Frances Albrier and Civil Rights Activism in Berkeley   

A Public Art & Community History Project 

Project Director: Donna Graves 





 Albrier Commemorative Plaque at San Pablo Park Community Center

The City of Berkeley’s Public Art Program has funded a project to create an interpretive plaque to be placed in San Pablo Park’s Frances Albrier Community Center celebrating Albrier’s contributions to the City of Berkeley, the region and the state.  The granddaughter of a former slave, Frances Albrier moved from Alabama to California as a young woman in 1920 and began nearly six decades of civil rights activism from her Berkeley home.  The permanent plaque will combine historical photographs and text to communicate the power of Albrier’s work as a leader in numerous political and civil rights campaigns from the 1930s-1970s.  Donna Graves has continued to gather historical information about Albrier and her activities from local archives and the personal archives of the Albrier family.  She has met with Public Art Committee Chair, David Snippen and city staff on-site to select the location for the plaque. 

Graves and the Berkeley Historical Society submitted a successful grant application to the West Berkeley Foundation to match the Civic Arts Public Art project for two parts of the project.  They were awarded $2,500 for the following:

 Longfellow School Education Project 

Donna Graves will work with Longfellow history teachers to create a curriculum unit about Albrier and her civil rights activism for students in U.S. history courses.  Bringing Albrier’s story to Longfellow students will be a rich teaching tool, not only because of her activism in the school’s neighborhood, but also because of her deep personal ties to Longfellow School as a parent and as the leading force behind a campaign that led BUSD to hire its first African American teacher at Longfellow in 1943.  Students will use Albrier’s oral history and additional materials at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library to investigate this local hero and to gain deeper understanding about how historians consider the past.  The curriculum unit will frame Albrier’s life and activism in ways that inspire student dialogue about civil rights issues and activism in their own lives.  The intention is to offer the curriculum materials developed by this project to all interested BUSD 8th grade history teachers. 

As part of her research for the project, Community + History: Frances Albrier and Social Change in South Berkeley, Donna Graves has gathered stories and photos from community elders that describe growing up in the San Pablo Park/Longfellow School neighborhood.

She is seeking additional funding to conduct formal oral history interviews with seniors who have rich memories of this diverse neighborhood’s history.


Community Center Mural

 To engage the youth that frequents San Pablo Park, muralist Isis Rodriguez worked with teens to create a mural in the courtyard of the community center.



More on Donna Graves

January 2006 Event Press Release: Community + History: Frances Albrier and Social Change in South Berkeley

Photos from the Public Celebration Event: Community + History: Frances Albrier and Social Change in South Berkeley





Kids on Lawn


Jacqueline Wright’s birthday party at California and Derby, 1920s.  
Courtesy of Jacqueline White.
Like other African American families in this neighborhood, 
Jackie Wright’s was supported by her father’s income as a Pullman porter.


Nissei Basketball  


Nissei Babes basketball team, 1938.  Courtesy of Michiko Uchida.
Boys and girls in South Berkeley’s Japanese American community 
enjoyed organized sports.


San Pablo Revue ca. 1931


Neighborhood girls practicing for a “revue” at San Pablo Park, ca. 1933.  
Courtesy Elizabeth Gee Rhodes.
San Pablo Park has been a gathering place for people from all backgrounds 
since it opened ca. 1907.


               Longfellow holiday card


Longfellow School Holiday Card, ca. 1935.  Courtesy of Ken Berndt.
Mrs. Lawson’s holiday card reflects her multi-racial class at 
Longfellow Elementary School.


Laura Bennett  friends on court2


Tennis players at San Pablo Park, early 1950s
Courtesy of Harold and Laura Bennett
San Pablo Park's tennis courts were a popular spot for members of South 
Berkeley's growing African American community after World War II.


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