Long-time San Francisco civil rights activist and black community leader, Rev. Amos Brown, who also served on the board of directors from 1996 to 2001, recently sat down for an interview with the Chronicle – and he didn’t say a word about the city’s history, when it came to city treating blacks.
Brown is a pastor of the Third Baptist Church in the Fillmore District and has seen the area transform since much of it was razed as part of redevelopment in the mid-1960s. It was not until the 1980s that many of the buildings were replaced, and by then much of the black community that had made the place the Harlem of the West had left.
Before Brown became a Church pastor in 1976, Brown was a youth activist in Mississippi and met Medgar Evers at the age of 14. At 15, in 1956, Brown formed the first NAACP youth council in Jackson, MS, and was later arrested along with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during a lunch hour sit-in in Atlanta.
Brown says he doesn’t believe in bitterness and that he believes in moving forward. But there is no doubt that there is intergenerational bitterness over the atrocities and displacement that “urban renewal” wreaked havoc in the Fillmore.
When asked in the interview whether he “believes”[s] that the Bay Area is a safe haven for blacks and other colored people, ”Brown replies quickly with“ no ”.
“The Bay Area, and San Francisco in particular, lived a lie,” says Brown. “The city doesn’t deserve the brand and image it has as liberal and progressive. The only thing that San Francisco is liberal and progressive is sex. That’s it. And there should be no restrictions on how people express their sexuality. But there is a problem for black people getting a good education in San Francisco. [And] Since 1970 we have lost black people who were driven out of this city. “
As KQED explained in an article last year about the disappearance of the Fillmore Jazz District, 10% of the population of San Francisco identified themselves as black in the 1970s (the same was true according to the 1960 US census). The black population is now half the size of the 2019 census data, which found that 5.2% of the city was black.
Writer James Baldwin famously referred to “urban renewal” as “Negro removal,” and that is exactly what happened with the refurbishment of the Fillmore. Baldwin was the focus of a 1963 KQED-produced documentary in which he visited San Francisco.
And in those days leading up to the Summer of Love and SF’s newfound reputation as a magnet for flower children and antiwar activism, Baldwin reiterated some of what Rev. Amos Brown is still saying.
“I can imagine that it is easy for any white man walking through San Francisco to imagine that everything is at peace,” said Baldwin. “Because it certainly looks that way on the surface. You also have the legend of San Francisco, which is that it’s cosmopolitan and forward-thinking.” [city]. But it’s a different American city. “
Brown’s interview with the Chronicle is part of a series published in the Hearst family of publications, which coincides with the Juneteenth. “Lift Every Voice connects young black journalists with black elders in their communities to celebrate and learn from their life experiences – and deepen connections with the past to position us all for a better future.”
Photo: Library of Congress