San Francisco, CA

Celebrate the 70th Anniversary of San Francisco's Juneteenth Festival

Karen Madej
By TheConduqtor - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

San Francisco hasn't always welcomed African-Americans. I'm pretty sure many people still don't want people of any colour other than white in their city. This shameful hostility must be exhausting for all parties concerned.

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

One of the earliest biracial-black U.S. citizens in California and one of the founders of the city that became San Francisco, William Alexander Leidesdorff, Jr. (October 23, 1810 – May 18, 1848) died intestate. Shortly before he died gold was found on his property. There were rumours around how he died, typhus, pneumonia, even murder.

His first entrepreneurial feat in Yerba Buena was to build a warehouse on the waterfront at California and Leidesdorff Streets in 1841. In 1847, he launched a steamboat that operated in San Francisco Bay and on the Sacramento River.

In 1946, Leidesdorff built the City Hotel. It survived until the fire of 1851 destroyed it. At the time the hotel was built, with a veranda running along the entire front side bordering Kearny Street, it was in the village of Yerba Buena. The US took over California when they won the Mexican-American War and in 1847 renamed the city, San Francisco.

The hotel stayed popular for gaming, a resort for miners and other visitors to the city until 1949. But it became neglected and unused since the death of its owner. Inevitably, other more attractive hotels rose around the City Hotel.

Today, Portsmouth Square, a city park, stands on the site of the original City Hotel. Chinatown, North Beach, and the Financial District surround this historic area.
William Alexander Leidesdorff memorial - San Francisco, California, USA.By Daderot - Own work, CC0

I can well believe William Alexander Leidesdorff, Jr was murdered for his land along the American River. Via the Sacramento River, it is part of the San Francisco Bay watershed.

According to Key Points in Black History and the Gold Rush, a small group of African-American miners established one of the earliest mining claims in Sacramento County at Negro Bar, on property once owned by William A. Leidesdorff, on the south bank of the American River near what is now Folsom, California. The name of the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area remains contentious with arguments for and against keeping it.

In 8 Things You May Not Know About the California Gold Rush, I learned the Gold Rush of '49 didn't just bring the wagons with '49ers' from all over America, it also brought male immigrants from all over the world. Determined to make their fortunes, they arrived by ship at San Francisco docks.

Enterprising merchants (some might say daylight robbers) fleeced the new arrivals charging the equivalent of $25 for a single egg and $2500 for a new pair of boots!
By George Henry Burgess - Oakland Museum of California, Public Domain

The great Central Wharf was built in 1849, it used to exist where Commercial street is now. Many of the ships' crews abandoned their vessels there and went off to find their golden fortunes.

Other Black folks arrived from all over the world for the gold rush either as freemen or slaves to work the mines. But like many other men at the time, few struck it rich.

By 1951, Yerba Buena Cove was filled with a fleet of ghost ships, their masts creating an ocean-bound forest.
Daguerrotype, from during the California Gold RushBy Unknown author - This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints

Because the Central Wharf had ten times the amount of business it could handle, many new berths were struck. As the previously tiny town expanded it needed lumber to build with, so wood from many of the dismantled boats was sold and formed the structures of new buildings.

By 1857 most of the early wharves and associated building had disintegrated and fallen into the bay.

Despite the fact that slavery was forbidden in California when it entered the Union as a free state in 1850, laws in education and employment still discriminated against Black residents. They also had no right to vote or testify against whites.

So, in response, Blacks created political organizations like the SF. Executive Committee to fight for civil rights and the Franchise League to seek the vote. Until the Fugitive Slave Act expired in 1855, they also risked being captured and sold into slavery unless they could prove they had lived in the state since before 1849.

After the gold rush petered out, despite California's status as slavery-free this meant little to Black folks where any social or equality situations were concerned. The majority of women and 60% of black men could only find work in the service economy.

In addition to the success of one of the city's founding fathers, William Alexander Leidesdorff, other Blacks also found success. In 1962, Mammy Pleasant owned $30,000 in real estate in 1870, while a partner, Richard Barber reported $70,000 in holdings.

On June 19, 1865, Union army general Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, with reinforcements and issued federal orders that proclaimed that all 250,000 slaves in the state of Texas were officially free. JEREMY PORR, Built in SF

The point of mentioning this early history of the arrival of an influential African in San Francisco and other successful Blacks is to demonstrate that Black people have every right to equity in the city their ancestors helped to build.
Image by Wynn Pointaux from Pixabay

Juneteenth Is Now a Paid Holiday at 375+ Companies, Thanks to #HellaJuneteenth, June 18, 2020.

655+ organizations that have publicly committed to observing Juneteenth

Now what needs to happen is for all the companies in the United States, not just San Franciscan ones, to pay their staff to celebrate freedom from slavery. Not as part of the July 4th celebrations but in its own right. Freedom/Emancipation Day, June 19th, 2021.

We're still waiting for the House to agree to the 2018 Senate resolution designating June 19 as “Juneteenth Independence Day.”

Bay View Opera House is celebrating with music on their outdoor stage from 12:30 to 15:00 on Juneteenth. Tickets still available as of the time of writing this.

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Passionate about climate change and living a debt-free, sustainable life. Determined to learn how to and build an adobe house or Earthship. The goal is to live off-grid and off the land. Energy for heat and to power electrical devices and appliances will use solar, wind, and hydro-powered electricity. No trees will die to make my home.


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