Jim Crow extended to Sutro Baths, CCC camps, S.F. State
The latter development occurred after a group of black CCC participants were ejected and arrested from a camp in Chico in June.
In the wake of the violence, Dr. J.A. Somerville, the highly respected Los Angeles dentist and owner of the Hotel Somerville on Central Avenue (later named the Dunbar Hotel) was brought to San Francisco to serve as Negro advisor to the State Emergency Relief Administration.
As construction of the Golden Gate Bridge proceeded, the leadership of California's civil rights movement sought to bridge such common discrimination in order to achieve work in the massive federal infrastructure investment. More details on this era, including a profile of Somerville and his wife, first blacks to get dental degrees from the University of Southern California, are found in Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California, Vol. 2, 1900-1950; Come to the Water: Sharing the Rich Black Experience in San Francisco and Cakewalk: an historical novel on the unsung creators of jazz music.
For someone who had built the hotel to host the 1928 NAACP convention so they would not have to face discrimination in accomodations, it was a tough pill to have to defend the move. "Since the order is final, we are cooperating," he said.
Equally paradoxical and vexing was the plan of Rev. E.J. Magruder to hold a grand event for First A.M.E. Zion Church at Sutro Baths, with 5,000 expected to visit the world's largest natatorium. Opened in 1890, the baths consisted of three large glass enclosed pools with seven plunges.
Just days later, two black women charged that the resort had refused to admit them unless they had a certificate from the Health Department. Atty. Edward Mabson reported that such discrimination had been common over the years.
A young Wesley Johnson was equally confounded upon pulling off the coup of inviting the nationally-known debate team from Wiley College in Texas to hold an interracial debate with the team from San Francisco State Teachers College. As leader of the Utopia Negro Students Club, he also planned to hold a dance in the college gymnasium.
But in the days leading up to the event, the student government president took exception to Negroes holding a dance in the gym, blocking it. The reception following the Wiley College victory took place in the Booker T. Washington Community Center instead.
The Wiley debaters gave the last word. They bested both S.F. State Teachers and the University of California during an Oakland stop. And Johnson was to become one of the top nightclub owners on Fillmore Street and founder of the annual Juneteenth celebration in San Francisco, one of the oldest in the country.
A young Joe Louis Barrow was also to find San Francisco a place to prove his mettle. The 20-year-old scored a knockout in a fight at Dreamland, which helped convince the current champion to give him a chance at the world title, a milestone which had been restricted since Jack Johnson also made his breakthrough in San Francisco in 1892.
Tomorrow: Setting the stage for Double V campaign