San Francisco Bay Area Weekly Approaches 50

By Strupp, Joe | Editor & Publisher, July 2, 1994 | Go to article overview

San Francisco Bay Area Weekly Approaches 50


Strupp, Joe, Editor & Publisher


AS THE WEEKLY Sun-Reporter reaches 50 years of fighting racism, promoting black causes and giving African-American reporters a place to make their mark in the San Francisco Bay area, it's hard to believe it all started in a poker game.

According to newspaper folklore, publisher Carlton Goodlett won controlling interest in the weekly during a 1948 poker game with Frank Laurent, who owned what was then the Sun.

Goodlett, who operated a medical practice at the time in the city's predominantly black Fillmore District, later teamed up with a neighbor, Daniel Collins, to take over another black weekly, the Reporter. The Sun-Reporter was born.

"We've tried to provide a voice to a community often left out of City Hall, the White House and the Statehouse," Goodlett said recently during a celebration of his 80th birthday and the newspaper's 50th anniversary. "We have had the opportunity to make a difference for people."

Early on, the neighborhood tabloid gained a reputation as one of the few places where black businesses could afford to advertise and where black reporters were allowed to work.

"This place was the only place where we could be in the media," said Thomas Fleming, 86, who was been with the publication since its inception and still writes a weekly column. "I wanted to be a newspaperman, but because the Chronicle and Examiner discriminated, I couldn't go there."

Fleming, a former machinist at the Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard in the city's Bayview District, said that during the early days he would work at the shipyard at night and report for the newspaper in the daytime.

"We never had more than three people on the staff and we did well for the people we had," said Fleming. "We were well-read because the people at City Hall wanted to know what the black people were saying, but no one else was reporting it."

San Francisco television reporters Belva Davis, of KRON-TV, and Willie Monroe, of KGO-TV, both cut their journalistic teeth at the Sun-Reporter, which still has offices in the Fillmore District.

Monroe, who worked at the newspaper in 1971 and 1972, said he often argued with Goodlett about the front page.

"He always wanted to put the blood and guts on page one," said Monroe, now considered one of the most respected black journalists in the Bay Area. "I wanted more news on issues, but he always won out. He is a good newsman."

Fleming said black issues were essentially ignored during World War II and the post-war era, a time when the Sun-Reporter came into its own.

"There was a real need at the time to push issues for blacks out front," said Fleming. "We worked very closely with the NAACP, and a lot of policy makers came to us. They wanted us to push their views."

In a city known for promoting liberal issues, a growing gay political power and increased Asian and Hispanic populations, the black community -- that reaches 10% to 15% of the population -- has often been given a back seat, residents contend. The Sun-Reporter has usually been the only black voice.

The newspaper's political power first became evident in 1949, when Cecil Poole became San Francisco's first black district attorney after receiving the Sun-Reporter's endorsement. Today, Poole is a U.S. appeals court judge.

In the 1960s, the newspaper helped black candidate Terry Francois became the first African-American elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Since then, hundreds of candidates -- both black and white -- have entered the Sun-Reporter's offices, seeking endorsements.

"The newspaper takes each race on the merits of the candidate," said state Sen. Quentin Kopp, a white San Francisco legislator who credits his 1986 victory to a Sun-Reporter nod. "They also endorsed me for the Board of Supervisors on several occasions, much to the surprise of many. …

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