On Thursday, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency will hold a meeting to sum up 40 years in the Western Addition of San Francisco, a period that has seen the city’s black population decline by half. In looking at some of the data, I had questioned whether the razing of the neighborhood alone was the primary reason they left. The bulk of the area where African-Americans lived, stretching out to Golden Gate Park, still stands. Last week, I shot photos of 40 black churches spread throughout the area occupying historic buildings.
Today on a Muni bus, I overheard a driver talking with a passenger. He said he commuted from Sacramento, 90 miles away. The passenger said, “You drive two hours and then drive a bus all day?”
The driver explained that he rotated with two other black Muni drivers who also lived in Sacramento.
When the passenger asked why, the driver responded, “The schools are better.”
Later on he mentioned that he had put all four of his children through college including one now in law school and one in med school.
It confirmed what the data seemed to indicate. The city has lost 45 percent of its black school children in the last six years, long after redevelopment’s most dramatic impact. During the period, San Francisco Unified Schools has had the worst performance for black students of any large urban district in the state. By some measures, its black students fall behind disabled students statewide.
Black parents are like any other parents. They make their residential choices based on the education their children can receive. Forty years ago, most black students attended a school affectionately recalled as “Poly” with a large proportion of black faculty and a supportive environment. After it was closed, black parents had to threaten a boycott and file a desegregation suit. But the needed resources never went to the schools where black students attended.
In the last decade, Proposition 209 has been used as an excuse to deny any supportive enrichment programs. The district does not have Black History Month on its calendar.
Ironically, the school district and public education in California was created by a black entrepreneur, William Alexander Leidesdorff, in 1846. But one can spend 12 years in the city’s schools and never learn that.
One hopes that black parents, with rising gas prices, will instead of silently driving extra hours, begin to join force to insist that their children get a high quality education wherever they are. For more details on how to do that, visit californiablackhistory.com.