Bill Russell was born in 1934 to Charles Russell and Katie Russell in West Monroe, Louisiana. Like almost all Southern towns and cities of that time, West Monroe was very segregated, and the Russells often struggled with racism in their daily lives. Russell's father was once refused service at a gas station until the staff had taken care of all the white customers first. When his father attempted to leave and find a different station, the attendant stuck a shotgun in his face and threatened to kill him if he didn't stay and wait his turn. In another incident, Russell's mother was walking outside in a fancy dress when a white policeman accosted her. He told her to go home and remove the dress, which he described as "white woman's clothing". During World War II, large numbers of blacks were moving to the West to look for work there. When Russell was eight years old, his father moved the family out of Louisiana and settled in Oakland, California. While there, the family fell into poverty, and Russell spent his childhood living in a series of public housing projects.