One of the most anticipated books in recent years will be the autobiography of Raphael V. Taliaferro, whose rise from unassuming beginnings in San Francisco’s Hunters Point neighborhood speaks volumes about the limitness potential within all human beings.
Ray Taliaferro, as a generation of radio listeners along the West Coast have known, dominated late night radio like few in the industry from KGO-AM in San Francisco.
But before he even picked up a microphone, Taliaferro was already a star in music and civil rights. He is among the pioneers featured in Students and Scholars Marching for Civil Rights: the 50th anniversary of the United San Francisco Civil Rights Movement, an exhibition with a public opening on Saturday, Aug. 24 at the Holiday Inn-Civic Center at 1 p.m. in the 50 on 8 Lounge at 50 8th St.
Despite the eloquence Taliaferro became known for, he actually stuttered as a child and was painfully shy.
By his teen years, his virtuosity as a pianist had led Rev. F.D. Haynes to name him as the minister of music at the century-old Third Baptist Church. There, he met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who requested Taliaferro play specific music when he appeared at Third Baptist and that Taliaferro lead a mass choir performance for an SCLC fundraiser at the Cow Palace arena.
In 1963, Taliaferro was the public relations chair for the San Francisco NAACP, led by Dr. T. Nathaniel Burbridge. The NAACP was one of four militant chapters in the country, joining forces with the local chapter of CORE and the Ad Hoc Committee to form the United San Francisco Freedom Movement. Each group took leadership on a stage of the campaign to open jobs.
The NAACP was the spear for the integration of the auto dealerships along Van Ness Avenue, known as Auto Row. It was Taliaferro who made the announcement of an agreement which averted mass demonstrations in 13 cities to a crowd which filled the whole avenue.
But that same year, he was conducting the Third Baptist choir in a rendition of Handel’s Messiah with the San Francisco Symphony (see picture of Taliaferro conducting the Symphony and choir above), which only a few years earlier had hired its first black performer.
Musical talent was common among the principals of the movement. Other leaders included jazz musicians saxophonist John Handy and pianist Tamam Tracy Moncur.
For contemporary observers who write off children from neighborhoods like Hunters Point, Taliaferro’s example instead points out what they can do when they have opportunities.
For 16 years, he led the S.F. Art Commission, beginning the policy of requiring public art on major construction around the city, and was a co-founder of the National Association of Black Journalists.
Personally, he was the source who told me about Queen Calafia as the source for the name of California, leading to my first book, Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California.