by Gabrielle Silva
With the passing of Civil Rights icons Representative John Lewis and Reverend C.T. Vivian this past week, we are reminded of how incredibly important it is to recognize how the people and protests of the past continue to influence the pursuit of equal rights in the present. Particularly as we lose those who have experienced these historic events first-hand.
Both men fought hard for freedom and equality, starting at young ages and continuing into their final years. They both continued their activism in the Black Lives Matter Movement, speaking out in these last few months following the death of George Floyd. The many marches occurring now in the Bay Area and across the US are not new sights, but follow a long line of protests and marches particularly evident during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
By the start of the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement largely concentrated in the South had reached the San Francisco Bay Area, motivating sit-ins, marches, protests and rallies addressing social injustice and economic inequity. Segregation and discrimination against African Americans in F.W. Woolworth stores throughout the country prompted some of the first sit-ins in San Francisco in 1960. The killing of four young Black girls in a bombing at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama sparked a march of 2,500 people in San Francisco in 1963. And on July 12, 1964, two events prompted the largest Civil Rights march in San Francisco to date: the potential nomination of Senator Barry Goldwater for President at the Republican National Convention, held at the Cow Palace in Daly City on July 13-16; and the placement of Proposition 14 on the 1964 November ballot in California.
Proposition 14, if passed, was to repeal the 1963 Rumford Fair Housing Act which made it illegal for property owners and landlords to discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, religion, sex, marital status, physical handicap, or family status. It was an attempt to once again allow discrimination, claiming that no one, not even the State, could control a potential landlord’s or seller’s decision to decline applicants. Many felt this was unconstitutional and, according to Governor Edmund “Pat” Brown, would allow for “discrimination of which not even Mississippi or Alabama can boast.1”
The potential nomination of Barry Goldwater was disconcerting for those in both the Democratic and the Republican parties due to his racist rhetoric, beliefs, and past actions against civil rights. Handbills advertising the march on Sunday, July 12, 1964 stated its purpose, “To make known to the Republic Convention our rejection of Barry Goldwater, the anti-civil rights candidate who is the rallying center for Birchers, White Citizens’ Councils, KKK, and segregationists.2” It was organized by the U.C. Berkeley Chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) led by John Lewis, and was projected to be the largest nationwide civil rights demonstration since the 1963 March on Washington (at which John Lewis, then only 23-years-old, was a keynote speaker).
The march started about 1:30 pm at First and Market Streets and moved ten blocks up Market to McAllister, then to Polk Street, stopping in front of City Hall. Over 35,000 protesters were in attendance, the largest number San Francisco had seen up to that time, and all were peaceful from beginning to end.
Aside from John Lewis, others on the street that day included Civil Rights leader William Chester, known for forming a black caucus in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10; Hall of Fame baseball player Jackie Robinson, along with four of his distinguished, New York Republican friends; Rev. Hamilton T. Boswell, first chairman of the San Francisco Conference on Religion and Race and also the mentor to and campaign manager for Mayor Willie Brown; and James Farmer, co-founder of CORE.
Signs held by protesters read “Bury Goldwater,” “Goldwater ‘64, Bread and Water ‘65, Hot Water ‘66,” “Vote for Goldwater – Stamp out Peace!,” “I’d Rather Have the Scurry than Barry-Barry,” while others compared him to Hitler (“Goldwater for Fuhrer”).3 Some marchers carrying signs praising Goldwater wore pillowcases as Klu Klux Klan (KKK) hoods, although it’s unclear now whether these individuals were using satirical imagery to show the kind of people who did support Goldwater or actual white supremacists staging a counter protest.
The march concluded in front of City Hall, where the street in front was blocked off and a stage was set up for speakers. Here William Chester, the rally’s emcee, spoke, declaring that they were not against the GOP as a whole, but against Goldwater as a candidate. John Lewis asked the crowd, “Do we need a man who sets States’ rights above human rights?”
Many marches, sit-ins, picketing and rallying followed the Human Rights March of July 12, 1964 fighting Goldwater, Proposition 14, and the systemic racism that has carried us to the Black Lives Matter Movement today, more than 50 years later. And while the marches happening now may follow different paths than the march in July 1964, many continue to end in front of City Hall where rallies and speeches take place.
President Barack Obama, who gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to both John Lewis and C.T. Vivian for their monumental contributions in the fights for civil rights, said about Lewis that he will, “continue, even in his passing, to serve as a beacon in America’s journey towards a more perfect union.4”
As we look back on historic events like the Human Rights March of July 1964 and watch the Black Lives Matter Movement unfold in July 2020, it’s clear that there’s still work left to be done. The example set by these marches and Civil Rights leaders like John Lewis continue to educate us and give us focused hope for the future.
1. “Brown Assails Prop 14 as ‘Cudgel of Bigotry’,” Los Angeles Times, October 8, 1964, p. 18.
2. “Anti-Goldwater March Today,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 12, 1964, pp. 1, 10.
3. “35,000 Join Anti-Goldwater March,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 13, 1964, p. 5.
4. “My Statement on the Passing of Rep. John Lewis,” by Barack Obama, Medium, July 17, 2020.
A. “Civil Rights Legend Rep. John Lewis dead at 80,” by Suzanne Malveaux, Lauren Fox, Faith Karimi, and Brandon Griggs, CNN, July 18, 2020.
B. “The Civil Rights Movement in the Bay Area,” The Bancroft Library.
C. “Mitt Romney, in marching for Black Lives Matter, was inspired by his father’s 1964 SF battle,” by Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle, July 17, 2020.
D. “Civil Rights Icon Rev. C.T. Vivian dies at 95,” by Kelly McCleary, CNN, July 18, 2020.
E. “When Jackie Robinson Confronted a Trump-Like Candidate,” by Matthew Delmont, The Atlantic, March 19, 2016.
F. “William H. Chester,” by Peter Cole, BlackPast, August 5, 2011.