Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Southside, by Lyndon Comstock

In Berkeley’s century and a half history as a city, the period from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s was the most basic inflection point.  That era is when Berkeley, the rather quiet, pretty, Republican-controlled college town became Berkeley, an internationally famous symbol for rebellion by the left. 

Readers of this blog already know this, of course. 

My interest is in digging into the details of that era, from the vantage point of a particular Berkeley neighborhood: in the center of Southside, especially in the area bounded by Dwight, Telegraph, Carleton, and Shattuck.

I’m hoping that, if you lived through 1965-1975 in Berkeley or know people who did, that you’ll help me, particularly if you lived in the center of Southside during a portion of that decade.

I’ve already written a nonfiction historical account about the early history of that neighborhood: On Parker Street: The Evolution of a Berkeley Neighborhood 1855-1965 (available at Moe’s by the way).  I’m now working on the sequel, about the period from 1965-1975.

So far as I can determine, Southside in the early 1960s, say in 1963, bore more resemblance to 1900 than it did to 1973, ten years later.  I say that, however, as someone who didn’t first arrive in Berkeley until 1970.  For those who were present during that era, I’d like to hear your take.

Among my specific points of exploration is the following.  My perception, as someone who first arrived in Berkeley in spring 1970, is that there was already quite a significant divergence developing between Berkeley’s national reputation--I’m referring now to the buzz amongst relatively well informed young radicals, not the TIME magazine version—and Berkeley’s actuality. 

Berkeley’s reputation, by 1970: whatever was going to happen next amongst young white radicals in the U.S., it was going to happen first in Berkeley.  That part, I think was largely true, or close enough.

It’s part b of Berkeley’s rep that wasn’t true.  To use the parlance of the time, that the struggle would escalate further in Berkeley (compared to the pivotal 1969 People’s Park demonstrations) and that the more militant white radicals in Berkeley were ready to go to the next level, to begin the armed struggle.   

Almost daily demonstrations took place in Berkeley in 1970 and thereafter, however, these were no more confrontational than those in 1968 and less dramatic than those of spring 1969.  Nor was there much in the way of further escalation, by either the police or the radical left in Berkeley, in the level of violence.  (Discounting the far-fetched SLA, which arose several years later.)  There was no recurrence of 1969’s Bloody Thursday in Berkeley, let alone something yet far more violent.

What happened instead in Berkeley is a topic that has much to do with Berkeley, now, in 2015.   That question of what happened instead, how and why, especially from the perspective of one neighborhood, is a major part of what I hope to explore in this book.  But I’d like to get help, in the form of recollections from those who were present during that time period.

Please contact me if you’re willing to talk to me about that era in Berkeley, or have photos or memorabilia you’d be willing to share. 

Thank you.

Lyndon Comstock    lyndon.comstock@gmail.com

Lyndon Comstock is the author of On Parker Street: The Evolution of a Berkeley Neighborhood 1855-1965, currently featured in the local history section, across from the elevator on our first floor.