After being born in the early 1900’s, and raised in Louisiana, Sarah Tramble has both lived and documented American History.
Tramble’s education was cut short after her 7th grade year. Her 8th grade school house was too far to travel, so the young Tramble began working as a janitor at a dentist’s office. While she cleaned toilets and scrubbed floors, she took note on the office’s daily operations. One day, she was asked to step in for a dental assistant that had called in sick. Tramble, who had never been formally trained, took advantage of this opportunity and performed well in her new role. The next week she landed a job as the new assistant, which payed double what she was making as a janitor.
Education proved to be Tramble’s calling, as she then grew to teach herself how to sew. And although she is big on self-education, Tramble did attend the American college and Laney College where she became a licensed nurse.
Tramble now lives in West Oakland’s Lower Bottoms neighborhood. But when she first moved out here, she bought a house on Parker in East Oakland in 1961, and stayed until ’75. She then moved to her West Oakland Victorian house, which was built in 1885 by a man named Mr. Black who worked at SP Railroad Company. She learned this fun fact from a discussion with some neighbors when she first moved in—she told me that she got word of this and took notes, similar to the way a journalist takes notes.
Tramble’s story of self-education is not a new tale at all, especially for African Americans coming up from the south. But it is Tramble’s story of self-documentation that is rare.
“I’m black- my momma look like she was white,” Tramble said as she pointed to a photo of her mother.
Her great grandmother came here as a slave- her great grand mother raised her mother, after her grandmother died as a child. At 96 years of age, Tramble has no problem recalling her family history.
As an African American woman who will not let you forget her age (96), Tramble’s personal notes show an angle of American history that not many see. She covers everything: from the history of West Oakland and the Pullman Porters, to the personal photos and notes of enslaved relatives … and even the images of the Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga.
Tramble, a strong-speaker who constantly moves until coming to a momentary pause to drive her message home with a deep stare from her blue eyes said, “I talk to all young people, whoever will listen, but young people don’t listen- they don’t want to listen.”
On a cold winter’s Saturday afternoon in West Oakland, Sarah Tramble warmly opened her doors to me, and we cracked books and jokes, as I took notes from her notes.