The 1858 Black Exodus

Mifflin Wistar Gibbs: founded the first black newspaper in California, joined hundreds of his peers in leaving San Francisco to find his fortune in Canada, became the first black man to join the Victoria city council and eventually returned to the US where he served as the first elected African American municipal judge in the country.

This week, San Franciscans will observe the 150th anniversary of an exodus of hundreds of free black Californians to Canada in order to escape an increasingly racist state government and fugitive slave laws that endangered their lives and to join a more welcoming community in Victoria, British Columbia. A list of commemorative events is available here. Learn more about African American civil rights struggles during the gold rush era at sfmuseum.org.


A brief history of yuppies. And Berkeley.

A little bit of Berkeley history in last week's East Bay Express. Best revelation: the word "yuppie" was originally coined to describe Berkeley's affluent baby boomer class.


Video of the Day

Tonight, in an invitation-only ceremony in San Francisco, two Ecuadorian activists will be receiving the Goldman Environmental Prize for their work fighting ChevronTexico, a company that has caused enormous environmental damage in the Amazon. Here is a little about the prizewinners - Pablo Fajardo Mendoza and Luis Yanza. Chevron (a Bay Area-based company) went to into attack mode and publicly criticized the winners. Here’s Amazon Watch’s public rebuttal:

Thanks Betho for the link!


Back to the Bay - Old News Reviews

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From the Earth Sciences Library at UC Berkeley.

The Center for Land Use Interpretation folks are like rangers of our post-urban and industrial world. Their website offers pointers for modern explorers looking to find the arteries and veins, some still in use, some abandoned, where our fuel, waste, and basic resources have traveled in and out of our communities. Their book, Back to the Bay Exploring the Margins of the San Francisco Bay Region maps the San Francisco, San Pablo, and Suison Bays, using short descriptions and ground level and aerial photos to follow the line where the water meets the land. As you read you'll learn quickly that our coastal area is dominated by a surprising number of sewage treatment plants, salt harvesting ponds, oil refineries, pit mines, and more sewage treatment plants. I found myself a little heartbroken by the amount of shit (and more toxic chemicals) that we pour into our bay from every direction. But the book also suggests the transformation possible in the many places where former toxic industries like explosive and pesticide production have disappeared and the land is turning back into marshes and wilds. (Of course that transformation is bittersweet as well – the jobs that went with those industries have disappeared too, leaving a huge community of underemployed poor people here in the Bay Area. And those toxic industries haven't disappeared – they've simply moved to places in the world with less environmental regulation.)

In any case, this book (which was apparently created to accompany an exhibit at the Yerba Buena Center) is an excellent guide to the parts of the Bay Area that hide in plain view. Keep it in your glove compartment or carry it in your panniers.


Emory Douglas - Old News Reviews

Emory Douglas' perspective on Gerald Ford

It's day 4 of the Week of Book Reviews, and today I'm talking about Black Panther : The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas. The essays are good reading for someone new to Black Panther Party history and the interview with Douglas near the end provides insight into his personal story. Mostly this book provides beautiful, large, full-color reproductions of the artwork Douglas produced for the Black Panther Party newspaper. To get a sense of his stlye, you can view a bunch of the posters on the website associated with the MOCA exhibit of his work.


More Lyle

And on the subject of Erick Lyle, he's written an overview of utopian and dystopian literature about San Francisco for this week's Bay Guardian.

Thanks Leah for the heads up!

Scam #5 - Old News Reviews

Five years have passed since our country started its latest war on Iraq. This issue of Erick Lyle's ongoing zine focuses mostly on his adventures in the time around the early bombings and I couldn't help reading it as a historical piece. Total shutdown of San Francisco's financial district seems like a distant memory if not fantasy now. As distant as they felt to staid old me, I love reading Lyle's stories of breaking locks, starting squats, graffiting, and generally fucking shit up. (My favorite old Scam was when he handed out fake Starbucks coupons providing free lattes to the people of San Francisco.) This issue also includes interviews with local mural and graffiti artists and with the founder of the Coalition on Homelessness. Lyle has a "real" book coming out from Soft Skull Press called On the Lower Frequencies: A Secret History of the City. Until then, I'm not sure where to recommend you look for back issues of Scam. I found mine at the Piedmont branch of the Oakland Library.

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Photo of Erick Lyle's Reagan memorial from Gordonzola


The Movement and the Moment – Old News Reviews


I got an email a couple months ago from Mary Uyematsu Kao, the Publications Coordinator at the UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press. She wasn't writing me in any professional capacity, but instead to share her admiration for Ericka Huggins who I'd written about last summer. We got to talking and she mentioned she'd designed a book she thought I'd be interested in, and then she was nice enough to send me a copy. I was interested. Asian Americans: The Movement and the Moment, Edited by Steve Louie and Glenn Omatsu is packed with ephemera of the sixties and seventies Asian American activist scenes: a Yuri Kochiyama quote, Nancy Hom posters, Corky Lee photos, poems, song lyrics, movement newspapers. In between the pictures and quotes are reflective essays on the Third World Strike, the I-Hotel struggle, the Queer Asian movement, and lots, lots more. You can flip through for a quick look or you can settle in for a good long read. Thanks Mary! I love it!



I love Oakland Geology blog.

Arcadia Publishing Photo Books - Old News Reviews


Today through Friday I'm going to post a book review a day. That's only 5 book reviews so I think I can handle it. Instead of thick academic stuff I'm only reviewing photo books, zines, and coffee table books because sometimes that kind of thing is more fun. And for the hell of it I'm starting by reviewing a whole series: the Arcadia Publishing photo books. They're a sort of brilliant, hyper-local niche marketing concept: one photo book for each community, sub-culture, and era within a particular town or region. The photo reproduction is low-quality and the writing varies depending on the editor of each book, but they tend to pick solid, local historian/authors and the photos are priceless even if they're a little grainy.

Some likeable Bay Area centric titles include Oakland's Chinatown by local sweetheart Bill Wong, San Francisco State University by State's own archivist Meredith Eliassen, and The Pullman Porters and West Oakland by a roving pair of black history researchers. But there are dozens of other titles focused on the history of our towns' fire departments, movie theaters, sports teams and neighborhoods.



Thanks to WFMU I just discovered a great site called folkstreams. It houses short documentaries about American folk life - mostly the music but also the dances, rituals and work of the cultural groups, villages, and neighborhoods of North America. The films mostly have an anthropology department flavor with square and white, middle-class voiceovers, but I tend to think they're worth it. Here are some of their California focused offerings:

Pizza Pizza Daddy-O about Black girl playground chants.

Two Homes, One Heart about Sikh women living in Sacramento - mostly focusing on Punjabi traditional dance.

Cowboy Poets (OK, not California, but still Western and awesome).

Enjoy folks.


The Clash of '68

Demonstrator at Tlatelolco, Mexico City, October 2, 1968
from the El Universal archives

The Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley is hosting a little festival called The Clash of 68. Classic revolutionary films from the era as well as contemporary pieces reflecting on that radical time. The program includes the beautiful and inspiring Battle of Algiers and the depressing but pivotal Queimada! which is usually only available in its butchered North American cut.



At the corner of Sacramento and Ashby today.

Bay Area billboard observers will also be interested in the Billboard Liberation Front, the California Department of Corrections and Freeway Blogger.


More Suffling

Here's a mini follow up to that book review of Suffled How it Gush: It looks like Shon has a blog that elaborates on his Balkan ruminations. (Shon is so anti-self promoting that even when I emailed to tell him I loved his book he replied without mentioning the blog.) Shon's just set off to teach English to Roma folks in refugee camps in Kosovo, so I bet he'll have some interesting stuff to say in the coming months.


April History Carnival

This month’s History Carnival is up at The Vapour Trail. Lots of really awesome looking posts especially about women’s history are highlighted.

The next carnival will post on May Day right here at Bay Radical. You can submit stuff to me using the submission form and if you’ve got questions just email bayradical at gmail dot com.

San Francisco State on Strike

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San Francisco State lacks ivy and graying brick and doddering old Englishmen riding their bicycles to class or whatever it is that makes for a prestigious university. It is a working-class college by design and students are as likely to show up on the streetcar as they are to live on campus, just like in the 1960s. Its public school nature might explain why the student activism that was almost ubiquitous on campuses in the mid-1960s looked different at State than it did at schools filled with the children of the ruling class. Maybe the Sixties activism at State had a more lasting impact too. While college students around the country helped stop the Vietnam war, the current mire in Iraq leaves that victory a little hollow. But the demonstrations at State led to the formation of the country's first ethnic studies department – an institution that quickly spread to campuses around the country and is still a major feature of universities around the world. The classic Sixties student concerns were at State too. Anti-war students held marches and sit-ins at State. But anti-war protests were only a part of the picture.

State had innovated the general education requirement that students at most colleges now expect (or dread), but by 1965, State students were criticizing these general classes as irrelevant. They founded their own Experimental College – student-run seminars on topics like social change, avant-garde art and personal growth. After Steven Gaskin's Monday night class on mysticism, spirituality and etcetera outgrew its home at the Experimental College he brought his dozens of followers in a caravan of school buses to Tennessee where they founded the archetypical counterculture commune - The Farm. The trippy Experimental College people opened up thinking about what a college could be. They made student directed education a reality, which probably influenced the focus of the third and most lasting thread in State's student movement.

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That third thread was the increasing militancy among black, Latino, Asian-American, and indigenous student activists. Radical students of color, many who were involved in off-campus movement work, wanted curriculum that mattered to them. They wanted the college to offer something beyond the white, Western histories, art, music, and perspectives that dominated academics at the time. They wanted teachers who came from their own communities and meaningful access to education for the people of color who were not getting admission to the school in the first place. Students of color wanted a say in the programs that impacted them, and as such, a formerly white-run community tutoring program where mostly white State students worked with mostly black children in the Fillmore was one of the first campus organizations to have a total personnel and color changeover. Black tutors rejected the apparent paternalism of the liberal white tutors and stepped in to teach black kids themselves. On campus, students and progressive instructors pushed for Black Studies classes and got them, but only with part-time professors. Student leaders pushed for a recognized Black Studies department with full time black professors. They argued for broader admissions policies to allow poor black and brown kids access to the school.

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Mainstream white students started getting nervous. The campus newspaper, The Gater, printed a notice from their white editor stating that he had written to the Carnegie Corporation asking them to reverse their plans to fund off campus State programs including programs of the Black Student Union. This was 1967. Non-violent civil rights groups seemed irrelevant to a lot of young, black activists in San Francisco who were more likely to find inspiration from Malcolm X than Martin Luther King. The larger protest movement was taking on a militant flavor too. In this context, a few irate black students responded to the Gator editorial by beating the editor in question.

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From the SF State Library Strike Collection

The students involved in the beating were suspended, supporters demonstrated in their defense, campus organizing grew. Part of what made the SF State struggle special was that students resisted a dichotomous view of race as simply black and white. Filipino and Chicano students were as influential as Black students in forming the radical agendas of the moment. PACE, San Francisco State's Pilipino American student group may have been the first radical Filipino American organization in the country. PACE, the Latin American Students Organization, El Renacimiento, a Mexican American student organization and other ethnic-based student groups united under the banner of the Third World Liberation Front. Radical white students supported Third World students with their own demonstrations opposing the war and supporting the call for racial fairness and Ethnic Studies programming. By 1968 students around the country (and in Mexico, Germany, France, Japan, and elsewhere) were seizing university buildings in protest or for their own purposes. In March of 1968 the Third World Liberation Front took over the YMCA office at State.

The administration cracked down. Not just on students but also on their progressive teachers. Professor and activist Juan Martinez had been hired by the history department and also to direct a new program aimed at bringing more "minority" students to the campus. When in the spring of 1968 he helped bring several hundred Mexican and Pilipino American students to demand applications from the Dean of Admissions, he was told that he would not be re-hired in the fall. George Murray, a minister of education with the Black Panther Party, was hired to teach general ed English classes, but when he told an audience at Fresno State that, "we are slaves and the only way to become free is to kill all the slave masters", he was suspended. George Murray's suspension triggered a breaking point for student activists, and in November of 1968 students walked out of classes. Led by Black and Third World students and supported by the radical and mostly white Students for a Democratic Society, they created two lists of their strike terms (one from the Black Student Union and one from the Third World Liberation Front) that included the demand to re-hire George Murray, automatic admission for all Third World Students who applied to the school, and a creation of permanent Black Studies and Ethnic Studies departments with paid, full-time staff.

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From the San Francisco History Center

The administration panicked. The police were called in, in large numbers and clad in riot helmets. A series of college presidents resigned before S. I. Hayakawa, the Canadian-born Japanese-American professor was promoted to the position. (Hayakawa initially made a name for himself in Semantics and he wrote an important book which he hoped would serve as a critique of fascist propaganda. Apparently critiquing fascism lost its appeal – after State he served as a Republican in the US Senate and in the early '80s he founded US English, an English-only advocacy organization. I should also mention that for most of his career he was known for wearing a jaunty Tam-o-Shanter.)

From the San Francisco History Center

Hayakawa's first official act as president was shutting down the campus. If students insisted on walking out of class, then school would be closed to avoid the massive demonstrations. When school officially re-opened in early December (with sparse student attendance), Hayakawa confronted demonstrators who were broadcasting pro-strike messages from a soundtruck on the corner of 19th and Holloway. As the argument escalated the college president climbed on top of the protestors' truck to rip the wires out of its speakers. In return, someone pulled his tam off his head. In the hubbub Hayakawa apparently yelled ''You're fired!'' at author and State professor Kay Boyle, and she apparently replied by calling him 'Hayakawa Eichmann". The strike went on.

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From the San Francisco History Center

By early January of 1969, Hayakawa had banned all gatherings on the central campus and limited access for non-students. Picketers were required to remain on the perimeters of the property. But at this point the situation was uncontainable. The SF State local of the California Teachers Federation joined the strike demanding educational reform, removal of police from the campus, agreement to student demands, and a collective bargaining contract. When the San Francisco Superior Court ordered the teachers back to work the next day they refused.

Strike related protests happened frequently and on and off campus. Sympathetic City College of San Francisco students marched to State to express their solidarity. State students and supporters marched to City Hall. Across the bridge students at Oakland City College (now called Merritt) protested in support of the struggle. In January of 1969 Third World students at U.C. Berkeley started their own, related strike for Black and Ethnic Studies departments. Movements for Black and Ethnic Studies were growing at campuses in New York, New Jersey, Washington, Wisconsin, North Carolina, all over.

The strike went on. Lines of police occupied the campus all day like a military force. One freshman was injured when his homemade bomb blew up in his hands. Professional negotiators were called in. San Francisco's Mayor Alioto appointed a citizens committee to negotiate the strike. And finally in March, the Third World Liberation Front, the Black Students Union, and university administrators (not including Hayakawa) signed a compromise agreement: An ethnic studies department was established. The university pledged to admit hundreds of new black and third world students. In short, we won. We won at State and like dominos, universities around the country dropped their resistance to Ethnic Studies programs, hired more teachers of color, admitted more black and third world students. Community control seems a pretty abstract idea now, but classes and teachers that reflect our real experiences and lives are the lasting gift that San Francisco State strikers left us when they took control of their own education and their own institution. So thank you.

For more on the San Francisco State Strike:

PACE has a little youtube video about their history:

And here's a short documentary on the strike from SGTV:

State has a great archive of the strike. Some of it is online here. Check out their list of books on the strike too.

For a little first person story related to the strike check out Its About Time, a Black Panther Party commemorative website for an account of the related San Francisco Community College strike. Don’t miss the PDFed news articles from the time, linked at the bottom of the article.

Shaping San Francisco has another account, and another.

Finally, if you can stomach some annoying Marxist voiceover for the sake of some fantastic footage, California Newsreel's San Francisco State: On Strike is worth a watch. It includes some pretty ugly police brutality that I hadn't thought to anticipate when I watched it with my five year old.
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