From the Archive: Bayview-Hunters Point Backs S.F. State Strike, December 1968

To celebrate Black History Month, we will be highlighting clips from the KQED video archive throughout the month of February. All clips have been made available by the Bay Area TV Archive at San Francisco State University.

The above clip features KQED footage taken from three different news reports from Dec. 4, 1968, featuring the African-American community of Bayview/Hunters Point at San Francisco State College, supporting the Black Students Union and Third World Liberation Front in their efforts to establish a college of Ethnic Studies.

In early November 1968, the Black Student Union at San Francisco State University presented a list of 10 "non-negotiable" demands to administrators -- a list focusing on creating a black studies department and increasing black access to the university. College officials didn't grant the demands. So the BSU, along with other people of color organized as the Third World Liberation Front, launched what would become the longest campus strike in U.S. history.

The 115-day strike, lasting into late March 1969, led to repeated clashes between students and the hundreds of police officers summoned to campus to impose order. More than 700 students were arrested and scores injured during the strike's first two months. The standoff led to headline-grabbing confrontations between students on one side and Gov. Ronald Reagan and S.F. State's acting president on the other.

A group of community leaders march in solidarity with the Black Students Union at San Francisco State on Dec. 4, 1968.
A group of community leaders marches in solidarity with the Black Student Union at San Francisco State on Dec. 4, 1968.

In the end, the strike resulted in the creation of San Francisco State's College of Ethnic Studies, a division that today offers hundreds of classes each year and serves thousands of students.

The strike had a wider significance for San Francisco's black community, which was fighting its own battles for a more effective voice in community affairs and which came out strongly in support of the student activists.

Eloise Westbrook (1915-2011) speaking at a protest in support of a student strike at San Francisco State on Dec. 4, 1968.
Eloise Westbrook (1915-2011) speaking at a protest in support of a student strike at San Francisco State on Dec. 4, 1968.

Eloise Westbrook (1915-2011), seen first on camera in this clip, was a formidable community activist in Bayview-Hunters Point for many years. In 1970, as part of a 15-person delegation that went to Washington, D.C., to lobby for housing funds, Westbrook used her strength and determination to help secure financial backing from the Republican Party.

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At one point, when confronted with a cafe sign stating: "Senators only," she declared: "I ain't no Senator, but I'm only!" and pushed her way inside for lunch.

Ruth Williams, shown second on camera in this clip, was also a widely respected community leader in Bayview-Hunters Point, who (with Westbrook) was part of a group of women known as the "Big Five."

Ruth Williams speaking at a protest in support of a student strike at San Francisco State on Dec. 4, 1968.
Ruth Williams speaking at a protest in support of a student strike at San Francisco State on Dec. 4, 1968.

Williams was instrumental in campaigning to prevent the demolition of the historic Opera House on Third Street, and a video is currently being made by local filmmakers and residents to commemorate her work.

When Williams proudly announces onstage, "I'm from the ghetto community!" it's worth knowing -- as her son, Kevin Williams, points out -- that she wanted to reclaim the word "ghetto" for the African-American community and use it as a means of empowerment.

In 2014, the Bayview-Hunters Point community worked with the San Francisco Public Library, the Bay Area Video Coalition and the Bay Area Television Archive to produce a short documentary film that considers the legacy of Eloise Westbrook, Ruth Williams and other Bayview-Hunters Point community leaders from the 1960s. It's called Point of Pride (available online) and is being screened at S.F. State on Wednesday, Feb. 18, in the Richard Oakes Multicultural Center at 6 p.m.

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Alex Cherian is a Film Archivist at the San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive. He can be reached at acherian@sfsu.edu.

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