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Tom Fleming
Editor & Columnist
The Sun-Reporter
Former Fillmore Resident

Tom Fleming
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Video Credit: KQED 1999

 

Jack's Tavern napkin
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Photo Credit: Public Domain

On Moving to San Francisco

When I finished high school in Chico in 1926, I came down here because I was tired of shining shoes and washing windows. That's about all the work there was for black people up there. There were very few blacks on Fillmore Street then. The first black place that became well-known was Jack's Tavern, that opened right around 1938. White San Francisco discovered they could hear very good jazz there. They started coming out in large numbers. And, of course, not too long after that Pearl Harbor occurred, and they needed a lot of war workers. Then the blacks started pouring in here. In 1940, the black population of San Francisco was less than 5,000. There were actually more blacks living in Berkeley and Oakland than in San Francisco.

On Former Mayor Roger Lapham

He called a press conference, as the mayors always do, and I went there for the Sun-Reporter. I met the mayor and he pulled me aside. He said, "Mr. Fleming, how long do you think these colored people are going to be here?" And I said, "Mr. Mayor, you know how permanent the Golden Gate Bridge is out there?" He said, "Yes." "Well," I said, "the black population is just as permanent because we don't need a passport to come here. We're American citizens. And San Francisco may as well prepare itself to find jobs and housing for them, because they aren't going back down south. They can get more money here than picking cotton in the fields."

 

Fillmore restaurant
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Photo Credit: KQED

 

Fillmore neighborhood
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Photo Credit: KRON

On Urban Renewal

A lot of blacks had bought houses out there. Some of those houses were really run down, but they could have selected some of those places to work on and they would have been in good shape for another forty years. We felt that since blacks moved into the core areas of all the big cities in the country, that this was the government's scheme to get them out of the core areas. That's basically how we felt because it wasn't only happening in San Francisco. It was happening all over the United States. We weren't the only ones to call Urban Renewal, "Black Removal." They were calling it the same thing back in New York, Chicago, and Kansas City; all the other places they were doing it.

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