has students probing memories of Oak Park residents
Oak Park neighborhood has faced dynamic, conflicting forces
throughout its history: prosperity, crime waves, economic
decline, the Civil Rights movement, and recently, extensive
community collaboration for change and a local cultural revival.
Urban geography professor Robin Datel and her students are
looking into Oak Park’s past, doing field work to promote
the good—and sometimes overlooked—aspects of the
area, and to help find solutions to lingering issues.
purpose of the project is to record place-based memories of
Oak Parkers, or memories attached to the area,” Datel
says. “We use those memories to celebrate the past,
understand the dynamics of neighborhood change, and build
a better Oak Park with today’s residents.”
This ongoing service-learning project for a geography field
class has students digging through old city directories and
property records at the local archives to study business trends,
residential patterns and the ethnic makeup of the region from
the 1920s onward.
In the spring, for example, one student made regional maps
that highlight land-use issues such as liquor sales and non-taxable
property, which the Oak Park Neighborhood Association used
in their presentations to the Sacramento City Council. Others
conducted in-depth interviews with local residents to record
their personal memories of experiences in Oak Park.
interviewed former and current businesspeople, residents and
volunteers from the neighborhood association—such as
Underground Bookstore manager Georgia “Mother Rose”
West, mother of former NBA star and Oak Park redevelopment
advocate Kevin Johnson; William Lee, founder of The Sacramento
Observer, the first African American newspaper in Sacramento;
and local residents—during walking tours, in cafes,
or in their homes.
of our goals is for students to record the history of those
who are still alive, what they can remember,” says Datel,
who hopes to compile these bits of history for a walking tour
pamphlet for neighborhood visitors and residents. “They
connect the present to the past and connect the older Oak
Park residents with those who have no experience of local
working-class suburb until the 1950s, Oak Park received an
influx of African Americans and other minorities after the
city of Sacramento tore down many low-income housing units
near the Sacramento River, Datel says.
change coincided with a change in the local economy—people
moving in had a lower income than people moving out,”
Datel says. “Many businesses left, taking jobs with
them. All this led to more poverty and the problems that come
with it: crime, drugs, prostitution and absentee landlords.”
said they learned more about the historical significance of
the area, studying sites such as the first gay church in Sacramento,
the meeting point of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, and the
local office of the Black Panther Party.
wanted to learn how Sacramento has changed and about Oak Park,
a place I’d never seen,” says geography major
Micah Nisito, who signed up for the class to get hands-on
experience studying urban landscapes.
saw the different options for helping out the community, and
got to learn about the people, not just their environment,”
says geography major Lisa Peterson, who wants to work for
Sacramento’s city planning division after college.