Last chance for Marcus Books, part of SF's black history

|
(36)

OPINION

It's taken decades, but the Mahattanization of San Francisco is nearly complete: The immigrants, artists, and natives who built the City and gave it its unique flavor can no longer afford to live here.

With San Francisco's African American population largely banished to across the bay, along with the working and artists classes, the freethinking lifestyle that attracted so many people to the Bay Area in the first place has largely been and gone.

"What is crucial, is whether or not the country, the people of the country, the citizenry, is able to recognize that there is no moral distance between the facts of life in San Francisco, and the facts of life in Birmingham," James Baldwin said on a fact-finding trip to San Francisco in 1963, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, a time at which he would have also visited Marcus Books.

If buildings could talk, the Marcus Books property on Fillmore Street, the onetime "Harlem of the West," would tell a tale of two cities for over 50 years. Once the jazz club Bop City (where John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, and Billie Holiday performed), the purple Victorian is central to a neighborhood that survived the internment and return of its Japanese American residents, a botched "redevelopment" project that resulted in the permanent displacement of African Americans, and a blueprint for a "Jazz District" that failed to launch.

Now the neighborhood faces a final act as the oldest seller of books "by and about black people" attempts to uphold a part of the history and culture it had a hand in creating, while the City looks away and toward tech as its future.

Every black writer and intellectual in the US knows the store; celebrities, activists, athletes, and literary giants — including Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali, Walter Mosely, Alice Walker, Oprah Winfrey, and Toni Morrison — have all passed through the doors of the San Francisco or Oakland stores.

Founded by Julian and Raye Richardson in 1960, their store served as a sanctuary for thinkers, authors, and community members during watershed moments, from the Voting Rights Act through the Black Power Movement and historic SFSU student strike in 1968 (resulting in the establishment of multicultural study programs which flourish at universities today).

Many of San Francisco's African American faith, civic, arts, and culture leaders were educated through the program at State, either by the Richardsons or the books they stocked at Marcus. The Richardson family continues that tradition today at the bookstore, engaging visitors in discussions on the journey from Jim Crow to the first black president .

Yet for the past year, Marcus Books has struggled to survive. Community activists, elected supervisors, and appointed commissioners helped attain landmark status for the historic building, while attorneys brokered a buyback after the property was sold at auction and a fundraising effort was launched in December (see "Marcus Books can stay if it can raise $1 million," SFBG Politics blog, Dec. 5). To contribute, visit www.gofundme.com/6bvqlk.

Marcus is not the only community-serving bookseller forced into crowdfunding and community organizing, diverted from its core mission to enlighten and educate. If a city's bookstores are any indication of its cultural diversity and intellectual health, San Francisco is on the critical list.

The City's last gay bookstore, A Different Light, was laid to rest three years ago; while our most progressive political book outlet in the Mission District, Modern Times, is on the brink (see "A Modern tragedy," Jan. 7). A similar fate for Marcus Books would mean the end to a longstanding black-owned business in the Fillmore.

Comments

Why would SFBG support this? Would they support an Aryan bookstore?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 6:20 pm

You clearly don't understand the term racist, and what's wrong with a bookstore that features work from Irish or British writers. There used to be such specialized bookstores but they have been squeezed out by the economy. There is nothing wrong with studying the history and culture of various cultures, races and religions that make up the United States, something that Marcus and other ethnic bookstores do.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 6:00 am

Yeah, maybe there used to be an Irish bookstore in SF. I neither know nor care.

But any store in this day and age that says "we only hire whites and only sell books by whites" would be hounded out of existence. So why is Marcus any different from that?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 22, 2014 @ 12:13 pm

Why are all the blacks leaving (or being urged) to leave San Francisco, and is there a correlation between that situation and the closing of Marcus? The answer is "yes" and that is obvious. Only someone in denial would deny it. The truth is that the spirit of intolerance (where blacks are concerned) is strong in San Francisco and nothing black (symbolic or otherwise) is allowed to operate there anymore.

I am black and lived around the corner from Marcus on Fillmore for 10 years. San Fransisco is racist and as for its "romantic" past, that was a ruse in my opinion, where racism was always at the core. The perpetrators of it are just not shy anymore.

Farewell Marcus! I will mourn your symbolic passing and pity San Francisco for its ongoing wickedness. Perhaps the store's leaving it just what it needs. Dust your feet off on the way out.

I have tried to be patient with San Francisco in its treatment of blacks over the years, but this is the last straw. You people are ridiculous

Posted by Guest Mike on Mar. 22, 2014 @ 11:40 am

with the phrase "that is obvious. Only someone in denial would deny it" then it is a fair bet that the statement is false. And that is the case here.

Nobody is throwing blacks out of SF. They are choosing to leave voluntarily. you obviously have a chip on your shoulder and, like so many other blacks, you turn on everyone else, act out and play a race card instead of trying to play nice and mix.

Either stay or leave. We really don't care. Just quit whining.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 22, 2014 @ 12:12 pm

More San Francisco logic that is out of step with the rest of the country. Farewell San Francisco and God bless, and God help you.

That is really what is missing out there: more attention to your Creator God, and less on yourselves.

Posted by Guest Mike on Mar. 23, 2014 @ 12:26 pm

No wonder you are unable to fathom society and the way it works , when you live your life based on some ancient fake fairy tale. You and your insane dogma are the problem.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 23, 2014 @ 3:22 pm

San Francisco remains Willie's World, our first black mayor still runs the economic show at City Hall. How's that working out for San Francisco's black community?

Posted by marcos on Mar. 23, 2014 @ 7:19 pm

His policies were not based on race and SF's "black community" is no different now than it would have been with any other mayor.

Your mistake is in classifying people by race and thinking that that matters.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 24, 2014 @ 7:14 am

"You people?" Really. Sadly, that doesn't help your argument.

Posted by Guest JD on Mar. 26, 2014 @ 12:05 pm

kind of people who think that single-race entities are desirable.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2014 @ 12:18 pm

But bookstores that cater only to one self-identified stereotype, like blacks, gays or socialists, are the most doomed.

It's the 21st century, guys.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 6:19 am

as to why the building was sold in the first place by the book store.

It seems they made some bad deals and now want a mulligan while howling about how persecuted they are.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 7:50 am

to run a single-race old school book store was not a stellar business move.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 8:15 am

Gotta bring a positive comment here. Marcus Books is a legendary landmark and relevant today for so many people. Perhaps the folks commenting should go visit and feel the love that exists there.

Tolerance, diversity, intelligence. Marcus books celebrates the triumph over the racisim of this country - and we intend to keep it going in SF!

Posted by MS B on Mar. 21, 2014 @ 10:41 am

I think that some ppl don't understand why "ethnic bookstores" or "black heritage months", or "gay pride parades" even exist. These are a way for minorities and people marginalized by main society (aka white Anglo/colonial societies, both here in Americas and Europe) to proudly show that "Yes, we matter, "Yes, we can do it" or "We exist". To celebrate who they are. To celebrate their history, To tell their history. For so long we have only celebrated white society, white holidays, white accomplishments and taught white history. (by white i mean European)

If we do NOT allow for the equal inclusion of other cultures, and broadcast our disgust for anything that encourages the empowering of disenfranchised ppl in our society, the proud telling of their history, then, unfortunately we are (still) jackasses.

But go ahead... support your Aryan bookstore, but you'd be classified as a xenophobic Nazi, perhaps rightfully so. Due to history.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 23, 2014 @ 10:10 am

A black-only bookstore is a "celebration" but a white-only bookstore is fascist?

We as a nation will only become post-racial when people no longer think in race terms like you do.

Race is a fiction. There are just individuals.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 23, 2014 @ 10:34 am

No, I dont think im a racist. I just think we should understand the need for these stores/parades/months etc. When all people are treated equally in education, work, justice system, media etc, hopefully there wont be a need for these kind of things.

But yes, I think a history month is a celebration and a bookstore is an place where we can get educational material. (An Ayan bookstore would be facist, imo, b/c Nazi/Aryan ideology seeks to preserve the "white" superior race and violently objects to living with other races/cultures). Whatever "race" is. People put a lot of value into "race", so it somehow exists.

But I agree with the other things you said ;-)

Posted by Guest on Mar. 23, 2014 @ 11:02 am

No, I dont think im a racist. I just think we should understand the need for these stores/parades/months etc. When all people are treated equally in education, work, justice system, media etc, hopefully there wont be a need for these kind of things.

But yes, I think a history month is a celebration and a bookstore is an place where we can get educational material. (An Ayan bookstore would be facist, imo, b/c Nazi/Aryan ideology seeks to preserve the "white" superior race and violently objects to living with other races/cultures). Whatever "race" is. People put a lot of value into "race", so it somehow exists.

But I agree with the other things you said ;-)

Posted by Guest on Mar. 23, 2014 @ 11:03 am

No, I dont think im a racist. I just think we should understand the need for these stores/parades/months etc. When all people are treated equally in education, work, justice system, media, and given equal opportunity etc, hopefully there wont be a need for these kind of things.

But yes, I think a history month is a celebration and a bookstore is an place where we can get educational material. (An Ayan bookstore would be facist, imo, b/c Nazi/Aryan ideology seeks to preserve the "white" superior race and violently objects to living with other races/cultures). Whatever "race" is. People put a lot of value into "race", so it somehow exists.

But I agree with the other things you said ;-)

Posted by Guest on Mar. 23, 2014 @ 11:04 am

Each is adopting a racially divisive attitude and imply that their race is better than other races.

Fuck them all. Let's just have peoples' bookstores and leave race out of it.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 23, 2014 @ 4:05 pm

If a business sells its property in some sort of failed scheme and then goes complaining to "the community" for support when the scheme doesn't work out?

Some people here are posting on the race thing, to debunk them you go on about the race thing.

The owners of the store sold the building in some confused scheme and it didn't work, them knowing Bay Area true believers it all got wrapped in some race thing now. Progressives are more than happy to confuse poor choices with victimology.

To touch on the race obsession, many of the these minority businesses and operations self exclude themselves. It actually makes progressives in the city mad when minorities move off the reservation. Our local sect would prefer that minority groups remain poor and marginalized.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 23, 2014 @ 12:21 pm

I wasnt talking about the business aspect or why the owners had in mind when selling store... etc. I was talking about understanding the "need" for ethnic bookstores, parades, heritage months. (I see a lot of comments like the 1st on this page all over social media, and wanted to respond).

America is a melting pot, but still there is a lot of hostility towards other cultures, peoples and languages. Why?

Why do we have heritage months, parades, and multicultural studies? Why did Cesar Chavez and Black Panthers demand change? Why is there a Marcus bookstore? Why is there a La Raza Institute? Why do we have Affirmative Action? Miss Chinatown pageants? City translation services in russian, tagalog and mandarin etc. There's a need. Need for inclusion. And if you're not included, you form your own club. Your own magazine, TV station or music label. There is no need for an Aryan bookstore to tell our caucasian/white/anglo history. Or white parades. Whites were/are in power and don't have to fight for representation in society or founding outlets where to tell our stories.

That's basically my comment. Maybe i didn't say anything of value. Maybe i'm a racist to you. I'm a european female immigrant, married to a latino immigrant.

--Anna

Posted by Guest Anna on Mar. 23, 2014 @ 12:55 pm

more important and better than your tribe for no reason other than that I am a member of my tribe.

GB Shaw said it perfectly - nationalism is thinking my country is better than other countries because I was born there".

Let's move beyond all this petty "I'm better than you " BS. and single-race bookstores are part of the problem.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 23, 2014 @ 4:08 pm

Huh...? Did i say that my white race is better than others? Or is the bookstore saying that African-Americans are better than others?

Posted by Guest Anna on Mar. 24, 2014 @ 3:46 pm

would be a reasonably indicator that you thought whites were better. Or at least different or more interesting. You'd be saying that being white is important enough to celebrate that with a bookstore that excludes anyone who isn't white.

Nobody wants race-based bookstores or race-based anything else. We've moved on from that.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 24, 2014 @ 4:39 pm

You are right. A white bookstore would imply that. That's why i commented in beginning. I'm glad we agree. ;-)

Does this Afr-Am bookstore imply the same? What was the reasoning to open Marcus bookstore anyway? Do you feel that it was to show that blacks are better than whites? Was the intention to exclude whites from society? Or to have a place to sell books about and by blacks? To empower and enlighten the Afr Am community? I dont know. I'm asking...

Cheers

Posted by Guest Anna on Mar. 24, 2014 @ 6:18 pm

is a "bad" thing but an all-black bookstore is a "good" thing.

Unless you think that being black is good and being white is bad.

Which sounds racist to a lot of folks.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 6:11 am

Every day in the US is white people's day.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 24, 2014 @ 7:32 pm

automobile stereo manufactures.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 24, 2014 @ 11:03 pm

Not to those of us who don't find a lot of use for identity politics and card playing.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 6:12 am

I don't get what's the hubbub about this place. If previous commenters are correct, the people who own Marcus Books actually also owned the building. But due to their withdrawing their equity and spending it, the bank took back the building, sold it at auction, and now the new owner wants to evict them because they can't afford the rent. Bookstores in general have been in trouble for years, let alone bookstores that sell only Black literature in a city that has a Black population of 6%.

So this is supposed to be gentrification's fault how exactly? THEY owned the property but got greedy and spent their equity. THEY have a business model that isn't feasible and is guaranteed to lose money. Now they want other people to give them money to pay off their mistakes because they screwed up? And people (let alone the city) should do that why exactly?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 24, 2014 @ 12:49 pm

How this is a "fight the power" issue is mystery.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 24, 2014 @ 6:00 pm

it, and everything black is precious and must be preserved.

But all things white are evil.

Or so says the all-white staff at SFBG anyway

Posted by Guest on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 6:13 am

The neighborhood would be better served by a Jamba Juice. I take my Caribbean Passion smoothie with extra diversity and a double-shot of tolerance. Now let's all hold hands!

Posted by Chromefields on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 10:16 am
Posted by Guest on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 12:11 pm

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.