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African American Segregation in San Francisco

Historical Essay

by Roz Murray, 2015

Like many Northern cities in the United States, San Francisco’s history of racial tension and race relations is prominent. With a dissimilarity index as high as 84.5 in 1970, segregation and discrimination of African Americans in the city has ever been present.(1) Just south of the downtown or central part of the city, separated by the 280 and 101, lies Bayview/Hunters Point. According to the 2010 US Census, the population in Bayview/Hunters Point was 33.7 percent African American,(2) quite the contrast to only around 6 percent in San Francisco City and County;(3) less than half the portion of African Americans inhabiting the city in the 1970s.(4) This highly segregated neighborhood – and lack of the African American population in the city – was a product of institutions and the discrimination that existed throughout the 20th century. The largest factors, many would argue, were housing issues – housing discrimination, displacement from redevelopment, public housing, and lack of efficient legislation – which continued to affect minority populations well after the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Racial-distribution-map-2010-san-francisco.jpg

Map indicating the racial distribution of the population of San Francisco based on 2010 census information.

Map: Dustin Cable, University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service

During the First and Second World War, push and pull factors were largely responsible for the great black migrations to Northern cities; particularly, the mechanization of agriculture in the South and the demand for workers in industrial positions in the North. In San Francisco, the opening of the Naval Shipyard created many job opportunities and positions that needed to be filled by unskilled workers. Thus, African Americans were hotly recruited from the South to work in the Naval Shipyard, located in Bayview/Hunters Point.(5)

Post-World War II, the job market shift stimulated a flurry of events that led to the segregation of blacks in Bayview/Hunters Point. The need for industrialization diminished as the market transferred to a service economy. Once the need for the Naval Shipyard lessened, jobs disappeared as well. New service jobs became prevalent in the suburbs, which were very difficult for African Americans to access. The lack of jobs has led to a multitude of issues for blacks in the area, which has contributed to the current, highly segregated state of Bayview/Hunters Point.(6, 7)

During this period of animosity, blacks faced other challenges in northern cities that led to residential segregation in Bayview/Hunters Point. Racially restrictive covenants were enforced. This was most markedly prevalent in white neighborhoods.(8) But even when Shelley v. Kramer was passed – a Supreme Court case, which outlawed racially restrictive covenants – housing discrimination continued.(9, 10) The practice of redlining was also prevalent in San Francisco. The Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) would draw “red lines” around neighbors that were considered “financially unstable”, and tell banks to deny loans to members of that community.(11) According to the map below, these redlined neighborhoods encompassed the Western Addition, Bayview/Hunters Point, and Chinatown, among a few others.(12) Occupants of these areas were heavily non-white. These practices largely existed throughout the mid to later part of the century, and are possibly some of the most powerful causes of the segregation of blacks in the Bayview/Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco.

Here's a copy of a map drawn in 1937 by the Home Owners' Loan Corporation:

HOLC map SF.jpg.jpg

Images by T-RACES

Take a closer look at the color chart for each neighborhood:

HOLC-GR-ColorChart.jpg.jpg

A shortened summary of the color guide states that:

• "Green areas are 'hot spots'; they are not yet fully built up. They are homogeneous; in demand as residential locations in 'good time' or 'bad'; hence 'on the upgrade.'

• "Blue areas, as a rule, are completely developed. They are like a 1935 automobile still good, but not what the people are buying today who can afford a new one."
• "Yellow areas are characterized by age, obsolescence, and change of style; expiring restrictions or lack of them; infiltration of a lower grade population; the presence of influences which increase sales resistance such as inadequate transportation, insufficient utilities, perhaps heavy tax burdens, poor maintenance of homes, etc. 'Jerry' built areas are included, as well as neighborhoods lacking homogeneity."

• "Red areas represent those neighborhoods in which the things that are now taking place in the Yellow neighborhoods have already happened. They are characterized by detrimental influences in a pronounced degree, undesirable population or infiltration of it. Unstable incomes of the people and difficult collections are usually prevalent."

In addition to the housing discrimination faced in Bayview/Hunters Point, urban renewal of San Francisco’s blighted areas disrupted African American’s ability to relocate. This era aimed to eradicate “blight,” meaning areas with characteristics of homelessness, graffiti, high crime, and high colored populations, among others.(13) Redevelopment occurred most prevalently in San Francisco’s Western Addition, displacing many black families through the process of eminent domain.(14) Additionally, many of these displaced families were renters and were not compensated for their displacement. The prior residents of the Western Addition were largely displaced to Bayview/Hunters Point; further concentrating African Americans to this area. Redevelopment also further limited African Americans in Bayview/Hunters Point from relocating, as the Western Addition housed the largest concentration of African Americans in San Francisco at that time.(15)

In the 1960s and 1970s, the San Francisco Housing Authority (SFHA) converted the war barracks of the Shipyard into fulltime public housing. These structures were originally meant to be temporary, as they were declared virtually unlivable.(16) About 40 percent of those housed in these temporary structures were African American. According to the article “Public Housing,” this was the first non-white public housing structure that the SFHA funded, because “the 1942 Housing Authority resolution barred the ‘co-mingling of races.’” Today, blacks are most affected by these public housing units, being almost half of the public housing residents.(17) Originally, 267 public housing units in 50 buildings were located in Bayview/Hunters Point. When HOPE SF was established, only 148 families inhabited those units due to their unlivable state.(18) Public housing has a history of neglect and poor funding by the SFHA, which has resulted in the failure of many basic housing systems, such as roofs, heat, and plumbing.(19) Thus, African Americans in Bayview/Hunters Point are most profoundly affected.

Bayvwhp$harbor-housing-project.jpg

Double Rock housing project in Bayview, 1996.

Photo: Chris Carlsson

In 1968, the Fair Housing Act was proposed in an attempt to eliminate discriminatory housing practices. To no avail, the Act passed with little to no effectiveness. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was given the authority to identify and root out issues of discrimination, but a compromise to pass the bill eliminated their authority. They could not investigate complaints and had no leverage to enforce or penalize the lawbreaker. Only 20 percent to 30 percent of complaints in the 1970s ever reached formal mediation. The 180-day statute of limitations was ineffective, and the ultimate penalty proved to be incredibly minimal with damages from $1,000 to $3,500.(20) Thus, housing discrimination continued throughout the ’70s and ’80s, leading to the highest dissimilarity index in the history of San Francisco in 1970, at 84.5.(21)

After 20 years of continued discrimination and no enforcement, an amendment was passed making the policy stronger. The 1988 Amendment increased the limit on punitive damages, empowered HUD to initiate and pursue complaints, extended the time to file a housing complaint, extended fines to $10,000 up to $50,000, among other changes.(22) While the Amendment corrected the inefficiencies of the original Act, the dissimilarity index in San Francisco was higher than 80. Therefore, it had very little impact on racial segregation.

Today, the proportion of African Americans in the city of San Francisco is lower than the levels before the First and Second World Wars.(23) This history of housing issues – loss of jobs, housing discrimination, redevelopment and displacement, public housing, and the lack of efficient legislation – has either segregated African Americans to Bayview/Hunters Point or pushed them from the city of San Francisco entirely.

Notes

1. http://www.asu.edu/courses/aph294/total-readings/massey%20--%20residentialsegregation.pdf
2. http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=CF
3. http://www.bayareacensus.ca.gov/counties/SanFranciscoCounty.htm
4. http://www.bayareacensus.ca.gov/counties/SanFranciscoCounty70.htm
5. Finch, K. “Trouble in Paradise: Postwar History of San Francisco’s Hunters Point Neighborhood.” Stanford Honors Thesis, (May 2008).
6. Finch, K. “Trouble in Paradise: Postwar History of San Francisco’s Hunters Point Neighborhood.” Stanford Honors Thesis, (May 2008).
7. Massey, D., and N. Denton. American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Harvard UP, 1993. 236. Print.
8. Charles S. Johnson, pp.20-33, “Housing” in The Negro War Worker in San Francisco: A Local Self-Survey (May 1944).
9. Finch, K. “Trouble in Paradise: Postwar History of San Francisco’s Hunters Point Neighborhood.” Stanford Honors Thesis, (May 2008).
10. Massey, D., and N. Denton. American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Harvard UP, 1993. 236. Print.
11. Massey, D., and N. Denton. ibid.
12. http://salt.unc.edu/T-RACES/mosaic.html?utm_source=story&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=stories
13. San Francisco City Planning Commission, “New City: San Francisco Redeveloped,” December 1947
14. San Francisco City Planning Commission, “New City: San Francisco Redeveloped,” December 1947
15. Finch, K. “Trouble in Paradise: Postwar History of San Francisco’s Hunters Point Neighborhood.” Stanford Honors Thesis, (May 2008).
16. San Francisco City Planning Commission, “New City: San Francisco Redeveloped,” December 1947
17. http://www.sfha.org/SFHA_Demographics.pdf
18. http://hope-sf.org/hunters.php
19. http://hope-sf.org/background.php
20. Massey, D., and N. Denton. American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Harvard UP, 1993. 236. Print.
21. http://www.asu.edu/courses/aph294/total-readings/massey%20--%20residentialsegregation.pdf
22. Massey, D., and N. Denton. American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Harvard UP, 1993. 236. Print.
23. Sonit, R. San Francisco Stories. Stanford University (May 2015).