Sep. 11, 2020
PROXY_in between, volume three
We’re back with the third volume of PROXY >IN BETWEEN<, our curatorial initiative for these unprecedented, in-between times. In volume two, we covered how explicitly racist urban planning policies shaped the Western Addition and Hayes Valley. This week we’re exploring another part of San Francisco where institutional injustice and neighborhood advocacy are foundational to its history — Bayview Hunters Point.
Forming the southeast edge of San Francisco and literally segregated from the rest of the city, Bayview Hunters Point was for decades a resilient center of industry. From San Francisco’s earliest days, the neighborhood went through several iterations as a farming, fishing, and meatpacking district before ship-building became the dominant industry in the 1920s. When the Navy purchased and vastly expanded the shipyard in 1940 to support the war effort, Navy officials recruited thousands of workers — approximately half of whom were Black — from across the country to move to the city and work the yards.
Racist redlining policies and the proximity of work made Bayview Hunters Point one of the few neighborhoods where Black San Franciscans could settle. After the war, white workers moved out of Bayview Hunters Point and found homes elsewhere, an option that was not available for Black residents. Many Black San Franciscans began moving out of Navy housing and buying homes in Bayview Hunters Point in the 1950s, and the community grew even more after the de facto destruction of the Western Addition in the late 1960s. By the late 1980s, the neighborhood had the highest rate of Black homeownership in the city.
As both a historically industrial and a predominantly Black residential neighborhood, Bayview Hunters Point has faced longstanding struggles for social amenities and environmental justice that more politically-connected districts receive as a matter of course. These subtle forms of disenfranchisement became all the more apparent after the Civil Rights Act of 1968 strengthened laws banning racial discrimination in the sale, rental or financing of housing. While this landmark legislation marked the beginning of the end for practices like redlining, institutional disregard and neglect for the neighborhood would prove more tenacious. In the 1950s, ambitious plans for a web of freeways around and through San Francisco threatened to sever vital connections between Bayview Hunters Point and surrounding neighborhoods, prompting activists to accuse The State Division of Highways (now Caltrans) of trying to contain the growing Black community through the construction of the 101 and 280 freeways. Historians Kelley & Verplanck summarized the freeways’ impact in a Historical Context Statement written in 2010:
“Interstate I-280 was largely in place by 1968, providing yet another major barrier, severing many east-west streets that once led to adjoining districts, and effectively walling off Bayview-Hunters Point from the rest of the city. The isolation was more than just physical; with freeways reducing the need for others to enter the district, and public transit options almost non-existent, Bayview-Hunters Point became a place where few outsiders would ever go outside of the occasional game day at Candlestick Park.”
The history of Bayview Hunters Point is rife with stories of community advocates taking on this insidious institutional disregard, including the shutdown of the Pacific Gas & Electric Hunters Point Power Plant and the environmental cleanup of the former India Basin Naval Shipyard. One struggle that continues today centers around the Southeast Treatment Plant, the city’s largest wastewater treatment facility. Built in the early 1950s, the facility initially only served the southeast area. After Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, concerns around the city’s antiquated sewer system lead the San Francisco Department of Public Works [SFPUC] to expand the plant, making it large enough to handle 80% of the city’s wastewater and sewage.
The Environmental Impact Report prepared at the time noted the residents’ vehement opposition to the plant’s expansion. To mitigate the environmental and social impacts of treating a majority of the city’s wastewater in one neighborhood, the city proposed building recreational facilities on top of the digesters – a plan that fell through in 1976 due to its escalating costs and lack of community support. Finally, a community effort led by neighborhood leader Dr. Espanola Jackson forged a new mitigation plan with SFPUC, including the construction and maintenance of commercial greenhouses and a skills-training center. The Southeast Community Facility opened in 1987 at 1800 Oakdale Avenue.
Today, the neighborhood still deals with the foul odors and increased truck traffic associated with the Southeast Treatment Plant — and still has to hold the city accountable. In 2015, after years of discussions with the community and Southeast Community Facility Commission, the SFPUC announced plans to replace the Southeast Community Facility’s outdated building with a five-acre campus at 1550 Evans Avenue. Three years later, emails between the mayor’s office and developer Build, Inc. revealed a secret proposal to shoehorn housing onto the site. Disregarding years of community engagement and trust, this scheme would allow the developer to meet the affordable housing requirement associated with its nearby India Basin development.
Community uproar caused the city and the developer to retract all plans, and the new campus is now in construction. Yet, this very recent example of neighborhood disenfranchisement shows the continuing influence of white supremacist power structures on Black neighborhoods spanning seventy years in San Francisco. The tireless work of neighborhood activists fighting for environmental and social justice in Bayview Hunters Point is inspiring and deserves commemoration. However, it’s long past time for San Francisco as a whole to accept the burden of being accountable to all its neighborhoods.
DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST
Directed by Julie Dash, 1991 [PG]
“We are two people in one body. The last of the old and the first of the new”
DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST is a transcendent exploration of family and place, following the Peazant family, a multi-generational Gullah matriarchy living on a chain of islands off the Georgia coast. Set at the dawn of the 20th century, the Peazants contemplate their history of slavery, future in the North, and changing faiths. The feature film debut of director Julie Dash, Daughters of the Dust was the first film directed by a Black woman to receive widespread theatrical release.
Watch on KANOPY
PROXY [virtual] FALL FILM FESTIVAL 2020
We are gearing up for our [virtual] FALL FILM FESTIVAL at PROXY, running from October 2nd to the 30th. As of today, it doesn’t yet seem safe to host film screenings in person, so we will bring the festival to your inbox every Friday with a newsletter of movies, music, articles and more to pair with our film selections. Stay tuned for more!
PROXY >IN BETWEEN<_VOLUME 003 playlist
Listen on SPOTIFY or APPLE MUSIC
RACIST HOUSING COVENANTS IN THE BAY AREA
The San Francisco Chronicle’s Justin Phillips speaks with two local residents who have found anti-Black or anti-Asian language in the deeds to their houses. While the language is legally unenforceable, it is costly to remove, and serves as a stark reminder of the work still needed to rectify centuries of white supremacist rule.
UPSTART, BLACK-OWNED FARM IN BAYVIEW
A small-scale, urban farm was founded in the Bayview this Spring to bring healthy, local food to one of San Francisco’s food deserts. In an article by Chronicle restaurant critic Soleil Ho, the founders discuss their intention to be a community resource for their neighborhood, both through this pandemic and beyond, and the outpouring of community support they’ve already received throughout these foundational months.
THE BLACK LIVES NEXT DOOR
Jon Rothstein, author of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, explores the path towards reparations for explicitly racist housing covenants that banned integrated communities in the 1950s and 60s. Using San Mateo as an example, Rothstein deftly traces the racist history of several neighborhoods to the original developer, a firm still in operation, and points to a path to justice.
THE SF + MARIN FOOD BANK
The SF Marin Food Bank continues its heroic work to ensure that every San Franciscan has access to food — and they need some extra hands. Consider volunteering at a local pantry or visit their website to learn about other ways to lend your support.
Extensive fires throughout the West mean we need to double down on our support for fire crews and affected communities. See KQED’s helpful list for donation points and give what you can today.
Mask Oakland is a grassroots effort to support houseless folks in the Bay Area who are at higher risk of exposure to smoke due to their living conditions. In 2018 alone, they handed out 85,000 N95 masks across the Bay Area. Their direct community aid format is a shining example of how mutual aid networks can carry us through this pandemic and election season. They have put out a call for donations to support their 2020 fire season and COVID-19 responses.