Plans - Harlem Renaissance
The Hidden Cities of San Francisco
The Harlem of the West
DOWNLOADABLE FILE (see PDF Instructions)
- U.S. History
- African American
- Ethnic Literature
To the residents who called it home in the 1940s and 50s, San Francisco's
Fillmore district was a vital center of African American social, economic
and cultural life. How did this once mostly Japanese American neighborhood
become a center of Black life? How was the Fillmore district like
Harlem during its renaissance 30 years earlier, and how was it unique?
What latent tensions threatened to end the heyday of the Fillmore
district and displace its thriving community? [Note: This lesson assumes
some prior knowledge of the Harlem Renaissance.]
MATERIALS & TIME
FOCUS FOR VIEWING
"HARLEM DANCE HALL"
"I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS"
African Americans arrive from the South and Midwest for jobs to
support the war effort, taking up residence in the Fillmore after
Japanese Americans are forcibly evacuated.
Labelled "slums" by city officials and targeted for
urban renewal, the Fillmore experiences a renaissance of African
American culture in the late 40s-50s.
will explain how wartime factory employment created new job opportunities
for women and minorities. [HSS Gr. 11, St.6]
will explore the roots of cultural life in the Fillmore, comparing
and contrasting with Harlem in the 1920s and their own neighborhoods.
[HSS Gr. 11 St. 11, LA St. 1, 2 and St.5]
- The Fillmore,
part 4 of The Neighborhoods of San Francisco
- "I Know
Why the Caged Bird Sings," by Maya Angelou (Ch. 27)
A Dream Deferred" ""Good Morning," and "Harlem
Dance Hall" by Langston Hughes
- the World
class periods (60 min. each)
- Have students
recall the Harlem Renaissance and identify its dates. Read "Good
Morning" by Langston Hughes. What does the title suggest?
Discuss lines 14-19. What does "dusky sash across Manhattan"
mean? What hopes did new arrivals in Harlem bring with them? What
obstacles did they face "at the gate"?
Maya Angelou's autobiography "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings."
Explain that after growing up in the South, Angelou spent a brief
time in LA and Oakland before moving to San Francisco as a high
school student just before World War II. Read Chapter 27 (~5pages).
the location of the Fillmore district in San Francisco.
(as a class or in small groups, with each group reporting
one question back to the class): Who lived in the Fillmore
before and after the "revolution"? Find words that
Angelou uses to describe the contrasting cultures of the Japanese
and Black residents. In Angelou's view, how was life in San
Francisco different from life in the South for Blacks? How
did this influence the new Black residents' reaction to the
forced evacuation of Japanese Americans? What was life like
in Angelou's "Negro neighborhood" during the war?
What does Angelou mean when she says, "The air of collective
displacement ... tended to dissipate my own sense of not belonging.
In San Francisco, for the first time, I perceived myself as
part of something." What was her view on racism in San
Francisco at the time?
- Ask students
to call out places where people gather, formally or informally,
in their neighborhoods. (e.g. stores, clubs, churches, restaurants,
theaters, barber shops.)
- As they watch,
ask students to jot down all the places in the Fillmore where
Black residents got together and felt a sense of community.
the tape after segment 1.
Pause the tape
after segment 2.
Why did African Americans move to San Francisco in large numbers
in the early 1940s? What significant economic events preceded
World War II? What hopes do you think the new Fillmore residents
brought with them? (cf. Harlem)
Why did they move to the Fillmore? Who was there before them,
where did they go and why? (ref. Angelou)
- What gathering
places have been mentioned so far? What was the "main institution"
in the black community, and why do you think this was so? (church)
How did conditions change for blacks after the war ended? What
was the goal of the Housing Act of 1949? ("slum clearance")
Why was the Fillmore labeled a "slum" and why was nothing
done for ten years?
- Have students
pair up with a neighbor and compare their lists of all the places
(venues) where people gathered in the Fillmore. Add any they missed.
- Have students
imagine they are living in the Fillmore in the late '40s-50s.
With their partners, discuss where they would hang out and why.
Take 5 minutes to do a quick-write describing that place (club,
barber shop, roller skating, theater, etc.) and how it feels to
be there, using details from the video. Who else is there? What
are they wearing? What is the mood? Invite students to read their
- As a class,
discuss singer Sugar Pie DeSanto's statement, "We had nothing,
but we were happy." What did the Fillmore neighborhood give
its residents other than material goods? Who else liked to come
to the Fillmore and what drew them there? Interpret the short
poem "Harlem Dance Hall," by Langston Hughes in relation
to the Fillmore.
the validity of the nickname "the Harlem of the West."
What economic, political and cultural tensions did Harlem and
the Fillmore share? How do these conflicts give rise to an outburst
of cultural expression? How do the arts (music, poetry, etc.)
contribute to cultural identity?
- Read Langston
Hughes' "Harlem: What Happens to a Dream Deferred."
Why was Hughes afraid the "dream" would be deferred,
and what did he imagine the consequences might be? What forces
actually caused the end of the Harlem Renaissance? Predict the
forces that might have ended the cultural life of the Fillmore
in the 1950s. Have students write their own poem about their dreams
for their lives.
- Find artistic
expressions (art, music, literature, dance, film) of economic,
political and cultural tensions in society today. Discuss: Do
they see any "renaissances" in American culture today? If so,
where and what do they have in common with the Fillmore or Harlem?
What is different?
- Invite students
to create a piece that expresses tensions they experience in society.
Possibilities: poetry, drawing or painting, autobiographical essay,
music, editorial newspaper article, video documentary or drama.
- Have students
re-create a night in the Fillmore district in class. To prepare,
students should form groups based on their interest in one of
the following areas. Have students use the video, the Web, and
other primary sources.
Research the popular clubs and artists who played in the Fillmore
district in the 40s and/or 50s. What songs were popular? Find
a recording to play in class. www.amacord.com/fillmore/museum
Take notes on the segment of the video in which Willie Brown
describes the fashions of the times (0:32). Find photos from
the Fillmore in that era and print-out or make drawings. If
possible, find clothes from this era to model in class. What
did these fashions represent to the men and women who wore
Using Maya Angelou's text as a guide, research the popular
foods of the Fillmore district. What were the cultural origins
of this food? If possible, buy or make a popular dish.
& GAMBLING: Research the games people played for fun.
What did they gamble for? What did Carlton Goodlett win gambling
and from whom?
The Black Press:
- Listen and
transcribe the lyrics to "San Francisco Blues" (on the
video) or find the lyrics on the web. What do the lyrics reveal
about life for African Americans in San Francisco at the time?
- Have students
interpret the lyrics of a song that's popular today; in 50 years,
what will people think about the people who wrote and listened
- Have students
compose their own lyrics to express feelings about their own neighborhoods.
- Watch the
video segments of Thomas Fleming recounting the San Francisco
mayor's assumption after World War II about Black workers leaving
(0:22) and Carlton Goodlett's statement about the importance of
neighborhood input (0:24). What roles did these men have in the
community? What issues did they care about?
the friendship between these two men and the origin of the Sun-Reporter
(formerly The Reporter) at www.sfmuseum.org/sunreporter/fleming.html.
What was the importance of a Black-owned
and run newspaper? Identify a newspaper that serves your community
and evaluate its role.
- Watch "Soldiers
Without Swords, the Story of the Black Press" airing
February 28, 2000 at 10:30am on KQED TV9.
- Review students'
quick-writes and participation in class discussion.
students' written notes and presentations in the post-viewing
activities and/or extension activities.
- Post or have
students perform their creative work.
This lesson addresses the following national content standards found in the McRel Standards Database: www.mcrel.org/standards-benchmarks.
United States History:
Era 8 Ð The great Depression and World War II
25. Understands the causes and course of World War II, the character of the war at home and abroad, and its reshaping of the U.S. role in world affairs.
31. Understands economic, social and cultural developments in the contemporary United States.
1. Understands ideas about civic life, politics and government.
11. Understands the role of diversity in American life and the importance of shared values, political beliefs and civic beliefs in an increasingly diverse American society.
5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process.
6. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary texts.
9. Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media.
Morning, by Langston Hughes
I was born here, he said,
watched Harlem grow
until the colored folks spread from river to river
the middle of Manhattan
out of Penn Station
dark tenth of a nation,
planes from Puerto Rico,
and holds of boats, chico,
Cuba Haiti Jamaica,
in buses marked New York
from Georgia Florida Louisiana
to Harlem Brooklyn the Bronx
but most of all to Harlem
sash across Manhattan
I've seen them come dark
but the trains are late.
The gates are open
at each gate.
to a dream deferred?
ain't you heard?
to a dream deferred?
Does it dry
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just
like a heavy load.
Or does it
It had no dignity
But when the band began to play,
Suddenly the earth was there,
And like a
wave the floor
That had no dignity before!
Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
In the early
months of World War II, San Francisco's Fillmore district, or the
Western Addition, experienced a visible revolution. On the surface
it appeared to be totally peaceful and almost a refutation of the
term "revolution." The Yakamoto Sea Food Market quietly
became Sammy's Shoe Shine Parlor and Smoke Shop. Yashigira's Hardware
metamorphosed into La Salon de Beauté owned by Miss Clorinda
Jackson. The Japanese shops which sold products to Nisei customers
were taken over by enterprising Negro businessmen, and in less than
a year became permanent homes away from home for the newly arrived
Southern Blacks. Where the odors of tempura, raw fish and cha had
dominated, the aroma of chitlings, greens and ham hocks now prevailed.
The Asian population dwindled before my eyes. I was unable to tell
the Japanese from the Chinese and as yet found no real difference
in the national origin of such sounds as Ching and Chan or Moto
As the Japanese
disappeared, soundlessly and without protest, the Negroes entered
with their loud jukeboxes, their just-released animosities and the
relief of escape from Southern bonds. The Japanese area became San
Francisco's Harlem in a matter of months.
A person unaware
of all the factors that make up oppression might have expected sympathy
or even support from the Negro newcomers for the dislodged Japanese.
Especially in view of the fact that they (the Blacks) had themselves
undergone concentration-camp living for centuries in slavery's plantations
and later in sharecroppers' cabins. But the sensations of common
relationship were missing.
The Black newcomer
had been recruited on the desiccated farm lands of Georgia.........
The chance to live in two- or three-story apartment buildings (which
became instant slums), and to earn two- and even three-figured weekly
checks, was blinding. For the first time he could think of himself
as a Boss, a Spender. ... The shipyards and ammunition plants brought
to booming life by the war let him know that he was needed and even
appreciated. A completely alien yet very pleasant position for him
for his indifference to the Japanese removal was more subtle....
The Japanese were not whitefolks.
No member of
my family and none of the family friends ever mentioned the absent
Japanese. It was as if they had never owned or lived in the houses
we inhabited. On Post Street, where our house was, the hill skidded
slowly down to Fillmore, the market heart of our district. In the
two short blocks before it reached its destination, the street housed
two day-and-night restaurants, two gambling houses, plus diners,
shoeshine shops, beauty salons, barber shops, and at least four
churches. To fully grasp the never-ending activity in San Francisco's
Negro neighborhood during the war, one need only know that the two
blocks described were side streets that were duplicated many times
over in the eight- to ten-square-block area.
would have sworn on the Golden Gate Bridge that racism was missing
from the heart of their air-conditioned city. But they would have
been sadly mistaken.
to the top