Honoring Black history in San Jose

From public artworks to cultural centers, local Black history is all around us.

A display of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection at the MLK Library in downtown San Jose.

Learn about the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the MLK Library in downtown.

Photo by SJtoday staff

Black history in San Jose should be celebrated every day. Across our county, there are many places that reflect the Black experience. Here’s where you can see some of those legacies.

King Collection | Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library

Our city’s largest library pays tribute to the civil rights leader in more ways than just its namesake. A bust of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — made by Sascha Schnittmann — sits in the library lobby, and just three floors up, you’ll find a collection dedicated to his efforts in the Civil Rights movement. Browse books, audio recordings, and more to learn about his legacy.

Iola Williams Banquet Hall | Seven Trees Community Center

The south SJ center’s banquet hall honors Iola M. Williams, the first African American woman elected to San Jose City Council + San Jose’s former vice mayor. The trailblazer was committed to civil and LGBTQ+ rights, and was part of the 1970’s movement that ushered more women into Santa Clara County’s offices.

A white house with green accents on a cloudy day.

See the African American Heritage House at History Park.

Photo by SJtoday staff

African American Heritage House | History Park

This over 145-year-old Zanker House is now home to the AAHH, which was established in honor of San Jose native Lula Briggs Galloway — the former CEO of the National Association of Juneteenth Lineage, Inc. Galloway also founded the Juneteenth Creative Cultural Center and Museum in Michigan, which commemorates the emancipation of slaves. Now, the house hosts community meetings, art exhibits, festivals, and more to showcase the history of African Americans in the South Bay.

Don Johnson Tennis Courts | Backesto Park

The longtime, community tennis instructor is commemorated at none other than his familiar practice grounds. Don “The Tennis Machine” Johnson taught from 1976 to 2014, and created the “Backesto Backhanders Junior Tennis Programs.” He was inducted into the African American Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame, as well as the US Tennis Association NorCal Tennis Hall of Fame.

A cross street sign saying "Ribbs" and "Alum Rock Ave."

Ribbs Lane is a small street on the east side.

Photo by SJtoday staff

Ribbs Lane | East side

An influential east San Jose family — whose history spans generations — is honored on Alum Rock Avenue. In 1919, Clyde Ribbs + wife Ola — who became Secretary of the NAACP — moved to SJ, and created one of the first African American-owned businesses in the region, a courier company. His brother, Henry, came a year later + apprenticed for the Valley’s first African American plumber, Theordore T. Moss. He helped build the five houses that sit on Ribbs Lane.

Know of another local place to see Black history? Share the details with us.

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