San Francisco’s reputation as a bastion of tolerance is at odds with its past - and present - of racial intolerance. There were so few Blacks in San Francisco throughout the 1800’s - under two thousand out of a total of 300,000 - they were largely ignored. It was the Chinese, who numbered many thousands more, who were perceived as a potential threat by Whites and were brutally suppressed. African Americans, on the other hand, were kept in a proscribed status, denied access to decent housing, decent jobs and decent schools.

Sonia SanchezIn the modern era Blacks have long complained about the police department heavy-handed presence in the neighborhood, particularly in Bayview Hunters Point. Pent-up tensions exploded in Hunters Point in September 1966 when a White police officer shot and killed a 16-year-old fleeing a stolen vehicle. The resulting riot lasted three days but was relatively tame, rock throwing, small fires and no casualties, compared to conflagrations in cities such as Detroit. In 1968 the most significant confrontation between Blacks and Whites in San Francisco was a cultural war that would have national ramifications. Poet, playwright and activist Sonia Sanchez was at its center.

Ms. Sanchez was teaching Black lit at San Francisco State College when the school objected to her choice of reading material which included W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey and Langston Hughes, and wanted the books removed. She refused. The matter escalated and the school’s tactics of intimidation included siccing the F.B.I. on her but she stood firm.

“Here I am, ready to hear what no one has taught me before, to begin my passionate affair with myself and my history,” she said recently recalling that time. The student body and faculty backed Ms. Sanchez and the San Francisco State college strike began. It lasted five months, the longest student-faculty strike in American history, and lead to the formation of the nation’s first Black Studies Department.

Castro MarchEven the Castro has not escaped the stain of intolerance. Latinos, Asians and Black Gays have never been fully accepted by, or integrated into, the Castro. There's a history of discriminatory treatment towards Blacks in particular. Recent tensions swirled around a popular Castro bar known as “Badlands.” Blacks reported being excessively “carded” at the door to deny entry, harassed by bar staff if they made it inside, and even ejected on the slightest pretext, among other allegations. It sparked weeks of protests with picket lines in front of the bar and a march against racism in the Castro. Former mayor Willie Brown was called in to mediate. After weeks-long protests the resolution was rather anti-climatic, the protests simply stopped. In an example of the diminished power of Blacks, the multicultural group formed to address Black interests, “And Castro for All,” and the White bar owner, reached an agreement, though few know just what it was, since part of the secret deal was that it be kept secret, even from the community who were offended by the bar’s actions.