Black History Month in the East Bay: Historical and Present Day Figures

Black History Month in the East Bay: Historical and Present Day Figures

In honor of Black History Month, we’d like to shine a light on historical Bay Area figures whose efforts cleared a path for a brighter, more equitable future, as well as those who are continuing to carry the torch and making history in their own right. 

Here we take a look at the impact East Bay residents Ron Dellums and Ryan Coogler have made. Learn more about their contributions to history below.

Feature image: Street mural on Fulton Street in San Francisco/Cmichel67 Wikimedia Commons.

Founding members of the COngressional Black Caucus
Photo: Founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus (Ron Dellums fourth from the left, top row) / Courtesy of U.S. Congress

Ron Dellums

Oakland-born Ronald Dellums was a Democratic House Representative from 1971 until 1998. His background and education were solidly Bay Area, having received an associate’s degree from Oakland City College (now Merritt College), a bachelor’s from San Francisco State University and a Master’s of Social Work from UC Berkeley. Dellums also taught at the latter two universities. 

Dellums started his political career on the Berkeley city council in 1967 before running for the U.S. House of Representatives on an anti-war platform. Once a Congressman, he initiated an inquiry on American war crimes in Vietnam. He also used his position to legislate for racial equality, launching hearings on racism in the military and initiating the first legislation to sanction South Africa’s apartheid regime. 

Ron Dellums, former Oakland mayor and figure in East Bay's Black history
Photo: Mayor Dellums speaks at Frank Ogawa Plaza / Courtesy of Jacob Ruff

A founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Dellums also became a member and eventual chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. In 1993, as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, he aimed to persuade President Bill Clinton to honor his commitment to lift the military’s ban on gay servicepeople.

Dellums examined urban issues that were not being addressed in other forums, including education, housing, public safety, transportation and health care. He even introduced legislation in 1977 to create a national health service, which would have provided free health care to all U.S. citizens.

Dellums resigned from the House in 1998 and founded his own lobbying firm in 2001, but he returned to politics in 2006 to run a successful campaign for Oakland mayor. Dellums’ accomplished career has been honored by a number of awards and designations, including the creation of the Ronald V. Dellums Chair in peace and conflict studies at UC Berkeley. He passed away in June 2018.

Oakland native Ryan Coogler at Comic-Con

Ryan Coogler

Another Oakland-born dynamo, Ryan Coogler lived in the Town until age eight, when he moved to Richmond. Coogler attended Saint Mary’s College of California on a football scholarship but transferred to Sacramento State when Saint Mary’s football program was cancelled. Although he majored in finance, Coogler began taking film classes and went on to USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, where he directed several award-winning short films.

Upon graduating, he started working on his feature debut, 2013’s Fruitvale Station. The film, produced by Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker, chronicles the final day in the life of Oscar Grant, an Oakland man fatally shot by police in 2009. The film won both the audience and grand jury awards at the Sundance Film Festival and the Best First Film prize in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival.

A black-and-white portrait of a man with a well-groomed beard and short, curly hair, wearing a suit jacket and tie. He stands in front of a plain, dark background, looking directly at the camera with a neutral expression, honoring Black History Month in the East Bay.
Photo: Ryan Coogler / Facebook

He followed Fruitvale Station with 2015’s Creed, a reboot of the Rocky franchise, and was offered the chance to direct Black Panther when Ava DuVernay turned down the opportunity. Black Panther ended up grossing $1.3 billion worldwide and is the highest grossing film ever directed by a Black person. Coogler also directed and co-wrote the sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which garnered acclaim and a worldwide box office total of $859.2 million.

Time named Coogler runner-up in 2018’s Person of the Year while also featuring him in the annual Time 100 list, a roundup of the most influential people worldwide. Coogler now produces films with his company Proximity Media, founded in 2021 by Coogler, his wife Zinzi and screenwriter Sev Ohanian. The company has gone on to produce films like Judas and the Black Messiah, Creed III and several documentaries. 

Celebrate Black History Month in the Bay Area

Looking for ways to honor the occasion? Check out these listings for events taking place this month:

Looking for more things to do in the area?

Visit our What to Do in Northern California page!

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