Berkeley’s Waving Man
Charles Residence: 2819 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, corner of Oregon Street
From 7:45 to 9:30 every weekday morning for thirty years, Joseph Charles stood before his house at Oregon and Grove Streets (now Martin Luther King Jr. Way) greeting commuters and kids on their way to school with a wave and a shout of, “Have a GOOD Day!”
Born in Lake Charles, La., Charles played for the Negro League’s Lake Charles Black Yankees. Berkeley journalist Martin Snapp writes that Charles boasted of once batting against pitching great Satchel Page, and getting a foul tip (“which was better than anyone else did that day” he said) while striking out on three straight pitches.
Charles eventually joined the World War II Great Migration of blacks from the south and found work at the Richmond shipyards. Subsequently he worked as a stevedore at the Oakland Naval Supply Center. One day while raking leaves outside the home he and his wife Flora purchased after he retired, a neighbor waved and Charles waved back. A few days later, on the morning of October 6, 1962, he took his waves curbside and continued them for the next 30 years. Only on October 6, 1992, did he break the daily routine and wave until 10:00 AM. “I enjoyed it so, I forgot about the time.”
Charles represented friendship, community, and neighborhood pride during an era often marked by racial turbulence. On the morning of his birthday, March 22, people who knew him when they were children stand on his corner and wave. Tennis courts near his house have been named in his honor and the yellow worker’s gloves he wore while waving are now enshrined in his memory at the Berkeley Historical Society.
Contributed by Robert Kehlmann, 2012
Joseph Charles Residence, 2819 MLK Jr. Way, photo (2012) R. Kehlmann.
Berkeley Mayor Loni Hancock presenting Joseph Charles a proclamation honoring his 25 years of waving (1987), Berkeley Public Library.
Waving Man Mural corner Ashby Ave. & MLK Jr. Way, (2012) photo, R. Kehlmann.
Waving Man's gloves, photo (2015) Larry Layne, BHS