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Theatre Documentary Recalls Lost Blues Town

African-American Russell City was once located west of Hesperian Boulevard until it was "redeveloped" in the 1960s.

During the 1940s, when African-American workers moved from the South to work in the shipyards of the San Francisco Bay, one of the places they settled was in an area west of Hesperian Boulevard, then known as Russell City.

Home to a diverse mix of residents, including Latino and Filipino immigrants, this area, now part of Hayward, was the center of an active blues music scene — so much so that some consider Russell City to be the birthplace of the West Coast blues style.

On April 19, 20 and 21 at 7 p.m., students from will stage a theater documentary, The Russell City Project, a dramatic re-enactment of interviews with former Russell City residents and musicians.

During the 1960s, Alameda County turned Russell City into an industrial park. San Lorenzo High drama teacher Beth Daly said residents were forced to sell their homes through eminent domain, although many did not want to move. A series of unexplained arsons also occurred. In 1964, what had been Russell City was sold to an industrial park developer.

Daly said the Russell City Project shares the untold stories of Russell City residents. Blues music from the period rounds out the production.

Tickets are $5 in advance at the Student Body Office and $8 at the door. Contact the SBO at (510)317-3141 for reservations.

San Lorenzo High School is located at 50 E. Lewelling Blvd, although the theatre is most accessible from the Ashland Street parking lot, off the corner of Ashland and Lewelling Blvd.

Performances will take place in Room M-1.

The video accompanying this story offers a different view of the Russell City story.

Pat Davis April 17, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Oh, am I glad to hear about this. I remember "Russell City" well. As a student nurse in the 1950's my Public Health mentor took me to Russell City for a visit. Very poor people living in cars and shacks. But, there were also some beautiful homes...a dairy farm, a thriving Hog farm and some historic sites. Also a busy school. Will look forward to the SLZ production. Pat Davis

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