The California adoption of the 13th Amendment has the signature of every member of the State Senate and Assembly in 1865. It had been the first change to the Constitution since 1804. Even the California legislators who voted against the resolution knew it was the most important vote they would ever cast.
In that same manner, Supervisor Malia Cohen made sure all of her fellow legislators joined Supervisors London Breed and David Chiu as co -sponsors of Resolution 140712 on the use of city right of way for the West’s first African American Freedom Trail. She wanted to underscore the importance of what Dr. Amos C. Brown had said at Sunday’s NAACP meeting is “a really big deal.”
Brown was conducting the meeting inside Third Baptist Church in a building where W.EB. DuBois, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Paul Robeson have spoken to a congregation founded in 1852. Yet the building is not a landmark. It had to stick in his craw that his home state of Mississippi, where he headed the NAACP Youth Division in the 1950s and watched friends like Emmitt Till martyred, has an African American Freedom Trail, while San Francisco had conspicuously ignored the role of Third Baptist and four other 1852 era churches and lodges in the Underground Railroad and every human rights issue since then.
The omission has been deepseated. The 1965 photo shows the United San Francisco Freedom Movement calling for the reuse of the Old Mint at Fifth and Mission for a black history center.
As the vote approached, a group of supporters gathered in Supervisor Cohen’s office. We had marshalled top scholars like UC-Santa Barbara’s Douglas Daniels, UCLA’s Alva Stevenson, Stanford’s Bill Gould and Georgia State’s Joyce King along with the historian member of the State Historical Resources Commission, Rick Moss.
On hand was school board president Sandra Fewer, Presidio education coordinator Ranger Rik Penn, publisher/editor team of Gerald and Valerie Johnson, PACT executive director Derek Toliver, filmmaker Kevin Epps, the brand new pastor of El Bethel Baptist Church and Planet Fillmore’s Lance Burton.
Mawuli Tugbenyoh, legislative aide to Supervisor Malia Cohen, meets with Derek Toliver, CEO of PACT Inc., Small Business Exchange editor Valerie Voorhees, myself, SBE publisher Gerald Johnson, filmmaker Kevin Epps and Ranger Rik Penn from the Presidio in a 1901 uniform the Buffalo Soldiers would have worn while escorting President Teddy Roosevelt prior to vote on the African American Freedom Trail resolution.Lance Burton photo.
We watched as Supervisor Cohen drew on that history in remarks that evoked the shrewdness of Mary Ellen Pleasant, the presence of Elouise Westbrook, the attention to process of Mary Helen Rogers and the passion of Maya Angelou.
Then she welcomed her colleagues to join her, with the subtlety of Stagecoach Mary Fields, and waited until each came aboard to approve the measure unanimously.
Due to an uncharacteristically short agenda, it would be the last item before adjournment.
It was poetry in politics.