“Americans, looking back on the tumultuous events of 1968, may be more inclined to ask God’s mercy and guidance than to offer Him thanks for his blessings,” began President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Thanksgiving Day address.
The turbulence was acutely felt in the Bay Area that day. Just the week before Thanksgiving, the Raiders made an epic comeback to beat the Jets–only to be cut off from broadcast moments before their tide-changing touchdown play. The next day, a pipe-bomb was found on San Francisco State campus in the midst of the student protest movement. And on Friday, the Beatles released the White Album.
Moreover, 1968 was a year of extreme political and state violence in Oakland that fomented the community organizing efforts of the Black Panthers, Brown Berets, and other organizations around the city. In February, 23 year-old Fruitvale resident Charles ‘Pinky’ De Baca was killed by an Oakland Police officer. Two months later, Bobby Hutton was gunned down by Oakland Police Officers outside a home in West Oakland, after Hutton and Eldridge Cleaver staged an ambush on the OPD in response to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. just days before. Eldridge would eventually flee the US just before Thanksgiving day.
Though there was certainly a great deal of social upheaval in Oakland, there were also inklings of progressive change. While students at SF State clashed with college administrators, student activists at Laney College lauded the administration’s cooperation in creating a Black Studies Department. Together they held a feast to celebrate diversity before the Thanksgiving break. In the months following Thanksgiving, the Black Panther Party would take “serve the people” initiatives to new lengths with the Free Breakfast program beginning in January 1969.
Meanwhile, the grand opening of the Eastmont Mall was set to take place on Black Friday that year, with Santa making his inaugural appearance along with local girl scouts singing Christmas carols on the morning of Thanksgiving. Unlike the social services hub it is today, the original ventures in the “all weather shopping…covered mall” were entirely commercial, including a record store, a Safeway, and a number of shoe and apparel stores. At the Safeway, you could buy a turkey for 33 cents per pound!
Speaking of turkey, why not go retro this year and try out some of these 45 year-old recipes?
Images and news stories of the day depict some of the hilariously old-timey events around town, DIY fashions, and now-defunct sports franchises:
Just before Thanksgiving, a study presented to the Oakland City Council by the Stanford Research Institute claimed that by 1985, Oakland could be “a city composed largely of middle-income residents of all ethnic groups, a population somewhat younger than at present. We expect this population will be more than half black. On the other hand, if opportunities are not grasped now, the city could still be faced with high unemployment, a steady decline in its housing stock and an ever higher percentage of lower-income residents.” Sound familiar? Eerily prophetic?
Forty-five years later, Oakland is grappling with many similar issues. We’re still trying to wrap our heads around the aftermath and legacy of Occupy. Crime and gentrification are hot-button issues that are impossible to ignore. From the Respect Our City campaign, to Love Our Lake Day, to the Trayvon Martin verdict demonstrations, to Hiero Day, and in between, it’s been another challenging and exciting year in Oakland.