Staying in San Francisco

Here’s my testimony to the Board of Supervisors Thursday:

 

Policy Prescriptions for 

Reversing African-American

Outmigration from San Francisco

 

testimony

Board of Supervisors

City and County of San Francisco

Thursday, Aug. 7, 2008 1:30 p.m.

1 Carlton B. Goodlett Place

 

John William Templeton*

president/executive editor

eAccess Corp.

San Francisco, CA

 

*The witness is author of Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California, Vols. 1-4 and Come to the Water: Sharing the Rich Black Experience in San Francisco. His article on African-Americans in the West is included in the Encyclopedia of African-Amerian History, 1619 to 1890, From the Colonial Era to the Age of Fredrick Douglass (OXFORD, 2006) Templeton was commissioned to create a ten-year study of the impact of Proposition 209 by Impact 209, Compelling State Interest: California After 209, a contrahistory and presented the study Black Heritage as the Gap Closer to the 2008 conference of the California Council for Social Studies.  He is principal investigator of Invisible Pioneers: African-Americans in San Francisco 1770-1985 a context statement commissioned by the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development and curator of JazzGenesis: San Francisco and the Birth of Jazz, an exhibition opening Aug. 12 in the Visitor Information Center of the San Francisco Convention and Visitor Bureau.  With civil engineer Frederick E. Jordan, he is co-founder of National Black Business Month each August and wrote Trouble in the Air: State of Black Business 2008  and Silicon Ceiling: High Technology and Equal Opportunity.

 

SUMMARY

Changing the outflow of African-Americans from San Francisco requires utilization of the same cultural and economic development factors which draw others to the city.

• Connection to the primary economic engines of tourism, health care and financial services

• Recognition and monetization of the unique heritage assets

• Requiring its educational institutions to meet the needs of African-American students from nursery to post-doctorate

Previous efforts have fallen short because they failed to correctly analyze why the outmigration occurred in the first place.

Several initiatives are underway which point to a new direction.  Next week, JazzGenesis: San Francisco and the Birth of Jazz opens in the Visitor information Center of the San Francisco Convention and Visitor Bureau.  This collaboration, which has been five years in the making, creates a channel to direct part of the $8 billion in annual tourism spending towards African-American owned enterprises in the city.   In 2005, with a similar exhibition S.F. Soul, we pointed out that the 60 black restaurants in the city generated more jobs than the Stem Cell Research Center (only 50)

The second annual Preserving California Black Heritage conference will be held on Oct. 1, 2008 with an aim of demonstrating to property owners strategies to hold on to historically-significant neighborhoods and buildings throughout the city and state.

We’re working with Coleman Advocates to provide parents with a comprehensive set of strategies to insure that their children are receiving culturally-responsive learning in the city’s public schools. The outreach campaign will culminate with National African-American Parent Involvement Day on the second Monday in February 2009.

 

DISCUSSION

 

The dislocation of African-Americans has occurred at least six times in San Francisco history since the 1850s as a result of governmental action, or in some cases inactiton.   The affected parties have recognized that the root cause was an unjust legal, political and economic system, and have responded with courageous initiatives against that root cause, with varying levels of success.

Currently, the biggest problem is a lack of awareness of that history of social, entrepreneurial and cultural activism, which prevents building on prior successes.

The six major outmigrations have been:

• Exodus of 1858 in which 800 of the 1500 black residents of San Francisco County moved by ship to Victoria, British Columbia to avoid the right of testimony law, franchise act and fugitive slave act.

• Dislocation from the 1906 earthquake which caused many African-Americans to move to Alameda County

• Disruption of the Barbary Coast  during which S.F. police blockaded the area and forced 1,400 persons to leave the city following the 1914 California Red-Light Abatement Act.

• Redevelopment of waterfront, South of Market, Western Addition 1948-1985  Destroyed working-class housing and neighborhood continuity, characterized by psychiatrist Dr. Mindy Ross Fullilove as “root shock”

• Jonestown massacre   largest mass suicide in American history took 900 persons from concentrated area of Western Addition 30 years ago

• California statewide outmigration 2000-present  State has lost more than 400,000 African-American residents since 2000 with 

double-digit declines in most major counties in wake of impact of Proposition 209.

• An additional financial calamity was the closure by the federal government of Transbay Savings and Loan Assn. in 1964 when it had accumulated $74 million in assets, which even today would rank among the largest black-owned banks in the country.

However, the city has a continuing historic role as a “western sanctuary” which draws new African-Americans and sustains the traditions of many families.  Unlike the treatment of other ethnic groups of the city, San Francisco has never placed an emphasis on the value of its African-American communities, their culture or heritage as a strategic asset.

It doesn’t recognize the African-American millionaire who began the port of San Francisco in the 1840s or the African-American millionaire couple who live here now recognized in Black Enterprise as the largest employer of any black business in the nation in 2008.

Primary source evidence of the origins of jazz music here in the city has gone unexplored for more than a century.

San Francisco Unified School District not only does not teach about the contributions of African-Americans to the city and state history, it has deliberately refused to place Black History Month on the school calendar for five years.

One critically important step the Board of Supervisors can take is the creation of a Black Heritage Trail in the City and County of San Francisco.  The context statement study Invisible Pioneers has already identified more than 120 properties being evaluated as candidates for landmarks.  However, like the City of Los Angeles, San Francisco can create a new class of landmarks which also includes some currently operating facilities for the purpose of guiding tourists and other visitors to desired attractions. The president of the S.F. Convention and Visitors Bureau has expressed support for such an initiative and would promote it to the city’s visitors.  The JazzGenesis exhibition is a first step in that support.

There are also several areas which deserve consideration as state historic districts in order to preserve their culture and character. As the thesis by Peter Toscani points out, the practice in the city has been to move African-Americans out of desired areas and then declare them historic.    Just the loss of wealth from Alamo Square alone, ringed by African-American home owners as late as the 1970s, totals in the hundreds of millions.

In the area of education, opportunities must be made available for qualified African-American operators to use school facilities to provide effective education to black students.   While SFUSD has the lowest achievement of any urban school district in the state for African-American students, two private black-run schools, Meadows-Livingstone and S.R. Martin, both have 99 percent college enrollment rates.  Funds targeted to black students through No Child Left Behind either go unspent or to unproven educational gimmicks ranging from the Church of Scientology. The board of supervisors can urge the school board to act on an infusion policy on cutlurally responsive teaching.

In the area of employment, effective re-entry programs such as Up From Darkness must receive the funding and facilities to reach more of the hundreds of African-Americans in county jail or on state parole in the city.   As a result of the more than 40 meetings that Rev. Regnaldo Woods helped facilitate last year, murders stopped for more than seven months in the Western Addition, saving the city probably $20 million in just trauma costs.  Reducing violent and criminal behavior is the one thing that can most dramatically reduce the city’s budget.

Economic development should address the imbalance between higher education research and development and the labor pool.

Silicon Ceiling 8 reports that in 2006, San Francisco ranked next to last among 60 urban counties nationally with 157 African-American computer professionals. The number of life and physical scientists was too low to estimate in the American Community Survey.   By contrast, Prince George’s County,  Maryland has 25,000 black professionals in those fields.

There should be a public-private consortium to recruit African-Americans to jobs and businesses in the city, which currently has the highest concentration of black managers and professionals of any city in the nation.  

 

 

References

 

Templeton, John William Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California, Vols. 1-4

Trouble in the Air: State of Black Business 2008

Silicon Ceiling 8: Equal Opportunity in High Technology

”           “African-Americans in the West” in Encyclopedia of African-American History 1619 to 1890 From the

Colonial Era to the Age of Frederick Douglass (OXFORD, 2006)

Fullilove, Mindy Ross, M.D. “Eminent Domain & African Americans:  What is the Price of the Commons?” 

Toscani, Peter                   The role of gay men as pioneer gentrifiers in Alamo Square M.A. thesis in geography, San Francisco State 

        University, 1997

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