About Sidney Dearing

Piedmont, California's first Black homeowner

Sidney and Family

 

Sidney Algenon (Allen?) Dearing was born March 8, 1870 in Fredericksburg, Texas. His parents were George Washington Dearing and Victoria Douglas, slaves of the Doss Brothers on the only slave owning plantation in their predominantly German town of Fredericksburg. When he was ten years old he was living with his uncle, Douglass Layfayette (according to the 1880 Census) who was also a former slave of the Doss Brothers. In 1910 he was married to Lizzie Williams and was a bartender in Galveston, Texas. Sidney had one son, Felix Penter Dearing, who was born in 1894. In 1907, some time after his divorce to Lizzie, Sidney moved to Oakland, California. 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. When he was 45 years old, on November 30, 1920, he married Irène F Davis (Davies) from Canada in Oakland. They had two daughters, Thelma born in 1922 and Sydney in 1923.

On January 1, 1924,  J Edward and Emma Little sold their property at 67 Wildwood Avenue in Piedmont to Julia Davis, a White Canadian woman and the mother in law of Sidney Dearing for $10,000. The 1940 Census lists Julia as a widow and her daughter, Irene, is listed as Black while a previous Canadian Census lists Irene's father as Wallace Davis, a Black man. Julia turned around and transferred the house to Sidney and Irene. They were 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. His mother was from Florida and most likely a Seminole Indian who made her way to Texas. His father was Black.

 

When the effort by the Piedmont West End Improvement Club and its president, WF Wood, tried to induce the 54 year old Dearing to sell by claiming the block was “unusually long” and had a desire to a street between Wildwood and Fairview Avenues. Sidney refused to sell and the racist citizens grew mad. In May of 1924, a 500 person mob surrounded his house while the sheriff of Alameda County, Frank Barnet, protected Sidney. Piedmont's Police Chief and KKK Klansman, Burton Becker, did not protect Sidney so he had to hire private help. Neighbors planted at least three bombs made of dynamite stolen from the local Bates and Borland quarry on his property and his neighbor at 75 Nova Drive (who wanted Sidney to move). One bomb powerful enough to blow up a few city blocks was found in his neighbor's garden. A great granddaughter of Sidney, Jordana, wrote me and "I remember stories of crosses being burned on the lawn and bricks thrown through windows from my grandmother Thelma."

 

Sidney's wife and two kids Thelma (2 years old) and Sydney (7 months old) moved out to another home in Oakland while Sidney stayed to protect their house. They possibly moved in with his oldest son, Felix, who was a Pullman Porter who had moved back to Oakland after fighting in WW1 and was living with his fiancee, Ida May Summer. Felix passed in 1961 and is buried next to Ida at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno. Thelma stared in the movie, Sunday Sinners later in life with her husband Harold Norton.

 

The 500+ person violent mob in front of Sidney's house forced him to agree to the terms to sell his house. (SF Examiner May 7, 1924) Sidney asked the city of Piedmont to buy his house back from him for $25,000 -- and the city of Piedmont eventually did at the taxpayer's expense. In the end the two houses were never demolished to build a 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. 

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Piedmont - Maps - Nova Piedmont - Sewer

Nova Piedmont map, house 103

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Harassment by Piedmont Residents

 
500 Person mob on May 6, 1924
Protesting at his house, forcing him to sell it back because is Black
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 tot 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

[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.]

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

Oakland Tribune - 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."

 

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

Fred W Heere

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

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

Becker and Heere - Oakland_Tribune_Wed__
Heere - Oakland_Tribune_Wed__Jun_4__1924

Oakland Tribune - Wed - Jun 4, 1924

 
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

Forced to Leave

 
Piedmont 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

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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"

Sidney gives in and sells.
Petaluma_Daily_Morning_Courier_Sat__Feb_

Petaluma Daily Morning Courier - Sat - Feb 14, 1925

Life after Piedmont

 

Sidney Algenon (Allen?) Dearing passed on Oct  6, 1953 at the age of 83, in Oakland, California after living here for 40 years. His death certificate says he died of inanition (starvation) from what sounds like late stage stomach cancer and is purportedly buried in the Alhambra Cemetery in Martinez, California. His nephew, Robert Hall, signed his death certificate. At the time of his death his location was 1755 16th Street, Oakland, CA. I believe his last known residence was a long term hotel like living situation above Scotty's Cafe where Charles Laskar was the owner.

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

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The House Today

 
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 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