Africana Studies Department History: San Francisco State University

By T'Shaka, Oba | Journal of Pan African Studies, October 2012 | Go to article overview

Africana Studies Department History: San Francisco State University


T'Shaka, Oba, Journal of Pan African Studies


The Africana Studies Department at San Francisco State University (formerly San Francisco State College), formerly known as the Black Studies Department, developed out of the history of Blacks in San Francisco, the Bay Area, as well as the Southern Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power and Black Panther Movements, and the African Centered Movement. The history of African Americans in San Francisco and the Bay Area is also an outgrowth of the history of African people in the United States and throughout the world.

During the California Gold Rush, Blacks found themselves in California but outside of the gold rush economy and confined to domestic work, and to jobs as janitors, truck drivers, and bootblacks. By the 1870s, Blacks had secured an economic foothold in the hotel and restaurant industry in San Francisco. In the 1870s white hotel workers in San Francisco threatened to strike unless all Blacks were fired from their jobs in that industry. The hotel owners fired all of their Black employees, and it would not be until 1963 that Blacks would organize a jobs campaign in the hotel and restaurant industry during the San Francisco Civil Rights Movement, to secure jobs for Blacks lost in the 1870s.

Julian Richardson, co-owner of Marcus Bookstore, observed that although Blacks in San Francisco were confined to menial jobs prior to World War II, "Blacks had a flair in whatever jobs we performed downtown." In the thirties Joe Shrives was a doorman at a downtown hotel. The dignified way Joe carried himself on the job made wealthy whites "fight for his attention." Walter Sanford, an African American was hired as a janitor in City Hall, however, he never touched a broom. He served as the official greeter for many San Francisco mayors. He also became an investor in Trans Bay Savings and Loan. While the Black population in San Francisco was small prior to World War II, African Americans played a leading role in the City's development. William Leidersdorff, an African American, captained the first steamship to enter San Francisco Bay. He also built and owned the City's first hotel, while holding several key civic jobs including Treasurer of San Francisco. Anti-slavery activist, Mary Ellen Pleasant, was regarded as the Mother of Civil Rights; this courageous Black woman provided the financing for John Brown's armed uprising; she also used part of her wealth to free Blacks from slavery.

Don't Buy Where You Can't Work, Job Campaign

The Black population in San Francisco remained small until World War II. In 1910, there were 1,642 Blacks living in San Francisco, with the number increasing to 4,000 by 1940. During the war the Black population in San Francisco increased to 40,000. When the Japanese American population in California and San Francisco was placed in concentration camps, Blacks began moving into the Fillmore district and into the Western Addition. In a few cases, Blacks held onto Japanese property during their concentration camp internment, returning the property to Japanese ownership at the end of the war. As newly arrived occupants of the Fillmore, Blacks could not rent store space because whites controlled the property. In 1944, Chinese American merchants set up small businesses in the Fillmore, selling quality food at a cheaper price than the white merchants. This Chinese business strategy drove the white businesses of the Fillmore.

By 1946, Blacks could purchase goods in stores located in the Fillmore, (which also included Singer Sewing Machine Company and other downtown businesses) but they could not work in these stores. These conditions generated a "jobs movement" for Blacks in the Fillmore. In the 1930s, a Black Nationalist, Sufi Muhammad, had launched a "don't buy where you can't work" jobs campaign in Chicago's Black communities.

This campaign spread to Harlem in the 1930s under the leadership of Adam Clayton Powell. In 1946, the "don't buy where you can't work" job campaign spread to the Fillmore under the leadership of Charles Augustus. …

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