Soul in the City - San Francisco's Got a Lot
The African American Freedom Trail tells how African American pioneers in San Francisco changed the world. There are more than 400 locations and the SF Soul Shuttle tour visits a number of them. Some points of interest along the trail were also included in this “Diverse Destinations” itinerary published in 2008. For more information about the African American Freedom Trail, read more.
Yerba Buena Center • Bayview District
Begin your day downtown at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (701 Mission; 978-2787), a six-acre park that includes exhibition and performing venues. At the south end of the circular esplanade is the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Waterfall, designed by African American sculptor Houston Conwill.
Across the street is the recently remodeled Museum of the African Diaspora (685 Mission; 358-7200), a 20,000-square-foot, glass-fronted building whose exhibitions tell powerful stories of slavery and liberation, and celebrate the ancient to contemporary contributions of Africa’s people — in music, dress, food and more.
On the next block is the California Historical Society (678 Mission; 357-1848), which features photos and artifacts, many from the Gold Rush era. In the shop is the Fall 1996 issue of the Society’s journal, “California History,” devoted entirely to African Americans in California.
Call Alexander Book Company (50 Second St.; 495-2992) to see if the Sister Circle is meeting — usually with readings by writers such as novelist Gwendolyn Parker and social psychologist Gaile Elizabeth Wyatt.
At Montgomery and Market, in the underground Metro station, take the T-Third train, which goes past the Giants’ AT&T Park and all along Third Street to the Bayshore Caltrain Station. Many platforms along the route have dramatic public artworks reflecting neighborhood characteristics. Also, along the way you pass a bar and barbecue owned by the son of Sam Jordan, the late Mayor of Butchertown, the first African American to run for mayor of San Francisco in 1963 — Sam Jordan’s Bar, recently designated as a San Francisco landmark. (4004 Third St.; 282-4003).
The historic Bayview neighborhood is home to the city’s largest concentration of African Americans, an estimated 45%. Many settled here during World War II to build ships for the Navy, and more arrived in the 1960s when the Fillmore district fell victim to urban renewal.
Begin your tour at the landmark Bayview Opera House (4705 Third St.; 824-0386), the city’s oldest theater and the only one to survive the 1906 earthquake, now used primarily for community programming.
Close by is a church St. Paul of the Shipwreck (1122 Jamestown; 468-3434). Just off Third Street on Oakdale is the Southeast campus of City College of San Francisco, one of nine college campuses in the city. Its Josephine Cole Library is named for the African American woman who integrated San Francisco’s public schools in the 1940s.
Fillmore District • Divisadero Street
Fillmore Street, linking the Western Addition on the south to Pacific Heights on the north, is the dynamic axis of what locals call “The Fillmore.’’ The neighborhood has gained fame as one of the primary incubators for San Francisco’s revitalized music scene, an area where musical greats such as Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and Count Basie headlined jazz clubs back in the day when this was known as the “Harlem of the West.”
In 2017 Marcus Books, the oldest black bookstore in the U.S., is slated to move to a new location in the neighborhood. This literary feast of more than 14,000 books by and about African Americans also hosts events and readings.
1300 on Fillmore reinvents the supper club and serves comfort food such as grits and fried chicken with a sophisticated flair. The $6 music surcharge for the Sunday Gospel brunch is well worth it and “spirits for your soul” include bottomless pomosas (think mimosa made with red pomegranate juice).
Also, on the south side of Geary, the legendary 1960s music emporium the Fillmore still rocks the ‘hood. There’s a bin of apples at the entrance for concertgoers, a tradition started by famed music impresario, Bill Graham, and concert posters dating back to '60s adorn all the walls.
The area is home to some of San Francisco’s most historic churches including Bethel A.M.E. Church, First A.M.E. Zion Church and Third Baptist Church (all of which are stops on the African American Freedom Trail).
African American Art and Culture Complex (762 Fulton; 922-2049) is home to organizations that program dance, jazz, country music, theater performances, film, poetry readings, and drumming and dance workshops. Also on site are the Sargent Johnson Gallery and the San Francisco African and African American Historical and Cultural Society Library Archives.
For evening entertainment, drop in at the Boom Boom Room (1601 Fillmore; 673-8000).
A specialty store featuring incense and oils, Your Scents (645 Divisadero; 931-4227), also displays masks from Zaire and Africa’s West Coast.
Civic Center • Downtown
African American history, art and cuisine are a rich part of the city’s downtown neighborhoods. Start your day at the Civic Center. The street in front of the beautifully renovated City Hall is named for the late African American civic leader Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett, publisher of the Sun Reporter newspaper.
On the third floor of the Main Public Library (Larkin and Grove) is the 400-square-foot African American Center (557-4400), featuring selections from the library’s extensive collection of books, periodicals, videos and recordings on African American history, education and the arts.
Head downtown to San Francisco’s avenue of art, Sutter Street, and visit the Meridian Gallery (535 Powell; 398-7229), which maintains a slide registry of Bay Area African American artists. A third of Meridian’s collection showcases contemporary African American art.
African American performing arts are alive and kicking in San Francisco. For evening entertainment, check out these theater and dance companies: The contemporary music, dance and theater of Rhodessa Jones and Idris Ackamoor’s Cultural Odyssey is rooted in African American traditions (292-1850). LINES Contemporary Ballet Company founder Alonzo King’s multilayered choreography redefines classical ballet technique (863-3040). ZACCHO Dance Theater adds to those art disciplines trapeze and aerial work (822-6744). Robert Moses Kin’s dance company (252-8384) is often at Cowell Theater at Fort Mason Center. Award-winning Lorraine Hansberry Theatre (345-3980) presents African American writers and actors, September to June, in a variety of venues. The late jazz dean Phil Elwood called Biscuits & Blues (401 Mason St.; 292-2583) “a real city joint . . . [with] top-of-the-line blues.” The music’s served up nightly with Southern fare.
For a comprehensive directory of churches throughout the city, pick up a copy of the Sun Reporter. Among the notable are: Glide Memorial Church (330 Ellis St.; 674-6000), a popular Methodist church active in community efforts; Bethel A.M.E. (916 Laguna St.; 921-5529) was founded in 1852 and is the oldest African American religious congregation in the city of San Francisco. Churches in Oakland include: First A.M.E. Church (530 37th St.; 510-655-1527), the Bay Area’s oldest African Methodist Episcopal Church, founded in 1858. Beth Eden Baptist Church (1138 10th St.; 510-444-1625) is the East Bay’s oldest African American Baptist church, founded in 1895. Allen Temple Baptist Church (8501 International Blvd.; 510-544-8910) is 4,000 members strong.
For calendar information and local expert recommendations on all of San Francisco’s arts and cultural activities, visit www.sfarts.org which features more than 1,000 arts events in its database along with curated arts highlights and feature articles. SFArts.org is accessible on iPads, iPhones and other mobile devices.
Explore 10 self-guided tours designed to immerse visitors in San Francisco’s culture, rich ethnic heritage and world-class art.