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Reverend Hannibal Williams
Community Organizer

Reverend Hannibal Williams
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Video Credit: KQED

Hannibal Williams
watch the movie (500k)

Footage Credit: KRON

On Becoming a Community Leader

At the time, I hadn't the faintest idea that being a leader, that there was anything like that in my character or in my abilities. In the process of working with my pastor, he got me involved in what we call liberal church work. There was no WACO (Western Addition Community Organization) at that time but there was a meeting of concerned people, mostly homeowners, and low-rent housing types and welfare recipients. I was sitting there in the meeting and had never opened my mouth in public in my life. I listened to them and their complaints. I don't know where I got a rapport with them but I felt empathy and I got up and began to speak. In embracing their cause and speaking out about it, I suddenly became a charismatic leader right out of the clear, blue sky. They liked the way I spoke and I got drafted into the job. Everywhere we went from then on people said, "We want Hannibal to be our spokesman."

On Taking on the Redevelopment Agency

We thought we could win. I had a treatise that talked about the possibility of poor people organizing as though they were a union, and as a union that could go on strike, that could picket places, and that could demand of other labor unions that they respect our picket line. We had this idea behind our organizing. We sued them and we won. We didn't win an all-out victory but we stopped two parts of the process: we stopped demolition and we stopped the acquisition of homes. It didn't give us an absolute right to stop them but it did give us consultative rights. We slowed the agency down, but in the end, Urban Renewal became what we feared it would: it became Black Removal.



Justin Herman of the Redevelopment Agency
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Photo Credit: KQED


On African Americans and the Redevelopment Agency

We thought that anybody who went to work for the agency was the enemy. The agency started out with practically no black employees. The longer we fought them, the more blacks they hired. So we were instrumental in creating all kinds of job opportunities, upwardly mobile opportunities, for black people. I could name person after person who went to work for that agency, who rose up through the ranks. I crossed over as a Redevelopment Agency Commissioner. I had endorsed Moscone and he turned around and named me commissioner. One of the reasons that I served one term, and one term only, on the Redevelopment Agency is that I became a spokesman for the interests of the people. I was a voice in the wilderness. So when Moscone was reappointing folk, he didn't reappoint me.

Jim Jones
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Photo Credit: KRON

On Jim Jones and the Guyana Tragedy

The times were right to produce a man like Jim Jones. The circumstances of a community that is broken up, when the relationships that bind people together fall apart, the time is always right for a religious scoundrel to take advantage of our credibility. Justin Herman literally destroyed the neighborhood and in the process he made the neighborhood ripe for anybody with any kind of solution. People were desperate for solutions, something to follow. Jim Jones was another solution. He had a charismatic personality that won the hearts and souls of people. And people followed him to hell. That's where Jim Jones went. That's where he took the people who followed him.

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