Desecration of Marcus Books! Sweis family declares war against Blacks in San Francisco

by Carlos Levexier

This photo, taken May 21, shows a desecrated Marcus Book Store, San Francisco’s shrine to Black culture and the oldest Black book store in the U.S., emptied of thousands of books and other treasures, its shelves and furniture smashed with sledge hammers by the new owners.
This photo, taken May 21, shows a desecrated Marcus Book Store, San Francisco’s shrine to Black culture and the oldest Black book store in the U.S., emptied of thousands of books and other treasures, its shelves and furniture smashed with sledge hammers by the new owners.

The Black community demands the ouster of San Francisco City Engineer Fuad Sweiss, who may have illegally provided information to his Sweis family counterparts in their interception of the Marcus Book Store property during a transaction between members of the Johnson family, owners of the store.

Marcus Book Store, the oldest Black bookstore in the U.S., established 54 years ago on Fillmore Street, has been housed for the past 33 years in a graceful old Victorian that had been home to Jimbo’s Bop City jazz club back when the Fillmore District was known worldwide as the Harlem of the West and had been saved from Redevelopment bulldozers when the district was destroyed.

After appeals from Marcus Books’ owners and supporters, noting that the store has hosted thousands of authors including Rosa Parks, James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Patti Labelle and B.B. King over the years, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in February to designate Marcus Books as a historical landmark.

The city attorney and the city engineer are two officials who see landmark designation documents before they are available to the public. Marcus Books supporters have recently learned that Fuad Sweiss was involved in insider deals in Oakland, where he worked as an engineer for 18 years before moving to San Francisco.

Since Fuad Sweiss’ move to San Francisco, we see a pattern of real estate economics shifting out of the hands of Blacks in The City. First, we saw Liberty Builders (owned by Bay View publisher Dr. Willie Ratcliff) lose a contract to build the Bayview Library after submitting the winning bid. Now we see a real estate deal between Marcus Book Store family members intercepted by the Sweis family, Fuad Sweiss’ business partners, who bought the property at an auction after a predatory lender foreclosed.

This is the Marcus Book Store that Black San Franciscans will never forget, an official historic landmark, at 1712 Fillmore St.
This is the Marcus Book Store that Black San Franciscans will never forget, an official historic landmark, at 1712 Fillmore St.

Last week, rather than allow Marcus Books family members to relocate after evicting them, Fuad Sweiss’ counterparts, the Sweis family, stole all of the books and used sledge hammers to smash the book shelves and furniture. To the Black community, this is a repeat of history, where invaders come in time and time again to smash the symbols and evidence of a people’s greatness.

The San Francisco Black community is demanding removal of Fuad Sweiss and launching a boycott against the Sweis family businesses, including Royal Cab Co.

The San Francisco Black community is demanding removal of Fuad Sweiss and launching a boycott against the Sweis family businesses, including Royal Cab Co.

Fillmore-based activist and writer Carlos Levexier, organizer of the Keep It Lit campaign to save Marcus Books, can be reached at globallos@yahoo.com.

Timeline

Cab Calloway performs at Jimbo’s Bop City in the 1950s. When Redevelopment bulldozers destroyed the Fillmore, the Bop City building was one of 12 Victorians that activists managed to move to safety in 1976-1977. It landed at 1712 Fillmore St., where it became home to Marcus Book Store in 1981. – Photo: Kurt Bank
Cab Calloway performs at Jimbo’s Bop City in the 1950s. When Redevelopment bulldozers destroyed the Fillmore, the Bop City building was one of 12 Victorians that activists managed to move to safety in 1976-1977. It landed at 1712 Fillmore St., where it became home to Marcus Book Store in 1981. – Photo: Kurt Bank

While Marcus Books owners Gregory, Karen and Tamiko Johnson have been seeking legal assistance, they tried valiantly to gain access to the store to remove the contents – thousands of books, priceless works of art and other treasures – but each time the Sweises agreed to a date, permission was revoked:

  • May 6 was the eviction date. The Sweises had the locks changed.
  • On May 7, the Sweises told Tamiko to access the bookstore property on Thursday, May 8.
  • On May 8, Chris Sweis informed Tamiko that he had meetings that day, so the next day would be better.
  • On May 9, the Johnsons hired movers and a truck. Chris Sweis refused access because of the press. The Johnsons also delivered a letter to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee requesting a meeting but have heard no response.
  • On May 12, Chris Sweis told Tamiko that they would not give access to the bookstore until she leaves. The Johnsons lived above the store.
  • By May 14, Tamiko had vacated the property.
  • On May 15 and 16, the Sweises informed Tamiko that her parents and co-owners, Karen and Greg Johnson, could not have access to the property. The Sweises contacted the owner of Marcus Book Store in Oakland to say they could have access to the property.
  • On May 16, the Sweises demanded that Tamiko testify against Carlos Levexier, a bookstore tenant who is appealing the eviction, saying that this would be the only way to access their property.
  • During the weekend of May 17-18, the bookstore was broken into and the Johnson’s computer and several other items are taken.
  • On May 21, the Sweises’ hired hands dumped the contents of the bookstore and began to smash the bookshelves and furniture.

For updates, go to https://www.facebook.com/supportmarcusbooks.

The Sweises are ransacking Marcus Books

by Grace Martinez

For the past year, the community has been meeting weekly at the bookstore to save Marcus Books. – Photo: Harrison Chastang
For the past year, the community has been meeting weekly at the bookstore to save Marcus Books. – Photo: Harrison Chastang

Since the eviction, there has been an outpouring of support and an unwavering desire to continue to reclaim the Marcus Books-Jimbo’s Bop City building – symbol of the perseverance of San Francisco’s African American community and a beacon of light and hope that refuses to be ignored or displaced.

But the new owners, the Sweis family, real estate speculators and proprietors of City Wide Cab and Big Dog Cab, don’t care. They are destroying the history and heritage of the African American community of San Francisco. The Sweises have made this painful situation even more painful.

The Sweises have refused to allow the Johnsons access to the bookstore to pack their things. With a large sign in the window declaring the eviction, the bookstore was broken into and items were stolen. As of Wednesday, May 21, the Sweises, while continuing to refuse access, began dumping and destroying the contents of the bookstore.

Mother and daughter Karen and Tamiko Johnson listen to speakers at a Save Marcus Books press conference June 10, 2013. Both were raised in the store, which was founded by Raye and Julian Richardson, Karen’s parents. – Photo: Malaika Kambon
Mother and daughter Karen and Tamiko Johnson listen to speakers at a Save Marcus Books press conference June 10, 2013. Both were raised in the store, which was founded by Raye and Julian Richardson, Karen’s parents. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

This will NOT be tolerated. Will you stand with us and DEMAND the Sweises respect our history? We need to pressure the Sweises to do the decent thing. The right thing seems to be beyond them.

To the community – book lovers, activists, residents, teachers, faith leaders – it has become increasing obvious that the Sweises do not care about the role of this building, the value of the bookstore or the history of the property to the community, nor do they have basic respect for the Johnsons and the bookstore.

The Sweises have destroyed the history of the African American community in San Francisco. When a supporter recently called the Sweises’ cab company, one member of the Sweis family demanded that we “stop calling because you’re disrupting our business.” What about Marcus Books and the Johnsons?

At another of the countless meetings to save Marcus Books are owners Gregory and Karen Johnson with renowned economist, educator and author Julianne Malveaux and activist and writer Carlos Levexier.
At another of the countless meetings to save Marcus Books are owners Gregory and Karen Johnson with renowned economist, educator and author Julianne Malveaux and activist and writer Carlos Levexier.

 

This will NOT be tolerated. Will you stand with us and DEMAND the Sweises respect our history? We need to pressure the Sweises to do the decent thing. The right thing seems to be beyond them.

Call the Sweises. Flood their phone. If Marcus Books isn’t open, then the Sweises can’t work. Call

  • City Wide Cab: (415) 920-0700
  • Royal Cab: (415) 643-9500

Ask for Chris, Nishuan or Suihala Sweis and demand they do the following:

  • Allow the Johnsons, the proprietors of the bookstore, access to the property of Marcus Books.
  • Compensate the bookstore for what was stolen during the time the Sweises refused access to the bookstore and for everything that has been destroyed or dumped since the eviction.
  • Sell the property back to the community through the San Francisco Community Land Trust and West Side Community Services, who have long offered a reasonable price, augmented by community contributions during the Keep It Lit fundraising campaign.

Please spread the word. Bay Area, STAND UP!

Grace Martinez, an organizer with ACCE (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment) and the Home Defenders League, 1331 Evans Ave., San Francisco, CA 94124, can be reached at gmartinez@calorganize.org.