Terry Collins and Willie Ratcliff, the OGs of KPOO and the Bay View, discuss life and Black Media Appreciation Night
Organized by the Block Report and the Bay View to honor the champions of independent Black media dedicated to the power of the people, Black Media Appreciation Night is this Monday, Nov. 26, 8 p.m., at Yoshi’s, 510 Embarcadero West, Jack London Square, Oakland. For tickets and more information, go to http://www.yoshis.com/oakland/jazzclub/artist/show/3104.
KPOO, first on the list of awardees, will be named Champion of Black Radio! And the show will conclude with Donald Lacy of KPOO presenting the Champion of Black Media Ownership award to Willie Ratcliff. All readers of the Bay View and listeners to KPOO are cordially invited to come and applaud all the champions of Black media.
Terry Collins: You’re listening to KPOO Radio. I have in our studio the great Mr. Willie Ratcliff. He just celebrated his 80th birthday and he is the publisher of one of our greatest Black newspapers, the San Francisco Bay View. Good afternoon, Mr. Ratcliff.
Willie Ratcliff: Good afternoon and thanks for having me on your show.
Terry Collins: I just want to talk about that newspaper because I remember seeing that newspaper back in 1990, somewhere around there. I remember something else before that but you got it in 1991 or something like that?
Willie Ratcliff: We purchased it in November 1991 and our first issue was in February 1992.
Terry Collins: Because I remember back then when that paper came out. That paper was really exciting when it first came out. Talk about the paper, how it developed.
But Muhammad al-Kareem had started a paper. At that time it was called The New Bayview. He had been running it and he was having problems, and he offered to sell it to us for $2,000. And of course at that time we didn’t have the money.
But I was doing a construction job and they owed me some money but the guy was swaggering around, didn’t want to pay me. But anyway, my wife went down to his office and she waited there all afternoon until she got a check for $2,000. So then we had enough money to get the paper.
Now he was offered $10,000 by other people, but he said, “I know what these two people would do with it. They’re going to make it work for the community and do something that I really wanted to do and just wasn’t able to pull it off.” So he let us have it for $2,000 and that’s how we got started.
Terry Collins: That’s fantastic. I mean a newspaper for the Bayview for $2,000. I mean this paper right now is internationally known. And one of the places where it really is appreciated is in the prisons. I mean right now I’ve heard that some of the guards do not like that paper coming in.
Willie Ratcliff: Oh, the CDC don’t like it at all, not just the guards. The people that are running the prison industry, they don’t like it because we’ve got accused of being the ones that caused the hunger strike. And we really raised the issue of them putting people in solitary confinement and keeping them there, beating up people, not giving people medical attention and all that.
So my wife – she’s more of a prison activist than I am – we got started up in Alaska. One of the kids working for us up there, a Native kid, he was in prison. They picked him up and put him in prison for little of nothing, so she was working trying to get him out and that’s how she got started trying to help prisoners and that’s been going on now for 30 years.
Willie Ratcliff: Well, we joint ventured with them. I was a general contractor in Alaska and actually I got more work than any Black in the country – on the pipeline. At one time I had 500 employees.
Terry Collins: Wow, up in Alaska, 500 employees?
Willie Ratcliff: Yep, doing the pipeline. We had 250 employees down at the terminal at Valdez. Our job was to unload all the material that came in. I had 200 truck drivers and they’re some hard people to deal with.
At that time the Teamsters Union, some of them said they were stronger than the governor of the state – that’s how strong they were up there – and they just wanted to run all over me: “A little old Black man got a contract and we’re going to tell him who he can hire.”
And I just let them know: “No way, Jack. This is my job!”
Terry Collins: So you got stuck up there with ignorant people who were union people?
Willie Ratcliff: Oh, actually I was riding around with a pistol in my car. It was tough, and just like they don’t want Blacks involved now, they didn’t want them involved then.
What we did, we made the state stand up for us, and also the Natives were working with us because the pipeline crossed their land too.
Actually the first big company we ran off up there was Bechtel. Bechtel come up there with all their yellow trucks thinking they were going to run over this little Alaska, and we showed them the door. The governor and of course the Human Rights Commission, which I chaired, and the Native corporations, they said hey, they gotta go. And they asked the pipeline service company to get them out of there.
Terry Collins: In the studio we’re live now with Willie Ratcliff, the publisher of the San Francisco Bay View. I just wanted to get a little background, because you hear about the Bay View, but how it got started and where you come from is a whole different thing, so basically I do want to know some of the background.
Coming up on Monday is Black Media Appreciation Night. Talk about that. Why is it so important to keep this newspaper out there for the people?
Willie Ratcliff: Well, we can’t count on the Chronicle’s news; we can’t count on the main newspaper people here to tell our story. We have to tell our own story and bring up our issues. Issues that they bring out, we come out and say it ain’t like that. That’s why we need Black media.
So the Black newspapers, basically that’s where we got all our information, because in the so called white newspapers, we didn’t even count, unless they were going to find a way to get people to lynch us or something.
Willie Ratcliff: Well, you know some of the Black newspapers, they bombed their places, tore up their machines, and all of that has happened, but we’re still out there. It takes some pretty nervy people when you do the news, if you do it right.
I come from an area down in East Texas where we are landowners, and I never worked for white people until I left home – of course I left home at 13. Well, I left from East Liberty, which is down in Shelby County, where the river separates Texas from Louisiana. We were right on the border.
So I grew up knowing I can make living without them. A lot of people don’t know that. Some think they can make a living, but when you own land, you can cultivate it – you got timber, you got cattle. If you need some cash, you make some cross ties for the railroad and sell them, or you cut some pulp wood and take it down to the paper mill.
Terry Collins: Owning land is very important.
Willie Ratcliff: It still is. If you own a house, you got a backyard. You can plant a garden at least to help you out. So it’s very important.
Throughout East Texas, especially over closer to the Louisiana line, it was all different neighborhoods around there. In our Black neighborhood, we had our own high school, but we’d had to start our own school. We started our own school back in 1864 right after the Civil War, because the county wouldn’t give us a quarter.
So we went ahead: One of the guys gave a piece of land and then everybody got together and we built our own school, put our own teachers in there. And once we did that, they gave us two teachers.
Terry Collins: I’m glad you’ve reminded us of those kinds of schools. Those schools from first grade up to about 10th grade, everybody was in the same room. So the people taught and they studied.
Terry Collins: In that type of situation, the teachers were really responsible – taking care of y’all and teaching you.
Willie Ratcliff: Not only that, you were kind to your teacher. We were all kinfolk. But we were fortunate: The principal of the school had a PhD in education and he was really committed to making sure that all the kids in that school came out of there with enough education that they could go out and making a living and have a better life.
Terry Collins: And that’s in the days when we were colored or so-called negroes, when we had to do these things because it was segregated.
Willie Ratcliff: Wasn’t nobody else going to do it for us.
Terry Collins: But lawyers, PhDs were all in the same community.
Willie Ratcliff: Well, my parents went to college. Uncle Leo was a doctor. My dad went to Prairie View A&M University because he wanted to be like his dad – he wanted to be a rancher – so he went to Prairie View and learned how to farm. Everybody don’t know how to farm. You might think you do, but what do you do to control the water, what time are you supposed to plant – all those different things come into play. But he went to college for that.
Terry Collins: And these are all the so-called Black colleges. What do you call the Black colleges that land …
Willie Ratcliff: Some of them were land grant colleges, and most of them were Black Baptist colleges and Methodist colleges. Actually Texas had many colleges that Black people could go to. And one thing that they believed in: They didn’t want no dummies.
Let’s see, it was Texas and North Carolina – they’re the ones who did the most in making sure that Blacks had opportunities to learn how to farm and do the kinds of things that was going to benefit their economy rather than have them doing nothing.
So if you wanted to get educated, the Black churches would help. In other words, if you wanted to go to college, you could go. We had to sell dinners or whatever we had to do to help somebody who didn’t have enough money to go. We’d make sure that they went, and that benefited the whole community.
Willie Ratcliff: We had church colleges. Butler was a Baptist college. Wiley was a Methodist college. So the different church denominations had their own colleges. Plus then you could go to the state colleges. Actually, one of the first all-girl high schools in the country was down in East Texas. My aunt went to it, an all-girl school. Of course they had an all-girl school here too.
But now we’re talking about over 100 years ago. My dad was born in 1896 and we’ve been in that area since way before Texas became a state. We were there. As a matter of fact they had vigilante wars in six of the counties when the Louisiana Purchase happened in 1803.
Willie Ratcliff: Right, we should be thanking the Haitians right now instead of doing what we were doing to them, because if it wasn’t for the Haitians, we wouldn’t have the Louisiana Purchase.
Terry Collins: I’m in the studio live with Willie Ratcliff, editor of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper. I just wanted to get a little background of what makes a newspaper publisher. I kind of got a little better background now.
Willie Ratcliff: Well, in reality it takes the fear out of you being able to say whatever you need to say. That’s what I’ve always did, and that’s what my parents and my people always did.
Terry Collins: So what’s going to take place on Monday, Nov. 26, over at Yoshi’s?
Willie Ratcliff: We’re giving awards to several people that have been working with the Bay View. And also Amelia Ashley Ward of the Sun Reporter will be there and Paul Cobb of the Post – San Francisco and Oakland Post – they’ll be there. And then a whole lot of people that have worked for the Bay View and also JR, the Block Report; you know JR.
Terry Collins: He’s at KPFA on Wednesdays, right?
Willie Ratcliff: Yes, he does the Block Report on the Morning Mix on Wednesday at 8 a.m. You know JR can get people to come on any show that a whole lot of people can’t get. And also he’s on Friday night at midnight. He interviews a whole lot of people on the Block Report.
Terry Collins: What did they say, that he tried to put a book of matches in a trash can?
Willie Ratcliff: They couldn’t find no matches or anything else. See, they were at him before then. They wanted to shut his mouth because he wasn’t going along with what the cops were doing to people.
So when the Oscar Grant campaign was on they saw a chance to get him and they went at it. He wasn’t doing a thing. But it wasn’t the first time.
So we’re doing Black Media Appreciation Night with JR on the Block Report. Plus JR works for the paper.
Terry Collins: I see Kevin Epps in the lineup. Kevin Epps is a great filmmaker, out of Hunters Point. Kevin Epps is going to be there.
Willie Ratcliff: Yeah, Kevin Epps and then the Globe.
Terry Collins: I don’t know too much about the Globe newspaper. Is that from the Bay Area, the Globe?
Willie Ratcliff: Yeah, the Globe was a paper out of Richmond. It’s been bad in the newspaper business, so they sold the paper to Kevin Weston, who used to write for us and who’s been working with young journalists for many years. But then Kevin got sick – thousands of people were praying for him – and although he’s still sick with leukemia, he’s recovering and he’s going to be there to get his award.
JR is the one who went out and found the place. He didn’t believe he was going to get it. You know if you got enough guts to ask, you don’t know what you’re going to get. They say, seek and you will find. But if you don’t go looking for nothing, you’re not going to find anything. So he went out and talked to them and it just blew him away when they said yes.
Terry Collins: So this takes place on Nov. 26. You’re going to have Phavia Kujichagulia; she’s a poet. She’s the one who’s going to do the performance for you, right? So she’s the headliner.
Willie Ratcliff: Yes, and a great jazz musician; she’ll be there. The other music performers are jazz rapper Do D.A.T., plus Ms. Be and Bay Area rap legends Mac Mall and Ray Luv – plus a comedy performance by Donald Lacy. I’m waiting to see that!
Terry Collins: Wanda Sabir is getting an award. She works for your paper.
Terry Collins: She does a fantastic column – a whole long thing on the arts and everything. I see her. I go out so much, I see her; she’ll be there.
Willie Ratcliff: She’s been with us longer than anybody now and we’re just crazy about her. So we’ve got some good people working out there.
And what we’re trying to do, this is the start of trying to pull people together. I’ve already started a limited partnership where people can invest in it and that way we can start our own credit union. We can get the City to put money in the credit union, and then people can join the credit union.
They also can invest in Rising Sun Developers, which will make you a developer. It’s a limited partnership. I’m the main partner, so everybody that buys into it is a limited partner.
If we’re going to get serious, we’ve got to put our minds and our resources behind what we’d like to see as the outcome for our children and for ourselves. So if we put our money together, especially in a credit union, it means everybody is coming together.
We’ve got to come together, put our money together and be able to leverage other monies to do our own development and put our own people to work. Individually we can’t do it. But together we can do it. So if we put our money together, especially in a credit union, it means everybody is coming together.
You see the voting pattern has changed. Out of 18 citywide office holders in San Francisco, now 16 of them are people of color. On the Board of Supervisors now in January, there’ll be only two whites on it. So it’s time for us to make a move and stop sitting around getting run over by white folks.
Terry Collins: When you think about that, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in January …
Willie Ratcliff: … in January will only have two Whites on it and that’s the two that’s on there now, because the election put 16 people of color in office out of 18 citywide. So we have the power. All we have to do is pull it together and make some demands. That’s what I’m really about.
Willie Ratcliff: That was a preliminary estimate. It’s a little bit more than that. But it’s only between 4 and 5 percent, and it keeps going down. We want to turn that around where people can come back. And what we’re doing, we were able to get the ministers to come together. Rev. McCray is executive director of the Tabernacle Group and we’re working together now and we’re making some demands.
The Willie Brown school – we’re calling for it to be rebuilt by our community. So we’re about turning things around – using the power that we have and turning things around for our children and our people. Black people are losing more houses than they’re buying.
Terry Collins: Let me ask you a question. The condos on Third Street, Third and Williams, like that – are Black people buying those places? I mean the new condos; they’re supposed to be “affordable”.
Willie Ratcliff: Well, you know they shoot you that affordable stuff, but if you ain’t got no job, let it go in one ear and out the other one. See we ain’t got no jobs for ourselves. You look around at construction, you see people working everywhere. How many of us do you see? You might see a flagger.
We’ve got to turn that around, and we have the power to do it. But we got to use our heads. We ain’t stupid, but we’ve got to come together, put our money together and be able to leverage other monies to do our own development and put our own people to work.
Willie Ratcliff: … all the Black money out there, you put it over here in the credit union. Now if you get in trouble or if you need a house or something, well, the credit union can finance it. You need to buy a car? You buy it through the credit union and the interest rate is not as high and you get more on your money that you have deposited.
But what you do is that you have turned around now and took your monies out of the banks that won’t loan you a quarter. Unless you have a whole bunch of money already, they’re not going to loan you anything. And I’ll tell you the truth: They don’t want you to get up. They want to keep you where you’re at.
Terry Collins: Why do you think that in a city like San Francisco they don’t want more diversity, more Black people?
Willie Ratcliff: One thing you have to remember, it’s about the money and they’re greedy. They want it all. They don’t want us to have any of it. And we need to use our head to make sure we get our portion.
If anybody is responsible for our children getting killed out there, it’s as much us as it is anybody else. We blame it on the man, but what are we doing for ourselves? Just like down in East Liberty, we built our own school. If we’d been sitting up waiting for white folks, we’d have never got educated.
Then we can take advantage of the new bond funds we just passed to build all these houses and rental units. We’re going to get in on that if we put our money together where we can leverage money. Then all of a sudden you done pulled your stuff out the bank saying well I better start letting them people have some money because they’re leaving me, they ain’t putting a dime here. Then you have it both ways.
Terry Collins: We’re live here in the KPOO studio with Willie Ratcliff, publisher of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper. You say every year you’re going to pull the Black media together to try to deal with some of these problems.
Willie Ratcliff: We’re going to have it every year to thank people for what they’re doing and also get people into supporting Black media – like KPOO, the Bay View newspaper, the Sun Reporter, Oakland Post, everybody. We need all hands on deck to turn things around …
Willie Ratcliff: That’s it. If you’re down, the first thing you’ve got to do is figure how to get up. And we’re down.
But look at the election. I felt so good to see Black people standing in line for eight or nine hours. We’ve got the balance of power. White folks are going to split their vote. In California, we have a two-thirds majority in both houses of the legislature. We can override the governor. Been a long time since that took place. Things are ready for us to do what we need to do and take over our community.
Terry Collins: People need to do some critical thinking about what has to be done, what must be done.
Willie Ratcliff: We have a new civil rights organization that’s headed by Espanola Jackson and some others that’s out there pushing. And Rising Sun Developers will make sure that we do development in Bayview Hunters Point, the Fillmore, OMI and so on.
Terry Collins: Back in the day, in the early ‘70s, they wouldn’t hire enough people from the community, so they would stop the project.
The Willie Brown school – we’re calling for it to be rebuilt by our community. Community activists went and shut down the Willie Brown school demolition project after the school district had the nerve to come in and tear down the school without hiring one Black. Then I stopped them from rebuilding the school until they agree to the community rebuilding it. We met with the superintendent on the 14th to make some demands.
Terry Collins: We’re here with Willie Ratcliff, publisher of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, and he’s talking about what’s going to take place Nov. 26, Monday, over at Yoshi’s in Oakland on Embarcadero at Jack London Square.
Willie Ratcliff: For more information and to see about your tickets, go to sfbayview.com and click on the Black Media Appreciation Night banner at the top of the page.
KPOO is first on the list of awardees. A few of other people we’ll be presenting awards to are Mumia Abu Jamal – we already have his recorded voice accepting the award – Kevin Weston, Wanda Sabir, Phavia Kujichagulia, Kali O’Ray, David Roach, Kevin Epps, Davey D, Greg Bridges, JR Valrey, Walter Turner, Donald Lacy, DJ X1, James Earl-Rockefeller and myself, plus the people who used to publish The Black Panther newspaper. We’re looking to have a great time!
Terry Collins: A lot of people are going to be there.
Willie Ratcliff: Also Paul Cobb of the Post will be there. I just got off the phone with Amelia Ashley Ward of the Sun Reporter. She’s in Tennessee for her son’s graduation, and she’ll be back Sunday, and she’ll be there.
We’re asking everybody to come out and support your Bay View newspaper and your Black media. They need your support.
And also Bobby Seale and Emory Douglas will be there. Emory Douglas is one of the greatest revolutionary artists on the planet. You know people call for him all over the world. He’s in Mexico right now. People gotta be there – just to see these legendary people.
Willie Ratcliff: Big Man – we’ve run articles by him. And I was at the Black Panther reunion this year, and they gave me an award. I talked with everybody and really enjoyed it.
Terry Collins: The San Francisco Bay View reminds me of The Black Panther paper, because it’s international. You don’t go just local; you go all over the world. Our people need to know what’s happening internationally; it’s all hooked up together. Black people are catching hell all over the world.
Willie Ratcliff: There’s just a new violent eruption in the Congo. America and Europe want to hide their hand and throw a rock. They want to keep control of all of those resources that they need for our laptops and cell phones.
Willie Ratcliff: Whites don’t have the power they had any more. They can’t go out and elect anybody without people of color, and they seen that all over the country. So it’s our time to move. I just want to tell everybody it’s time to put our resources together, our minds together, to get up and do something for our children and stop the killing.
We have a two-thirds majority in both houses of our legislature and a Democratic governor, we want to push for some good laws. We want to know what’s in our food, the GMOs.
We also want to stop the police from having any information about them shielded by the law while they go around doing all these extra-judicial killings.
Terry Collins: A long time ago, the Black Panther Party tried to put a measure on the ballot over in Oakland that the police had to live in the community – down the street from the people they’re supposedly “protecting.”
Willie Ratcliff: They also need to pull that law protecting the prison system from the media – Jerry Brown vetoed it when they tried – so reporters can’t go into the prisons to see what’s going on. We need to shine a whole lot of light on the prisons.
Terry Collins: They stopped the news media from going into prisons a long time ago; wasn’t it ’91? I remember Sister Chey – Cheyenne Bell – when she used to do a program here. She went into San Quentin and interviewed Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt. Not long after that, they stopped the media from ever going into the prisons. The Chronicle wouldn’t protest it.
Willie Ratcliff: The Chronicle wasn’t trying too hard, because they’re part of the problem. They’re part of the 1 percent! But hey, we got political power and we got economic power and we got a brain. All we need to do is bring it together and make some demands.
Terry Collins: It’s rough. It’s rough. But hopefully we’ll survive some kind of way.
Thank you, Willie Ratcliff, for coming in and honoring our studio to talk about Black Media Appreciation Night when we’ll celebrate your 80th birthday. You sure don’t look 80; you look like you’re about 60 years old.
Willie Ratcliff: Thank you.
Bay View publisher Willie Ratcliff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (415) 671-0789.
Black Media Appreciation Night awards and awardees
- Champion of Black Radio: KPOO
- Champion of Human Rights: Mumia Abu Jamal
- Champion of Young Journalists: Kevin Weston
- Champion of Black Arts and Culture: Wanda Sabir
- Champion of Black Editorial Writing: Phavia Kujichagulia
- Champions of Black Film: Kali O’Ray and David Roach
- Champion of Black Storytelling: Kevin Epps
- Champion of Political Radio: Davey D
- Black Resistance Media Legacy Award: The Black Panther newspaper
- Champion of Jazz Radio: Greg Bridges
- Champion of Liberation Radio: JR Valrey
- Champion of Pan African Radio: Walter Turner
- Champion of Community Radio: Donald Lacy
- Champion of Hip Hop Radio: DJ X1
- Champion of Community Television: James Earl-Rockefeller III
- Champion of Black Media Ownership: Willie Ratcliff
Performers: Phavia Kujichagulia, Do D.A.T., Donald Lacy, Ms. Be, Mac Mall and Ray Luv