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1984: Confederate flag of slavery taken down from San Francisco Civic Center – 3 times!

August 2, 2015

by Workers Vanguard

When Bree Newsome pulled down the Confederate flag – the banner of fascist Ku Klux Klan terror, akin to the Nazi swastika – from in front of the South Carolina statehouse in Columbia on June 27, she gave brief, heroic expression to an anger felt far beyond the Lowcountry over the bloody massacre in Charleston 10 days earlier.

April 15, 1984: Spartacist League supporter Richard Bradley climbs the flagpole at the San Francisco Civic Center to rip down the Confederate battle flag.

April 15, 1984: Spartacist League supporter Richard Bradley climbs the flagpole at the San Francisco Civic Center to rip down the Confederate battle flag.

The young Black activist’s exemplary act of protest recalled a series of events three decades ago, not in a bastion of the Old South ruled by Republican nut jobs, but 2,500 miles away in liberal San Francisco. San Francisco Chronicle journalist Peter Hartlaub recounted in a June 21 posting on his SFGate.com blog that the Confederate battle flag used to fly in the S.F. Civic Center Plaza.

Hartlaub wrote that he’s not sure when the flag “came down for good.” The answer is 1984, when supporters of the Spartacist League, Spartacus Youth League and Labor Black League for Social Defense removed it in the face of strenuous efforts to keep it flying by the city’s then mayor Dianne Feinstein, now a longtime leader of the Democratic Party in the Senate known for pushing U.S. imperialist wars and NSA snooping.

The flag of slavery is burned by Spartacist and Labor Black League supporters.

The flag of slavery is burned by Spartacist and Labor Black League supporters.

On April 15, 1984, SL and LBL supporter Richard Bradley, clad in the Civil War uniform of a Union Army soldier, scaled a 50-foot flagpole at the S.F. Civic Center and ripped down the Confederate flag of slavery that had flown over the city for too many years. At ground level, what was left of the flag was burned by a member of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 6.

As the hated symbol of racism and Klan terror was set ablaze, a crowd of Black people, trade unionists and socialists broke into jubilant cheers, and a chorus of “John Brown’s Body” rang out. Black people in the Bay Area welcomed the victory as their own; press clippings make clear that people across the city were glad to be rid of the insult.

At the time, Feinstein, who was in the running for the Democratic vice presidential nomination, was seeking to curry favor with the Dixiecrats, who would be arriving in town three months later for the Democratic National Convention. She had the flag put back up – a racist provocation that came one day after the outrageous acquittal of a KKK-Nazi death squad who had gunned down five leftists, civil rights activists and union organizers in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1979. Bradley and the SL responded by going right back and tearing the new flag to pieces, just hours after Feinstein had hoisted it.

Cops watch the Confederate battle flag burn.

Cops watch the Confederate battle flag burn.

Bradley, who knew well from his childhood in South Carolina what that flag stood for, was arrested for the second time and would be put on trial for “vandalism.” In the eyes of Feinstein and the racist cops, he was a criminal for tearing down the slavocracy’s rag, but in the Bay Area, Ritchie was a local hero, unable to walk into a bar or restaurant without having a drink or meal bought for him.

Telegrams and phone calls poured into the mayor’s office, including from local union leaders, forcing Feinstein to back down and promise that the hated flag would not fly again.

Bradley climbed the flagpole a third time, this time to put up a replica of the historic Union garrison flag that flew over Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor when Confederate forces fired the opening shots of the Civil War. Demonstrating again her scorn for those who fought to smash slavery, Feinstein vindictively had the Union flag removed and it was shredded.

The actions of Bradley and the SL garnered support and gratitude far and wide, including from the incomparable writer Gore Vidal, who inscribed a copy of his new novel “Lincoln” with the words “Lincoln would also have wanted the flag’s symbolic removal.” On June 4, Bradley’s trial ended with a hung jury – eight for acquittal.

Richard Bradley, dressed in a Union soldier’s uniform, cuts down the Confederate flag from atop the 50-foot pole in the San Francisco Civic Center, April 15, 1984.

Richard Bradley, dressed in a Union soldier’s uniform, cuts down the Confederate flag from atop the 50-foot pole in the San Francisco Civic Center, April 15, 1984.

One juror told Bradley, as he shook his hand, “I would have done it if I had the guts.” The juror donated $20 to the defense and bought a subscription to Workers Vanguard. A week later, in an attempt to avoid further embarrassment for the city administration, Feinstein’s district attorney moved to dismiss all charges – over the strenuous objections of the defense with Bradley insisting on his day in court.

But the story didn’t end there. Feinstein just would not let it die. At the end of June, on the same flagpole that Bradley had twice scaled to remove the Confederate battle flag, the mayor raised the “Stars and Bars,” the first flag of the Confederacy.

That flag was a call to arms for the slaveholders in 1861, just as the Confederate flag is today for the paramilitary KKK and Nazi killers. It was moreover an affront to the history of California, which entered the Union as a free state in 1850 and supplied troops for the Union Army.

In the early morning hours of June 29, anti-racist militants not only took down the flag of slavery but also felled the pole. One of these union workers later wrote to Workers Vanguard, describing the carefully planned action. His report began: “Using an acetylene cutting torch we first cut out a wedge, or fish mouth, to determine the direction of the fall,” and it went on to detail the safety precautions taken to ensure no one was injured.

The Spartacist League saw to it that the Confederate flag, the banner of racist terror, didn’t fly at the S.F. Civic Center. We have a long and proud history of fighting for Black freedom based on the understanding that it will be fully achieved through a third, socialist American revolution. Join us in this task. Finish the Civil War!

Workers Vanguard, where this story first appeared, can be reached at slbayarea@fastmail.net or 510-839-0851.

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6 thoughts on “1984: Confederate flag of slavery taken down from San Francisco Civic Center – 3 times!

  1. 1956richardgreene

    What in world was this treasonous traitorous America hating flag doing up in liberal San Francisco? If Isis or traditional dressed Muslim did half of what these haters did burning old glory spitting on the constitution and murdering our soldiers,Red necks would howl for their heads on a platter… and get them!

    Reply
  2. Steve Edwards

    Deceptive article.

    In 1984 millions of liberals, African Americans, and many other groups tuned in to their favorite TV show, "The Dukes of Hazzard", to watch Bo and Luke outwit county commissioner Boss Hogg, who was just as evil as his name implied. And of course they watched to catch a glimpse of Daisy Duke in her short denim cut-offs (we should really come up with a name for those).

    But – wait a minute – what was that painted on roof of the good guys' famous Dodge Charger, the General Lee, which was an important part of every episode? A big Confederate flag!

    And nobody cared. Because in 1984, the flag was a harmless, generic symbol of Southern identity. It was like wearing an "I Heart NY" t-shirt in NYC.

    It was probably flown in 1984 as olive branch to flyover America, an attmept to prevent this sort of thing: https://www.wsj.com/articles/in-a-divided-nation-… .

    Clearly there were a few activists in SF tying it back to the Civil War, and trying to make a big deal about it. They've succeeded in causing a large number of folks to be offended about it in 2017. But that was not the case in 1984.

    Reply
    1. david4445

      As a southerner and former San Francisco resident of 10 years, I often bring up Dukes of Hazard to try to explain to people the complicated history of the Confederate Flag. I also bring up Billy Idol of 1980s fame, a British pop star who wore the flag as part of his 'rebel' look and Granny on the Beverly Hillbillies who would carry it around in some episodes. All of white America laughed, never thinking of Granny as an old southern racist, pining for the days of slavery and lynchings, burning a cross in the Drysdale's front yard.

      This is not excusing the flag, it's not saying that it was ever OK, it's an attempt to explain to people that this flag has not always been viewed as a racist symbol by everyone, not even close. Not every Northerner who bought a Confederate t-shirt on their way to Florida was wanting to express their white pride. All they saw was a souvenir. If we see a photo of someone from let's say, 1974, wearing the flag. There's absolutely no reason to think they understood that this would be a toxic symbol of slavery and oppression in 2018, no different than a Nazi swastika. But that's where we today. It feels good to be on the moral high ground and scream 'racist!', without making any effort to understand and accept the context. A person's reputation can be ruined today if an old photo shows up online from the 70s or 80s and they're next to this flag. All of the trauma of 400 years of slavery and Jim Crow is associated with them. It's a bit nuts.

      This lack of awareness around the flag was ignorance, it was an insensitivity to all that this flag represented and developing a deeper consciousness around the flag has been very gradual for white America, all of white America, even in San Francisco. Like the protest in 1984, people made this association until more and more people understood. Today, even in the south, it's seen as the symbol for the KKK and neo-Nazi groups. Almost all southerners want nothing to do with it today, we understand what it says. Civil War monuments are coming down steadily by majority consensus. It's never in the news unless a white supremacy group shows up to throw a fit. In Charlottesville, they came from as far away as California.

      Reply
  3. Rod Hinds

    There is no excuse for Confederate flag flying over city hall in SF. Cultural exhibit my ass. Feinstein needs to go.

    Reply

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