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The African American Arts and Cultural District (the “District”) within the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood is a robust, economically vital area that adds to the rich cultural tapestry of San Francisco. In establishing the District, the City acknowledges the importance of recognizing the neighborhood’s history and preserving the legacy and traditions uniquely born in the Bayview Hunters Point. The District will recognize and memorialize the unheralded African American experience in San Francisco, and will help to preserve and increase the depth and impact of the African American legacy in the City.
Bayview Hunters Point, more than any other neighborhood in San Francisco, reflects the transformational journey of southern Blacks and their contributions to the City. In 1940, San Francisco’s Black population was less than 1%. Seeking opportunity in the early years of World War II, African Americans moved to San Francisco in record numbers, filling key jobs at the shipyards.
Many found their first employment opportunities at the bustling Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. By the end of the war, San Francisco’s African American population had increased by 660%, and by 1950, African Americans made up about 25% of the population in the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood. This neighborhood was one of the City’s earliest socially and ethnically integrated neighborhoods after the Jim Crow era, 1877-1965, and served as the launch pad for the integration of other neighborhoods in the City. The influence of African Americans from this neighborhood helped San Francisco move beyond a legacy of ethnic isolation and social barriers.
After the war, African Americans faced significant unemployment and discrimination from white residents and businesses, and local government agencies. By the 1960s, over half of Bayview Hunters Point residents were African American; this transformation was met with many challenges and resistance. The San Francisco Housing Authority assumed responsibility for the homes constructed by the Navy in Bayview Hunters Point. Shortly thereafter, this area experienced a downward spiral in living conditions and economic opportunity through lack of investment. Political, social, and economic stressors pressured the neighborhood in subsequent years and threatened to unravel the neighborhood’s fabric. These conditions did not break the spirit of the residents. It strengthened the resolve of these residents as they fought and succeeded in battles for access, representation, and accountability.
By the 1970s, after the closing of the Shipyard, the poverty rate in Bayview Hunters Point was 20%, and the systemic mishandling of public housing made bad situations worse. Despite worsening conditions, in the 1980's, African Americans still comprised nearly 80% of the population of Bayview Hunters Point, and the neighborhood retained one of the City’s highest rates of homeownership. A cohort of African American leaders formed over time and demanded change, better housing and living conditions, quality schools, open spaces, and access to jobs. Those community leaders continue to shape the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood to this day.
The ongoing out-migration of African Americans who once lived in San Francisco has shrunk the City’s African American population from its highest point of 13.4% in 1970, to 6.1% in 2010, and an estimated 4% in 2018. In spite of this decline, African American culture remains a distinct gem in the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood. The neighborhood is socioeconomically diverse and inclusive. With African American residents making up 28% of the neighborhood, it still boasts the highest concentration of African Americans within San Francisco. There is still a strong presence of African American culture as is evidenced by business owners, religious congregations, public arts, and native musicians.
This culture reflects a long history. The neighborhood’s cultural and artistic traditions began to take root well before the neighborhood shifted demographically. The southern migrants came with traditions, history, and aspirations handed down from one generation to the next. Over time, businesses along 3rd Street began to slowly change and become a reflection of the neighborhood. Community-based organizations formed to address specific unmet needs and demand investments that benefited the neighborhood. The result was an incredible blend of southern Black traditions with a distinctive West Coast vibe, with community locales such as the Bayview Community Center, Sam Jordan’s Bar, the Jazz Room, and the Bayview Opera House, that are now historic institutions. Today, the influence of African Americans can be found throughout the neighborhood. Community buildings, streets, parks and open space, and art honor African American leaders and the African American experience.
The legacy of African Americans in Bayview Hunters Point is now in jeopardy. As the African American population decreases, approaching pre-World War II levels, community institutions and the neighborhood culture are threatened. The establishment of the District aims to help retain Bayview Hunters Point institutional memory for this and future generations, and to ensure that the legacy and transformative contributions of African Americans is not forgotten or overwritten.
The story of the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood continues to unfold and this story of transformation must be preserved while looking to the future. As the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard is transformed into a dynamic new neighborhood, San Francisco must not overlook the contributions of those who transformed the neighborhood in the past. To that end, the District will serve to (1) acknowledge the importance of the neighborhood’s history, (2) preserve the legacy, cultural assets, arts, and traditions uniquely born in Bayview Hunters Point, (3) create a community-led and transparent initiative, driven by Bayview Hunters Point stakeholders, (4) incubate homegrown entrepreneurship and artistic expressions, and (5) create an environment susceptible to sustainable businesses and economic vitality to improve quality of life for all residents.
(Added by Ord. 316-18, File No. 181080, App. 12/21/2018, Eff. 1/21/2019)