‘Master Developer’ is plantation mentality

Willie Ratcliff, backed by Espanola Jackson, Marie Harrison and Charlie Walker, speaks to the press on Dec. 19, the day the filing of the lawsuit to reinstate the referendum petition was announced – Photo: Doug Comstock

Editorial by Willie Ratcliff

“I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nobel Prize acceptance speech

“Now we demand a chance to do things for ourself/ We’re tired of beatin’ our head against the wall/ And workin’ for someone else.” – James Brown, “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,” written in 1968 to unify the Black community in response to the assassination of Dr. King and the riots that ensued.

We’ve filed the lawsuit to reinstate the will of 33,000 San Franciscans who signed our referendum petition and to toss the tyrants out of San Francisco’s Black Belt. Now people inside and outside Bayview Hunters Point are asking, “Even if you stop the Redevelopment Agency, how will you stop redevelopment by the big boys like Lennar?”

I say we have the wealth and the talent right here right now to develop our own community ourselves the way we want it, to put our people to work and to stop the killings by showing our youngsters that justice is their birthright.

The Redevelopment Agency stole our right to self-determination, bringing Lennar all the way from Florida to build some houses in Bayview Hunters Point and crowning Lennar our “Master Developer.” Why? I’ve built many houses, even a 20-unit apartment building. Lots of Blacks can build good housing. We’re the people who built the White House, you know.

“Master Developer” is plantation mentality – and it’s un-San Franciscan. San Francisco’s charm – what makes this the world’s favorite tourist town, besides its hills, cable cars and bridges – is its small businesses, giving unique, exotic flavor to each neighborhood. Let boring big box and chain stores make other cities look identical; in San Francisco, we love to shop in the neighborhood with merchants who are our neighbors.

So why do we need a big box “Master Developer”? Why can’t developers who live here develop our own neighborhood, building new homes and businesses and making the old ones good as new?

Is it because we’re poor? We may be cash poor, but we’re property rich. With the highest rate of homeownership in San Francisco, Bayview Hunters Point’s Black home and commercial property owners must own hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equity. If the banks would stop redlining us or, much better yet, if we had our own bank, we could pool our equity and build anything we want.

Is it because we’re Black? Listen to this description of Chicago in 1919: Despite its “involuntary poverty,” the “Black Belt of Chicago is probably the strongest effective unit of political power, good or bad, in America. … (It) holds at least 125,000 persons. This is double the number that same district held five years ago, when the world war began. …

“They had one bank three years ago. Now they have five. Three co-operative societies to run stores are forming. Five new weekly papers, two new monthly magazines, seven drug stores, one hospital – all of these have come since … 1916. Also since then a life insurance company and a building and loan association have been organized. … In one district … there have been established within two years under negro auspices a café, a drug store, a laundry, a bakery, a shoe repair shop, a tailor shop, a fish market, a dry goods store. …

“They have … the largest single protestant church membership in North America in the Olivet Baptist church (with) more than 8,500 members. The … Meat Cutters … union … reports that upward of 10,000 colored workmen are affiliated. … There is apparent an active home buying, home owning movement … indicating that the colored people coming in with the new influx are making preparations to stay.”

These observations come from Carl Sandburg’s book, “The Chicago Race Riots.” Yes, despite their zeal to develop and uplift their community, Blacks faced racism, then as now. The three-day race riot in 1919, started by whites who killed a Black boy for swimming across “an imaginary segregation line” at the beach, claimed 20 Black lives and 14 white lives and burned the homes of several Black families.

Racism remains, but so does Black zeal. We don’t need a “Master Developer” at the Hunters Point Shipyard or anywhere else. When we’re in charge, we’ll obey the wise mandate of Proposition P and wait to develop the Shipyard until it’s completely clean.

We won’t build a stadium – as Mayor Newsom proposes – on top of one of the deadliest, most toxic and radioactive dumps in the country that burned for months in 2000, deep underground. We won’t stir up toxic dust as Lennar has that measurably poisons our children. We know the Shipyard is still not fit for human habitation. We’re not stupid.

Meanwhile, I dream of an international market and a hotel on Third Street, and my neighbors and I are making plans to build them. I want to invite all our neighbors who moved away to come back to build and buy new homes they can afford and renovate all the beautiful old homes.

We could use the City’s help with financing until we have our own bank. Other than that, with James Brown, I say, “I don’t want nobody to give me nothing. Open up the door; I’ll get it myself.”

Bay View publisher Willie Ratcliff can be reached at (415) 671-0789 or editor@sfbayview.com.