The History and Heritage of Russell City
Russell City was an unincorporated area of what is now Hayward in Alameda County. Established in 1853, the community was located off the Hayward Shoreline and would be the present-day area between Chabot College and the Hayward Airport. n 1963, Alameda County and Hayward began the forced relocation of its predominately Black/African American and Latinx tenants, bulldozed the entire community, and rezoned the land into industrial use only.
Hayward Initiatives to Honor Russell City
• Issuing Formal Apology and working with former residents and descendants
City Council voted unanimously on November 16, 2021 to approve a resolution apologizing to Black, indigenous, Californio, Mexicano, Latino, Latinx and other community members of color for racially disparate impacts and inequities resulting from past City policy and decision-making. The resolution especially calls out the City's role in the forced relocation of Russell City residents.
The intent of the resolution is not to absolve but rather to formally acknowledge the existence of institutionalized racial bias and racism and the historical role municipal government has played in its creation and legacy of inequities and racially disparate impacts. The resolution also is intended to inform future City policy and decision making, spending and investments around and affecting issues of housing, employment, displacement, wealth creation, quality of life and access to municipal, educational and recreational services.
In addition to the resolution of apology, the Hayward Community Services Commission recommended a list of 10 action steps Hayward could take to redress past City wrongdoings and complicity in historical institutional racism and racial bias, including a program of working with surviving Russell City residents and descendants to determine appropriate restitution. The City Council will be discussing this proposed work plan in at it's annual retreat on January 29, 2022.
• Russell City Heritage Plaza Art Project
Hayward’s Heritage Plaza, located across the street from the Main Library, will be home to three interpretative signs and art pieces honoring Hayward’s heritage. One of the elements focuses on the legacy of Russell City. The Russell City Art Committee kicked-off in March of 2021, and now meets every two weeks. There are two goals to this project. First, to design and create plaques that both inform the public of the history and legacy of Russell City and honor the struggles of the former residents. After the plaques are created, the committee will focus on commissioning an artist to create a public art piece that is representative of Russell City that will be placed in the Heritage Plaza.
How to get involved if you are a former resident or a descendant of Russell City
1. The City of Hayward has begun conversations with Calpine regarding the name of the Russell City Energy Center and asks that former residents of Russell City, their descendants, and other related parties share their thoughts on this topic. If you would like to provide comments, please take this survey:
2. The City would like to connect with any former residents of Russell City and their descendants. If you are either of these, please take the following survey and share it with anyone else that you believe is related to Russell City:
Brief History of Russell City
Russell City’s origin dates to the mid-1800s, when New Englander Joel Russell and several Danish families established a small farming community near the shores of San Francisco Bay, now known as the Hayward Shoreline. The demographics of Russell City changed over time, and by the 1940s African American and Latino families became the majority of its populace. One of the main reasons for this shift was because the surrounding and nearby communities of San Leandro, Hayward, and San Lorenzo had covenants that prevented the sale of homes to people who were not white. Russell City residents self-governed, were contributing members of society, had their own elementary school with a standalone library, founded churches and businesses, enjoyed a lively nightlife filled with blues music, and formed congenial, trusting bonds with their fellow neighbors. The combination of these factors makes Russell City a significant early example of predominantly African American and Latino cities west of the Rockies.
However, Russell City was never an incorporated entity, its housing was often substandard, it had no sewer system, and residents relied on well water until the 1960s. In its latter years, surrounding towns and Alameda County deemed the area a blight. Newspaper accounts from the 1950s onward document those entities’ attempts to thwart Russell City’s efforts to upgrade its civic services, as well as their plans to redevelop the area for industry. Left with no options, Russell City’s tenants were forced to relocate during the years 1963-68. Residents protested their evacuation throughout those years, to no avail. Once vacated, all of Russell City’s homes, businesses, and churches were bulldozed, and by 1968, Russell City was completely destroyed. The area that was once a vibrant community is now an industrial park.
The events that unfolded in Russell City are representative of similar trends that shaped the Bay Area as well as the nation. That is, the shift in the town’s demographics mirrored that of other regions due to migration patterns and housing restrictions, such as redlining, seen across the US during that time. The redevelopment project that eliminated this community is also emblematic of those that happened coast to coast - federal, state, and local government-funded initiatives that almost always involved the upheaval of disenfranchised populations.