Celebrating 100 Years of Oakland Technical High School
Rosemary Goode ’53
I was born in New Orleans. When we still lived in the south and I was little, because my dad worked for the railway, we got to travel for free and we used to go visit my grandparents in LA. The trains were segregated and the dining cars were closed to blacks. But the porters, who were black, were nice and used to heat your baby bottles. At stops along the way, you would look for black people so you would know where you could eat. We were so scared getting off the train. But in California, the trains weren’t segregated.
We came to Oakland in ’42 for jobs in the Southern Pacific Depot and the Naval Supply Yards. You could get jobs there if you were black. We lived on 20th and Wood, 9 of us in a 2-bedroom apartment in a project. It’s gone now. Our apartment shook when the trains went by because we were right next to the tracks. We used to wave at the soldiers as they passed through. It was an exciting time for us as there was lots of train activity.
McClymonds was my area school, but I wanted to go to Tech. I didn’t want to be at McClymonds with the kids I knew in the neighborhood. I was quiet and scared to go there. When I told my mom, she used my aunt’s address to register me for Tech. All my other 7 siblings went to McClymonds. I didn’t even know my aunt’s address and had to ask my mom before I started. They really checked addresses then because so many kids tried to go to Tech. The counselors used to ask, “What streets do you live between?” They had tables set up by 45th street on the first day of school and they asked that. There were more blacks in my day than in my cousin’s (she graduated in 1948) and I think they were trying to control that. They even started putting counselors on the bus to check who got off at 40th and Broadway to go to the mostly black areas. I knew some kids that got kicked out of Tech.
Tech was mostly white though and I never really had any white friends. The black kids used the 42nd Street door and the white kids used the 45th Street door. It was my first time being around whites. Once I left school at the end of the day, I wouldn’t see any whites except the bus driver until the next day at school. I remember when we saw the first black bus driver on our route, we all cheered him! He drove the 88, West Oakland to the army base to 14th and Broadway. That was my route. The only whites that ever came into our neighborhood were the milkman and the insurance man.
I wasn’t in college prep. I was in general studies. I took typing, shorthand, home ec. I was a good student and got good grades. I came out with very good clerical skills. There was very little mingling at lunch. We stuck to ourselves. We went to the same dances, but we stayed separate. Every once in a while, there was a mixed couple, but not very often. But everyone was nice and greeted each other in the hall. At Prescott, my junior high school, most of the teachers were black and they really worked us hard. I remember one teacher, Ms. Powell, who was the first black junior high school teacher in all of Oakland. She was very firm. At Tech, the teachers were white. I don’t remember a single black teacher. You were in a different land. They were nice, but they were strangers. You’d never been associated with people like that.
I remember down where the lockers were there was a snack bar and if I had some money, I used to buy a banana pie. It had big hunks of banana in it and was so delicious! The snack bar was only open during lunch.
Everyone went to the football games. Tech and McClymonds were the big rivals. After the games, we just ran to the buses before the fighting started. Even the girls fought. We were so scared! I was in the Girls Athletic Association (GAA). I was into sports. I rowed on Lake Merritt. And after school, I played tennis, badminton and volleyball, mostly intramural, not on a team. That was twice a week. I wish I had been a yell leader, but there were no black yell leaders then. You just knew it was a white thing. At Mac, of course, they were all black. That’s one advantage of going to a black school. You could do anything, any activity you wanted. I don’t even remember black clubs at Tech like there was a Chinese Club. There just wasn’t any black leadership. Everyone used to say, “If you’re white, you’re all right. If you’re brown, stick around. If you’re black, get back.” That’s how it was. I was very introverted, very quiet. I just wanted to go home after school. I wish now that I’d been more outward going. I didn’t venture out and that was a mistake. I’d just go home to take care of my brothers and sisters. My husband had a teacher at MyClymonds, Mrs. Heinmarsh, who saw he was smart and encouraged him to go to Cal. She had a big impact on a lot of kids there. She perished in the Oakland Hills Fire.
But Tech was a beautiful school and you felt good knowing that you went to the most beautiful school in Oakland. It felt good to me in a nice neighborhood.
I felt that I couldn’t go to college financially. I was steered by my parents to get a job after graduation. My cousin worked in the Naval Supply Station. Everyone knew they would hire blacks. It was really hard for black to get jobs downtown. I went to take the test and passed. The Southern Pacific hired lots of black too. My father worked in the laundry there. I graduated in June and got the job in July, a clerical job. I wasn’t in the top echelon (there were 5,000 employees there), but I did all right. I worked there from 1953-58.
Everyone separated after graduation. The whites went one way and the blacks went another way. Blacks didn’t move too much out of their area. I only stayed in touch with a few friends.
I married my boyfriend from Prescott Junior High School at age 18. We were married for 25 years and had 2 sons. We moved to San Francisco in ’59 for him to go to medical school. He had gone to Cal, which was really rare for a kid from McClymonds. He went to UCSF and we lived in University Village. Then we moved back to the East Bay and he practiced near Brookside Hospital. Our sons went to El Cerrito High. I have lived in the El Cerrito Hills for 45 years. I went back to school in the 70s and became a nurse. After our divorce, I worked as a nurse at Samuel Merritt.
I am glad I went to Tech. I don’t think I would have white friends today if I hadn’t gone to Tech and got the feeling of being with white people. Sitting next to each other, passing each other in the halls. You get used to them. My sisters who went to McClymonds have all black friends to this day. If you stay with your group all your life, you never mingle with others. I am glad I went to Tech and moved out of my comfort zone. I developed a new racial attitude.
I didn’t realize Tech is 100 years old! It didn’t feel like an old building when I was there. It was so beautiful, with a big green lawn and big redwood trees, maybe 4 or 5 on the sides. I remember we always took our club photos on the front steps.
My advice to kids today is to reach out more. Don’t be content to just come and go.