Why MLK Came to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1964

Martin Luther King, Jr. during a press conference. Photo:  Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, NYWT&S Collection, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USZ62-111157]

Martin Luther King, Jr. during a press conference. Photo: New York World-Telegram & Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, Library of Congress.

Racism has been deep-rooted throughout the entire United States since European colonists first staked their claims here in the 1500s. On the West Coast of the US, it can be convenient to think that the South is where most of the serious discrimination took place, but this is simply not the case.

Although slavery for African Americans may have been largely confined to the South, other forms of blatant racial discrimination were not. In fact, Oregon was the only state in the Union whose 1859 constitution forbade black people to live, work, or own property in the state. It was illegal for black people even to move to Oregon until 1926. California is notorious for its horrible treatment of Chinese people in the 1800s, and, in the early 1900s, California, passed “alien land laws” that barred people who did not meet federal regulations for citizenship from owning property. This essentially meant non-whites, except people of African descent, because they were allowed to naturalize after the Civil War. These alien land laws were targeting Asians and, in particular, the Japanese, even though this was well before WWII.

Lawyer, Juichi Soyeda and Tadao Kamiya, in California, 1913, to lobby against the new Alien Land Law.  Photo from the  George Grantham Bain collection  at the Library of Congress.

Lawyer, Juichi Soyeda and Tadao Kamiya, 1913, lobby against the new Alien Land Law.
Photo: George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s finally forced the entire nation to look at and address the issue of racial discrimination. It began in the southern United States but spread through the entire country. The West Coast, and particularly the San Francisco Bay Area, had its share of protests. Civil rights struggles in other states led to demonstrations in the Bay Area, and people of all colors and backgrounds stood together to demand equality.

March on Washington August 28, 1963. Photo  United States Information Agency.

March on Washington August 28, 1963. Photo: United States Information Agency.

San Francisco Bay Area Supports the Southern Fight

People in the Bay Area supported the southern struggle in many ways. In large numbers, they joined the national 1960 boycott of Woolworth Company for denying the right of African Americans to eat at a lunch counter in North Carolina. In 1963, 2,500 people marched along Post Street in San Francisco to protest the Birmingham, Alabama bombing of four young African Americans girls. In 1965, after state troopers in Selma, Alabama brutally attacked 67 African American marchers during a nonviolent demonstration against voting rights discrimination, San Franciscan flooded the streets around their City Hall and demanded federal intervention for the racial violence in Selma.

Johnson's lack of intervention in Selma made waves across the country. Photo by Stanley Wolfson, New York World-Telegram & Sun

Johnson’s lack of intervention in Selma made waves across the country. Photo: Stanley Wolfson, New York World-Telegram & Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, Library of Congress.

Read the rest of the story to learn what civil rights issues were being addressed in the Bay Area and to see a list of organizations that are keeping the dream a reality, here at MobileRanger.com.

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Julia Gaudinski


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