The yellow gloves came out once again at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Oregon Street Monday to celebrate the 100th birthday of Joseph Charles, Berkeley’s Waving Man.
Friends, family and even strangers gathered outside his old house to smile and wave at passers-by and motorists—a tradition carried out by Mr. Charles for 30 years until he stopped doing it in 1992.
Denisha DeLane, NAACP youth council advisor in Berkeley, said that she organized the event this year with a lot more hope for the future.
DeLane has been encouraging people to show up on March 22 for the past several years to help keep this important gesture alive.
“Mr. Charles was the face of Berkeley for many years—people loved him and respected him,” she said. “We need to show the same love and respect even today. We don’t want people to forget what he did.”
On Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council issued a proclamation honoring Mr. Charles, who passed away in 2002, which declared March 22, 2010 as “Waving Man Remembrance Day.”
For many, Mr. Charles was more than just the “Waving Man.”
Artists drew murals honoring him and neighborhood resources, such as the Oregon Street tennis courts which overlooked his white house, were also named after him.
His fans have also set up a Facebook page, “Ask the Mayor of Berkeley to recognize Mr. Charles 100th Birthday,” which has more than 700 members from all over the world.
“So many people came out today, including his grandchildren and his great grandchildren,” said DeLane, who remembered seeing Mr. Charles wave to her every day on her way to school. “It’s remarkable.”
DeLane said she’d like to see the place where he stood waving every day designated a historic landmark.
“I keep asking myself, how can we keep his memory alive?” she said. “Now that I am 31, I want to see people remembering him even after 50 years. He helped to build a healthy community, to make the day better for everyone, especially for southwest Berkeley. We need children to know who their neighbors are. We should be able to look out for each other.”
Mr. Charles’ granddaughter Sherrill Charles, who lives in Oakland, cheered and clapped as a truck honked when it saw her waving.
“I remember him standing here when I went to Presentation High School every morning,” said Charles who called her grandfather “Daddy Joe.” “I heard about him on the news and I was so proud of him.”
Charles thanked the city council for the proclamation.
“Some people were embarrassed and some people thought he was crazy,” she said of her grandfather’s early morning ritual. “But he prepared us for a lot more. It didn’t cost a dime or a nickel or a penny. He stood outside in all kinds of weather.”
Mr. Charles’ great grandson Charles Kimble, 29, showed up around 9 a.m. to participate.
“I remember him standing in the corner with a big smile on his face,” he said. “It made my day.”