Saturday, November 17, 2007

People Made the BVHP Great

This is an excerpt from the Bayview's Historical Footprints exhibit created earlier this year. Stop by the Bayview Branch Library to see more about our neighborhood's history.

Families and Community Values in the Bayview Hunters Point Neighborhood

Even in the worst of times, the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood was grounded by strong family principles, and inspired by community leaders who stepped forward to create change. Early immigrants from China and Europe depended on their family members for survival, and understood that the struggle of one member was the concern of everyone in the family.

In the Black community, attuned to its history of families being torn apart by slavery, family loyalty was often fierce. In the 1940’s, facing racism and poverty in the South, black people came thousands of miles, often leaving loved ones behind as they searched for opportunity. Not surprisingly, they held close the “people” they had in the Bayview.

Women are “quiet” in the nation’s history books before contemporary times. But in the Bayview Hunters Point - while still undervalued relative to men - they were also the cornerstone of the family unit in the neighborhood’s working class and African American populations. They were respected moral leaders in the church. And they were visible community workers who were quick to find solutions while others complained.

Moease Curry exhibited that kind of strength, energy and insight. She was a nurse, teacher and mother; and she was an active member of every parent organization, church group, business alliance, and community group imaginable. When asked what she would like to see done in the community, she said, “I would like to see a place set up for young mothers to be able to take their children for child care during the day…enable the mothers to go to work….” The statement is not surprising today, but was visionary in 1965 when Mrs. Curry said it!

Moease Curry was in good company. Lola Carter was the first black counselor for the seven schools of Bayview Hunters point in the 1960’s. Ivory Smith was a poverty worker with the San Francisco Economic Opportunity Council. Essie Webb was a church volunteer, block organizer, and founding member of the CO-OP Supermarket.

And then there was “the big five,” women of tremendous character and energy who were credited with running the Hunters Point community: Julia Commer, Osceola Washington, Ruth Williams, Rosie Williams, and Elouise Westbrook. If one of those women sounds familiar, it just might be because there is a street or building named after her!

The men of the Bayview have left their marks, too. One of the most indelible names is that of Sam Jordan, a man who found fame as a boxer shortly after arriving in San Francisco in 1947 when he won a Golden Glove. In 1959, he opened Sam’s Personality Club (now “Sam Jordan’s”) on Third Street, and made it a welcoming center of community and an after-hours destination point for entertainment stars performing in the City. Jordan was also the first African American candidate for San Francisco Mayor, running on behalf of The Freedom Now Party.

But for all his fame and accomplishment, Jordan is best remembered by those who knew him for his character. He built community in every word and gesture. He was universally respected and loved, and was a role model for young people. Some remember going to Sam Jordan’s as children in the 1960’s for cake on their birthdays, each feeling as though he or she was the most important person in the world. Later they would discover that lots of children had the same experience. It was just the way Sam Jordan was.

Many other men who helped shape the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood live on in the hearts of residents. Wayland Fuller was the owner and operator of Fuller Pharmacy which opened in 1947. He held many degrees, but was not officially a doctor; yet the community called him “Doc” as a sign of respect. Archie Reynolds founded the Bayview Merchants Association. Arthur Coleman was one of the first black physicians in San Francisco, and a tireless health and civil rights advocate. We are still walking in the footprints of these remarkable men.

Today, it’s easy to find residents of all backgrounds and colors whose families have been here for generations. Historically, the bonds of family and community have proven stronger than the struggles that might push people out. Community leaders step up daily to create the kind of neighborhood that remains inclusive, where those who have lived here longest will choose to stay.

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