Stag Pool Hall

The Stag Pool Hall was downstairs from the offices of C.L. Dellums, West Coast vice president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

The outspoken Dellums was fired by the Pullman Company shortly after joining the Brotherhood, a union formed to organize railway porters in the company’s employ. When the management of Pullman fired Dellums they told him that by employing him they had provided him with transportation across the country to spread, “Bolshevik propaganda.”

To make ends meet, Dellums opened a pool hall below his union offices.His brother, Verney Dellums, a longshoreman, managed the pool hall. Dellum’s nephew, Ron (Oakland’s current mayor), recalls visiting his uncle at the office. He remembers C.L. wearing a Homburg hat and well-shined shoes.

Stag Pool Hall was at the center of 7th Street social life. Dellums welcomed local and national visitors, including entertainer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, a big star in New York City’s Cotton Club. A counter at the front of the hall sold cigars, cigarettes and candy. Visitors could get a drink from the soda machine, or have their shoes shined in one of the three chairs that lined the far wall.

Like many similar institutions at that time, The Stag was a “man’s world” that few, if any, women were permitted to enter. Reports about other Brotherhood and labor offices at the time suggest that Dellums probably entertained a fraternal crowd; smoking and playing cards, as well as discussing the business and politics of the day.

Marva Dellums, C.L.’s only daughter, remembers, “My father never let me in the pool hall. It was not a place for me. He didn’t want us to hear the cursing and see the smoking. Women weren’t allowed. Not to exclude women but because the men were very protective of the women. It was a place for men. That’s why it was called ‘Stag’.”

Dellums’ union business, however, was reserved for his office above the pool hall, and each of the establishments had separate entrances.

The Stag Pool Hall was not simply a recreation hall. It drew members of 7th Street’s political life to its door. Many passed through for conversation, a good cigar, or a game before heading upstairs to visit C.L. Dellums, a man at the epicenter of the local and national fight for civil rights and economic justice.

Christ Holy Sanctified Church

The Christ Holy Sanctified Church on 7th Street is where musician Saunders King got his start singing and playing piano in the choir. His father, Bishop Judge King, was the church’s pastor.

The church was originally founded in 1910 in Louisiana, but Judge and Sarah King moved to Los Angeles in 1918 to escape racial discrimination. On their trip west, they preached the gospel in open fields from Louisiana to California. In search of mill work in the 1920s, the Kings moved to Oroville, where they established a mixed-race Pentecostal church. They endured religious and racial prejudice; after a mob burned their church and Sarah was shot in the arm by an assailant, they moved to Central California.

While in San Francisco in 1925, Bishop Judge King said he heard the Lord’s voice telling him to establish a church across the bay in West Oakland. The first church was located on 7th Street in a Victorian house. Judge and Sarah King took to the streets and preached amid the active nightlife and sometimes seedy scene on 7th Street. Their church was known as the Seventh Street Mission, located among clubs, shops and gambling joints. The Mission became a 7th Street institution where hustlers, alcoholics and roustabouts were welcome to find God.

Kitsaun King and Deborah Santana, Saunders King’s daughters, remember spending Sundays at the church. According to Kitsaun, it largely catered to “reformed prostitutes, pimps, and others struggling with various addictions.” After the service, King and his family walked down 7th Street to visit friends. Kitsaun King recalled one character from 7th Street named “Flash” who would do a little dance when she passed by. Deborah Santana remembered her father wearing a wide, shiny tie and smelling of Ivory soap and lime aftershave.

Bishop Judge King died in 1945. One of his sons, Ulysses S. King (Saunders’ brother) became the new bishop and broadened the focus of the church by joining the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. His goal was to teach Pentecostal doctrine across religious boundaries.

In the late 1950s, the Christ Holy Sanctified Church was forced to find a home when federal administrators announced the construction of a postal distribution facility that ultimately took up 12 square blocks of 7th Street. The church that was once a neighborhood institution and spawned a jazz great relocated to North Oakland. Known today as the Memorial Tabernacle Church, it’s run by Saunders’ nephew, Pastor Stephen King.

The Lincoln Theater

Lincoln Theater in 1974

The Lincoln Theater was one of the premiere blues and jazz venues on 7th Street. Surrounded by shops and clubs, the theater hosted legends like Billie Holiday and Paul Robeson among others, adding proof to Tom Bowden’s claim that 7th Street in the 1940s and ’50s was “Harlem West.”

The theater was built between 1919 and 1921, a time when nickelodeons were a popular form of entertainment. The Lincoln replaced two nickelodeons when it was built – it started as a vaudeville stage, before becoming a showplace for films, live music and community events.

While shows at theaters in downtown Oakland cost 25 or 50 cents, the Lincoln charged just 10 cents. It was a neighborhood theater that, according to one local, had the best popcorn around. Decorated in moldings and tiled fixtures, the theater probably rivaled many classic movie houses built in the same era. Sadly, few photographs exist of the theater in its glory days.

In 1962, the Damascus Mission Baptist Church owned the theater and leased it for $200 a month. At that time, a property appraiser noted its rundown condition. By the time artist and investor Lucy Lee Lequin purchased it and several surrounding properties along the same block of 7th Street, the theater was filled with squatters and garbage, and most of its architectural elements had been destroyed.

Lequin proved to be an ardent advocate of 7th Street’s history and restoration, but her attempts to revive the theater resulted in the roof’s collapse and subsequent tearing down of a property that proved beyond repair. Despite the setback, Lequin plans to build a new Lincoln Theater façade to match the old one.

In 2005, Lequin was able to get a block-long strip of 7th Street designated as a historic preservation area, ensuring that the period buildings from 7th Street’s legacy will endure. She was unable to get a preservation designation for all of 7th Street, however, because so many of the original buildings have already been torn down and replaced with modern ones.

Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP)

CL Dellums in his office

The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) was an African American labor union organized in 1925 by A. Philip Randolph, who became its first president and C. L. Dellums, who became the Brotherhood’s first vice president. The largest number of Pullman Porters were in Chicago. C.L. Dellums oversaw the West Coast office of the Brotherhood.

In the early 1900s, The Pullman Palace Car Company operated the majority of the country’s passenger trains. The company became one of the largest employers of African Americans in the 1920s and ’30s. It projected a positive image by helping to fund black churches and businesses. But the reality of working for the Pullman Company was different than the public image the company tried to project.

The company expected railroad porters to work 400 hours, or travel 11,000 miles per month, to receive full pay. Porters depended on tips for much of their income. White passengers universally referred to porters as “George” after the founder of the Pullman Company. Porters weren’t paid for work prior to their shift, and had to purchase their own uniforms, food and lodging. They were also barred from advancement to jobs with better pay held by whites.

Both Dellums and Randolph worked as porters, and understood the hardships that workers faced in the rail industry. Dellums owned a pool hall on Oakland’s 7th Street to supplement his porter’s income.

The porters began organizing in 1925. Because of the Pullman Company’s philanthropic public image, and attempts to undermine the Brotherhood with an in-house union and intimidation, it took 12 years for the Brotherhood to obtain a contract with the Pullman Company. More than 500 union activists were fired before a contract was won, including C.L. Dellums himself.

In 1937 The Brotherhood became the first African American union recognized by a major American corporation. Empowerment and unity, and improved wages and benefits brought about by organizing elevated the porters’ job to one of prestige in the black community.

Many people recognized that the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was instrumental in the broader civil rights movement. Dellums was Western Regional Director of the NAACP in the 1930s. Nationally, the Brotherhood was instrumental in breaking down the American Federation of Labor’s color barrier, and it was the first African American labor union to receive a charter in the AFL in 1935. Often overlooked is the role that Pullman-employed maids and porters’ wives played in organizing the union.

Both A. Philip Randolph and C. L. Dellums spent their lives working for racial equality. In 1941 Randolph and Dellums organized a march on Washington protesting the exclusion of African Americans from federal employment and government contracts. In 1963 Randolph helped organize the civil rights march on Washington and was among six African American leaders who met with President Kennedy to discuss civil rights prior to the president signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

In 1968, C. L. Dellums became President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, but the era of luxury trains, with their sleeping cars, dining cars, maids and porters was in rapid decline. By the 1970s, the Brotherhood had merged with the Transportation Communications International Union.