Oakland Living History Program, Interview


Gwen Jackson Interview Excerpt

KK: Katy Kaminski, interviewer
GJ: Gwen Jackson, interviewee

Interview 1, Side 1

KK: This is Katy Kaminski interviewing—
GJ: Gwen Jackson.

KK: It’s April 22nd, 2004 and we are in her home on Nicol Avenue. First off—to give us an idea of who you are now, can you briefly talk about when and where you were born?
GJ: I was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1937 on the 3rd of October, and I left there in 1964, and I came here and—let’s see, I’m trying to—wow, that’s a long time to think back that far. Actually, I lived on—when I came here I lived on Seminary in East Oakland—close to International Boulevard. My— I started working as a cook, which has been what I did. Domestic work and cooking. That’s what I did. So, maybe you could ask me some questions, if you need anything.

KK: Okay. What did you know about Oakland before you moved here?
: I didn’t know anything about Oakland. I’d never heard of it before. I came out here with a man.

KK: Was your move well planned?
GJ: No. No, he came and I came behind him. It wasn’t really planned. So, I mean was it (static)—might as well. It was something different.

KK: Did you know you were going to live on Seminary Avenue?
GJ: No. None of that. No. None of that. But his parents was living in that area. So, we—that’s why we went there because his parents lived there.

KK: I’d like to talk a little bit more about the neighborhood when you first moved.
GJ: This neighborhood?

KK: No. Seminary Avenue.
GJ: Seminary Avenue?

: What was it like?
GJ: What was that area like at that time? Hmmm. In fact, I think about it sometimes when I pass there—that actually on the corner is Seminary and International Boulevard it was a liquor store, and they sold a lot of different stuff, but mostly it was liquor. And the house that we lived in was right behind the liquor store. So, it was really close to the corner. And, you know, it really wasn’t as bad—I don’t remember it being bad. You know, the people—I didn’t— that during that time there were as many homeless people on the street. You know, people hanging around—like they are now. You know, people that are homeless, with the carts and things. I didn’t see any of that then. Come to think of it. I hadn’t thought about that. And, it was pretty friendly. You know, the people in the neighborhood was pretty friendly. And, you know, I just, as I said—I came out following a man. And worked until—which really is not very interesting, you know—just ordinary stuff, you know. And—let’s see—about all— and then when I left Seminary, I—where did I move? Eighth Avenue. Eighth Avenue—that was Eighth Avenue. Anyway, I stayed over there quite a few years. I went to school over there. I started going to Alameda College. Actually, I never even went to high school. I went to elementary school in Atlanta, and I graduated from elementary school. And I never—I went to high school, but I didn’t like school because I couldn’t read, and I couldn’t—didn’t know numbers and stuff. So, I just dropped out of school and did something that I liked, and then that was work, which I knew how to do. So, I went to work. You know and, what my mama had taught me was how to work—you know, how to do a good job cleaning and cooking and all of that. So that’s what my skill was when I left home and it was—I was, about like, twelve years old, but I was a big girl as always. I could pass for older than that. And, coming out here was just—ah—kind of like— something else to do that I hadn’t did—you know—and that’s what I did. I just did it. I didn’t have any children or anything like that. And me and my family wasn’t very close, you know. So it didn’t matter that I—you know—I wouldn’t think about staying around them because we wasn’t close anyway. So, anyway, you know, and I had already done some traveling between that time to visit my family in other places—like New York, Chicago, Boston, stuff like that. And I knew I didn’t like those places. I mean, I liked them but New York was too cold in the wintertime. And I never forget, when I left there it was June and it was still ice on the ground. I thought that was the awfulest thing. And I said no—I have—I know why people say, “I love to visit New York and not stay there.” So you need to have some money to live nice in New York, you know, because it’s so cold that everything’s so extreme, you know.

So, and out here it was—used to be—kind of mild mannered, and the rent was reasonable and stuff like that. But, actually, the house that I had on Eighth Avenue is where when I started to school—‘cause I started going to Alameda College because I decided that I wanted to go get my GA and—ah—my high school diploma, but when I went to Alameda College, I didn’t—I found out that a lot of stuff that I didn’t know that I wished I did knew, and that I really couldn’t do math and do English and all of that because I didn’t have the basics to do it. So, I—when I finished Alameda College, I had a Grade Point 3.5, but all of my grade points came through the arts, you know. I majored in fashion design—doing clothes. And so, we had to take a lot of art classes and sewing classes. And so, I got out of there with my AA because of that, you know, because I still don’t know math and English like I would like to.


Transcribed by June Cancell


Katy Kaminski



Oakland Living History Program