The Hill was "something different"
The first black buyer in Greenridge was Joe Debro, a well-known Bay Area advocate for black economic development who bought when the homes were new. Debro was soon joined by as many as ten African American families, says Yvonne Daniel, who arrived in 1963 as a young woman of 22 with her husband, a doctor. Yvonne was studying at Cal State hoping to become a concert pianist.
Like many blacks looking to live in the area, Yvonne and her husband had a tough time finding neighborhoods, or builders, who would accept them. In nearby San Leandro, neighbor Katherine McKenney Shea says, "They absolutely did not sell to blacks and Jews."
"The Hill represented something different," Yvonne says. "It was a place, we were told, not only is it beautiful aesthetically to live, but if we could put our money down, we had a community that was open to different people and different creeds."
The '60s were a tense time for black-white relations. There were troubles at the local schools, Yvonne says, and her sons were sometimes stopped by the police. "We found these guys roaming around," the police told her once, when she spotted them detaining two black teens. "What do you mean?" she said. "They live here."
"Castro Valley was white and rural, very redneck-oriented. The town really didn't like the Hill," she says.
Shea, who ran her share of political events on the Hill, says, "There were a lot of accusations. People here were Communists, they were progressives." Her neighbor, Sylvia Tedesco, adds, "The rest of the community called us Pink Hill."
There was no racial strife within the neighborhood, Yvonne says. "It was very tense for a while, even for liberals," she says, adding, "On the hill I was identified as Panther-oriented." That's because her Oakland church hosted the Panther's food program and she knew many of the party leaders.
Black neighbors got together on their own to socialize and to discuss civil rights and local racial tensions, she says. But they were also fully a part of the larger neighborhood scene. Just how much a part became apparent the day in 1967 when her children played with matches.
Yvonne, who'd been at a dance class, drove up the hill to find her house gone, and her four children too. But the babysitter -- Shea's son -- had gotten them all out safely. While Eichler rebuilt the house, the family lived in a neighbor's.
"I think even for white liberals -- to take clothes and furniture and supplies, to give them to a black family at that time -- was saying something about what had been created in terms of community feeling," Yvonne says.
Yvonne, who dropped piano for dance, went on to earn a doctorate in anthropology from UC Berkeley and become an authority on Caribbean dance. She left the neighborhood for many years when she was professor of dance and Afro-American studies at Smith College in Massachusetts. But she never sold her home in Greenridge, and when she retired never thought of doing anything but coming back.
"It is my place," she says.