Looking through the lens of pioneers

The flotilla of sailing ships we viewed through the windows of the Aquatic Park Bathhouse was not unlike the view Jessie Benton Fremont and her Sunday salons with the likes the Bret Harte, Robert Louis Stevenson and Mifflin Gibbs saw from the bluffs of Ft. Mason in the 1850s.
Park Ranger Guy Washington pointed out the Fremont house’s location and a still extant house on the fort which is being investigated as an actual house of rescue during the Underground Railroad.
These were just some of the discoveries we learned during the second session of Come to the Water: Teaching San Francisco Black History at the National Maritime Museum.
Fremont and her husband, John C. Fremont, the first Republican presidential candidate in 1856, are one of the reasons that the Gold Rush Abolitionists period from 1849 to 1869 is so significant to San Francisco and national history.
George Washington Dennis, Mifflin Gibbs, a confidante of Frederick Douglas; and William Alexander Leidesdorff were all close associates of John Fremont.
There are lots more details and primary sources in Come to the Water: Sharing the Rich Black Experience in San Francisco. We present the same materials which we see as historians in archives.
To complete the book, we reviewed every black newspaper published in the city from 1857 to 1985, page by page; included such sources as the Colored Directory of Bay Area Cities in 1915 and the San Francisco NAACP membership list from 1929 and aligned the material with the California history/social science content standards.
One of the objectives is to show how to determine the validity of sources. When there is critical review, we gain new insights.
Park Ranger Jordan Yee demonstrated some of those new insights with an incisive discussion of the extensive work of Sargent Claude Johnson within the National Maritime Museum.
Yee referred to a Johnson interview with the Smithsonian Institution in 1960 in which the artist explained the Egyptian motif for the fresco at the front of the museum.
Within the symbols is a powerful commentary on the Strike of 1934 and more broadly on the struggle between freedom and violence.
We also found that Johnson and the artists who created the mosaic on the rear wall of the building intentionally walked off the job in protest of the use of the building as an exclusive restaurant instead of the public palace they had helped design.
There is a missing section of the mosaic which remains in testimony to the protest by the artists.
There are five more sessions of Come to the Water, along with three walking tours.
The schedule is:
Gold Rush Abolitionists walking tour–Sunday, Jan. 30 at 1 p.m. beginning at Leidesdorff and Sacramento Streets
Come to the Water: Teaching San Francisco Black History–Saturday, Feb. 5 at 1 p.m. at Marcus Books, 1712 Fillmore St. covering the period from 1870 to 1921;
Come to the Water: Teaching San Francisco Black History — Saturday, Feb. 12 at 1 p.m. at the San Francisco African-American Historical and Cultural Society, 762 Fulton St.
More Mo’ Than You Know walking tour — Sunday, Feb. 13 at 1 p.m. beginning at O’Farrell and Fillmore Sts.
Come to the Water: Teaching San Francisco Black History — Saturday, Feb. 19 at 1 p.m. at the southeast campus, City College of San Francisco, 1800 Oakdale Ave.
Southeast historic tour, Sunday, Feb. 20 at 1 p.m.
We urge you to follow the lead of the rangers and bring your own artifacts and photos to these sessions. As more people carry out the real intent of Carter G. Woodson and conduct historical research during the month he inspired, our understanding of history and the present will expand.