Dr. Ratcliff honored by Black Chamber for Black History Month

Dr.-Willie-Ratcliff-at-his-90th-birthday-Radio-Africa-091622-by-Jesus-Arriaga, <strong>Dr. Ratcliff honored by Black Chamber for Black History Month</strong>, Local News & Views News & Views
Dr. Willie Ratcliff enjoys his 90th birthday party Sept. 16, 2022, at the superb Ethiopian restaurant Radio Africa, when the whole hood showed him their love and gratitude. Now the elite have followed suit. He loves and sacrifices for us all! – Photo: Jesus Arriaga

by Mary Ratcliff

The entire Black Who’s Who of San Francisco, a capacity crowd, greeted Dr. Willie Ratcliff Saturday, applauding his accomplishments and showering him with love and gratitude so hard won and long deserved. Impaired as he is, he felt every bit of it – Mayor Breed in the lead. A day and a half later he was in an ambulance to SF General Hospital’s shiny new Trauma Center, where he is now in ICU. The doctors hope he can regain enough strength to come back home to live. Hallelujah!

The Black Chamber wanted to celebrate Black History Month as they never have before; the organization has become large and strong and full of hope for the future Black people can build together. The event, headlined “Trailblazers in Business and Media,” was held Saturday, Feb. 18, at the new Bayview Community Center at 3rd and Evans – please, City Hall, don’t neglect our original center at Oakdale and Phelps; much history lives there! 

SFAACC-Award-to-Dr.-Willie-Ratcliff-021923-by-Kamari-Epps, <strong>Dr. Ratcliff honored by Black Chamber for Black History Month</strong>, Local News & Views News & Views
This is the beautiful award presented Saturday to Dr. Ratcliff by the Black Chamber. The etching reads: “SFAACC presents its Trailblazer Award to Dr. Willie Ratcliff for unclogging the well of Black advancement in media.” – Photo: Kamari Epps

Accepting the stunning award on Dr. Ratcliff’s behalf was Kevin Epps, who gave a moving speech about knowing Dr. Ratcliff since boyhood and making him narrator of his blockbuster “Straight Outta Hunters Point.” The other honorees include Dr. Amelia Ashley Ward, publisher of the Sun Reporter; Col. Conway Jones, publisher of the Post News Group; Renel Brooks-Moon, announcer for the SF Giants; and actor-director-political force Danny Glover, who stayed for the whole event!

A small sampling of Dr. Willie Ratcliff’s life accomplishments: Highlights of a courageous career building the Black community

1971-1979 Commissioner, Alaska State Commission for Human Rights, chairing the Commission during the 1974-76 pipeline construction period. Dr. Ratcliff built the Commission into the strongest and most aggressive in the nation. Its battery of top lawyers sued the state that funded it over and over again. One accomplishment treasured in Alaska was shutting down the Alaska Native boarding schools and mandating a school in every village.

1974-1976 Trans-Alaska Pipeline: Dr. Ratcliff won $20 million in pipeline contracts which employed 550 workers and earned top ratings for efficiency and economy of operation. Some contracts were performed by an association he formed of all the Black contractors in Alaska called Alaska Associates and others were joint ventures with Alaska Native corporations. The bonds formed then have never been broken.

1978-1979 Dr. Ratcliff and his family built a $1 million 20-unit apartment building in Valdez, the largest African American owner-built project in Alaska. Once complete and fully rented with loan payments current, the large credit union that financed it gave him three days to pay off the entire loan, then simply took the building from him.

1982 & 1984 Dr. Ratcliff was a candidate for Alaska State Senate, winning large majorities in all minority and working class precincts. He said, “The state is rich but the people are poor” and offered solutions. Instead, Alaska became an oil fiefdom but is finally emerging.

1987 Dr. Ratcliff made San Francisco his home (after coming initially for his wife Mary to go to law school), uniting Black contractors in 1993 as the African American Contractors of San Francisco.

1967-approximately 2015 Dr. Ratcliff owned and headed the general contracting firm Liberty Builders. A licensed contractor since 1967, Dr. Ratcliff and his family construction firm built public works, industrial, commercial and residential projects. Ratcliff has long experience in all phases of contracting and development, including estimating, negotiating, financing, subcontracting, hiring and field supervision, having worked in the construction industry since 1947.

1987 Dr. Ratcliff made San Francisco his home (after coming initially for his wife Mary to go to law school), uniting Black contractors in 1993 as the African American Contractors of San Francisco. He later helped revitalize the Coalition for Economic Equity, formed of Black, Chinese and Latino contractors and chaired by Aileen Hernandez; altogether they won much political respect.

1997 Dr. Ratcliff’s Liberty Builders and many other Black contractors won the largest contracts of their careers in the huge SFO expansion. Liberty Builders’ contract was to build San Francisco International Airport Boarding Area A for $3,192,000. He produced a five-story concrete building against great odds. The other Black contractors were completely barred from the jobsite, and Liberty Builders was never paid any overhead or profit. Ultimately, when the project was complete except for a checklist, a noose was hung warning his Black crew to leave SFO. They completed their work with great bravery and expertise.

The noose signaled the lockout of Blacks from construction, which holds to this day to the great shame of the City and County of San Francisco.

1992- present Dr. Ratcliff is publisher of the San Francisco Bay View, named “National Black Newspaper of the Year” by the National Black Chamber of Commerce and “Best of the Bay, Best Newspaper” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Among numerous awards is the Society of Professional Journalists’ James Madison Freedom of Information Award in 2004. The Bay View is a newspaper dedicated to the enlightenment and empowerment of the African American community, distributed in San Francisco and the East Bay and on the web at www.sfbayview.com.

Bay View publisher Mary Ratcliff can be reached at 415-671-0789 or mary@sfbayview.com