Your history is important too

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One of the goals of the five-year California Consolidated Historic Preservation Plan is to increase the number of “diverse” historic sites. Only one percent of the state’s historic sites have been contrary to what I call the “thin-air” hypothesis of California history.
On Wednesday, I’m visiting in Sacramento with Jay Correia, who supervises the registration unit in the Office of Historic Preservation for California Parks and Recreation Department. After three years, our team is developing a multiple-property submission for the National Register of Historic Sites through our context statement entitled Invisible Pioneers: Blacks in San Francisco 1841 to 1960.
African-Americans in San Francisco and California in general have been extremely diligent about documenting and preserving their history. One of the first buildings constructed by blacks in the 1850s housed the Athenian Literary Society and the city’s first public library.
There are at least five organizations in San Francisco which are more than 150 years old, including three churches and two lodges.
In the course of our research, I had the chance to read every black-owned newspaper published in San Francisco from 1857 to 1985 page by page, and found such undiscovered artifacts as the appraisal for the estate of William Alexander Leidesdorff at the California State Archives; 100 sermons from Rev. J.B. Sanderson from 1857 in the Bancroft Collection at UC-Berkeley and the 1929 membership list of the San Francisco branch of the NAACP at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center of Howard University.
It is most striking that the primary sources are most often held by people not normally seen as historians — family members, fellow church goers, just folks who don’t like to throw anything away.
During the last three years, our Preserving California Black History Conference has sought to connect those history lovers with the preservation and archival resources who can shape the proper documentation of what is a richly, exciting, yet overlooked heritage.
A hotbed of historic properties and significant events is the Bayview/Hunters Point area of San Francisco, where we held the third Preserving California Black History conference in September and October.
One of the suggestions of Yolette Merritt, a commissioner with the Santa Clara County Historic Preservation Commission, was that the neighborhood needed its own history day.
On Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010, the last weekend of Black History Month, the legendary Sam Jordan’s is hosting Bayview Family History Day as part of its 51st anniversary.
Jordan, known as “Singing Sam” from his days as a light heavyweight boxer who sang the National Anthem before his fights, opened the bar and restaurant in 1959. He was one of the longshoremen who moved to the area and used the middle class union wages to go into business for himself. Jordan is representative of thousands of African-Americans who built communities in the Bay Area.
Like his children who still run the bar, many families have loads of pictures, church programs, obituaries and artifacts which are part of the fabric of the neighborhood’s history.
We’ll have historians and graduate students around to look at materials, scan for preservation and make suggestions for preservation. It all starts at 2 p.m. on Saturday at 4004 Third Street.


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