Interview of Muhammad al-Kareem by The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey
Muhammad al-Kareem founded the New Bayview newspaper, later renamed San Francisco Bay View, in 1976 and turned it over to the Ratcliffs in late 1991. So in 2016, we’re excited to be celebrating the newspaper’s 40th anniversary, beginning on Sunday, Feb. 21, 1-5 p.m., at the Main Library, 100 Larkin St., San Francisco.
You’ll hear Muhammad, a panel consisting of writers associated with the Bay View in different eras, a fashion show hosted by Big Ole Pretty Girls founder Yolanda Y’Netta, and musicians Avotcja, Stoney Creation and Sista Iminah reminding us of the beauty and talent within our community. We’ll serve food, too – and it’s all FREE. Spread the word!
M.O.I. JR: Muhammad, tell us what was happening in the Bayview Hunters Point community prior to your founding of the New Bayview newspaper and what inspired you to found a newspaper?
Muhammad al-Kareem: Well, what inspired me was, when I was a teenager, I used to see the brothers – they used to come around Hunters Point selling the paper, Muhammad Speaks, and I used to sell papers on the corner. I used to sell the San Francisco News-Call Bulletin on the street when the people came out the Shipyard, and I used to see them brothers selling Jet Magazine. I really wanted to sell Jet Magazine, but I never could find out who to see to get the copies and so forth. I was just inspired with seeing newspapers and publications I got.
The Sun Reporter – they were publishing. Dr. Goodlett and Tom Fleming and his team, they used to put out the paper – wow, like 48 pages! What they’re doing now ain’t nothing like what they did back then. They was publishing a 48-page tabloid. His tabloid was like 17 inches deep. Nothing like the lil Examiner today, it was deep and thick, every week!
I was inspired watching Martin Luther King marching. I was inspired by Malcolm X. And the funny thing about that, people was going in a direction to see who we gonna be like, you know. The inspiration came from all these things, growing up in the neighborhood – getting back to Malcolm X on the TV and Martin Luther King. I didn’t hardly see the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and then Malcolm got killed.
The brothers in Hunters Point, the older brothers, they was down. They knew a lot of stuff, man. They wasn’t no dummies. Hunters Point, man, they were intellectual. Them brothers, they wasn’t stupid. They were smart brothers. It’s just the situation that they was in portrayed them as being unorganized and so forth like that.
They weren’t organized when we had the riots (known as the Hunters Point Uprising, beginning Sept. 27, 1966). I mean we was at the riots – we was out there and didn’t have no guns! How you gonna – now how in the hell I’ma be out there ain’t got no gun? Somebody shooting at the police with a .22 or a zip gun or whatever, and I’m in the middle of all of this. I got my ass out the way from all that stuff (laughs)!
But the thing is then I begin to see you gotta have a vehicle to put your news out. Just like when I relinquished the paper to Ratcliff. I ain’t got nothing against them, but I realized, hey man, you got to have a vehicle to say what you wanna say! You know, a radio station – something, a soapbox or preaching or whatever.
A Black man gotta have something to get his word out, and from all this activity growing up in the community, that’s what I came up with. And then I realized you gotta have some – some money. You gotta be independent. I’m sitting at home in my little place and I’m employed. I’m self-employed. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught us you got to be self-employed. I mean you can’t be going down with the whims of these people, “I got to be here at 12 o’clock” or “I get off at 6.”
I mean, we at war! Man, we got to do what we got to do. The Nation of Islam, under the leadership of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, inspired me. I lived in Chicago for a short time, and I mean, I was down with that, real down with that. I was serious business. I wasn’t no – I wasn’t like those brothers in Hunters Point; they was hardcore. I wasn’t hardcore like they was but I was able to relate to them, and they was able to relate to me.
They wasn’t coming with Muhammad, and we had an opportunity to bring them brothers in with Muhammad. Then Malcolm got killed and things happened and then Model Cities came and then the money, you know, everybody fighting for that money. Eloise Westbrook and her team, she always getting that money (for rebuilding the housing on Hunters Point Hill, which Ms. Westbrook and the rest of the Big Five got by going to D.C. and bluffing their way into a private meeting with the HUD secretary).
Doing the paper was a good way to get organized, get the message out. They even had a paper one time called the Spokesman. They didn’t get too far, and I don’t know if they got the funding from the Model Cities or before the Model Cities, but the government does not sanction loans or grants to private newspapers. They do not do that. You can’t get no loan or nothing. You got to do that on your own.
That’s how I was inspired, through, all this activity. Being under the training, being FOI – the Fruit of Islam – and traveling to Chicago, once they got broke, I learned that SF Bay Area had they own, but I was able to get away from their crew and hook up with the Chicago crew – and then I begin to see the power and looked at it from a different perspective. Now I can see why things happened during the time of Malcolm X and so forth.
I wasn’t able to be on the same level as Huey Newton or Eldridge Cleaver, Marvin X. I never really met Huey Newton, but I seen him when he came down to Joe Lee (Rec Center) but I didn’t get a chance to talk with him. I knew Adam Rogers very well. The people that became the players later on in life, I knew ‘em, so they could trust me and I could talk with them, you see what I’m saying? So when I joined the Nation of Islam, it was like, “Oh yeah, well, right on brother. Do your thing.”
M.O.I. JR: What was the paper about originally? What did you set out to accomplish?
Muhammad al-Kareem: Man, we just trying to get it out. First we had to – I had to figure out a way to deal with these merchants out here. They had us like – you know, the businesses out here, they didn’t really want us out here. These white businesses? Aw, man they didn’t like us Black folk. I don’t know why we would still – I went there, but I was young – a teenager 12, 15 years old. I don’t know what the politics was – they don’t like us, you understand. And Sam Jordan, he was like the only person that I knew that was standing up. He wanted to get the word out, the truth out to the people on what’s really going down.
M.O.I. JR: Do you feel like it accomplished that goal?
Muhammad al-Kareem: At that time? Yeah! I mean it took a long time; it took like five years to get it going. The finance! To publish a newspaper, you have to have finance. I didn’t know that.
Dr. Goodlett was a doctor with an M.D., a psychologist with a Ph.D., a businessman. I didn’t know all that. I didn’t find that out until later on in life. These people, the Black publishers who had newspapers, they were professional people – insurance, business people, doctors, lawyers. I’m tryna get out there, but I ain’t got nothing. I didn’t know my ass from a hole in the ground. So I was trying to accomplish something like what Goodlett was doing in his community (the Fillmore). I thought maybe I could do it in my community (of Bayview Hunters Point), but we was so fragmented.
So the first stage was to try to develop a business in terms of advertising coming in every month. You gotta have revenue every month. So I think the first issue we raised – man, we had almost $500. I was surprised! But I had help from a couple of other businesses. Michael Williams, him and his sister-in-law had Liz Fashion. And my friend from Hunters Point who was in the vanguard, Alonzo Roger, we was trying to get that foundation so we could do it every month. You have to be consistent every month.
Then I was gonna try to bring in an editorial. So you kinda walk softly – to develop, you know, you don’t want to talk too much about the movement; you gotta kinda get in first. People want to see if you’re gonna survive, so you don’t wanna get too controversial.
But we did get controversial, and my friend and protégé, Harold Brooks – everybody knew Harold Brooks. We were teenagers, except he was an older brother, I think he came out of the Navy from Chicago. But anyway he was like the – the ringleader. He knew all the activities that’s going on with the Model Cities. He was pretty sharp, because he was leading us and he was, you know – he wasn’t scary.
That’s another thing that I notice. Some of these people out here, they scary – they have fear in ‘em. And they still got fear in ‘em now in 2015!
But we accomplished getting that out. I wasn’t a real skilled writer. English wasn’t my worst subject. But I hadn’t learned from going to college and trying to get a AA and a BA and I went to different schools and stuff. We hooked up with different people.
Now I tried to get in with Marvin and Eldridge and I tried to see where they were coming from. And I met the publisher over there at the Post Newspaper, Tom Berkeley. He was another brother we hooked up. Now Yusuf Bey – that’s the only one out of all these people out in the Bay Area that was standing on his ground and talking the talk and walking the talk. Out of all them folks, he’s the only one. Even in the temple, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad Temples of Islam, he was the only one – that’s it, yes, sir.
M.O.I. JR: When did you sell the Bay View to the Ratcliff family?
Muhammad al-Kareem: Well, I sold the paper (laughs). I said, brother, I can’t do anything with it. I had just got married. I was struggling trying to put the paper out and trying to take care of my family. I been had my wife on my case and just – the responsibility of being a – a man! I had to weigh that with, you know, I had done it so long, 15 years. And I said, well, I got all the major advertisers. I was able to meet all the publishers all over the country.
But when it comes down to it, you know, I had to pay my rent on time. I had two or three different locations at one time – I’m trying to pay rent on my house, pay the rent over here, paying the office on Third – I had two offices on Third and we had to combine it. It was a whole lot of stuff I went through.
But the only reason I sold it – it was a love – I really loved doing that, but I had to make a decision if I was gonna take care of my family or try to deal with these negroes out here, ‘cause there are a lot of them – they ain’t gonna support you. Our people don’t support us like we should. They mean well (laughs), but we don’t support us like we supposed to support us.
M.O.I. JR: Now that it’s been decades since you sold the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, how do you look at it today? When you read the Bay View in Hunters Point, what is your analysis of where it has gone under the Ratcliffs, under me, under different people that played a part in the leadership. How do you feel about the path that it’s taken?
Muhammad al-Kareem: I think it’s phenomenal (laughs)! People were asking for that paper. “Aw man, let me buy it.” Oh yeah, they was mad at me. Manny, he tried to hang around me, he was mad at me – I wasn’t selling it to him. But I saw something in Mary – she that white lady. I ain’t got – you know, I don’t have no problem with the brothers marrying white women – my nephews and nieces, they do what they wanna do – but me? I’m gonna stick with the Black woman.
But anyway, I saw Mary when I was president of the Muslims Association. That was another way I was trying to get in to develop that paper. I saw the only way I could keep this paper going was I have to be in some leadership position in a business organization that they can’t remove me, that I be right in there when the news gets off, or whatever’s gonna break ground, I’m gonna be right there in it.
So Mary was, you know, it was phenomenal that she did that. I saw something in Mary, and I said, well, I always kept it in my mind she was always asking me about it: “Oh, let me help you with the paper” – “If you sell it . . .” You know, she kind of figured I would sell it. Well – it took me a while, maybe about six months or so, but anyway, I saw something in her, and I didn’t meet Willie Ratcliff – that’s why I sold it to them and I don’t regret that I sold it to them, ‘cause, you know, I respect what they did, ‘cause putting out no paper ain’t no joke! (laughs). It’s a 24 hour 7 days a week process, ‘cause the news is being made by the second, by the minute, by the hour, by the day.
M.O.I. JR: Now that the Bay View newspaper is turning 40 years old, what do you think about that?
Muhammad al-Kareem: Well, that’s phenomenal! Now, I mean, people say, “Oh man when you …” Yeah, I started it, but they’re doing their thing. I gotta do my thing now. I ain’t got no jealousy – animosity. It be, “Oh man . . . I don’t like” – “Well, they got all this stuff in there” blah, blah, blah. Well, when I had the paper, did y’all help me doing it? Naw. Some of you did, some of you didn’t.
Some of you put the bankroll behind it. I got some cash money, couple thousand here, thousand there, you know. I had people that supported me. Mr. Tolliver, now I have to say that Joshua Tolliver, he’s a contractor. His son, Joshua Tolliver Jr., we shared an office together. He was selling cars, and he worked with Murchison.
Murchison was the first Black (car) salesman in whole San Francisco! He worked for Roger Boas, used to be the city manager for the City and County of San Francisco, but Murchison “Murch” worked for Boas Pontiac. He used to sell cars on Third Street. They used to sell cars on Third Street and Ocean Avenue.
Me and Tolliver, Mr. Tolliver, he didn’t hardly charge me no rent. I hardly paid, but at least we had a beautiful office, man! I left the office one day and forgot to lock the front door. I came back and I was worried, man, they might do something. Man, that office was still there when I got there. Ain’t nothing happen in that office. We was right across the street from the Waterloo, 6220 Third St.; B&J was right there on the corner, where Gilman and Paul Avenue run together.
So, you know, it’s phenomenal that they kept the paper together. I have to give them – I have to salute the Ratcliffs! You don’t have to agree, but it’s necessary to have the different views. Somebody have to get that word out. If somebody, you know, some little person (laughs) in the community is reading it, they’re gonna be inspired and they’re gonna do something great later on in life. The Black paper is necessary. It’s needed.
If somebody, you know, some little person (laughs) in the community is reading it, they’re gonna be inspired and they’re gonna do something great later on in life. The Black paper is necessary. It’s needed.
M.O.I. JR: No doubt. Well, thank you, sir! Last but not least, can you tell us what you’re into now? Can you tell us about your new newspaper?
Muhammad al-Kareem: Oh well, (laughs) I’m starting my paper. We published the first edition in October 2015. We don’t have a regular date yet. I’m just kinda doin a PR trying to promote it. People say, “Oh man, why don’t you get a website or put out a newsletter, do something!” I’m saying OK, so I started – I did a job, I had a job working for the union (as a painter). I made almost $4,000 in like less than a month.
So I said, “Man, I need to start the paper again.” I wanted to focus on something that they weren’t focusing on. The Bay View has their own niche. The Sun Reporter has a niche and the Post Newspapers. So I said that I want to find a niche for me and I wanted to be able to get the word out from my own perspective on what I see happening. So that’s what’s happening. I want to get the word out – things that people don’t know about the politics in this community. It’s really something – the dynamics of the politics.
And that boy got killed Dec. 2, 2015, Mario Woods. Now, I’m seeing more support from people outside the community. But a lot of people in the community are pissed off too about them police killing that boy. But the politics, the dynamics – the money that Lennar done paid everybody off. These preachers – I said, what is going on – they done paid everybody; they ain’t gonna say nothing.
‘Cause the mayor is Ed Lee and Ed Lee controls the police department and that’s why they need to get rid of that police chief and next they get rid of the mayor. So, I didn’t know the dynamics of it. But they got the general orders – I knew the soldiers have their general orders, but I didn’t know the police department have their own general orders. And the mayor is the head of the police department in San Francisco.
So, I want to get the word out and get the truth out about the real, what’s really going on. But I have to deal with all these dynamics of this community to try to get the word out with the paper that I’m developing.
Ed Lee controls the police department and that’s why they need to get rid of that police chief and next they get rid of the mayor.
M.O.I. JR: Well, thank you, Mr. Muhammad al-Kareem, the original founding publisher of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper. We appreciate you sharing the history – your history as well as the history of the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper and what inspired you to create it. Thank you.
Muhammad al-Kareem: Well, you’re welcome, and I want to thank you for keeping up your effort with the Ratcliffs and the Bay View paper and getting out the word. I’m glad to see it and now I can pass the baton and sit back and watch you!
M.O.I. JR: Right on. I’m gonna go as hard as ever.
I am The People’s Minister of Information JR, signing off for www.blockreportradio.com. Until next time, we out.
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.