Russell City, CA: Documenting a Town Now Gone

Russell City, CA was an important example of self-governing African American and Latino communities in western America, however it was destroyed in the 1960s through an urban renewal project. Many former residents of the town still live nearby though, and my previous interviews with them formed the cornerstone of my initial reconstruction of the town’s history. Using that work as a springboard, I am applying for $1000 from the Awesome Foundation to expand my original project. My goal for this second wave of interviews is to understand the impact of the town’s demolition on the residents’ lives post-relocation. The timing is critical as most of the former residents are in their late seventies to mid-90s, and some of those I spoke to initially are now deceased.

I have been invited to attend the annual Hayward/Russell City Blues Festival July 13-14, 2019 as a guest of festival producer Ronnie Stewart and his West Coast Blues Society. This event commemorates the music that graced Russell City’s storied blues clubs and is a place former Russell City residents gather. Mr. Stewart has offered that I use a festival booth for free during the 2-day event. There, I plan to conduct interviews with ex-residents who attend, asking about their lives after the town was bulldozed. Keeping the festival environment in mind and that concert-goers may have limited time to talk, I plan for these interviews to be brief, but expect to gather 3 hours of material over the course of the of the festival. I have recording equipment already, and have arranged for a microphone by private loan.

Having made contacts at the festival, I then plan to conduct 4 additional 1:1, hour-long interviews, diving deeper into these subjects. I will transcribe all of the audio files using the service Then I will send the transcripts to my interviewees for approval, and will synthesize my findings in a paper which I'll share with all of the interviewees and organizations who are part of this project.

Financé par San Francisco, CA (July 2019)