SOCIAL CLUBS SUPPORT SOCIAL JUSTICE

Story of Mary Trahan
Artist: Clayton Anderson
Writer: Sara Bruckmeier
Original completed 2007
Restored in 2018
Link to full interview text
Link to original interview audio
MT.jpg

By the 1930s a caring and powerful network of community groups, social clubs, and church

groups had formed in South Berkeley. These dedicated friends and neighbors gathered together

for fun events and organized together for racial justice.

 

Francis Albrier founded The East Bay Women’s Welfare Club in 1938 with the intention of getting

the school board to hire a black teacher. Other groups formed to work on voter registration and anti-

discrimination legislation. Together these diverse efforts created momentum for political change. Ruth

Acty, the first African American teacher in the Berkeley school system, was hired in 1943.

 

Mary Trahan, a long time resident of South Berkeley, remembers some of the social clubs of days

gone by, including the 50 Sportsmen. Her story of a Saturday evening out with the 50 Sportsmen Club,

dancing in Goodman’s Hall in Oakland in the 1950s, illustrates how the things we do for fun can be in-

struments of social change.

 

Mary remembers, “You see in those days, it was very segregated, so you didn’t go any place where

you knew that you would be embarrassed or turned away, so you had your different clubs. I became a

member [of the 50 Sportsmen Club] back around ’55, and they were active, oh, 55, through the 60s, the

‘70s and the beginning of the ’80s.

 

“Mr. Buckman was our president, and he just didn’t take no [crap from anyone], ‘cause he would

tell you, ‘You know the people that you invite, and if you invite somebody and they act out you are the

somebody that I will hold responsible for that.’”

 

“And we was the first black club to go to into Goodman’s Hall down in Jack London Square. [Mr.

Goodman] did not want to let us have that club and I don’t know how Mr. Buckman got him to let us

to go in there but anyway we did go in and our Black and White Ball was the first Saturday night after

the new year. We went into Goodman’s Hall, which was a lovely place, and about halfway through [Mr.

Goodman] came to Mr. Buckman and told him you can have that hall any time you want to. And we had

it for years.”

 

Clayton Anderson, the artist who painted this panel, included a variety of community circles in

the imagery. Mary Trahan appears in the center circle, wearing a necklace, earrings, and a corsage.

Two of the figures in the upper right circle were inspired by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, members

of the U.S. track and field team in the 1968 Olympics. Both supported the Olympic Protest for Hu-

man Rights. When they took the dais to receive their medals, each wore one black glove, and when

the national anthem was played, each bowed his head and raised a gloved fist in the Black Power sa-

lute. The images of this panel leave room for the viewer to fill in the spaces and faces with personal

memories. As Clay says, “Art doesn’t have to be literal.”