sundown town

Today I learned ... well, it's nothing I didn't already know, so maybe "learned" is the wrong word, but it helped me combine a few things I knew into something I hadn't considered in quite this way before.

I have written before about growing up in Antioch, California, which until my senior year of high school in 1970 had no black people. This fact has been in my mind recently, with the just-finished NFL draft, where Najee Harris was a first-round pick. Harris, who set records playing college ball at Alabama (one of the prime football colleges in the country), went to Antioch High School. He has a chance to be the greatest football player in Antioch High history (an honor that I'm guessing is currently held by Hall of Fame lineman Gino Marchetti). Najee Harris is black. And in 2021, that isn't noteworthy ... Antioch has come a long way in 50 years. Wikipedia informs us that "the city has grown substantially more diverse since the 1990s, with no ethnic group comprising more than one-third of Antioch's population."

Wikipedia describes the Antioch I grew up in as "an all-white sundown town". And it wasn't just blacks who were discriminated against ... a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle tells the story in its title: "The Bay Area town that drove out its Chinese residents for nearly 100 years."

I knew about sundown towns, and I certainly knew about Antioch's history. But I'd never put those two facts together. If nothing else, it makes my story shorter in the telling: I grew up in Antioch, California, a sundown town.

The city's progress isn't confined to sports. Two of the last three mayors, including current mayor Lamar Thorpe, are black. If I had to guess, I'd say most younger residents of Antioch know little or nothing about its past as a sundown town. I often say I don't recognize Antioch any longer ... it's been 40 years since we last lived there. But I'm mostly thinking about the size of the city. In 1920, around the time my grandparents from Spain moved to Antioch, the population was under 2000. By 1930, when my father was 6 years old, it was up to 3500. And it kept growing ... 11,000 in 1950, three years before I was born, up to 28,000 when I graduated from high school in 1970. The census for that year says that 98.1% of the populace of Antioch was "white" ("white" encompassing lots of groups that have their own categories now, such as Italian-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Portuguese-Americans, and Spanish-Americans). According to that census, there were 42 "Negroes" living in Antioch, and if you asked me at the time, I'd say that overstated the case by around 38 people.

Times change. When we had kids, we moved to Berkeley, partly because we liked the city, but also because we didn't want our kids to grow up in that same racist environment in which we were raised. Our kids were born in 1975 and 1978 ... the 1980 census says there were 615 Black people living in Antioch at the time. I'm glad things have changed in my home town, but I'm even more glad that we got our kids out of there.


music friday: dan hicks, grateful dead, alison krauss

Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, Fillmore West, July 1970. My memories of Dan Hicks come at three different times of my life. In 1970, I saw him and the Licks for the first time. I didn't really notice him ... Sha Na Na was the headliners, and we knew nothing about them, so that's what we remembered. In 1973, the night before our wedding, I saw Dan and the band on ABC In Concert, one of a few late-late night shows featuring rock music that popped up in the 70s. That night, the performers were Miles Davis, Albert King, Slade, and Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. The latter performed three songs, including the classic "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away" and the great "I Scare Myself". I knew these songs because I had the band's first album ... had it back when I saw them in 1970. I was so taken with "I Scare Myself" that I wrote the words down on a piece of paper, and at the wedding the next day, pulled that paper out of my pocket and read the lyrics to the attendees. I told this story the third time I saw Dan, when he "and Friends" did a show in Rodeo. He was drunk, the show was a disaster, he eventually walked off the stage. But before the show I found him sprawled across a few seats in the theater (which was a movie theater, as I recall), and when I told him about seeing him on TV before my wedding, he started laughing, a slow but steady drunken laugh ... "heh, heh, heh." One of the Lickettes was Naomi Ruth Eisenberg, and by the time we saw him in Rodeo, my wife was working at a fabric store owned by Naomi's brother. So we got her autograph while Dan sat on stage bemoaning his fate and commenting on the action where his backup singer was giving autographs.

Here they are on the Flip Wilson TV show. Naomi is on Dan's left. The violinist is Symphony Sid Page, who was with Dan from the start, and who has played with just about everyone, including a stint in Sly and the Family Stone.

The Grateful Dead, Oakland Coliseum, October 1976. The only time I saw the Dead was at a Day on the Green they co-headlined with The Who. To be honest, I was there for The Who (this is when Moonie was still alive), but the Dead were good, and while I had never seen them, their shows were regularly on local public television, and they already had lots of lve albums, so they weren't exactly unfamiliar to me. Here's "Sugar Magnolia" from that show:

Alison Krauss and Union Station, Greek Theatre, 20??. The exact date escapes me, but I know it was in the 2000s, because Dan Tyminski of Union Station told a story about doing the vocals for George Clooney in O Brother, Where Are Thou?, which came out in late 2000. I had long loved Alison Krauss, and I was glad we had the chance to see her live. The show lacked moments of ecstacy ... it was consistently wonderful, like Krauss' voice and fiddle playing, from start to finish, but it wasn't ever more than that. Doesn't really matter, it was a fine performance. Here she sings what many of us consider her greatest ... she sang this at the White House for the Obamas:

Bonus: Dan Hicks and an enormous bunch of Hot Licks from his career, performing "I Scare Myself" for his 60th birthday (Symphony Sid is the third of the violinists to solo):