photo by mk30

Merritt College is a two-year community college, named after Dr. Samuel Merritt, and is part of the Peralta Community College District. It was home to the first Ethnic Studies program, and was the birthplace of the Black Panther Party.

African American Studies Department

According to Dr. Siri Brown, Chair of the department,

"Not many are aware that Merritt College offered the first Black history course in the country in 1964 and became the first department in 1967 – one year prior to SFSU’s Ethnic Studies Department.

Our legacy is due to the efforts of many, including Bobby Seale, a Merritt College student when he co-founded the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, and our first chair, Melvin Newton, Huey’s brother and a BPP member, and the great soldier educator Dr. Cecilia Arrington, who taught in this department for over 30 years. These people developed an outstanding curriculum and foundation to build off of." [source]

The department's homepage is at

You can learn more about the department's activities (including their study abroad program) in this interview with Dr. Brown.

The Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale Student Lounge is named in honor of their part in history.

Landscape Horticulture

You can find neat things growing all over the campus. (photo by mk30)Merritt has a large and well-regarded Landscape Horticulture program. Their facilities include:

  • "5,000 square feet of computerized greenhouses,
  • a 5,000 square foot lath house,
  • floral and drafting labs,
  • a specialized resource library,
  • a rapidly expanding arboretum,
  • a rapidly expanding Permaculture installation, and
  • the most up-to-date horticulture equipment." [source]

Here's a blog by the Merritt Horticulture Club.

There's also a great TV series produced by propagator Patti Tauscher called SEED UP! You can see episodes of it at Here's more info about the program (which used to be on local TV!)

The department also has an annual plant sale - here's an article about it.

Administration of Justice Department

The AJ department prepares students for police, security, and other related jobs. One of the goals of the department is to increase the number of Oakland police officers who are from Oakland (the low numbers of OPD officers from Oakland - 7% out of 700 officers - is a current issue in the city). Check out this KQED article about the department's work and the challenges of encouraging Oaklanders to pursue jobs with OPD.

In 2014, the AJ department entered into a partnership with OPD to strengthen the pipeline of AJ students to OPD. Read about it here.

The head of the department is Margaret Dixon. See her speak about the work of the department and its aims in this short video.

The department's site is at .

Getting there

Merritt is up in the hills between Leona Heights Park and Leona Regional Open Space. Fun fact: you can hike all the way from Dimond Park to Merritt College! If you would instead prefer to take some form of motorized transit up to Merritt, you can take the 54 bus from Fruitvale BART [source]).

Old Merritt College

Black and Chicano students protest Old Merritt college closure.

Previous to its current location in the Oakland Hills, Merritt College was located at 5714 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The structure was designed by Claremont Hotel architect Charles W. Dickey in a Spanish Colonial style, and built in 1923. At that time, it housed University High School, a secondary school tied to the UC Berkeley Department of Education. The school embraced Progressive education and was known as an incubator of the progressive movement. In 1948, the building became Merritt Business School, then Merritt College. Merritt College became the first post-secondary institution to offer an Ethnic Studies program, and became an active center of organizing for local Chicanos (including the Chicano muralist movement) and La Raza Unida Party, and the Brown Berets, the Black Panther Party, feminists and the anti-war movement of the 1960s/70s. The Black Panther Party was formed there in 1966 by then-students Huey Newton and Bobby Seale.

In 1978, the building was declared seismically unsound, and the campus was moved to the Oakland Hills. In 1983, the building was purchased from the Peralta Community College District by the City of Oakland for $461,000. (to be continued...)

Links and References