top of page

About Sidney & the Dearing Family

Piedmont, California's first Black family
Sidney & Family

Sidney and Family

Sidney Algenon (Allen?) Dearing was born on March 8, 1870 in Fredericksburg, Texas to George Washington Dearing and Victoria Douglas, who were slaves of the Doss Brothers, the only slave-owning plantation in the predominantly German town. At the age of ten, Sidney moved in with his uncle, Douglass Layfayette, who was also a former slave of the Doss Brothers. In 1910, Sidney married Lizzie Williams and worked as a bartender in Galveston, Texas. They had a son named Felix Penter Dearing in 1894. After his divorce from Lizzie, Sidney moved to Oakland, California, in 1907. Around 1918, he was selling cigars at 1722 7th Street and possibly working at a furniture store across the street named Wilson & Dearing (currently working on the relation being his company or a relative). Soon after, he became the proprietor of the Creole Café at 1740 7th Street until it was closed down in 1921 by the Feds for possible alcohol consumption.

 

Sidney married Irène F Davis (Davies) from Canada in Oakland on November 30, 1920. They had two daughters, Thelma born in 1922 and Sydney (or Sidney) in 1923. On January 1, 1924, Julia Davis, Irène's mother, purchased property at 67 Wildwood Avenue in Piedmont from J Edward and Emma Little for $10,000. The 1940 Census lists Julia as a widow, and Irene is listed as Black while a previous Canadian Census lists Irene's father as Wallace Davis, a Black man. Julia transferred the house to Sidney and Irene, making them the first Black homeowners in Piedmont, California, since it had been established as a city in 1922 and incorporated in 1907. During this time, Piedmont, as well as many surrounding areas of Oakland, were redlining residents, which was marketed as "race restricted" or "highly restricted" to prevent certain races from owning homes in their neighborhoods. According to The Whittier News (Whittier, California) on Jun 9, 1924, on Page 9, Sidney's “blood is Indian and White, but sufficient of the Black to mark him (Black).” Sidney is listed as "Mulatto" on the 1870, 1880, and 1920 Censuses, and his mother was most likely a Seminole Indian who made her way to Texas, while his father was Black.

 

When the Piedmont West End Improvement Club and its president, WF Wood, tried to induce 54-year-old Sidney Dearing to sell his property by claiming the block was "unusually long" and there was a desire for a street between Wildwood and Fairview Avenues, Sidney refused to sell, and the racist citizens grew angry.

 

In May of 1924, a mob of over 500 people surrounded his house while the Alameda County Sheriff, Frank Barnet, protected Sidney. However, Piedmont's Police Chief, Burton Becker, who was a KKK Klansman, did not offer any protection, so Sidney had to hire private help. Meanwhile, at least three bombs made of dynamite stolen from the local Bates and Borland quarry were planted on his property by his neighbors, one of whom, at 75 Nova Drive, wanted Sidney to move. One of the bombs, which was powerful enough to blow up a few city blocks, was found in his neighbor's garden. Sidney's great-granddaughter, Jordana, told me she recalled stories of crosses being burned on the lawn and bricks being thrown through windows, as told by her grandmother, Thelma.

In order to protect his family, Sidney's wife and their two children, Thelma (2 years old) and Sydney (7 months old), moved out to another home in Oakland, while Sidney stayed to guard their house. They may have moved in with his oldest son, Felix, who was a Pullman Porter and had moved back to Oakland after fighting in WW1. He was living with his fiancée, Ida May Summer, at the time. Felix passed away in 1961 and is buried next to Ida at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno. Thelma later starred in the movie "Sunday Sinners" with her husband, Harold Norton.

The 500+ person violent mob in front of Sidney's house forced him to agree to sell his property. (SF Examiner, May 7, 1924) Sidney asked the city of Piedmont to buy his house back from him for $25,000, and eventually, the city of Piedmont did so at the taxpayers' expense for $10,000. In the end, the two houses were never demolished to build a street on this "unusually long" street, and a nearby walkway between the block (a few houses down) remains as a reminder of this block's segregated history.

Sidney and Irene.jpg

Pictured are Sidney and Irene.

 

Photo donated by Roberta P., Elizabeth Dearing Hall's (Sidney's sister's) granddaughter. 

Sidney.jpg
Sidney in Piedmont.png
Sidney marriage.png
Piedmont - Homes - Wildwood Ave and Nova Sidney Dearing copy.jpeg
Piedmont - Maps - Nova Piedmont - Sewer

Above: Nova Piedmont map, house # 103

Left: The park in front of the Dearing home where the 500 person mob most likely stood.

Picture is from the Albert E. Norman Collection.

Home being built on the left is now 75 Nova Drive, built in 1925, the year Sidney left.

Mob and Bombs

Harassment by Piedmont Residents

May 6, 1924: 500 Person mob, riot, protesting at his house,
forcing him to sell back because they hated the color of his skin.
The_Gustine_Standard_Fri__May_30__1924_.

San Francisco Examiner - Fri - May 16, 1924

Protestors - The_San_Francisco_Examiner_

San Francisco Examiner - Fri - Jun, 6 1924

Sidney - The_San_Francisco_Examiner_Fri_

San Francisco Examiner - Fri - May 16, 1924

Sidney - The_San_Francisco_Examiner_Fri_
1 mob - The_San_Francisco_Examiner_Wed__May_7__1924_.jpeg

MOB STORMS NEGRO'S HOME IN PIEDMONT

Police Riot Squad Saves Man as
Throng Demands He Sell
Newly Acquired Residence

 

Menaced by a crowd of more than 500 residents of Piedmont, Sidney Dearing, a negro and owner of several resorts in West Oakland, was saved from violence last night in his newly acquired home at 67 Wildwood avenue, Piedmont, when the entire Police Department arrived in response to a riot call.

 

Resentment of Bearing's refusal to give the West End Improvement Club an option on his property, after he had been told by a committee that his owning of a home in Piedmont would not be permitted, is said to have led to last night's demonstration.

 

The crowd refused to disperse until Dearing agreed to sell his home and leave Piedmont.

 

CROWD INSISTENT.

The crowd demanded an immediate answer. Dearing asked "time to think it over." This was refused and he finally promised a committee from the West End Club, to appear at George Nellis, 3555 (355) Piedmont, next Tuesday evening, to arrange for the sale.

 

Records show that on January 21, 1924, J. Edward and Emma Little sold the property at 67 Wildwood avenue, near Grand avenue, to Julia Davis, a negress, and mother-in-law of Dearing." She in turn transferred the property to Dearing and he moved into the home which is in an exclusive Piedmont neighborhood.

 

Protests poured in and the West End Improvement Club began negotiations with Dearing, seeking to buy the property from him.

 

VISITED BY BROKER.

Sunday night a realty broker was sent to Dearing's home to inform him that he must give the improvement club an option. The broker explained the temper of the residents of Piedmont, but Dearing stood on his constitutional rights and refused to yield.

 

By a pre-arranged plan Piedmont citizens began to gather in front of the Wildwood avenue cottage at 8 o'clock last night. The crowd swelled until it numbered more than 500. Bearing was called out.

 

He was told by George Nellis and B. A. Stuart, spokesmen for the crowd, that he must sell and get out. It was not until the demonstration became serious that he agreed to the terms.

 

The San Francisco Examiner - Wed - May 7, 1924

Piedmont Negro Forced to Give Citizens Sale Option on Home


Residents "Call” En Masse and Secure Agreement to Quit City.


PIEDMONT, May 7.-While a crowd of 500 citizens surrounded his residence at 67 Wildwood avenue last night, and after the entire Piedmont police force had been called out to quell the threatened riot, Sidney Dearing, colored, agreed to discuss arrangements for the sale of his property. The demonstration followed Dearing's refusal to give an option on his property to the West Piedmont Improvement club. A committee from the club had informed Dearing that he would not be allowed to own a home in this city. Only after Dearing had promised to sell his home and leave the city, did the crowd disperse.


The crowd began to gather in front of the Dearing home at 8 p. m. when the crowd stated its terms an immediate answer was demanded. Dearing asked for time to think it over.

 

AGREES TO ARRANGE SALE OF PROPERTY.

The residents were insistent in their demand for an immediate answer, and Dearing thereupon promised a committee from the club that he would go to the home of George Nellis, 355 Jerome street, next Tuesday evening to arrange for the sale of his property.


According to the records, the place in question was sold on January 21, 1924, to Julia Davis, colored, who transferred it to Dearing.

1 Oakland_Tribune_Wed__May_7__1924_.jpeg
1 Oakland_Tribune_Wed__May_7__1924_.jpeg

Negotiations were begun by the West Piedmont Improvement club to buy the property, following a series of protests from Piedmont residents. A real estate man was sent to Dearing's home on Sunday night to demand that he give the improvement club an option on his place. Dearing refused and last night's demonstration was the result.

 

DEARING DENIES ATTEMPT TO "GOUGE."


Concerning a report that he had been in the habit of buying property in exclusive residence sections and forcing other residents to buy his property to induce him to move, Dearing entered a denial.

 

He said that he had been requested to move because the Piedmont property holders did not wish to have a colored resident in their district.


Dearing said that he was former proprietor of the Creole Cafe, a West Oakland resort that had been closed by the Federal authorities. He said, however, that although the license was revoked, no charge had been made against him personally.

 

Oakland Tribune - Wed - May 7, 1924

Editor's note: There is no proof that Sidney was buying homes in other areas - in fact, this was the only home he had purchased. Previously there had been a "Sydney Dearing" at 1605 Derby B in Berkeley - B marks it as an apartment of a house and it was not in a redlined neighborhood unlike Piedmont which was at the time.

San_Francisco_Chronicle_1924-05-19_4.jpg

PIEDMONT'S
OFFER SCORNED
BY RICH NEGRO


Sidney Dearing Refuses to
Heed Demand That He
Move Out


Protected by men of his own race in the beautiful house he recently purchased in the héart of exclusive Piedmont, Sidney Dearing, wealthy negro, announced last night that he had no intention of selling his residence and moving out, as the Piedmont City Council has demanded of
him.


"I will sell my house. when it pleases me, and at the price that suits me," Dearing told inquirers.


INDIGNATION HIGH


Following an indignation meeting of 500 Piedmont citizens in front of the negro's new home recently, the City Council proposed that he accept $8000 for his property, and forthwith depart from the neighborhood.


"I paid more than that for the house." Dearing said last night. "I wIll sell the place, if they demand
it, but they will pay the price that pleases me."


The negro laughed at the report that machine guns, "sweeping every street and entrance," were mounted in his beautiful home to repel possible invaders. He also denied reports that the Sheriff was protecting him, or that deputy sheriffs were now stationed in his home.


PROTECTION TOLD


"The Sheriff did protect me when the mob gathered in front of my home recently," he sald, "but since then I have had no protection. I will supply my own protection."


Dearing, former owner of the notorious Creole Cafe in Oakland, is well educated.

San Francisco Chronicle - May 19, 1924

A letter from his lawyer, 
John D Drake, of the NAACP

On May 19, 1924, Sidney Dearing's lawyer, John D Drake who was President of the NAACP's Northern Chapter was quoted in the Oakland Tribune:

"In reply thereto it might be well to state that this is a question not only affecting Mr. Dearing, but affecting the rights of every American citizen. If the city of Piedmont can hide behind the flimsy subterfuge of a public necessity that does not exist, and set at naught the constitutional rights of an American citizen and take away his property simply on the ground of his color, so may the constitutional rights of any other American citizen be set at naught when he shall insur the displeasure of his more powerful associates, and we may at once say farewell to the constitutional government and to the principle on which we have counted for our safety. Such action would seem to indicate that we are governed by prejudice and passion and holds up your city to ridicule and give the lie to our much boasted claim of  democracy. So it is needless for me to state that Mr. Dearing authorizes me to say that he refuses to consider such offer. 

"Very truly yours,

JOHN D DRAKE

Attorney for Sidney Dearing"

Lawyer for the City of Piedmont was Girard Nye Richardson (Girard N. Richardson) who went to Oakland High School class of 1905 and lived at 270 Crocker Ave in Piedmont.

lawyer_edited.jpg
0 picture of the house - The_Oakland_Post_Enquirer_Tue__May_20__1924_.jpeg

On May 20, 1924, Sidney Dearing's lawyer, John D Drake was quoted in the Oakland Post Enquirer:

DRAKE'S LETTER

The letter from Drake follows:

Your letter of May 16 to Sidney Deering in which you, acting under the direction of the city council of the city of Piedmont, offered him the sum of $8000 for his property on Wildwood avenue with the threat that if this sum was not accepted immediately condemnation proceedings would be instituted for a public use, has been referred to me for reply.

In reply thereto it might be well to state that this is a question not only affecting Mr. Deer-ing but affecting the rights of every American citizen. If the city of Piedmont can hide behind the flimsy subterfuge of a public necessity that does not exist, and set at naught the constitutional rights of an American citizen and take away his property.

3 Bombs found at home

"Enough dynamite to blow up a large part of Piedmont"
Heere - Oakland_Tribune_Wed__Jun_4__1924

Oakland Tribune - Wed - Jun 4, 1924

BOMB front - San_Francisco_Chronicle_1924-06-04_1.png
BOMB front - San_Francisco_Chronicle_1924-06-04_1.png
BOMB front - San_Francisco_Chronicle_1924-06-04_1.png
Bomb - San_Francisco_Chronicle_1924-06-04_4.png

San Francisco Chronicle -

Wed - Jun 4, 1924

Bomb - San_Francisco_Chronicle_1924-06-04_4.png
Bomb - San_Francisco_Chronicle_1924-06-04_4.png

 

San Francisco Chronicle - June 6, 1924:

DEERING(sp) HOME GUARDED


A guard has been maintained around the Deering home for some time, as Deering feared attempts on his life. A bomb
was found in a  neighbor's hedge two days ago, and the force
of deputies was strengthened. It is believed that the bomb was Intended for Deering, although it was as discovered in the yard of L. W. Van Dyke, one of the leaders in the
movement to remove the negro from the property.

 

BOMB PLOT IGNORED


The bomb plot was not discussed by the council last night.


The council's action will mean, Richardson said, that an appraisal of the land will be made, and the negro forced to
take the amount offered in this survey. It was intimated that the proceedings against the property will take several months.

San_Francisco_Chronicle_1924-06-06_1.png

The Piedmont Police vs the Alameda Sheriff  protecting the Dearings

0 rejected sell - The_Oakland_Post_Enquirer_Mon__May_19__1924__edited.png

Sheriff Frank Barnet - 
Born on August 26, 1866. His father, John Barnet, was a retired peace officer. He served Alameda County as the Deputy License Collector, the Deputy Clerk for the Supreme Court, and the Deputy Shorthand Court Reporter for the District Attorney. Sheriff John N. Bishop was elected on November 4, 1902 and died in office on February 20, 1905. Barnet was appointed as Sheriff on March 2, 1905 to replace Bishop. He was re-elected several times and left office on November 21, 1926. He was also President of the California Peace Officer's Association from 1923-24, when Sidney Dearing was living in Piedmont.

 

The Oakland Post Enquirer - May 19, 1924

Reports that the colored guards Deering is said to have in his home were deputy sheriffs today were denied by Sheriff Frank Barnet.


Barnet declared to his knowledge there were no deputy sheriffs at the Deering home.

Told of reports that Deering had said he had assurances from the sheriff's office that he would be protected against "any unlawful demonstrations," Barnet said he would answer any alarm of riot in the Piedmont vicinity of Deering's home.

BARNET EXPLAINS


"I went there a week ago when I was informed a mob was forming," said Barnet, "as I was told the Piedmont police were not giving the man the protection he is entitled to under law. Were the man a Chinaman or a white millionaire, he would get protection from me.


"When police refuse or neglect to do their duty, as Piedmont police are reported to have done, then I am going to get on the job as provided by law."

more bomb - The_Press_Democrat_Wed__Jun_
more bomb - The_Press_Democrat_Wed__Jun_
1 Dearing - The_Sacramento_Bee_Wed__Jun_
1 Dearing - The_Sacramento_Bee_Wed__Jun_

The Sacramento Bee - Wed - Jun 4, 1924

bomb - Oakland_Tribune_Fri__Jun_6__1924_

Oakland Tribune - Fri - Jun 6, 1924

"Containing enough dynamite to blow up a large part of Piedmont's residential section."

The Press Democrat - Wed - Jun 4, 1924

Petaluma_Daily_Morning_Courier_Wed__Jun_

Petaluma Daily Morning Courier - Wed - Jun 4, 1924

Secret organization - Oakland_Tribune_Sa
Secret organization - Oakland_Tribune_Sa

 

Evidence of a "Secret Organization" (the KKK?) believed to be involved in attempting to oust Sidney.

 

"Dearing admitted today receiving threatening letters from a secret organization, threatening to blow up his home unless he accepts the offer of Piedmont residents to purchase his home. The first of these letters came shortly after he moved to Piedmont and the last arrived only two days ago."

In 1925 the KKK left a similar letter posted in the SF Chronicle 

on May 30, 1925:

0 1925 KKK note - San_Francisco_Chronicle_1925-05-30_29.png

Oakland Tribune - Sat. June 7, 1924

Fred Heere

Fred W Heere

Piedmont's Detective and later Police Chief after Becker
Secret organization - Oakland_Tribune_Sa
Becker and Heere - Oakland_Tribune_Wed__

Piedmont Detective, Fred Heere:
"I believe that Dearing's story is true. I have every reason to believe a third bomb was thrown at Dearing's home, as he told me. However, I am not interested in it."

Oakland Tribune - Sat - Jun 7, 1924

Heere - Oakland_Tribune_Wed__Jun_4__1924

Oakland Tribune - Wed - Jun 4, 1924

Forced to Leave

Forced to Leave

June 6, 1924: Piedmont's City Council unanimously 
votes to condemn Dearing home
The_San_Francisco_Examiner_Fri__Jun_6__1
The_San_Francisco_Examiner_Fri__Jun_6__1
SDidney - The_Petaluma_Argus_Courier_Fri

Petaluma Argus Courier - Fri - Jun 6, 1924

San Francisco Examiner - Fri - Jun, 6 1924

Leaving Piedmont

February 14 1925: Sidney gives in and sells.
Petaluma_Daily_Morning_Courier_Sat__Feb_

Petaluma Daily Morning Courier - Sat - Feb 14, 1925

Dearing - Home Sold - The_Oakland_Post_Enquirer_Tue__Aug_4__1925_.jpeg

The Oakland Post Enquirer - Aug 04, 1925

Life after Piedmont

Life after Piedmont

Sidney Algernon (Allen?) Dearing passed away on October 6, 1953, at the age of 83, in Oakland, California, where he had resided for 40 years. According to his death certificate, he succumbed to inanition (starvation), likely associated with late-stage stomach cancer. He is said to be buried in the Alhambra Cemetery in Martinez, California, in an unmarked plot. His nephew, Robert Hall, signed the death certificate. At the time of his passing, Sidney's address was 1755 16th Street, Oakland, CA. It is believed that his last known residence was a prolonged hotel-like living arrangement above Scotty's Cafe, owned by Charles Laskar.

(More information is being added to this biography as it is being discovered)

Sidney Dearing death certificate.jpg

The House Today

The House Today
Oakland_Tribune_Sun__May_3__1925_.jpg

 Note from a current neighbor:

Just a note that I chatted with (the current owner), our neighbor at 67 Wildwood, about the house history today and he had no idea! Also, I knew this but didn't mention because I wanted to know the back story first -- their dog is named Sidney. It has nothing to do with the Dearing family, but I thought it was a crazy, nice coincidence. I mentioned recognizing the family and he was into it. 

After researching Sidney I was contacted by a distant relative of Sidney's, Joseph D., who is now a Bay Area resident. He said:  In the 1940s, as children my cousin and oldest sister remember him frequently coming by my Uncle's Liquor Store on 7th Street.  They knew him as "Uncle Sid".  

If you have any more information about Sidney Dearing, Piedmont and the KKK, Piedmont's Historical Redlining, or would like to help please contact me through the contact form

bottom of page