Marcus Books and its supporters won a small victory in the ongoing fight to save the store when this week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution supporting the preservation of the historic building. In business for over 50 years, Marcus is America’s oldest black-owned bookstore and a San Francisco literary institution that’s hosted James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Toni Morrison, among countless other writers and thinkers; it is a huge part of the City’s African American heritage. Before it became a bookstore, the Victorian building originally located on Post Street was home to Jimbo’s Bop City, the legendary Fillmore District club that staged Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane, among other jazz giants. The resolution put forth by Supervisors London Breed and Malia Cohen, and supported by Supervisors of all districts, urges the new owners of the property to “uphold the building’s community serving purpose.”
At a rally and press conference Tuesday afternoon, hours before the resolution was passed, about 100 community and church leaders, as well as activists, artists and supporters gathered on the steps of City Hall (never mind the persistent sound of horns you will hear in this clip—in a separate but related issue, cab drivers were protesting the rogue transportation companies that have taken over the roadways in the face of SF’s latest tech boom).
“Tell everyone you know who loves truth and justice and tell them to get involved,” said Archibishop Franzo King of Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church. The Fillmore has historically been the scene of systematic removal of it residents, whether the internment of Japanese Americans in the ‘40s or the ‘50s and ‘60s relocation of its African American dwellers who were promised housing that never materialized. After a decades-long, so-called redevelopment project (which is now widely and finally acknowledged at the city government level as a failed undertaking), the Fillmore has rebuilt and rebooted more than once, but the well-documented exodus of middle to low-income people of color, and the working and artist classes from throughout San Francisco continues unabated. To state the plainly obvious, unlike buildings, people cannot be replaced.
“This isn’t just about the bookstore,” said Marcus Books owner Greg Johnson. “It’s about humanity.”
“This is about transfer of wealth, out of the hands of working class black folk…” said Rev. Arnold Townsend, Vice President of the local NAACP, at Tuesday’s press conference.
Most all of the speakers noted the persistent effort to save Marcus Books goes beyond highlighting the failing of brick and mortar book stores in the 21st Century; it touches realms of historical preservation of culture and ideas, and bores straight into matters regarding maintenance of a community hub. Literacy, education, and generally freely traded knowledge of self and others are also at stake.
“When we lose our artists, we lose our stories,” said Tony Robles of grassroots arts organization, POOR Magazine.
“I would not be where I am without this book store,” stated devorah major, author, educator, and a San Francisco poet laureate.
The Marcus situation is sadly indicative of the changing demographics of the so-called sanctuary City of St. Francis, “with its widely advertised liberal and cosmopolitan tradition.” But San Francisco’s track record with its African American population is not good, a contradiction that did not escape the notice of James Baldwin who participated in a film specially broadcast on public television station KQED in 1963. I recommend the entire series of clips that follow from Take This Hammer. And I especially commend San Francisco’s elected officials for taking the matter of Marcus Books and the larger problems it represents with the seriousness it demands.
For updates on the effort to Support Marcus Books, visit the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment.