When I arrived
in California in August of 1951, the first place I lived was in
the Western Addition at 1028 Oak Street near Divisadero. Every morning
I would walk in a different direction from the house. I wandered
all over the city, but particularly all over the Western Addition.
You can imagine a little kid from Minneola, Texas seeing these incredible
structures: these two or three story Victorians, the magnificent
hillsides with these rows of houses. It was something unusual and
magical. I thought every street was a bridge when you looked at
them at night; they were so well-lighted. It looked like a span
on a bridge. That's what it looked like to me.
On the Impact
of Redevelopment on the Fillmore
was devastated. The churches began to lose populations. The black
businesses, which were once wonderful and productive, were totally
destroyed. The entertainment world for African Americans virtually
ceased to exist in San Francisco. It was a devastating blow to African
Americans in San Francisco, a blow from which we, frankly, have
never really recovered. There is no true African American community
comparable to what it was in the Fillmore. This great life, that
was comparable to the Harlem Renaissance, was destroyed by the redevelopment
process in the Fillmore.
It was a black
community from about Bush to Fulton Street on Fillmore. There were
many black barber shops. There were barbecue pits all over the place.
There were stores that were as interesting and important as the
ones in Union Square except they carried goods that primarily blacks
would purchase and use. The banks had black tellers in them. The
bars were basically owned and operated by black people. You had
the Texas Playhouse, the Blue Mirror, the Booker T. Washington Hotel,
the Virginia and Kansas City Hickory Pits, the Big Glass, Jimbo's
Joint. You had places where black people gathered no matter where
they resided in San Francisco. That was what Fillmore Street was
like in those days.