paid $7,500 for their property and home in Russell City, and the family soon added three small houses to the homestead for their sons.
“This was their American dream,” Ms. Henderson-Ford said in an interview.
But it didn’t last long.
Lacking sewer lines and reliable electricity, the area was designated as a blight, and officials called for its destruction and the area to be turned into an industrial park. Russell City was annexed into Hayward, and the city and county bought up some properties and seized others through eminent domain. Residents, including Ms. Henderson-Ford’s grandmother, pleaded with officials to be allowed to remain in their homes.
“I got a nice place,” she told the Alameda County Board of Supervisors during a public meeting in 1963, according to a transcript. “Allow me a break.”