by Jacquie Taliaferro
A grand sunny day dawned in San Francisco’s Hunters Point Bayvew District for the naming of “Sam Jordan’s Way,” formerly Galvez Avenue between Phelps and Third Street. Over 150 people gathered for the celebration on Aug. 18 of the first Black man to run a competitive campaign for mayor of San Francisco.
It is fitting that his two sons, Allen and Sam Jr., and baby girl Ruth with other family members were on hand. They pointed out that their father was the first African American to make a serious run for mayor and now we have a Black woman, Mayor London Breed.
Right there with Jackie Robinson, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, Kurt Flood, Tommy Smith and John Carlos, SF 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James and so many more, Sam Jordan was an athlete activist. The Sam Jordan platform in his campaign in the ‘60s was better housing and health care, education and schools, jobs and workers’ rights plus benefits. Does any of this sound familiar?
Sam Jordan’s Way is one of many San Francisco streets named after African Americans, starting with the first millionaire in California, William Alexander Leidesdorff, first African-American Supervisor Terry Francois, 1964-1977, Supervisor Willie B. Kennedy, community activist Espanola Jackson, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., plus Willie Mays Plaza and Willie McCovey Cove. to name a few. And our great state of California is named after Black Queen Califia.
A grand sunny day dawned in San Francisco’s Hunters Point Bayvew District for the naming of “Sam Jordan Way.” Over 150 people gathered for the celebration on Aug. 18.
Sam Jordan was called Singing Sam and Mayor of Butchertown, but he was just Sam to many. He would sing the national anthem before knocking his opponent out on his way to becoming light heavyweight champion. He was well known for his kindheartedness, giving out food to the needy – and not just during the holidays. Sam was also well known for putting folks in check.
Mary Ratcliff told Ruth a funny story that involves Sam Jordan. “Willie and I moved from Alaska to San Francisco in 1987 for me to go to law school. In Alaska, I’d been the state director of Martin Luther King Day and generated a firestorm by proposing to rename a main street in Anchorage for MLK. It wasn’t renamed, but the controversy took more space in the daily papers and on TV news than any issue ever up to that time.
“So when we came here, I soon discovered that the only MLK street was an insignificant one in Golden Gate Park, and I started talking up renaming Third Street – didn’t sound to me to be a street name that meant a whole lot to people. Picture this: A dumb white woman coming to a Black community – a FIERCE Black community – and proposing to change something that was central to countless lives.
“Some people did like the idea, and no one voiced any particular opposition, but there wasn’t much buy-in, so I decided to talk with community leaders to find out why. The first person I talked to was your dad, and he said, careful not to hurt my stupid but sincere feelings, ‘I have great respect for Dr. King, but I’ve always liked Three Street – has a nice ring to it’ or something close to that. He brought me up short. Who the hell was I to barge into a community and imply they needed to be more politically correct. Typical white supremacy, though unconscious.
“Sam Jordan gave me my first lesson in San Francisco in the deep thinking that has to go into any kind of Black-white alliance. I’ll always be grateful.”
I learned when I started writing for the SF Bay View Newspaper about 25 years ago that publisher Dr. Willie Ratliff and his wife Mary are dedicated to justice for us all.
Keep the celebration going. You’re always welcome to come by Sam Jordan’s Sport Bar and Barbeque at Third Street and Sam Jordan’s Way, and follow them on Facebook.