Robert Simms remembers the 1966 riot in Bayview like it was yesterday. As editor of The Spokesman, his paper was the only media that saw the events first hand.
The incident lives on in the memory of many Bayview/Hunters Point residents because the Bayview Opera House, a cultural center where folks like Danny Glover got their start, was riddled with bullets by police.
“Just about all the coverage was based on what we wrote, because the mainstream media wouldn’t come into Bayview” says Simms. “That included a followup story in the Nation magazine.
The former editor recalls a very cohesive neighborhood, governed more by its churches and block clubs than any outside authories. Simms was at the heart of the community as its scribe from 1964 to 1970.
A Conversation with Robert Simms: Bayview in the 1960s on Friday, Oct. 2 is a highlight of the third annual Preserving California Black Heritage conference. That session begins at 6 p.m. in the Bayview branch of the San Francisco Public Library.
He will discuss the community activism that made Bayview an example for organizing across the nation. Housewives and church deacons successfully lobbied for more than $50 million from the first African-American Cabinet member, HUD Secretary Robert Weaver.
It is a model that is now coming full circle as Bayview is one of the most threatened historic black neighborhoods in the country, with more than 95 percent of all foreclosures in the entire city of San Francisco. Stories in USA Today and the Christian Science Monitor have noted that San Francisco has the most extensive outmigration of African-Americans of any city in the country.
From Wednesday, Sept. 30 to Friday, historic preservation and planning experts will share effective strategies for forestalling gentrification used in such cities as Savannah, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Historic American Beach in Florida and Houston. There will be a focus on empowering residents of neighborhoods like Bayview to use historic preservation programs to stabilize and bring economic development.
A second track will train teachers in the use of community, local and regional African-American heritage as a method to improve student outcomes.
Featured presenters in the preservation track include Rick Moss, historian member of the State Historical Resources Commission; Karina Muniz, outreach director of the Los Angeles Conservancy; and Yolette Merritt, member of the Santa Clara County Historic Preservation Commission.
The Wednesday, Sept. 30 evening program features a showing of the documentary and companion book by Bayview native Kevin Epps, The Black Rock: Black Alcatraz, also at 6 p.m. in the Bayview branch library.
For educators, National Park Rangers Guy Washington, western regional director of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom and Frederik Penn, Buffalo Soldiers interpretive specialist at the Presidio, will share the country’s excitement about national parks during the Ken Burns’ PBS series. Another documentary, Freedom Riders of the Cutting Edge, will showcase the innovation of black technologists in the 1950s and 1960s in Silicon Valley on Thursday, Oct. 1.
Preservation track members can participate in bus tours each morning, exploring historic sites in the black experience throughout the city.
Conference organizer John William Templeton, principal investigator for a context statement on African-American history in San Francisco, working with architect Miles Stevens and SFSU Professor Johnetta Richards, Ph.D, will also present new findings on the significant role of African-American architects in California, including their imprint on black church architecture, while presenting a slide show of 400 African-American potential historic sites or districts.
Much of that hidden history has been revealed through community publications such as Simms’ The Spokesman. The project has read every black-owned newspaper printed in San Francisco from 1857 through the 1980s in the process of its research. One objective of the conference is to enlighten community members to the importance of the cultural artifacts they may have stored in closets and attics.
Another goal of the conference is to revive the community organizing spirit of the 1960s, as celebrated later in October for the 40th anniversary of the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State. Models for homeowners and renters to join forces to effectively manage the preservation of stable black neighborhoods with historic character will be presented throughout the conference.