Spring, 2017



Kala Art Institute

2990 San Pablo Avenue

Oakland CA

Commons Archive began as an immersive research space to honor and explore the family archives of Ruth and Eugene Lasartemay, founders of the East Bay Negro Historical Society. Since his grandparents’ passing  in the mid-1990s, Mark Lasartemay has been the guardian of his family’s vast archives, boxes brimming with journals, photo albums, books, awards, plaques and documents. For two months at the Kala Art Institute, Mark generously loaned us this collection. We met weekly to physically and emotionally unpack artifacts documenting his grandparents’ legacy. Mark’s elder brother from Sacramento joined in the process, along with local historians and neighbors.

The Lasartemay’s groundbreaking work led to the formation of the African American Library and Museum at Oakland (AMMLO).

From a recent AMMLO newsletter:

In 1982, the East Bay Negro Historical Society was invited into the Golden Gate Branch, making it the first Oakland city library with a predominantly African American focused collection. The assistance of Mayor Lionel Wilson, Assemblyman Elihu Harris, and others helped the organization establish a solid foundation. In 1994, the City of Oakland created the African American Museum & Library at Oakland (AAMLO), moving to its present home in the former Charles S. Greene Library in 2002.

The Lasartemay family artifacts are now part of the African American Museum & Library’s vast public archive.



The 18-foot research table, constructed from repurposed library furniture, maps the service area of the Golden Gate Branch Library. The public was invited to participate through several workshops, including a Black History Month Read-In co-hosted by the Golden Gate Library and a Story-Share with the Oakland Wiki. The walls are covered with pages from Blacks in Oakland, a comprehensive  an unpublished paper written by local historian Don Hausler. Hausler first visited the East Bay Negro Historical Society’s storefront museum on 45th and Grove Streets (now Martin Luther King Jr. Way) in the 1980s, while working for the history department at Oakland’s Main Library.