Seized and destroyed last century thanks in part to actions by former members of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, the current supervisors apologized last week to previous residents and descendants of Russell City, a community established in 1853 near the Hayward shoreline.

Board of Supervisors president Nate Miley brought the apology forward in a resolution along with new Supervisor Elisa Marquez, who replaced the late Richard Valle. The board passed the resolution unanimously.

Russell City, then and now: An undated street map on the left shows Russell City before it was redeveloped. At right is a Google satellite image of the same area in 2022, populated by light industrial buildings. (Images via YouTube and Google)

Supervisors in 1950 told residents of Russell City, who for decades pleaded for public services, that the county had no obligation to provide sanitation and water, forcing families and individuals to leave.

“We forced you out,” said Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson to former residents and descendants of Russell City present at the June 27 meeting.

With “direct intent,” Russell City residents were forced out, Carson said.

Residents of Russell City had a sense of community, pride, and among other things, joy, Marquez said.

“I’m sorry that was taken away from you,” she said.

Also destroyed was a vibrant music scene that included the likes of Ray Charles, blues pioneer T-Bone Walker and Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, also a blues legend who recorded “Hound Dog,” before Elvis Presley sang his version.

While they can still hear it

Supervisors made the apology while some former residents are still alive. At least two former residents and one descendant were at the meeting.

Descendant and Fremont Fire Department spokesperson Aisha Knowles was at the meeting and spoke about “The Apology,” a documentary movie about Russell City.

Knowles helped produce the movie, which began with an interview of her father. Creators are submitting the movie to film festivals before it debuts more broadly to the public next year.

An image from a trailer for “The Apology” is shown. The documentary film by Mimi Chakarova chronicles the story of Russell City and its 1,400 residents who were forced from their homes in the 1960s. The movie is set for major theatrical release next year. (Image via

Russell City was erased by eminent domain to make way for an industrial development, for which supervisors provided public services such as water and sanitation.

County officials paid $2.85 million “to clear Russell City of seven churches, thirteen businesses, and 205 family and 33 individual homes,” Tuesday’s resolution said.

Ethnic minorities such as Black, Hispanic and Puerto Rican people were paid around $2,000 for their property, which was said to be fair market value, according to the resolution.

But one white property owner was paid over half a million dollars for their property in Russell City, according to a 1964 newspaper article.

Broken trust

Russell City “is just an example of why some people don’t trust government,” Supervisor David Haubert said.

Carson cited other forms of government oppression of Black people, such as New York’s use of eminent domain to remove Black people from Seneca Village to make way for Central Park.

Carson added that the framers of the United States Constitution were slave owners who intended to keep Black people from having land.

Following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, Alameda County supervisors adopted a resolution seeking community reparations for Black people.

Since then, county supervisors have made Juneteenth a paid county holiday and established an ad hoc committee and a reparations commission to draft a plan to address inequities Black people face in Alameda County.

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.