National Spotlight and Lawsuits
Even with housing discrimination outlawed, the 1970 census still showed San Leandro’s White population at 97%, while Oakland’s White population decreased to 59.4%. As a result of these census numbers, the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing (NCDH) filed, "Patterns and Practices of Housing Discrimination in San Leandro, California", a report on San Leandro’s continuing discriminatory housing practices in 1971. This brought national attention to San Leandro’s housing discrimination.
After several months of back and forth between the NCDH and San Leandro Mayor Jack Maltester, the NCDH stated that, “negotiations with the City of San Leandro are no longer a fruitful path for us to follow” and requested the Department of Justice bring a lawsuit against the city. Ten days later, Mayor Maltester responded that he would establish a program that would adopt many of the NCDH’s recommendations for change in San Leandro housing.
The next month San Leandro received added national attention when the “Suburban Wall,” a televised news documentary about San Leandro’s racist housing practices, aired. The documentary included interviews with realtors, San Leandro officials, San Leandro Fair Housing Committee members, and a Black family that left their home in San Leandro due to constant harassment.
The residents and organizations that had maintained San Leandro as an exclusively white suburb had been exposed and they could no longer continue their discriminatory practices. Voices for change within the community became stronger. Local organizations that had been fighting housing discrimination, including the Fair Housing Committee and San Leandro Association of Clergy continued to work with the NCDH and city government to ensure that real progress would take place.
Work in Progress
The following years in San Leandro saw waves of “white flight,” an end to the power and control homeowner associations once carried, and positive steps towards housing for all, including low- and moderate-income family housing. However, racism did not magically disappear. The harassment of Black citizens and the fear of being followed and stopped by police in San Leandro boundaries continued. In 1972 and in 1989 two Black families were targeted when crosses were burned in their front yards. Racial tensions within the schools resulted in racist incidents, student protests, and a riot in 1990. Unity in the Community- a grassroots organization of San Leandro residents in support of diversity and standing united against racism and bigotry was formed in March 2016 in response to racist graffiti in town.
More recently, the 2020 shooting of Steven Taylor exposed the tension between policing and community members of color. In the Bay Area in the last few years, Black home sellers have reported discrimination in how their homes were appraised. These incidents illustrate how racism and implicit bias continue to impact community members and why we must remain vigilant.
While San Leandro still has work to do, the city has come a long way from its days of being a racially exclusive suburb. In 2019 San Leandro was recognized as one of the top 10 most diverse cities in the Bay Area. The city’s diversity is something to be proud of and to celebrate. However, we must continue to learn about and acknowledge San Leandro’s past in order to continue our progress and to be able to recognize and confront injustices in our community.
“…we must face the wrongs of our past in order to build a more just and equitable future.”
-Debra Anne Haaland
(U.S. Secretary of the Interior, member of the Pueblo of Laguna)