Katherina and Barney Gabriel’s accomplishments land them in hall | OUHSD Hall of Fame

OROVILLE — Barney and Katherine Gabriel founded the first Yellow Cab company in the United States owned by a Black family in Oroville in 1942, launching the business with the money Barney Gabriel saved from his shoe shine business.

Eight decades later the couple, both Oroville High School graduates, are being inducted posthumously into 2023 Oroville Union High School District Hall of Fame on Oct. 21 in a ceremony at Feather Falls Casino.

Barney Gabriel’s parents were one of the first Black families to arrive in Oroville, arriving in 1921 from Neeryville, Louisiana. Katherine Gabriel’s parents migrated from Dusett, Texas in 1935.

Katherine Gabriel (1921-1989) played basketball and was in the glee club at Oroville High. After graduating, she attended Chico State College for one year, taking business classes. After graduating from OHS circa 1932, Barney Gabriel (1914-1995) bought his own shoe shine stand. The couple married in 1941.

Barney Gabriel got the business license for the cab company from city hall, bought a 1940 Buick Century and launched his business. He continued to operate his shoe shine business during the day while answering calls for the cab company and dispatching a friend to drive customers. At first, some customers did not want to ride in a car with a Black man, but customers’ needs and Barney Gabriel’s service prevailed.

In the beginning, the Gabriels operated the business out of their home but eventually moved the business to Montgomery Street in downtown Oroville. The company continued to prosper and in 1957 became Oroville Bus Lines. By the 1960s the Gabriels surpassed their original dream of owning five cabs and operated a school bus service and 10 cabs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In 1967, the Gabriel’s were recognized by the Butte County Board of Education for transporting special education students for 12 years without a serious accident. Their company vehicles travelled 356,653 miles without an accident.

In 1980, they contracted with the city and county to run the Oroville Area Transit and senior citizen shuttle. By 1993, the company had 50 employees working the cabs, two city buses and several school buses. Barney Gabriel closed the business after 52 years of continual service in 1994.

“The Gabriels’ story is compelling and unique in Oroville history. They succeeded despite significant obstacles, including de facto segregation, with a minimum of education and no financial support from the sources available to other citizens of Oroville,” wrote Brian Powers, 1969 Oroville High graduate, in his letter supporting the couple’s induction into the hall. “They are a remarkable example of success base on initiative, resourcefulness, faith in themselves and courage as well as dedication to family and the entire Oroville community.”

In addition to running the transportation company, Barney Gabriel found time to volunteer in the community serving on the boards for Oroville Olives, Southside Fire District, Oroville Hospital, Mount Lassen Area Council and Table Mountain District among others. He also served as chair for the Southside Improvement Club and OIDCO Transportation. Additionally, he volunteered for the Red Cross, Chairman and Boy Scouts of America Troop 63.  On Nov. 5, 2022, the Gabriels were honored by the South Oroville African American Society with the 12th annual Southside Legacy Award for their hard work and service to the community.

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