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Reverend Wilbur Hamilton
Executive Director
San Francisco Redevelopment Agency
1977-1987

Reverend Wilbur Hamilton
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Video Credit: KQED 1999

 

Hamilton's Father's Church
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Photo Credit: Tony Hurd

On Demolishing the Church His Father Built

Around 1942, my father bought a church that had been vacated by the Japanese community. If you run the clock years ahead, I became the director of the program that is dealing with this whole community. I know every building, every alley, and each one of them has some history and significance for me

I had to actually acquire my dad's church when he moved from that building. He moved from 1760 to 1540 Post Street where he bought land and built a new church. I had the responsibility to negotiate the acquisition of my dad's church and to demolish that building. Now I had a building on my hands that was being defended not by the congregation but by a group of people who felt the building should be preserved because of the murals on the wall. I contacted Aaron Miller, the muralist, who astounded me when he said, that when the church is demolished, the murals ought to be destroyed. I had misgivings about demolishing the first church and when the demolition occurred I went through that site and retrieved a number of old copper items that I had refinished. I have them now in my home as mementos from that church.

On Being Recruited by Justin Herman

Justin was quite a man, a most unusual fellow, a bright man, and a visionary. He was one of the two or three best urban renewal directors in the country in terms of his ability to see a vision for what renewal could do. But he did not understand the downsides of it in terms of its impact on people. Justin Herman had disagreed violently in public meetings over a number of policy matters. The agency was having great problems with WACO, the Western Addition Community Organization, established by Mary Rogers and Dr. Hannibal Williams.

What Justin did was he created a public meeting filled with African Americans from the Western Addition. Everybody who was anybody from the Western Addition was in that room. Then he threw down the gauntlet and took some kind of totally inane and unconscionable position and I was on him quickly with force and anger. Justin stood up in his chair and bellowed at me, "If you're so damned dissatisfied with what's going on, why don't you come out to the Western Addition and run the program?" Now here I am surrounded by all of my colleagues, my constituency if you will, so I said, "You've got a deal." And I became the director of A2.

 

 

Wilbur Hamilton
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Photo Credit: San Francisco Redevelopment Archives

 

 

Dr. Hannibal Williams
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Photo Credit: KRON

On First Meeting Dr. Hannibal Williams

Dr. Williams appeared in the community as an activist. At that time, he was active out at San Francisco State University. He was active in the Black Students Union and he immediately became a memorable entity in the movement against Redevelopment. He saw it as the destruction of the community, the lack of self-determination, and all those issues that were socially alive at the time. I met him in front of a bulldozer. I was called to a construction site where he was standing in front of a bulldozer. He was just adamant, "I am not leaving and you will not do any improvements on this site. It's the wrong housing and the wrong place and you destroyed our community. This job will not go forward." And that was my initial introduction to Dr. Williams. As the chairman of WACO, he berated me and named me as an enemy. We did develop, at least, a healthy respect for one another, and then he disappeared. He was gone for a couple of years. The last thing that one would have expected of him was that he had a personal religious experience. He had gone away to seminary and had returned as Dr. Williams. We became lifetime friends. He ended up as a commissioner for the agency. I officiated at his marriage, I dedicated his church, and we have been friends a long, long time. Now he is the assistant to me in this church.

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