This story follows the migration of Jackie Stewart, fondly called “Ms. Jackie”, from Hot Springs, AR to Oakland, CA. Her journey to Oakland took many twists and turns before she finally landed at the Chabot Hills Oakland residence she now calls home.
1938 – 1952
Early Life in Hot Springs
Jacquelyn Danetta Barrow was born in 1938 while her mother, Irene Johnson Barrow was visiting her sister in St. Louis, Missouri. When Jackie and her mother returned to Hot Springs, she was welcomed into a family of aunts, uncles, cousins, and other family members who formed a tight-knit cocoon around the family. An aunt gave her the name “Jacquelyn” and did not want her called Jackie, but Jackie was the name she has been known as. Her middle name “Danetta” was from her Uncle Danette.
Jackie felt so protected that the sting of living in a Jim Crow state hardly affected her. The adults in her life saw to it she and her cousins were shielded from the nonsense and sting of racism. She lived in an intergenerational home with her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. It was not unusual to have those combinations of families at that time. They had a large home with six bedrooms in what is now a historic district. Everyone had a porch, and everyone knew each other, and everyone knew what you did, but they were supportive. They had their own community where Black businesses abounded and had little contact with the outside world. While Jackie knew there were differences in skin color, it did not concern her.
The city of Hot Springs was diverse in terms of Black and white. The neighborhoods were divided in sections. There was Uptown, Downtown, Tweedle Town, and other sections. In Jackie’s home area there were not many Black people.
Childhood & School Days
Although she was brought up in a Baptist household, when it came to schooling, Jackie’s mother sent her to a Catholic elementary school. Why her mother sent her to Catholic school was because she just did, according to one of Jackie’s aunts. Nevertheless, she was enrolled at St. Gabriel’s Catholic School. There were not a lot of Black Catholics in Hot Springs. Calling herself a shouting Catholic, Jackie learned the art of negotiation at a young age, when the kids in her neighborhood teased her about going to Catholic school. Most of the children attending elementary school with her came from different areas around the city. You think you are better than me because you go to Catholic school was what they told her. Jackie’s light skin was also sometimes a bone of contention as a child. Kids would sometimes say hurtful things; but among her family, they did not discuss color except for rainbow colors. They looked how they looked which ran the gamut of skin tones. In her family you were expected to be excellent in whatever you did.
Jackie was part of the Drum and Bugle Corps. It was competitive and like the tryouts for the football team. She became a drummer, but her goal was to be a majorette and for that she needed to be in high school.
When Hot Springs had their annual Thanksgiving Parade it was open to the entire city, and the Black schools’ marching bands were invited to participate in the event. They also marched in the Christmas parade as well. They were always the last to perform and Jackie asked the director why that was so. The director told her they always save the best for last and all of you are special.
Hot Springs, in a sense, was more progressive than most of Arkansas. For Blacks in Hot Springs, economic status spanned the socioeconomic gamut, ranging from those who had higher education to those who were business owners to those who were working class to those who were on the poverty margin.
Hot Springs is a part of the Hot Springs National Park. The mineral springs were well-known for healing purposes and people came from all over the country and beyond to partake of the springs. There were two Black-owned hotels, The Knights of the Pythian and the Woodman Hotel, which later became the Baptist Hotel owned by the National Baptist Church. The Baptist Hotel is now a historical landmark. Alongside homes featured as Bed & Breakfasts, both hotels were listed in the Green Book, the traveling book for Negroes during the Jim Crow era. Hot Springs was also known for its gambling and horse racing and was frequented by the Mafia. As a tourist spot, there was employment for Black people in the service industries and businesses. Blacks worked in all phases of the Hot Springs tourist fields: the hotels, the gambling casinos, horse racing, the bathhouses, and massage parlors in the springs. Jackie’s great aunt was the maid for Al Capone when he came to town and stayed on the top floor of a popular hotel.
Many Blacks were in the service industry and worked in service-oriented businesses, from which they earned good money from tips. That included Jackie’s family. Like many Black folks in the south looking for a better life, Jackie’s grandfather, Bertrand Johnson found his way to the Arlington Hotel and into a job as a waiter. The hours were long, wages were low, but a good waiter could make a decent living with tips. Tips were not taxed at that time, so it was money off the table.
For her grandfather, life in Hot Springs was definitely better than the farming life left behind in Nashville, Arkansas. The Arlington Hotel would become the financial lifeline for Jackie’s family. Her uncles, aunts, and grandmother would follow in the footsteps of her grandfather working as waiters, porters and maids. Her mother, Irene Barrow was a receptionist at the hotel. Black people had their own style and took their work seriously and were professional in the way they dressed and performed their duties. They did not wear their work uniforms while commuting to and from work. They dressed in the latest styles of dresses and suits and changed into uniforms at work and then back into their dress clothes at the end of their shift.
The jobs made available from the service industry allowed Jackie’s family and other Black families to purchase beautiful homes. No matter where their wages landed them on the socioeconomic scale in terms of status, Black families lived together in the same neighborhood. Next door to Jackie’s family were the Phipps. Dr. Phipps was a physician and his daughter, Mamie, went to Langston University and studied in New York. She became a doctor and married Dr. Kenneth Clark. Drs. Kenneth Clark and Mamie Phipps-Clark worked in psychology research, which focused on the development of self-consciousness in Black preschool children. From their research, they were able to demonstrate that the concept of “separate but equal” did not provide an equal education for Black children.
Winds of Change
During the early 1950’s Jackie’s aunts became weary of the unjust employment policies of the Arlington Hotel and attempted to organize a worker’s union. Jackie would later recount the feelings she had about returning to Hot Springs because of these unjust practices:
…I had mixed emotions about staying at the Arlington Hotel, a place which had never permitted my family to enter through the front door because of segregation laws in Arkansas.
The owners of the Arlington Hotel threatened to dismiss Jackie’s aunts if they continued with their organizing. Her aunts swallowed their pride and continued working for the hotel. Soon the tourism industry would slow down other opportunities as well. In 1967, Hot Springs would be shut down for illegal gambling, when Las Vegas became the gambler’s paradise. The powers that be wanted Hot Springs and all its gambling glory to be gone. Migration to California was on the horizon for Jackie’s family. Seeds for the winds of change had been set in motion.
1952 – 1972
The Road to California
Jackie was looking forward to her trip to California in her thirteenth summer of 1952. When she got back home to Hot Springs, Arkansas, she would tell her friends all about the beautiful homes and the palm trees lined along the Los Angeles and Hollywood streets. Jackie, her mother, aunt and uncle, and cousin drove down Route 66 in a car that her uncle was delivering to a white man in Pasadena. They all stayed at the house of Uncle John, another uncle by marriage, but they were all family.
Jackie enjoyed the hospitality, the California sunshine, and spending time with her family. Yet as the summer wore on, homesickness set in, and she was eager to get back home. As it got closer to September, Jackie asked her mother when they were going back to Hot Springs. It was then that Jackie experienced the biggest heartbreak to date: her mother informed her they were not returning home. They would, in fact, be staying in California. Jackie was devastated to the core. She was so hurt and disappointed; her life as she knew it would never be the same.
When Jackie’s mother told her they were not going back to Hot Springs, but in fact were making California their home, she felt her hopes and dreams for the future would never be realized. All hopes of her becoming a majorette were a dream deferred. In her heart and mind, she had claimed that spot on the majorette team, but her mother, along with the other adults in her life had other plans. They had made the difficult decision to leave their home, a place they loved to test the waters of new beginnings.
First Stop Pasadena
Pasadena was a totally different lifestyle in many ways. Jackie was enrolled at Washington Jr. High School and had a difficult time adjusting. The majority of the students and the teachers were white. She had come from an environment of nurturing and respect in which high expectations were the norm. Jackie just did not fit in. She addressed adults with a “Yes, ma’am” or “No, sir”. When called upon in class, she stood to address the teacher and for that she was mocked. It was a rough time for her, mainly because her cousins hadn’t yet arrived. Slowly, the rest of the family arrived from Hot Springs and St. Louis. Some moved to Altadena first before coming to Pasadena.
There was only one teacher in Pasadena who stood out in Jackie’s memory, Mrs. McFarland. In ninth grade, Mrs. McFarland was director of the Glee Club and talent shows. Finally, Jackie had a gift for pantomime, and she tried out for the talent show. Mrs. McFarland was supportive of her. Her pantomime group went to different schools displaying their talent.
In high school, Jackie became friends with many other Black youth who were in the Arts. Bobby Hutcherson, who would become a renowned jazz musician and Hervey Lewis, who became a jazz bassist were counted among her peers. Beverly Martin was another classmate who played the piano in bands. She later became Bishop Beverly Shamana, former bishop over the California-Nevada United Methodist Church.
Marriage and Times of Changes: From West to East to West Again
Jackie worked in Pasadena and eventually married and had three children. After her marriage dissolved, she moved to Los Angeles. Unaccustomed to raising children in an apartment, she saved and purchased a home in Compton on 145 Street. Compton had a working-class and family-oriented atmosphere.
Jackie met Bill Stewart, a divorcee with children from Baldwin Hills, and after dating for eight years they married in 1970. All was well with the world, but then Bill got a job in Lexington, Massachusetts. He informed Jackie’s mother they were moving to the other side of the country. After living in sunny southern California for the past 20 years, Jackie had quite an adjustment to make in more ways than one—the shock of the climate change being the main one. The winters were bitter.
The people in Lexington were very nice and the children adjusted to their new environment and schools just fine. However, Bill had to take Jackie over to Roxbury just to sit and look at Black people. Lexington, a historical city defined by claiming the first shot was fired there in the Revolutionary War, was small. At that time, there were only 100 black families there. The family dog acclimated coming from Compton to Lexington by chasing skunks. They had to soak her with tomato juice to kill the odor on her.
Finally, in 1972, Bill was offered a position as director of the Outpatient Department at a hospital in San Francisco. Jackie stayed for four months with the kids while they finished out the school year. Since they were to be relocating to Oakland, Bill’s assignment was to find a house with at least three bedrooms and a backyard for the dog. Their new home was to be in the East Oakland Hills of Chabot Fields neighborhood where Jackie, now a widow, is still living. The area is one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Oakland and was, as is now, home to many prominent African-American families. Jackie says God has been good to her.
Oakland, the New Frontier
Jackie and Bill Stewarts’ neighbors were the Howards and the Stuckeys. Around the corner were the Longs, who were school teachers. There were the Hadnots, the Andersons, and Reverend Scott in the area. These associations introduced Jackie and Bill into certain social and political groups. Jackie knew she had landed where she needed to be.
Obtaining their new home, however, did come with its own drama. When the Stewarts went to closing, there was a blacked-out section on the contract. When Jackie asked about it, she was told by the realtor not to worry about it, but she insisted on knowing what that meant. As it turns out, it was a clause known as a restrictive covenant. Not uncommon during this time in Oakland, the clause stated sellers were not to sell to Asians, Mexicans, and Blacks. The house was built in 1960 and what the Stewarts found out, they were the third owners, not the second as they had initially been told. Jackie was talking to a young woman from the area who informed her the first owners were members of the John Birch Society, an American ultra-conservative right-wing political group known in the 1960s and 1970s as anti-black and a known opponent of both the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Rights Movement.
When it was time for the children to attend school, Jackie took her youngest son, Mauricio over to their neighborhood school, King Jr. High with his transcripts. To her surprise, Jackie was asked for proof of her residency. She was shocked the school district would ask her for documentation by way of a utility bill or what! a bank statement? New to Oakland, she was unaware of the rules and politics of the City and that proof was needed to attend the “better” schools. A Black vice-principal overheard the conversation and took Jackie aside and apologized, explaining that because of the lines drawn by the school district King was among one of the more desirable schools people wanted their kids to attend.
What was life like in Oakland? Based on the proof-of-residency incident at the school, racism was just as present as it was in other places Jackie had lived. However, Jackie says that the covert racism she experienced made her realize that people who grew up in Oakland had no clue how real racism felt. I knew where I was welcome and where I was not, she said in remembering her time in the south. One way Jackie remained grounded was by remembering the anecdotes passed down to her from her elders, including her grandmother, Blanche Moore Johnson:
Birds of a feather flock together;
Right is right;
Right don’t wrong nobody;
You don’t believe fat meat is greasy;
When you continue to do things and finally realize, Bump sense;
Go out there and bump your head.
The Social World of Oakland: Clubs, Organizations
Jackie has a picture of her and now Bay Area vibraphone legend Bobby Hutcherson when he played at Yoshi’s. Her son was with her and was surprised when Bobby recognized and acknowledged his mother. Little did her son know, Jackie and Bill were both well connected to many in the Oakland social scene. Bill Stewart was a musician as well as a corporate professional. His band, Lavoy Smith and Her Red-Hot Skillet Lickers played in many venues in and around Oakland. Jackie was a line dancer and instructor for over 20 years and was associated with excellent instructors such as Connie Allen who worked for Alameda County and Dolores Holloway, a long-time Oaklander, and Joelle Lucas. Bill and Jackie were involved with many social events and witnessed as many organizations as possible and social groups evolved. There were dances at Centennial Hall and the Sanobar Club that began in the 1940s. There was Le Girls, a social club in the 1970s and 80s. The Fleur de Lis Social Club was started by southern migrants.
Blacks who migrated to Oakland from the south raised money for scholarships. There were also States Clubs where migrants from the south, particularly from Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana formed organizations. Summers would find picnics, celebrations and the raising of scholarships.
We Want to Be With Our People
As the book Finding a Place Called Home: A Guide to African-American Genealogy Historical Identity so eloquently tells us, we are always looking for our people and finding a place to be with our people. Coming together and forming groups was our way of holding on to our past and to each other. It was not our intention to be segregated when we arrived in California, but there was a certain amount of comfort to be amongst our own. Jackie was active in the predominantly Black St. Benedict’s Church where Father Jay Matthews, a transplant from Louisiana, presided over a congregation that had a gospel choir. Bill was Methodist and a member of Downs Memorial United Methodist Church in North Oakland. Jackie participated in activities in both of these houses of worship. Jackie was always looking for places to participate in the community. She was also involved in the Black Panthers hot lunch program.
Jackie has seen people taken aback when she tells them she is only three generations removed from slavery. She is quick to reiterate not everyone was enslaved, however. She relays that because of the ways that slavery fragmented us all, enslaved or not, We have always strived to find each other, always have been looking for each other.
Dera R. Williams
Dera R. Williams is an Oakland author who writes fiction, nonfiction, and memoir. Her family was a part of the Great Migration, moving to Oakland when she was two years old. She has written a collection of stories about growing up in Oakland and is writing a Great Migration novel, Serving Tea at Miss Belle’s. Exploring the relationship of myth and oral and family history, she honors the voices of her ancestors in her storytelling.