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PART II— SAN FRANCISCO: 1951–1964
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PART II—
SAN FRANCISCO:
1951–1964


45

Chapter Five—
The Fillmore

Well, well, well, don't worry 'bout me . . . I done cross over
The Soul Stirrers
Texas Jubilee Negro Gospel Singers, 1947


The Willie Brown who stepped off the train in San Francisco on August 4, 1951, was not much to look at. He was a slightly built, short young man with ridiculously thick glasses. His best clothes were a white shirt, khaki pants, and a well-worn pair of shoes. Everything he owned fit into his small cardboard suitcase. He was virtually indistinguishable from the thousands of other Negroes flooding into the San Francisco Bay Area that summer from the rural South searching for opportunity and escaping the straitjacket of segregation. The date of August 4, 1951, is permanently fixed in Willie Brown's memory. He considers it his second birthday.[1]

Yet there was something to distinguish him, namely his huge dreams and expectations, and a personality to match. Brown's goal was to get into Stanford University, the finest private university in the West.[2] He was outgoing, gabby really. He possessed a winning smile and an infectious laugh, and he could learn names and faces in an instant. He had graduated second in his high school class, an achievement he considered of major value, although he would soon learn that it counted for little in his new world. He was bookish, priding himself for being something of a math whiz. Above all, Willie Brown was eager in the extreme and not easily deterred. If he lacked any self-confidence, no one saw it.

His uncle Itsie Collins picked him up at the depot. Collins must have been an awesome sight that day to young Willie Brown as he stepped off


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the train. Collins wore a silk suit, a one-hundred-dollar felt Dobbs hat, and an elegant shirt tailor-made in Chinatown. His attire was embellished with an expensive watch, diamond rings, and a diamond stick pin. Collins drove to the station in his late-model car. To an impressionable young man from Texas, Itsie Collins was the epitome of success.[3] Collins was doing better in San Francisco than he had ever done in Mineola running his combination dance hall, card parlor, gin joint with his brother. He was on his own now and bigger than ever, running an illicit gambling casino in San Francisco. Collins had a string of "boys"—as he called them—working for him. He considered himself "the best-dressed man in San Francisco,"[4] and he may well have been. Collins wasted no time in telling young Brown to get rid of his khakis. Willie Brown looked like a farmworker from Texas—which, indeed, he was—and that just would not do for the urbane life he was about to lead.

Collins brought his nephew home to his three-story flat on Oak Street. Collins handed his wife, Idora, a wad of cash and told her to take Brown to the Emporium department store and deck him out with a new set of clothes.[5] Brown had never seen such clothes except in mail-order catalogs.

The vibrant world Willie Brown entered that August was about as far from Mineola as he could have gotten while still remaining in North America. To begin with, for the first time in his life Brown lived in a house that had running water and was situated on a street with sidewalks. But there was more. San Francisco—black San Francisco—was a twenty-four-hour-a-day city. And the epicenter of that San Francisco was the Fillmore, or Western Addition as city planners called it. Just to the west of the civic center and to the south of the posh Pacific Heights, the Fillmore was a self-contained city within a city roughly eight blocks by six blocks—about a square mile. Visually, it was an urban landscape of stubby Victorian buildings crisscrossed by a canopy of wires for electric streetcars. Sitting in a trough surrounded by hills in the center of the city, the Western Addition offered few, if any, spectacular views. It was not prime real estate.

It became the neighborhood of choice for blacks in the city beginning in about 1920. Eventually, as racial restrictions were imposed, the neighborhood became the major ghetto for African Americans in San Francisco. By 1930 nearly half of the city's blacks resided in the enclave.[6] Ten years later, the Western Addition was considered by whites as the Negro section of San Francisco, and it became a slum. Most of the city's substandard housing was located there.[7] In the year Willie Brown arrived in San Francisco, Thomas Fleming, managing editor of the Sun-Reporter newspaper, wrote, "Job discrimination based on color, is, in my opinion, more vicious in the city of San Francisco than it is in other parts of the South."[8] However, it was also an ethnically diverse, culturally rich neighborhood with a strong sense of community. It was the Harlem of the West.[9]


47

Historians have written much about the migration of blacks to eastern cities during World War II, but less noted was the movement westward.[10] That migration was no less transforming in the West than it was in the East. Not since just after the Civil War had so many blacks been on the move all at once. In the years just before the turn of the twentieth century, 90 percent of all African Americans lived in the rural South; eighty years later, 85 percent lived in urban areas, with only slightly more than half still in the South.[11] By the end of the war, two-thirds of the blacks living in San Francisco were recent migrants from the South, and slightly more than half of them were from the lower Mississippi River drainage region of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Mississippi.[12] Within four years, twenty-seven thousand African Americans migrated to San Francisco alone.[13]

That migration transformed California almost overnight. Writer Carey McWilliams, one of the few in that period who understood what that migration meant for the future of California, wrote, "San Francisco was not only the first boom town in the West but the one town that continued to boom."[14] The populations of Texas and California were roughly equal in 1940, but in the next eight years the population of California grew a phenomenal 45 percent, compared with a sluggish to percent in Texas.[15] "If asked to name the most important respect in which California differs from the other 47 states, I would say that the difference consists in the fact that California has not grown or evolved so much as it has hurtled forward, rocket fashion, by a series of chain reaction explosions," McWilliams observed.

The migration of blacks from the South during World War II continued unabated following the war. By 1950 there were 43,460 blacks in San Francisco, almost ten times the number from a decade earlier.[16] And they kept coming. In 1951, when Willie Brown arrived, there were an estimated fifty-five thousand blacks in San Francisco.[17] At one point the Urban League's executive director, Seaton W. Manning, remarked, "I find it hard to believe that there are any Negroes left in Texas and Louisiana."[18]

As blacks poured into the San Francisco Bay Area from 1940 on, they became the main target of racial restrictions.[19] The system had grown entrenched since the Gold Rush, a century earlier, when Chinese were the principal targets of discrimination. Nor did San Francisco's racial restrictions fall easily. In the mid-1960s, when racial barriers were falling everywhere, the all-white maintenance crew on San Francisco's proudest symbol, the Golden Gate Bridge, walked off their jobs to protest the hiring of the first blacks into their ranks.[20]

The Western Addition of the 1950s was a boomtown of theaters, hotels, bars, restaurants, billiard halls, and, of course, casinos[21] —and Willie Brown set forth to explore them all. Robert Scheer, in his 1991 biographical portrait of Brown for the Los Angeles Times Magazine , characterized Brown's wanderings as "liberating, quite a break from the straight-laced maternalism of


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Mineola."[22] Indeed, it was a male-centered world. Brown found the Long Branch Bar, a joint that ran the entire length of a city block on Post Street between Fillmore and Steiner, and Jimbo's Bop City, which did not open until 2 A.M., when the legal bars closed. One block of Post Street contained no fewer than four casinos, all in a row.

Itsie Collins's casino was on that particular block. Unobtrusively called the "Smoke Shop," it had a counter with cigars and candy in front. Behind the counter was a door, and behind that door was another door. Behind that was the casino. If the police were lurking, the man selling cigars in front would push a button with his foot setting off a light inside the casino. By the time the police got through all of the doors, the evidence of gambling was removed.[23]

The police regularly collected a cut in return for leaving the casinos alone or going easy when they raided. "You can't make money unless you make something for them, too," Collins explained.[24] Collins met a police officer every Monday on the same corner and left an envelope full of cash on the seat of his patrol car. However, the police still had to periodically bust the gambling joints so that they would look like they were doing their jobs. They reached an accommodation with Collins and his friends to everyone's mutual benefit. A police officer would tip off Collins about the raid. Collins would make sure there were eight or ten people around to get arrested, paying them ten dollars a piece for the favor. Meanwhile, the regular gamblers would hang out at a bar until the raid was over. "When the raid is over, everybody come out right back to gambling," he said.[25]

In recent years, protective of his politician nephew, Collins consistently told reporters that Willie Brown had no involvement in his gambling business in those wide-open days. "He never did want to come around me on my line," he said. "He wasn't interested in it, and I didn't try to make him interested in it."[26] Collins said he set up Brown at Cobb's barbershop shining shoes, purchasing a chair for him and all the equipment he needed. But his nephew, he said, hated shining shoes and quit after three days. Brown found a job selling shoes somewhere else, and that was the end of it.[27]

But that was not the whole story.

Willie Brown was involved in his uncle's gambling business. His involvement was unavoidable. Pressed on the subject in an interview for this book, Brown replied that he used his uncle's shoe-shine chair as a lookout post: "I did during a brief period working, I think, as a shoe-shine boy at or near where Itsie and his crowd hung out and would on occasion let them know if there was any police anywhere around. I was not the watch person, as such, but I certainly wouldn't want them to get busted."[28]

His uncle would leave cash each day for Willie before leaving the house. Willie explored the city mostly on his own. For a young man whose previous world was the sandy streets of a rural Texas town, San Francisco was nothing less than the Land of Oz. "The way that I learned about San Francisco was


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[Itsie and Idora] not spending any time taking me anyplace. They would just tell me where to go, and they always left enough resources in terms of money available every day for me to go do whatever I needed to do or wanted to do, and they left me pretty much on my own to exercise my own judgment about my associates, the places that I hung out in."[29]

Brown's taste for nightclubs and the fast lane have run unabated throughout his adult life. To this day he adores the nightspots of San Francisco, enjoys discovering the latest hip place and showing it to his friends. The nightclubs of San Francisco are for him a magnificent stage. He adored Itsie's style, his panache. Brown once said he modeled his life after Itsie Collins. Pressed to explain, he said he admired Collin's "zest for life that he has always had. He absolutely enjoys every second of his life, and he never exhibited malice toward anything or anybody."[30]

Nonetheless, Brown apparently was not seriously tempted to make the seamier side of his uncle's life his own. At the urging of his mother, among the first things Brown did was join a church. He chose the Jones Methodist Church on Post Street, exactly one block west of Collin's gambling casino. Just as in Mineola, where his gift of gab made him a standout, Brown emerged as the youth leader at Jones Church. Brown, in fact, straddled two ways of life. Such straddling was really not unusual. "You see, in the black community a pimp might live right next door to the preacher," said the Reverend Hamilton Boswell, the pastor of Jones Church in the 1950s. "You don't agree on personal lifestyles, and all of that, but you're forced to live together in the same community."[31] Brown could easily have fallen into a life in the underworld or, just as easily, become a preacher. He chose neither. His ambition was far bigger.

His most immediate problem was getting into Stanford University. Someone told him—he is not sure who—to talk with Duncan V. Gillies, who was a professor at San Francisco State College. Gillies had been appointed to the faculty at San Francisco State a year earlier. An undergraduate alumnus of San Francisco State himself, Gillies had a master's degree in education from Stanford.[32]

Gillies was a professor of educational psychology, and he was a controversial one. He had been an Army officer for twenty-two years and had served in World War II. He was fearless. Throughout his career Gillies took politically unpopular stands. He was particularly known for his advocacy of sex education at a time when it was believed to be part of a Communist plot in California. In the 1950s Gillies raised eyebrows by publicly deploring the practice of expelling pregnant teenage girls from high school.[33] Finding Gillies was one of Brown's luckiest breaks in a life filled with lucky breaks.

San Francisco State in the 1950s was an oasis of political liberals and racial progress. A group of professors had launched an interracial church that struggled for acceptance in both the black and white communities.[34] The professors also practiced a primitive form of affirmative action and were on


50

the lookout for promising young Negroes for admittance to the college. Willie Brown was just the sort they were looking for. He turned out to be perhaps the most prominent beneficiary of their forward-looking experiment.

Brown talked to Gillies about getting into Stanford, and Gillies reviewed his educational background. Gillies was frank with Brown. Brown's preparation was hopelessly inadequate for Stanford or the University of California, across the bay in Berkeley. Most of what Brown had learned in his rural, segregated school he had learned by rote. "He indicated to me that he didn't believe under any circumstances that I could ever enter Stanford or Berkeley."[35] However, Gillies encouraged Brown to take an entrance exam for San Francisco State. "I accepted his advice. It was the best advice I had ever gotten, educationally speaking. It was probably the only advice I ever got, educationally speaking, as I reflect upon it."

Brown took the exam, but he did not do especially well. "By no stretch of the imagination was Mineola Colored High ever even close to being a college prep institution," he explained, years later.[36] "I was miseducated in a little red school house. The education that I got students should not be burdened with. You don't know how much self-learning and how much un-learning that I had to do. I entered college on probation, and not for crimes. I didn't have the background. I didn't know science."

In summer of 1993, Brown again described the experience at an extra-ordinary gathering of his high school classmates at a dinner back in their hometown in Texas. It was one of the few occasions in which the ever-confident Willie Brown exposed his feelings of insecurity that he kept usually well hidden. "You've got to know that I did not pass the entrance exam. I could not, nor could any of you. You could not have passed the entrance exam. It contained information that you've never been exposed to. It contained words that were not a part of what we had been a part of, and my guess is that many of you with college experiences come out of Mineola were like that."[37] Many of his friends nodded in agreement.

Nonetheless, Gillies saw to it that Brown was admitted to San Francisco State on a probationary status, giving Brown one semester to prove he could perform college work. As a politician, Brown always prided himself as a quick study and as something of a genius. Indeed, he boasted to his high school friends at their reunion that he found college academic work not so hard after all. But in reality Brown struggled in those first few months. His preparation for college work was, in fact, terrible. He had learned how to do math, but he had never learned the principles behind any of it. Many of the words in his college books were foreign to him, as they would have been to anyone from his background.[38] Geometry in high school was a matter of memorizing a book. But in college he was required to analyze the problems. "That was absolutely flabbergasting because I just couldn't do it," he once admitted.[39] His uncle remembered that Brown worked hard and was frequently down.


51

His cavorting at the nightclubs all but ceased. "We all sit and have dinner," Collins recalled, "but he didn't do no socialize. He just study. Instead of being out like any youngster would be, he be looking at a book."[40]

Brown spent long hours in the library, and his aunt and uncle saw him less and less. They worried. Itsie Collins finally sent one of his "boys" from the gambling casino to see him. "I sent him up there to represent me to see what was the matter," he recalled. "I come to find out he had some Bs and Cs—he didn't like it. He was a fighter now."[41] Brown was no honor student, but he passed in his first semester. By his own admission, he had grown up considerably. "By the time I finished the first semester at San Francisco State, I had mastered life, in my opinion," he told an interviewer years later.[42]

Academics came easier as Brown progressed. One of his classmates, Charles Wheat, a returning Korean War veteran who was older than Brown, remembered taking a class with Brown on international relations. "Willie has a great sense of humor and a no-holds-barred laugh and had an in-your-face way in class with the teachers," Wheat said. "I had come to respect his quick and brilliant mind."[43] His instructors agreed. The professor in their class, Olive Cowell, a tall, matronly woman with a Rooseveltian accent, invited the class one afternoon to her Berkeley Hills home for tea. She spent most of the afternoon discussing the affairs of the world with one student in particular—Willie Brown. "His command of English and his ability to artfully use it was apparent even then," Wheat remembered.[44]

Willie Brown moved out of Itsie Collins's home, probably in 1953.[45] He increasingly moved away from his uncle's orbit, although he would never entirely leave it. As he plugged away toward graduation, Brown worked at a series of odd jobs. Money would be an issue for him for at least the next decade. His anxiety showed through in a light-hearted Christmas card he penned on a piece of corrugated cardboard in December 1954 and mailed to his mother in Dallas:[46]

Money is scarce
     Times are Hard
         So let this be
              Your Xmas Card
                                   Love
                                   Willie B.

Irrepressible, Brown joined a Negro fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha. He started auditioning for roles in a black community theater. He signed up for the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) so that he could be commissioned an officer in the newly integrated Air Force upon graduation. He became active in the San Francisco branch of the NAACP. He also started running hurdles on the college track and hanging around with jocks. "I was really establishing a base quickly," he said in an interview for this book. "I did it all


52

in a matter of two months. I set out to meet everybody alive." For emphasis, he repeated: "I set about to introduce myself to everybody alive ."[47]

Brown became increasingly sophisticated politically as he moved around San Francisco State and began widening his circle of friends. He was in an especially vibrant place at a remarkable moment in its history. Brown hung out in the cafeteria with Wheat and other friends engaging in long discussions about the presidential candidacy of Adlai Stevenson, the red-baiting witch-hunts of Joe McCarthy, and especially local San Francisco politicians.

Among those whom Willie Brown met at San Francisco State, two people were the most significant. One was Blanche Vitero, a petite dance major with whom Brown fell in love. They met at a sorority-fraternity mixer. "He was a big man on campus," she said.[48] He exuded self-confidence and she was drawn to him. "I wondered who this bouncy young man was who seemed to be all over the campus. He never kept still."[49]

The other significant relationship Brown formed at San Francisco State was with a tall, cocky white basketball player who liked to play practical jokes: John Burton. As a campus athlete, Burton liked to hang out in the Redwood Room of the college student union. Because he was a basketball player, many of his friends were Negroes. It was only natural that he would run into the equally cocky Willie Brown. They met as fellow cadets in an Air Force ROTC class.[50] The two easily hit it off.

John Burton was remembered in the 1970s by Dan Farmer, his basketball coach at San Francisco State, as a bright and skilled athlete.[51] John played guard, and the team captured the Far West Conference championship in the 1953–54 season. "He was the kind of kid you'd almost like to have your son be," Farmer remembered. "John just lived for basketball. That was his main interest in life."

That, and pulling practical jokes. Among the pranks Burton pulled was getting one of his friends, a new student, to pose as a character named "Archie San Sebastian." Burton worked up a fake record on his friend, showing that he had been an all-service fullback for the Navy and a former tailback for Penn State. Burton then staged a press conference to announce San Francisco State's coup in getting the star athlete. The announcement made the school newspaper before San Francisco State football coach Joe Verducci finally caught onto the hoax and put an end to it.[52]

There was a serious side to John Burton. His father was a doctor who had struggled through the Depression to put himself through medical school and had a tremendous empathy for the poor. John's older brother, Phillip, was a budding politician who was attempting to challenge the city's entrenched Democratic establishment.

In truth, San Francisco was an incredible place to be in the 1950s for those with a vision. In North Beach, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac


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read poetry and talked into the night at spots such as City Lights Bookstore and Vesuvio Cafe. They were vanguards of a new culture. At San Francisco State, Willie Brown, John Burton, and their friends also talked for endless hours. They were vanguards of a new politics.

Brown's relationships with Blanche Vitero and John Burton led to two marriages. The first was to Blanche on September 1, 1957. That marriage would produce three children, but also considerable pain, in the years ahead. The second was to the Burton brothers, John and Phillip. That marriage would produce one of the most successful and enduring American political organizations of the second half of the twentieth century.

Itsie Collins lived out the final years of his life in San Francisco in a retirement home, where photographs of his illustrious nephew adorned the walls. Over the years, Itsie Collins had several run-ins with the law before he finally quit gambling. His nephew always managed to get him out of trouble. Into his late eighties, when he felt well enough, Itsie Collins would don his tuxedo and go to Willie Brown's political fund-raising bashes.[53] Itsie never really stopped living the fast life that began in East Texas.


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Chapter Six—
Burton

Phil Burton was the hero. He was the standard by which all politicians were to be measured.
Willie Brown


Arnold Phillip Burton . Everything Phil Burton did, he did to excess. He chain-smoked three to four packs of cigarettes a day.[1] He had a gargantuan appetite for prime rib, and he often startled dinner companions by stabbing the meat off their plates and putting it on his own. He drank at all times of the day. His temper knew no bounds in public or private. He screamed profanities at political rivals, sometimes in front of their wives, and he was even harsher with his own aides. He had no regard whatsoever for his own appearance, and he once posed for a photograph with a piece of toilet paper stuck to his face while shaking hands with the president of the United States.[2] Burton was a brilliant political strategist, and he positively alarmed the downtown gentlemen of San Francisco's power structure. "I like people whose balls roar when they see injustice," he once said.

Clad in corduroys and a red sweater, Burton ventured where few white politicians bothered to go—inside the Negro churches of San Francisco.[3] Burton was not there just for show. He stuck around, mingled, and got to know people by their first name. He was rewarded by becoming one of the few whites on the executive committee of the NAACP branch in San Francisco, a position of prestige and honor in the Negro community of the 1950s.[4] Blacks felt a rare sense of ownership with Phillip Burton. He returned to them a fierce loyalty. "Phil Burton related to blacks very easily," said the Reverend Hamilton Boswell, the pastor of Jones Methodist Church, one of


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San Francisco's largest black congregations of the 1950s. "We tried a lot of things with Phil, trying to break through. He was running for office and not getting anywhere. We went through all the failures together."[5]

Willie Brown was a San Francisco State College student and a youth leader at Boswell's church when he met Phillip Burton. Brown does not recall their first meeting, but it was probably at a Young Democrats event and, no doubt, his college buddy, John Burton, made the introduction. Brown remembered idolizing Phillip Burton from the start: "Phil Burton was the hero. He was the standard by which all politicians were to be measured. He was absolutely committed to poor people, he was committed to blacks, he was committed to women, he was committed on the civil liberties side. He was committed to everything you would think about, that you think ought to be done. Phil Burton was doing it, and Phil Burton was it, and we were all admirers of Phil Burton. Whatever his utterances were, we followed, almost religiously."[6]

Yet again, Willie Brown displayed his gift for cultivating the favor of older men. He had done so with his gambler uncle, Itsie Collins, and with Duncan Gillies, the professor who got him into San Francisco State. With each, Brown played the willing student, whether it was in learning the streets of the Fillmore or the college campus.

From Phillip Burton, Willie Brown learned the white world of politics.

Throughout his career, in fact, there would be a succession of older men who found Brown charming and talented when others detested him as arrogant and untrustworthy. Brown's talent for attaching himself to older men proved one of his most enduring and indispensable tools in his rise to power. Such men would give Brown pivotal boosts at key junctures. The list grew ever longer: Terry Francois, a black lawyer; Carlton Goodlett, a black publisher; Herb Caen, an influential white newspaper columnist; Randolph Collier, a wily state senator; Jesse Unruh, the Speaker of the California State Assembly; George McGovern, a presidential candidate.

Phillip Burton was a qualitative step forward for Willie Brown. Burton provided Brown with an entryway for his life's career and helped him at several critical junctions. The two found a commonality transcending their ages and races. Perhaps it was that both were raised basically without fathers, or that both were extroverted, or that both understood deep down what it was like to be the underdog. Whatever the reason for their chemistry, both men prospered by it. Brown found his greatest teacher and mentor, and Burton found his most talented student.

Burton did not have to look far to find injustice in segregated San Francisco. The size and vibrancy of the Fillmore district masked a political reality: no Negro held political office in San Francisco. None had even come close.[7] Negroes were making strides into elective office in Los Angeles, where roughly half of the state's black population lived.[8] But in San Francisco the levers of power belonged to an Irish political machine led by lawyer William Malone, who used his positions in the county and state Democratic party


57

organizations to wield power and dispense patronage beginning in the mid-1930s.[9] The Malone machine was never as organized or ruthless as its counterparts in the East, but it was not about to willingly give up any of its power to white liberals, and certainly not to Negroes. Burton set forth to dismantle the Malone machine. John Jacobs, in his superb biography of Phillip Burton, writes that "Burton did not want to work for Malone. He wanted to be Malone."[10]

Phillip Burton was born in 1926 in Cincinnati, the oldest of three boys. Their father, Thomas, lived apart from the rest of the family for much of his life, and his sons were reared largely without him. Thomas moved to Chicago, putting himself through school in his mid-thirties. He moved his family to Detroit and then to Milwaukee, where they lived while he went to medical school in Chicago. The boys were raised by their mother, Mildred, who was devoutly Roman Catholic. Finally, in 1941, Thomas Burton gathered up his family and moved it to San Francisco, where he had won an internship at Franklin Hospital, now the Ralph K. Davies Medical Center. The family found a house in the white working-class Sunset district near Golden Gate Park.

Not far from poverty for much of his life, Dr. Thomas Burton imbued his sons with an empathy for the poor that became the passion of his eldest son, and he never lost his interest in left-wing politics. But he and Phillip had a stormy relationship; Phillip could never please his father and felt estranged from him much of his life. Phillip ended up going to the University of Southern California, a private institution favored by the sons of rich conservatives, but he went on a World War II Navy scholarship. While in college, he went by "A. Phillip Burton" for a time, but he then dropped "Arnold" entirely from his name. Burton did not fit the social mold at USC.

Phillip became a student politician, building something of a left-wing organization on campus. Burton was a bulldog; a number of his fraternity brothers considered him downright obnoxious. He played campus politics as if it really mattered. His eyes bulging, he would face down an opponent or berate an underclassman who had failed him in some fashion. Many USC students were returning World War II veterans, and many had been radicalized by their experience and were not enamored of young, self-important frat-house politicians. Among them was Burton's principal rival in leftist student politics, Jesse Unruh, who had spent the war in the Aleutian Islands fixing airplanes. Their rivalry would extend into the California Legislature.

Phillip Burton graduated from USC in 1947 and returned home to San Francisco to go to law school and launch himself into politics. Malone was at the height of his power. Malone had delivered key votes for Truman's nomination as vice president in 1940, and now that Truman was president, Malone was his key ally in the Far West. Biographer Jacobs writes that Malone "set up intimate lunches for Truman in California and got a private White House audience whenever he visited Washington."[11] Malone was state


58

party chairman from 1944 to 1946 and set up a thriving tax law business in San Francisco, using his connections with the Internal Revenue Service and, when necessary, Truman.

Burton found a number of liberals in the Bay Area who were frustrated and excluded from Democratic party politics by Malone and his cronies. Burton began building a network and plotting his way to power. He befriended Dr. Carlton Goodlett, the pioneering publisher of the Negro Reporter newspaper, which later merged with another Negro newspaper to become the Sun-Reporter . Burton became active in the Young Democrats and as a law student ran for president of the San Francisco branch in 1950. He won the office by packing the meeting with friends, many of whom he had signed up as new YD members practically on the spot.

The technique would be repeated.

Burton continued to make inroads into the Negro community. He discerned earlier than others that if blacks could be organized and would vote as a bloc, they could be pivotal in tight elections in San Francisco.[12] On election night in November 1952, Burton and several of his YD friends went to the black Hunters Point housing projects to pass out coffee and doughnuts to voters. When they arrived, a precinct worker announced that the polling place was closing, shutting out about 150 blacks who were waiting to vote. Burton disappeared to make a telephone call to scream at white election officials. When he returned, the voters were allowed to cast their ballots. Word of the incident spread in the black community, and it was considered the start of his political base there.[13]

Burton's biographer, John Jacobs, wrote that his help for blacks stemmed from a deep understanding of the social and economic shifts San Francisco was undergoing: "San Francisco was undergoing a demographic sea change. Burton was the first politician with the imagination and intelligence to understand it, seize it and give it voice."[14]

As 1950 unfolded, boss Malone was beginning to have problems both from within and from outside his organization. A former law partner challenged him within the party, and Malone fell from grace with the Truman administration. In a purge of tax bureaus, Truman fired Malone's hand-picked IRS commissioner for Northern California, cutting him off from the patronage job that was his livelihood. Burton and his liberal friends were waiting to exploit any weakness. Malone quit as party boss in 1952, but he was determined that Burton not profit by it. The vestige of the Malone organization lived on.

Burton made his move for power by running for the state Assembly in 1954. He was beaten by a dead man. Burton's Democratic primary opponent, Cliff Berry, died on May 5. It was too late to reprint the ballots, and it looked as if Burton would have easy sailing to his first elective office. But what was left of the Malone organization decided to stop Burton. The organization produced the votes in the June primary for Berry. When the county central committee met to replace Berry on the ballot for the November 1954 election,


59

someone other than Burton was chosen as the Democratic nominee. Burton was defeated by a machine in his first attempt at electoral office.

Two years later Burton ran again for a seat in the Assembly. He began building his own machine. Using methods that were ahead of the time, he scientifically picked apart the district precinct by precinct, voter by voter. Aided by Rudy Nothenberg, a brilliant organizer, Burton left nothing to chance. He put together a coalition of whites, Chinese, blacks, and labor unions, and he was elected.

Burton went to Sacramento and his college rivalry with Unruh resumed. Burton soon learned the tricks of legislating and invented a few new ones. He took an interest in the politically powerless farmworkers of California, befriending a young labor organizer, Cesar Chavez. Burton pioneered using legislative committee hearings not just as a workplace for legislation but as a stage for turning the spotlight on a neglected problem. He held one such hearing in Stockton on farm labor issues and coached a civil rights worker, Dolores Huerta, on exactly what to do and whom to invite. His disciple, Willie Brown, emulated Burton's tactic in the years ahead. Burton became a master of the "spot bill" by introducing legislation that was essentially an empty shell, and then amending it late in the game with the real proposal when no one was looking. As a committee chairman, Burton ran roughshod over legislative colleagues, belittling their opinions and even casting their votes for them. Willie Brown emulated those tactics as well.

Burton's embrace of San Francisco's black community was not just show. He was among the few whites accorded the status of Citizen of the Year by the leading black newspaper in San Francisco, the Sun-Reporter . A photograph in the newspaper of Burton receiving the honor in March 1961 pictures him standing with Willie Brown and Terry Francois.[15] Burton was also a legend in the predominantly black public housing projects. Art Agnos, who came to San Francisco in 1966 as a young social worker, remembered hearing about him as he investigated complaints of discrimination for the San Francisco Public Housing Authority. "And everywhere I went in these projects the first couple of years that I was in San Francisco, I'd hear that if you really got a problem, go see Phil Burton."[16]

The list of California politicians who got their start with Burton is lengthy. They include George Moscone, who became mayor of San Francisco; Rudy Nothenberg, future chief administrative officer of San Francisco; Bill Lockyer, who became leader of the state Senate; and, of course, Willie Brown. Phillip Burton also tapped his brother, John, to run for an Assembly seat and eventually for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. "Without Phillip being the catalyst and the driving force, I don't think either Willie, I, or George ever would have been in office," said John Burton. In his view, many of the most prominent stars in Phillip's camp, including John himself, were not considering a political career until Phillip "plucked" them and convinced them that they should be "running for office and righting wrongs."[17]


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Ahead were fights and more fights, triumphs and setbacks, bizarre tragedies and deaths. As he rose in politics, Burton showed how savvy liberals could put together improbable coalitions and wield power. Once he reached Congress, Burton delivered blocs of liberal votes for tobacco, sugar, and cotton subsidies. In return, he won southern votes for minimum-wage bills and occupational safety and environmental legislation. Phillip Burton was the master of a brand of raw, street-smart politics perfectly suited to young, brash Willie Brown.


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Chapter Seven—
Jones United Methodist Church

Lift every voice and sing 'Til earth and heaven ring Ring with the harmonies of liberty
Negro National Anthem, 1921


If Phillip Burton was the first pillar of Willie Brown's political career, his church was the second. Even before graduating from college, Brown rapidly rose in the hierarchy of Jones United Methodist Church, and that made him a leader in San Francisco's black community.

The Reverend Hamilton Boswell, pastor of Jones Methodist, had come to California from Texas a generation earlier. In 1919, when he was five years old, Boswell's family had settled in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. He became a preacher and founded a congregation in Los Angeles. Boswell came north in 1947 and became the pastor of Jones Methodist, in the heart of the poorest black neighborhood of San Francisco. He keenly felt the poverty and injustice around him. The Fillmore was flooding with new arrivals every day. "The need was so great," he remembered. "Here were people making every possible adjustment that one makes—getting out of rooming houses and buying your home, finding a suitable place to do business, staying away from loan sharks. It was just what happens in a pioneering situation. They didn't come there in covered wagons and they weren't fighting tribes of people in the area, but San Francisco at that time was very cruel to people. They were exploited with exorbitant rents, everything that could possibly happen."[1]

The first time Boswell set eyes on him, Willie Brown was sitting in the church balcony. Boswell found Brown bright and charming and before long


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made him the youth director.[2] He also hired him as janitor, giving him a few dollars for mopping floors and cleaning toilets to help him through school. Brown won a following at the church, and it would eventually provide him with a cadre of campaign workers. "There were hundreds of young people. He's always been very charismatic," Boswell remembered.[3] "His generational group was all reaching up like little flowers trying to break through the crust to get to the sunlight to grow. Everybody he was associated with was ambitious to do something, and they produced a crop of politicians, of lawyers, of doctors, of labor leaders—just a whole harvest."

Whether by chance or choice, Willie Brown could not have picked a better church to help propel him into politics. Jones Methodist Church, a boxy brick building with an ornate arched entryway, was at the forefront of the civil rights movement in San Francisco. "The strongest factor in a black church is not so much the theology as it is what it makes with the community. I think this is what attracted Willie and all the people like him to Jones Methodist Church," said Boswell.[4]

The African Americans who migrated to San Francisco during World War II and in the years immediately following were in no mood to settle for the same subservient role they had fled. But many found themselves as social outcasts among older, settled blacks in San Francisco. Those who finally broke the entrenched political and social caste system were not native San Franciscans but migrants from the South. Their struggle was with both the white power structure and a timid black establishment. The new black leaders tended to be college educated, a few even from predominantly white universities. For the most part they came out of San Francisco's black churches and fraternal organizations.[5]

Boswell and other black ministers began talking about how to take political action. They formed a ministerial alliance to press for open housing and an end to racial discrimination in San Francisco. Boswell became a publicly vocal critic of housing discrimination, proclaiming in 1954 that "western racial segregation is a subtle contrivance. You are up to your neck before you become aware of its enclosure."[6]

But Willie Brown did not go to church just for the religion or the politically charged atmosphere. "We always had such beautiful young ladies around there. It wasn't great organ music or the great sermons, you know," Boswell recalled.[7] Brown remembered that joining the church was just one more thing he did to get himself established in San Francisco. "If you want to be a part of the scene and you want to be a part of things, you had to know everybody and they had to know you. And so I set out to make sure that they knew me and I knew them. And I did every wholesome thing that you could do to further that opportunity."[8]

Jones Methodist Church served as the meeting place for the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the leading civil rights organization in San Francisco. That made Jones Church


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the epicenter of the civil rights movement in San Francisco. The NAACP was practically an extension of the black church. Boswell and other ministers served on the branch's board of directors and supported its activities from the pulpit. Over the course of the next decade, the San Francisco NAACP branch became a bitter battleground between militants and moderates. To the militants, the NAACP branch was nothing more than a social club. To the moderates, the reformers were dangerous radicals who risked the safety and well-being of the black community for ill-defined ideological goals. Willie Brown was up to his neck in every fight until the branch was finally split apart by the national headquarters in 1966.

While other politicians learned their skills in student government, Brown learned his in the internecine struggles within the NAACP. For Brown and the neighborhood where he lived, the stakes were larger than those of a college campus. As they viewed it, freedom itself was on the line. The game was rough, intense, and not always by the rules, and the experience shaped Willie Brown's approach to politics in the wider world.

Brown's first political speech was at an NAACP meeting in the fall of 1952, and he used the occasion to promote the presidential candidacy of Adlai Stevenson.[9] Brown's involvement in the NAACP was a natural step for him both in his role as a church leader and in his budding legal career. Nationally, the NAACP was breaking apart the legal underpinnings of segregation with a series of groundbreaking lawsuits engineered by its legendary general counsel, Thurgood Marshall.

However, unlike a number of young, college-educated blacks of the era, Brown was not inspired to go into law by such exploits. Rather, Brown's course into the law was more circuitous. "I didn't really zero in on law," he said.[10] San Francisco State in those years was primarily a teachers college, and he could easily have ended up as a teacher at a black elementary or high school. As he approached graduation[11] from San Francisco State with a general studies major in spring 1955, his only certain job prospect was as a newly commissioned lieutenant in the Air Force. For the increasingly political Brown, that was not an attractive option. As he considered what to do next, Brown accompanied a friend, Ben Travis, on a visit to the admissions office of Hastings College of the Law, a branch of the University of California located near San Francisco City Hall.

Intrigued, Brown applied to Hastings. "I think that my decision to go to law school was based more upon the avoidance of the military service than anything else," he said.[12] Brown was accepted to law school and resigned from ROTC. Brown immediately enlisted in the National Guard so that he could avoid active duty and serve on weekends and during the summer. He was trained as a dental hygienist and spent his time in the military scraping teeth.

In law school Brown's political talents were noticed by his white peers for the first time. "Willie stood out. He was energetic, full of vigor," recalled


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classmate Gerald Hill. Brown was elected class president. He held court nightly for fellow students in a library cubicle. He told classmates that his ambition was to be elected San Francisco district attorney, an idea that a number of white students found preposterous. Many of them sneered at Brown behind his back. He may have been the class president, but he was also the school's night janitor. "In law school, people used to point at Willie and say, 'See that little nigger? He thinks some day he's going to be the district attorney,'" recalled John Burton,[13] who started at Hastings but ended up finishing law school at the University of San Francisco. Brown's circle continued to grow, and the most important friendship he made in law school was with George Moscone, who was John Burton's best friend from childhood. Hill, another law school friend, would eventually manage one of Moscone's political campaigns and would head the California Democratic Council.[14]

For Brown and other law students Hastings was mostly a drudgery to get through. "It was a streetcar school," said Hill. "It didn't have any campus. People were there to get their ticket and get out. Most of the guys had to have their nose in a book. Most of the black kids got through. The very fact that they got there showed something."

Brown was increasingly active in the NAACP as a law student. The branch was frequently at odds with the national leaders of the NAACP in New York, who found the San Francisco branch a headache, even an embarrassment, because of its infighting and penchant for independent action. They had bigger worries, such as lynchings and murders in Mississippi. But national NAACP leaders also created much of their own problem with the San Francisco branch. They had only the most rudimentary knowledge of California. On a branch roster they referred to "Berkeley College" instead of the University of California, Berkeley.[15] On a substantive level, the national leaders had little appreciation of the extent of discrimination and segregation in California. "Until the Watts riots, most black people on the East Coast thought the West Coast was Lotus Land—what do these black people have to complain about?" said Julian Bond, the Georgia civil rights leader.[16] The New York leaders appeared more concerned with preventing Communists from infiltrating their western branches than in beating back western segregation.[17] There were socialists, Trotskyites, and other assorted left-wingers attempting to infiltrate civil rights organizations in the West. But San Francisco black leaders, including Willie Brown, believed that everyone in the branch was being tarred as Communists, and it only contributed to tensions with the New York home office.[18]

Brown joined a faction in the San Francisco branch that was impatient for rapid changes in the NAACP. His approach and tenor were very much reflective of an impatient, militant younger group. "We were the protesters," Brown recalled.[19] "We didn't think the NAACP was militant enough. We


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didn't think the NAACP was aggressive enough." The faction was led by Terry Francois, a fiery ex-Marine who had immigrated to San Francisco from Louisiana right after World War II.[20] Thirteen years older than Brown, Francois was a trailblazer. He graduated from Hastings in 1949 and joined the handful of other black lawyers in San Francisco. He was already a local legend when young Brown arrived in San Francisco in 1951. Francois's biggest victory came in 1952, when he headed a NAACP legal team challenging San Francisco's so-called "neighborhood policy" of forced racial segregation in public housing projects. Francois won the case, a major legal victory against racial discrimination in San Francisco and a landmark case in public housing law.[21]

But there was uglier undercurrent tainting NAACP branch infighting, and in affected elections for branch officers throughout the 1950s. The factions split along Roman Catholic and Protestant lines.[22] Black attorney Joseph Kennedy was the leader of the Protestants, and Francois was the leader of the Catholics. Kennedy was a member of Jones Methodist Church. Curiously, Brown aligned himself with Francois, a Catholic, although Kennedy was a member of his own Methodist congregation. Brown's loyalty to Francois was puzzling given Brown's strong Protestant roots. In Boswell's view, Kennedy did little to help Brown advance into a legal career, while Francois went out of his way to help the younger man. Brown had some reason to expect help from Kennedy, and he had reason to be miffed when that help was not fully forthcoming. Black lawyers were still rare, and mutual aid was expected in the black community. Brown was in the same church with Kennedy, and that should have counted for something. Brown also played a bit role in a community theater production of "Mystery of the Third Gable" directed by Kennedy.[23] The leading role was played by Kennedy's future wife, Willie, who went on to a political career of her own. "I think Willie [Brown] was certainly upset that Joe Kennedy didn't offer him more," said Boswell.[24]

Brown, however, said his choice was simple: he went with the more militant faction, and that faction was led by Francois. "I was always with the protesters in the NAACP. Joseph Kennedy was the establishment. Francois was [with] the outcasts. And all young people were always with the outcasts," he said.[25] Whatever the reasons, Francois could not have had a more loyal lieutenant than Willie Brown. His experience at Francois's side in the next few years was tumultuous, and it launched Brown into politics.

Francois and Kennedy ran against each other for president of the San Francisco NAACP branch in December 1955. The election represented a showdown between the two factions, and both sides fought with the intensity of a campaign for public office. Holding an office in the local NAACP branch was considered a major coup among San Francisco blacks. Little else was available for the politically ambitious. "The branch president was the most coveted position of black leadership in this town," recalled Brown, who was in his first year of law school at the time.[26]


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From the start, the 1955 branch election was mired in controversy, which the black community kept submerged for decades, although the repercussions would last for years in San Francisco politics. "The black community had a whole lot of friction within, but it never goes outside," said Boswell.[27] The branch election scandal remained a closely guarded secret out of a survival instinct of blacks facing a hostile white world. And Willie Brown was right in the thick of it.

Francois ran on an ambitious platform.[28] He said he could boost the branch to five thousand members from 1,762. He wanted to push City Hall for a fair employment law. He proposed that as a deterrent against police brutality, each officer be required to post a $10,000 bond. He called for a boycott of Yellow Cab for its discriminatory employment practices. He campaigned for the job like no one else before him, and he took the unprecedented step of demanding a branch membership list. The old guard resisted giving him the list until directed to do so by higher officials.[29] After getting the list, Francois mailed campaign letters to every member. It was the same technique being perfected by Phillip Burton in civil elections. Francois's campaign methods were probably no accident; one of his principal supporters was Dr. Carlton Goodlett, the black publisher of the Sun-Reporter newspaper and one of Phillip Burton's closest allies.

In helping Francois, Willie Brown did not play by the rules. On the day of the election, December 11, 1955, Brown rounded up blacks anywhere he could find them—"bums off the street." Brown recalled—and brought them to the election meeting at Jones Methodist Church. He paid their $2 annual dues and got them a ballot. Roughly one-third of the city's longshoremen were Negroes, and dozens showed up to vote. Because of Brown's packing the meeting, Francois won ninety-seven votes to Kennedy's eighty-one.[30] Willie Brown had done well for Francois.

The results would not stand.

Two days later, twenty-one of Kennedy's supporters privately petitioned the New York NAACP headquarters to throw out the election. Their complaint noted a number of serious election irregularities: New members were signed up on the spot and allowed to vote, contrary to rules that required them to be on the membership roles for thirty days; there were no secret ballots; the voting was held in a crowded hallway. "Many ballots were marked by persons other than these to whom they were issued," they claimed.[31] Other complaints followed: Ethel Ray Nance, a branch board member, complained that the meeting was packed with burly dockworkers. She feared that "the branch may swing beyond control."[32]

New York NAACP officials were disturbed with what they heard from San Francisco. Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the NAACP, responded on January 19, 1956, by suspending the election pending an investigation.[33] It was the beginning of a stormy relationship between Wilkins and Francois and, by extension, between Wilkins and Willie Brown. Jefferson Beaver, the


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San Francisco branch president, tried to quiet the storm by telling Wilkins that the branch had followed the spirit of the NAACP's constitution even if a few rules had been violated. "To my knowledge, no one raised any objection to any election procedures or actions during the course of the Election meeting," Beaver wrote Wilkins.[34] After stewing for a month, Francois blew up and fired off a telegram to Wilkins on February 18:

I feel that my program for the San Francisco branch for 1956 has been effectively frustrated by the delay resulting from the election contest. For that reason I do hereby withdraw my name from consideration as president of the San Francisco branch.[35]

On March 16, 1956, the NAACP national board of directors nullified the election and rebuked Francois and his followers.[36] The New York office directed that the current San Francisco officers remain in place until the next regularly scheduled branch election in September 1956. That meant that Jefferson Beaver, who had presided over the irregular election and whom many blamed for the whole mess, remained as president for another year. The San Francisco branch was rendered hamstrung with confusion and was even less potent a weapon for social change than before the election. For the moment, Francois bided his time. And Brown still needed to finish law school.

As Brown neared graduation from law school in 1958, he began casting about for employment. In later years he asserted that the downtown San Francisco law firms were closed to him because he was black.[37] Indeed, the downtown law firms were largely closed to blacks. But that was not the whole story. As a general rule the big firms were not very open to Hastings graduates of any color, preferring to recruit from Stanford and Boalt Hall, across the bay in Berkeley. Hastings had not yet attained the prestige it would have in later years, and its graduates tended to go to backwaters like Red Bluff and Merced in California's Central Valley. Brown's success in politics was viewed by his classmates as not just a breakthrough for African Americans but a breakthrough for Hastings graduates as well.[38]

All things considered, Brown's prospects were nevertheless bright. "In those days," said John Burton, "as my brother used to say, there weren't enough young black attorneys to piss on. So he could have been God knows what—very successful, very wealthy."[39] Brown lined up a clerkship with a federal judge.[40] A clerkship was a plum for any new lawyer, especially a black lawyer in the 1950s. It conferred prestige and provided a window to further opportunity. Again, Brown's knack for cultivating older men stood him well. Everything seemed set for Brown. He graduated from law school in 1957, took the bar exam that summer, and married Blanche in the fall. She became pregnant three months later, and they moved into an apartment at Page and Webster Streets, where Brown worked part-time as a caretaker to support his family.[41]


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Then, unexpectedly, the judge died. There would be no clerkship for Brown. Had the judge lived, Brown might have ended up in a downtown law firm and his career might have taken a far different course. Francois bailed out his young friend, offering him space in his law office and, more importantly, teaching him how to be a lawyer—a street lawyer.

"The theory of law I knew. He would teach me the practice of law," Brown remembered. "He was one of the best [legal] pleaders in the world of law that I've ever known. He really exposed me and taught me, and taught me lots about the civil rights movement. He taught me lots about dealing with folks in the world of law practice, period."[42]

Francois and Brown opened an office on the third floor of an old building in the Fillmore district at 2085 Sutter Street, one block north of Jones Methodist Church. The office was also one block northwest of Itsie Collins's casino, a ready source of clients. Brown borrowed money from a bank to buy furniture.[43] Brown hustled for his clients and treated them with respect. He defended pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, just about anyone who came in the door, and pleaded their cases as if they were the wealthiest of downtown corporate clients. He became a legend in the Fillmore district.

Brown won his first case defending a prostitute by demanding that the police produce as a witness the john that she had solicited. "You can't engage in an act of prostitution by yourself," he argued. The judge agreed and threw out the case. "Of course," Brown recalled years later in a magazine interview, "when she goes back out on the streets that night, she passes the word to everybody in the world. Within a week, every pimp in town is in my office for me to represent him and his ladies, and I ended up going to court every day, and I never had less than a half dozen cases on the calendar. I made cash money every day representing whores. I became the whores' lawyer . . . until I got elected."[44]

His law school classmates began to marvel at his courtroom panache. Gerald Hill recalled watching Brown defend eight prostitutes in a single day. Hookers were not his only clients. He guided Jones Methodist Church through legal hurdles to build a housing project.[45] Brown knew nothing about land use planning and zoning laws, but he quickly learned. He kept Jones Church as a law client for decades.

These were also years when Brown began building a family. He became a father for the first time on August 5, 1958, with a daughter, Susan Elizabeth. Blanche became pregnant again the following year, and their second daughter, Robin Elaine, was born February 20, 1960. But more and more, Brown was an absentee father, throwing himself headlong into his career and all his activities. More and more, his wife Blanche reared their children on her own.

As the new decade began, San Francisco blacks started making serious stabs into electoral politics. In 1960 Francois's rival, Joseph Kennedy, ran for the state Assembly against an entrenched white incumbent, Ed Gaffney, whose district included the Fillmore. Kennedy got help from the black churches but lost.


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Brown also remained active in the Young Democrats, going to meetings with his college buddy, John Burton. Attending a Young Democrats convention in Fresno in 1961, Brown met an ambitious young student, Phillip Isenberg, who was running for the statewide presidency of the YDs. The two decided to stay in touch.[46] Isenberg's career became intertwined with Brown's, and Isenberg eventually became one of Brown's chief lieutenants in the Assembly two decades later.

Francois and Brown were not done with the NAACP. Francois ran for branch president of the NAACP in 1959. This time everything was above board and he won. The branch was now run out of the Francois-Brown law office at 2085 Sutter Street, and they eventually put their legal secretary, Lydia Barros, on the payroll of the NAACP at $80 a week.[47] Francois and Brown transformed the branch into a bludgeon for civil rights, organizing boycotts, picket lines, and sit-ins. But they stepped on the toes of regional and national NAACP officials, who were miffed that Francois pushed for an open housing ordinance without consulting them. The bad blood from the 1955 election ran deep, and animosities mounted. The regional officials suspected Francois of withholding dues and hoarding the money in the local branch. The regional NAACP accused the San Francisco branch of tepid support of a 1960 western voter registration drive. Finally, Tarea Hall Pittman, acting regional secretary, wrote a letter from her Market Street office demanding explanations from Francois.[48]

Francois had Willie Brown reply for him.[49]

Brown sent Pittman a telegram demanding that she attend a meeting that day with the branch executive committee. The meeting was at their law office at 2085 Sutter Street. It is not clear whether Pittman attended, but she received a singled-spaced letter five days later from Francois replying to her allegations point by point.[50] He said that far from hoarding dues, he had sent a record $7,900 to the national headquarters. He conceded that voter registration efforts were not as vigorous as they could have been. He did not mention that Phillip Burton was pioneering new voter registration techniques in the Negro community outside of the NAACP organization. After defending himself, Francois then accused Pittman of meddling in branch affairs: "Your memorandum was ill-timed and directed to each member of the board with the idea of having some impact upon the Branch's approaching elections."

Francois's letter was signed by several of his board members, including Boswell. He also shot off a carbon copy to Wilkins in New York. The regional and national NAACP officials apparently backed off. But the rancor deepened.

As the officials fought, the NAACP San Francisco branch was briefly a stage for low comic theater, and Willie Brown played a bit role. Harold Treskunoff, a white waiter married to a black woman, continually disrupted meetings with objections and complaints. "He hated Francois. He hated Kennedy. He


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hated all of us," Brown recalled four decades later.[51] Treskunoff maintained that the NAACP was too close to the Jewish Community Relations Council and needed to be closer to the "working class." He wanted the local branch to take a more militant stance than even the most militant members.[52] Treskunoff ran for branch president against Francois in 1959, but he got only three votes, all of them his relatives.[53] His disruptions at meetings then became so frequent and obnoxious that members began complaining and some stopped going to NAACP meetings.

After consulting Wilkins in New York, Francois refused to accept Treskunoff's $2 dues.[54] The tactic should have forced him out of the branch. But Treskunoff managed to get someone to accept his dues unwittingly. Finally, at a tumultuous meeting on October 23, 1960, at Jones Church, Treskunoff was physically ejected. A photograph appears to show Willie Brown confronting Treskunoff, who was clad in a blazer and bow tie.[55] Another man is knocking over wooden folding chairs trying to grab Treskunoff from behind. As Treskunoff told it later, two unidentified men grabbed him by his arms and legs, hauled him down a flight of stairs, and dumped him onto the sidewalk below. Brown said he was not among the bouncers, but "I opened the door and I got the big guys who did."[56]

Treskunoff aside, there were other more influential members in the branch who chafed under Francois and his ruling clique of cronies such as Willie Brown. Francois was a heavy-handed branch president, and complaints against him mounted. Even Willie Brown found his behavior "erratic."[57] Francois proposed abolishing monthly meetings because he was "tired" of listening to complaints.[58] Membership plummeted from 3,150 in 1960 to 1,206 a year later (which may have had more to do with Treskunoff's disruptions than Francois's leadership). Complaints to Roy Wilkins in New York generated replies suggesting that the disaffected members should defeat Francois at the next branch election.[59] "I don't think anybody could permanently get along with Terry Francois, not even the Lord," said Brown.[60]

Despite the intrigue, the chaotic meetings, and the personality clashes, the NAACP branch became a force for civil rights in San Francisco in 1960 and 1961. With Francois as president and Willie Brown chairing the legislative committee, the branch pushed heavily for jobs.[61] At the instigation of the NAACP branch, Negroes were hired as bartenders at the airport and as milk truck drivers by five major dairy companies. Kezar Stadium hired four Negroes in the press box. A restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf, long a bastion of Italian Americans, agreed to hire a Negro waiter. And in a major breakthrough in the hotel industry, the Fairmont Hotel began to hire black doormen and waiters, not just maids and dishwashers. The hotel was owned by Ben Swig, a major power broker in Democratic circles. It was an important signal that San Francisco was changing, but not every hotel owner picked up on the signal. In April 1960 the branch organized a picket line at the Hilton


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Hotel when it fired nineteen maids who had walked off their jobs over a variety of grievances.[62]

The branch dispatched a few bold members to document hiring discrimination against blacks. John Dearman, a black lawyer from Detroit, arrived in San Francisco hoping to find more opportunity than was available for black professionals in the Midwest. He came to Francois's law office one day looking for work. Francois had no job to offer, but he introduced him to his partner. "Willie comes out jubilant as usual—full of energy and bouncing," Dearman remembered.[63] The two became instant friends. Dearman began accompanying Brown to meetings of the Young Democrats and into the ghettos for political organizing. Physically large, Dearman sometimes acted as a bodyguard for Brown in rougher neighborhoods. Dearman had no political ambitions of his own, and he was a good listener for the overcharged, exuberant Brown. He became the perfect friend.

Francois and Brown asked Dearman to apply for claim adjuster positions with about twenty insurance agencies in San Francisco. Although Dearman had a legal background, only three agencies would give him an interview. The branch used Dearman's work to compile broad statistics describing the depth of job discrimination in San Francisco.

In marked contrast to the Oakland NAACP members, who held carefully staged rallies with political figures,[64] the San Francisco branch looked for targets of opportunity for picket lines and threw them up with little or no advance notice. For instance, the San Francisco branch picketed local Kress and F.W. Woolworth stores in sympathy with protesters in the South who were leading lunch-counter sit-ins at Woolworth stores.[65]

The Woolworth picketing lasted most of the year, upsetting the white business establishment, and was finally called off at a branch meeting on October 23, 1960. It was the same meeting in which Treskunoff was physically ejected. With Treskunoff out of the room, the branch voted unanimously to end the Woolworth picketing.[66]

With Brown chairing the legislative committee, the NAACP San Francisco branch pushed successfully for a local ordinance setting up a fund for victims of police abuse. But the branch had its defeats as well, most notably in its effort to win passage of a law prohibiting discrimination against blacks trying to rent or purchase an apartment or house. The ordinance was introduced at a meeting of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors—that itself was a symbolic victory—but the bill then languished in a committee.[67]

The issue was immensely important for San Francisco blacks. Housing discrimination was deeply ingrained in San Francisco. In 1948 the new director of the San Francisco Urban League, Seaton Manning, was unable to find a house in the city and threatened to return to his former home of Boston. "Anything that is any good is restricted," he told a friend.[68] Nothing had changed since then. Even baseball player Willie Mays, the star of the San


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Francisco Giants, was rebuffed from buying a home in a white neighborhood because of the color of his skin.[69]

In 1960 the issue reached a critical stage in the black community. The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, an arm of the Board of Supervisors, embarked on a massive campaign of demolishing blighted buildings in the Western Addition from 1957 to 1960, displacing roughly 3,700 families in the neighborhood.[70] Officially it was called "Urban Renewal," but civil rights leaders dejectedly called it "Negro Removal." By some estimates, two out of three black families in San Francisco were forced to move in a three-year period. The slum clearance had far-reaching effects. One-third of those forced to move left the city, and new ghettos popped up elsewhere in the Bay Area, for example, in East Palo Alto, to the south.[71] As they moved out, blacks encountered higher rents and closed doors. Ending racial discrimination by landlords was not just an issue of lofty principle but a crisis for survival for the black community. For Willie Brown, open housing became a consuming personal crusade, and the issue was about to catapult him into politics.


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Chapter Eight—
Forest Knolls

I will seek to end racial and religious segregation in schools, housing and employment. I am dedicated to the principles set forth in the Constitution of the United States of America and the State of California.
Willie Brown
Election platform, 1962


Willie Brown came into the public eye by happenstance. He and his adopted city would never be quite the same again.

It began simply enough. Willie and Blanche Brown needed a home closer to his law office.[1] Blanche was now the wife of an attorney, and she wanted a fitting place to raise a family. Toward the end of May 1961, she visited the Forest Knolls housing development on the western slope of Mount Sutro, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.[2] It was at the geographic center of San Francisco, and it was one of those instant housing tracts remaking the landscape all over booming California. The homes were listed at $23,950 to $33,950, probably well beyond the Browns' financial reach.

Blanche and a friend, Dorothy Lincoln, looked at a model at Forest Knolls.[3] She remembered that she and her friend stayed for more than three hours. "There was a house that was open, so just on a lark we said, well, let's go in and see. Let's go see the house. And as we went in, everybody ran out. They literally ran out of the house. They ran to the garage. We used the telephone and we called Willie, and he said just stay there and wait and see what happens. So we stayed there and we stayed there and finally they sent a black caretaker to close up the house. They said they were not going to show it anymore."[4]


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The events catapulting Brown into a public figure may not have started precisely the way his wife remembered thirty years after the fact. A now-defunct liberal news magazine, Frontier , reported at the time that Willie Brown visited the housing tract before his wife, and brought with him a photographer from the Sun-Reporter , an indication that his motives extended beyond just house hunting. Frontier and the article's author, Stephen L. Sanger, had closer access to the NAACP at the time than many of the mainstream news organizations, and his report therefore cannot be discounted.

Willie Brown later portrayed what happened next as a spontaneous protest. The Associated Press called it "impromptu," but there was nothing impromptu about it.[5] The next step was well-planned, brilliantly executed political theater. Brown turned a private humiliation into a public display that captured the imagination of an entire city. It was the first inkling that Brown's political talents were far greater than those of his mentor, Terry Francois, and could meet greater challenges than the stifling branch politics of the NAACP.

That Sunday, the Brown family went to church. Then the twenty-seven-year-old Willie Brown led his wife and two baby daughters to the housing development. They were accompanied by Terry Francois and a few other friends.[6] The local newspapers were alerted well ahead of their arrival, and reporters were waiting when they got there. The sales representatives again disappeared, so the Browns and their friends sat down in the garage. They kept the development sales office closed for the day, and Forest Knolls was the butt of stories in the newspapers. A newspaper photograph[7] taken that day shows Brown in a neatly creased suit leading his children by the hand to the housing development. Blanche is a half-step behind, holding the hand of her youngest daughter. She wore a knee-length skirt and a scarf over her head: but for the color of her skin, she could have been Jackie Kennedy. They were the picture of a professional, middle-class family. How could anyone object to having them live next door? The photograph was a developer's nightmare and campaign manager's dream.

Brown and his allies had picked their villain well. The tract was developed by Carl and Fred Gellert, whose Standard Building Company was the largest housing developer in the city. In 1957 the firm built fourteen thousand houses. The company was notorious in City Hall for pulling strings to defeat new health and fire construction codes proposed by the fire marshal. Carl Gellert had once said, "The code leaves out economics. Its sponsors are guided only by health and fire safety factors."[8]

In the days ahead the protest escalated, with Negroes taking turns being snubbed at the Forest Knolls development. Jazz pianist Oscar Peterson showed up and marched on the picket line.[9] Whites also joined the protest, and it became a cause célèbre in San Francisco's liberal circles. Among those who joined Willie Brown's picket line was Dianne Berman, the wife of


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a prominent attorney. "My stroller bumped up against the heels of the man in front of me in the line, and it was Terry Francois," she recalled. Years later, as Dianne Feinstein, she became mayor of San Francisco and then a United States senator from California. She liked to tell the story that the bumping of the carriage was her first introduction to Francois and, through him, to Willie Brown.[10] Throughout her career Feinstein enjoyed a mutually beneficial political friendship with Willie Brown, and it began on the Forest Knolls picket line.

No one in City Hall moved to evict the protesters. Mayor George Christopher expressed friendship to Negroes to win their votes, even paying $10 to join the NAACP.[11] There would be no police with dogs and firehoses moving on Willie Brown and his friends. Some of the city's most prominent citizens joined the protest. The future mayor, Feinstein, was the daughter of an illustrious surgeon, and her husband was in line to be a judge.

But despite San Francisco's outward civility, it was still not much more open to opportunity for blacks than Mineola, Texas. "In San Francisco, it's James Crow, not Jim Crow," wrote Berkeley sociologist Irving Babow at the time.[12] San Francisco Mayor Christopher was not Alabama's Bull Connor, but Christopher was not about to break the entrenched system of racial discrimination in his city, either.

Black leaders, primarily through the Urban League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, pounded away in the Legislature and local city councils for open housing in California. Housing discrimination was legal in California, and Brown's sit-in helped illustrate the depth of the problem to legislators in Sacramento. The movement was reaching a head in the Legislature even as Willie Brown staged his protest.

Finally, Mayor Christopher implored the housing developer to at least show a home to Brown. But Brown spurned the offer: "I do not want to be an exception. I would not accept a private showing."[13] The mayor was furious with Brown, telling him it would "foreclose his case" if he did not accept the private showing. But Brown held the high ground. He had made his point, and there was no purpose in compromising. Brown showed himself a master at grabbing headlines and molding public opinion. Buying a house had become quite beside the point. Even so, his considerable communications skills did not win the ultimate goal. The Forest Knolls housing tract remained closed to Negroes—Brown never saw a house, much less bought one—and it took the heavy lifting of others in the Legislature and the courts to end housing discrimination in California. "If they sold it to him, he would have shit a brick. I don't think he had the down [payment]. But that began a big run of notoriety," noted John Burton.[14]

The protest had one immediate impact: it made Brown a natural to run for the Assembly in 1962. He had a few other things going for him besides making a splash in the newspapers. He was well known in the black


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community. His minister, Hamilton Boswell, wanted him to run. Dr. Carlton Goodlett, the owner and publisher of the San Francisco Sun-Reporter , the leading newspaper in the black community, was impressed by young Brown and was willing to promote him in his news pages. Goodlett made him his newspaper's Man of the Year in 1962.[15] Most importantly, Assemblyman Phillip Burton asked Brown to run. "I was encouraged to do so, first by Phil Burton and then secondly by the black clergy of San Francisco," said Brown.[16] "[I was] clearly the one guy that could actually interrupt his career to be a politician. The family was young enough, the financial obligations were minor enough. So I ran with all of their encouragement, all of their blessings, all of their support."[17]

Burton's role was crucial. As a state assemblyman, Phillip Burton designed the once-a-decade redistricting for San Francisco's legislative seats in 1961, and he deliberately made the Eighteenth Assembly District winnable for a black Democrat, at least on paper. The district was heavily black—most of the Fillmore district was included within it.

As the new decade began, San Francisco had six Assembly seats. The state constitution dictated that the number of Assembly seats be fixed at eighty. As the population shifted and grew elsewhere in California, the number of Assembly seats for San Francisco steadily shrank from thirteen in 1922 to nine in 1932, eight in 1942, and six in 1952. In 1960 San Francisco's entitlement was theoretically four seats. That presented a problem for Burton's personal ambition to go to Congress. The state constitution made it illegal to split an Assembly district into more than one congressional district, so at least two full Assembly districts had to fit in each congressional district. That meant that if Burton kept the configuration of congressional seats with Assembly seats that had stood throughout the 1950s, he could not create a congressional district as liberal as he wanted. But if Burton could manage to eke out a fifth Assembly district in San Francisco and could couple it with another liberal neighboring Assembly district, he could tailor a perfect liberal congressional district for himself. The congressional district would first go to incumbent Jack Shelley, but there was no doubt in Burton's mind that he would succeed Shelley in the seat. As a dividend, Burton's protégé Willie Brown would get the extra Assembly seat.

More than thirty years later, Burton's complex machinations in creating the Assembly district are still shrouded in mystery.[18] As Burton later told the story, legislative aides acted on bad data and drew up maps for seventy-nine Assembly districts, forgetting to add an eightieth district. Burton and his staff then came to the rescue with a map of San Francisco giving it five Assembly seats, thus giving the state a full complement of eighty. The story enhanced his legend as the sly reapportionment wizard of California. However, Burton's biographer, John Jacobs, wrote that it probably did not happen exactly that way. Burton, he wrote, argued persuasively that San Francisco deserved the


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extra seat because of the flood of commuters populating it each day and that it would certainly be a safely winnable Democratic seat. Republican protests notwithstanding, Democratic governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown signed the plan into law. San Francisco got five Assembly seats.

The Eighteenth Assembly District—San Francisco's "fifth seat"—was heavily black, Latino, and Asian. The landlocked district was at the geographic center of San Francisco, reaching from the upscale neighborhood of Pacific Heights to the decidedly downscale Fillmore black ghetto and the middle-class neighborhoods of Twin Peaks. It also included the Victorian flats of the Haight-Ashbury, bordering on a slice of Golden Gate Park known as the Panhandle. At its center was the Castro District, an Irish neighborhood that one decade later would become the center of San Francisco's thriving gay community.

The Assembly seat was held by seventy-five-year-old Democrat Ed Gaffney, who had beaten black attorney Joseph Kennedy two years earlier in a district with a far different complexion. Gaffney apparently had no idea what Burton had done to his district.[19] A house painter by trade, Gaffney was first elected in 1940 and was the dean of the San Francisco Assembly delegation. He was originally from Newark, N.J., moving to San Francisco in 1915.[20] He spoke in a hoarse monotone that someone once described as that of a Greyhound bus driver. He had lost once before, being turned out of office in 1952. He regained his seat two years later.

Gaffney did all the right things to make it in the San Francisco politics of his day. He was in the Knights of Columbus and the Elks Club. He was active with civic service clubs. He loved children; had six of his own and twenty foster children.[21] Strongly Catholic—one of his daughters was a nun—Gaffney embodied the Irish-American political hub that ran the city. His accomplishments in the Legislature in Sacramento were slight, but he could be counted on to cast a vote when needed for the Democratic leadership, and that, then as now, counted for a lot. Gaffney always enjoyed the support of labor unions in what was a strong labor city. But he was visibly uncomfortable with his Negro constituents, and they were becoming less patient with him. Among the stories told about Gaffney is that one day, spotting a few well-dressed Negroes in the visitor section of the Assembly, he greeted them, declaring that since they were Negroes, they must be among his constituents.[22] In the view of Negro community leaders, Gaffney ignored the Negro community. They were itching to elect one of their own to the Assembly and were still smarting at Joseph Kennedy's loss two years earlier. "He had never done a thing for us, never even visited any of us, didn't care," said the Reverend Hamilton Boswell.[23]

Willie Brown challenged Gaffney in the June 1962 Democratic primary. Brown was a thoroughly new kind of legislative candidate. Not only was he black—novel enough—he did not come up the way traditional white


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legislators came up. Brown did not come out of the chamber of commerce, he was not important in the Bar Association or in a labor union. He called himself a "credentialed activist,"[24] playing an active role in the struggling civil rights movement of San Francisco. Had the black community put forth a candidate in the conventional way, it would have promoted Terry Francois, Carlton Goodlett, or even the Reverend Boswell—the established heavyweights. Willie Brown was someone entirely different, entirely new. He was a creation of the media; he was a totally modern political candidate.

Brown's 1962 race was a transitional campaign from a political world that was dying in California to a new world that was not quite born. The Legislature still met for only a few months a year; it was still dominated by part-time politicians who stayed home most of the year running their insurance agencies or real estate offices. Such politicians held a "testimonial dinner" once a year to raise campaign funds. A few thousand dollars was adequate; any more than that was considered unseemly, downright ungentlemanly. They did not really think of themselves as politicians at all. The new legislative politicians—professionals with their pollsters, consultants, and limitless ambitions—were just around the corner. And Willie Brown was in the forefront.

Brown would join, in fact would lead, that new world, but he conducted his first campaign in the old world with amateurs. The Negro churches were the core of Brown's 1962 campaign, and his campaign chairman was the Reverend Boswell. Other prominent Negro ministers served on his campaign committee, including the Reverend F.D. Haynes, a trailblazer who had run in and lost an election for the Board of Supervisors in 1951. Negro leaders put forward a nearly united front for Brown: Joseph Kennedy, who had lost to Gaffney two years earlier, served as a vice chairman, and Kennedy's arch rival, Terry Francois, chaired a finance committee.[25] The title overstated the condition of the campaign's finances. Money came by passing a paper cup during Sunday services,[26] a far cry from the lavish fund-raisers Brown would stage in later years. Brown collected so little that he did not bother to file campaign finance disclosure statements, and he did not correct the oversight until four years later.[27]

The only significant Negro leader endorsing Gaffney was Jefferson Beaver,[28] the former president of the San Francisco NAACP branch who had presided over the contested 1955 election. Beaver held a patronage appointment to a city commission and was not about to buck the Democratic machine of which Gaffney was a part. More significantly, the belief sank into some in the black community that Joseph Kennedy was unenthusiastic about Willie Brown's candidacy.[29]

Brown attacked Gaffney, but by the measure of a later day, his barbs were mild. He proclaimed that Gaffney was "no longer in touch with the problems of the district" and branded him as "one whose activities in the district are noticeable only at election time."[30] Brown put his platform in writing; it was


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simple and straightforward and has stood the test of time to a remarkable degree:

If I am elected, I will seek to end racial and religious segregation in schools, housing and employment. I am dedicated to the principles set forth in the Constitution [sic] of the United States of America and the state of California. I believe that every citizen should be judged not on his color or the texture of his hair, not on the manner in which he worships, nor on the basis of his place of birth. I believe that the answer to the problem of rising social welfare costs can be found without a reduction in benefits to the needy recipients. I believe it is wrong to take a person's life, whether it be taken by a private individual or by the state.[31]

Throughout his career, Brown has stuck to the platform he laid out in 1962. There were times when he downplayed his positions for political gain, but for the most part his core platform of 1962 held steady. He traded votes on issues that he viewed as tangential, like corporate tax breaks (even when others did not view them as tangential), and he bent the rules when he viewed it as necessary. But he also held true to his central beliefs. Only on the death penalty would he change a fundamental position, and then only after the murder of his friend, George Moscone. Even then, he could never be viewed as an ardent promoter of capital punishment.

Gaffney ran the way he always did. He haughtily refused to debate his opponent. "I'm not debating anything with Mr. Brown. The incumbent doesn't debate."[32] In Sacramento, Gaffney boasted to a legislative staff member, "I have a little nigger running against me. I'm going to teach him a lesson."[33] Gaffney acted as though the campaign would be a reprise of Joseph Kennedy's challenge. He could not have been more wrong.

In March, Brown won the endorsement of the San Francisco Council of Democratic Clubs.[34] With the state constitution banning party endorsements, the Democratic clubs had become an important tool for liberals and a major battleground for control of the Democratic Party in California. The council met in a conference room at the Richelieu Hotel on March 2. The walls behind a podium were plastered with Willie Brown posters. For the occasion, Brown wore a pin-striped, three-piece suit and a conservative, thin tie and his hair was cropped short.[35] Brown was introduced by Carlton Goodlett and his endorsement was seconded by Boswell.[36] When the Democratic council vote was taken, Brown humiliated Gaffney: forty-seven votes to seven. "I think we have seen a new day in Democratic politics," Brown proclaimed.[37] The council's endorsement was a clear signal that Gaffney was in trouble.

Gaffney was plenty sore: "This vote was rigged as far back as last December." He refused to elaborate, but Gaffney doubtless was referring to Phillip Burton's machinations. Phillip Burton also helped Brown win labor support, undercutting Gaffney's traditional base. Burton rigged a labor legislative


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report card so that no matter how Gaffney voted in Sacramento, there was no way he could win a one hundred percent approval rating.[38] Brown won the endorsement of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, which was close to Burton.[39]

As the Democratic primary loomed closer, Brown worked at a frenzied pitch. He organized volunteers from black churches and from his fraternity. He made speeches at the Commonwealth Club and the Tipplers Democratic Club and held an outdoor rally on Turk Street in the heart of the Fillmore district.[40] He spoke in Unitarian and Baptist churches, attended cocktail mixers, and held a fund-raiser at the Boule Noir cafe in North Beach.[41] He hosted a "champagne twist" party at a lodge, and "Brownanza," a jazz show with door prizes. The price of a ticket was $2. The Sun-Reporter gushed that it was the "most imaginative social event of the season."[42] Three days before the election, Brown held a window display contest at his headquarters on Divisadero Street.[43]

Behind the scenes in Sacramento, Gaffney began to show signs of worry. He promised Democratic legislative leaders that it would be his last election, hoping that Democratic Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh would pressure Phillip Burton into abandoning Willie Brown.[44] It was Brown's first exposure to the convoluted world of legislative alliances, which hinged on expedience and had little or nothing to do with issues. Not unexpectedly, Unruh, who saw Phillip Burton as a major rival, endorsed Ed Gaffney. Governor Pat Brown also endorsed Gaffney. Neither saw the need to do much else. No one thought that Willie Brown had any chance of winning.

Brown probably could have beaten Gaffney in 1962, but events and his lack of experience conspired against him. Brown did not focus on specific neighborhoods or groups of voters—the mistake of a novice. Phillip Burton was unmoved by Gaffney's clumsy attempts at pressuring him, but he was distracted by more important races. The first priority of all Democrats that year was helping Democratic Governor Brown beat Republican Richard Nixon, and Burton dutifully did his part. The governor's race was the high-profile race, and it drained resources and volunteers away from Willie Brown's campaign. Burton also had to attend to his own reelection in a newly reapportioned Assembly district.

Although Gaffney had more money, key endorsements, and organization than Brown, Gaffney nearly lost to the upstart challenger. Out of 31,000 votes cast in the June 1962 Democratic primary, Brown came within 916 votes of beating the incumbent.[45] Brown did extraordinarily well in the poor precincts south of Market Street, winning 79.2 percent of the vote in those neighborhoods. Brown spent $4,532.83 to Gaffney's $6,915.66 in his first campaign for public office. A few more dollars and Brown might have won.

"I'll never forget going to see him after that defeat," Boswell remembered. "I was going to console him. I said, "Willie, you put up a good fight.' And he said, 'Well, I knew I was going to lose. But that was the first step. I've


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anticipated it.' And he ended up encouraging me."[46] Boswell, the spiritual leader, came away with his spirit lifted.

Willie Brown was magnanimous in defeat with his friends, but in public he showed a capacity for the self-inflicted wound. The seeds of his first serious political mistake were planted during the infighting in the San Francisco NAACP branch. In the aftermath of his election defeat, the conflict among black leaders broke into the open for all San Francisco to see. It cost Willie Brown his carefully honed image as an even-tempered, polished middle-class professional, and he never really regained that mantle.

In July 1963 Governor Pat Brown appointed Joseph Kennedy to the San Francisco Municipal Court bench. Kennedy was the second African American in the city's history to become a judge. It should have been a moment of triumph for the Negro community. But Joseph Kennedy used the occasion to settle scores in an interview with the San Francisco News–Call Bulletin .[47] In the interview, published on July 16, Kennedy asserted that his old nemesis, Terry Francois, was wrong in considering San Francisco an intolerant city; he charged that the current president of the NAACP branch, Dr. Thomas Burbridge, was wrong in spurning entreaties from Mayor Christopher for a civil rights conference; he said that the police department showed little prejudice toward minorities. He also charged that current Negro leaders spent too much time squabbling. "We too often get bogged down in procedures, although the goals may be the same." The reporter who wrote the story knew none of the background behind Kennedy's remarks, and no other viewpoint was presented to balance Kennedy's opinions.

That Sunday the NAACP San Francisco branch met at the Third Baptist Church. The meeting grew heated as the branch leaders vented their anger. Francois said Joseph Kennedy should resign his seat on the national board of the NAACP: "He cannot serve two masters. He cannot speak both as an officer of the NAACP and an officer of the court." But there was one voice louder than all the others: Willie Brown's.

Brown charged that Joseph Kennedy was now part of "the enemy." Warming to his theme, Brown said "the enemy" was a political establishment "willing to let time solve all Negro problems." Brown plunged on: "Kennedy now represents the enemy—in San Francisco, the enemy is the courts." Pumped up by his wit, Brown maintained that institutions like the courts do not embrace the philosophy of "get out on the streets and march" and were therefore "enemies" of the Negro leadership. Winding up with a flourish, Brown compared Joseph Kennedy to a union leader espousing antiunion laws. "Such a union man would lose his job, maybe his life."[48]

Someone made a motion that the branch picket Kennedy's judicial swearing-in ceremony, and Brown seconded the motion. "I'll buy


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your paint and brushes—I'll help you paint the protest signs," Brown added for good measure. The motion was approved 18-15. The branch also voted 27-7 to demand that Kennedy resign his seat on the NAACP national board of directors.

The tone and flamboyance of Brown's rhetoric were probably not any different than at dozens of other NAACP meetings at Jones Methodist Church over the previous decade. But this time there was a big difference: Reporter Warren Hinckle of the San Francisco Chronicle was there recording every word. Hinckle's article got front-page treatment the next day, and he extensively quoted Brown throughout.[49] Local television and radio broadcasters fanned the story the next day.

National and regional NAACP leaders were apoplectic when they heard what happened at their San Francisco branch. Joseph Kennedy was a member of both the national and regional NAACP boards. One of their own had become a judge, and the San Francisco branch wanted to picket him? "The steadily declining prestige of the NAACP reached a new low," complained Tarea Hall Pittman, the top NAACP official on the West Coast, in a private letter to her New York headquarters.[50] "Willie Brown was the most vocal of those supporting this move," she reported. Pittman squarely blamed Willie Brown for the embarrassment, mentioning him four times in her three-page, single-spaced letter. She concluded:

We have been powerless because local members [sic] leadership have failed to act to depose our irresponsible leadership of the branch and have thereby leaving [sic] us with a few controversial figures who have used the branch to subvert, rather than advance, our NAACP program. . . . As bad as this whole mess is, I confidently believe it will result in settlement of San Francisco Branch problems which have vexed us through the years.[51]

Roy Wilkins, the head of the NAACP in New York, was livid. Over the next three days he traded a series of heated telegrams with Thomas Burbridge, the president of the San Francisco branch:[52]

Wilkins : "Picketing of Kennedy oath-taking in name of any unit of NAACP will make organization laughing stock of nation and indict overt and covert leaders of it as using association to mask personal and or political vendetta."

Burbridge : "Am not surprised to hear from you but am surprised we get an indictment before you check the facts with us."

Wilkins : "Must remind San Francisco branch that it is part of an organization and is not free to take unilateral action."

Burbridge : "Branch members recognize they are part of an organization. Wish Kennedy recognized this also."

Fortunately for all, Warren Hinckle and other reporters were not privy to the recriminations within the NAACP. And not everyone took the flap so seriously. Herb Caen, the Chronicle's short-item columnist, ignored Willie Brown and took a swipe at Francois:


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WERE YOU AMUSED yesterday to read that Terry Francois had put the blast on Joe Kennedy, the newly appointed Negro Municipal Judge? What's amusing (or confusing) is that Francois would have liked that Judgeship himself.[53]

But there was one group of gray-haired men who were definitely not amused: the judges of San Francisco. Willie Brown, a member of the bar and a frequent practitioner in their courtrooms, had the unmitigated gall to label them the "enemy." Speaking for his colleagues, Superior Court Judge Raymond J. O'Connor (described in the newspapers as "fuming with anger") demanded that Willie Brown apologize to the judiciary and to the State Bar of California for his "perfidious statement."[54]

Brown's once bright political future was suddenly in jeopardy. He had let his emotions get the better of him, allowing his words to carry him away. His rematch with Ed Gaffney was less than a year away—that there would be a rematch was not in doubt. Electoral success depended on winning not just black votes but white votes as well. Brown was now in dire risk of judicial censure at a time when he badly needed respectability among whites. He had needlessly bruised himself in a fight that was not really even his own. Kennedy was settling a score with Terry Francois, not him, and Willie Brown had jumped in front of the bullets. So Willie Brown did what any smart politician would have done: he apologized while denying doing anything needing an apology. The July 23 afternoon editions of the San Francisco Examiner quoted Brown: "I frankly cannot recall whether in the heat of debate this statement was uttered by me. But if it was, I should now like to publicly retract this criticism of the courts and issue the following statement: Of the three branches of the American government, the Negro people have traditionally received the fairest treatment in the courts of justice—particularly those outside the deep South. San Francisco is no exception in this regard, and my day-to-day experience as a practicing attorney before our local courts has failed to disclose any evidence of unequal treatment in the administration of justice."[55]

The next day Brown was still falling all over himself apologizing. He told the Chronicle , "I do not recall having made that statement, but if I did, I apologize to the court and the bar. As an officer of the court, I should apologize if I made the statement."[56] A day later, on July 25, the Chronicle ran an editorial upbraiding Brown for his conduct: "We would comment further that any Negro leader who resorts to such extravagant allegations as have been attributed to Brown, whether designedly or 'in the heat of debate,' does nothing to advocate a just cause."[57]

But for his quick backpedaling, Brown's political career might have ended in the summer of 1963. Pickets did not appear at Joseph Kennedy's swearing-in ceremony, and the tempest blew over. But the damage to Brown's clean-cut reputation was done. The press would henceforth be on the lookout for his flamboyant, inflammatory rhetoric. The imbroglio also marked the last


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time Willie Brown would intentionally identify himself with Terry Francois in public, and the strains between the two grew.

Thirty years later, in an interview at his San Francisco law office for this book, Brown was asked about the 1963 flap: "That was just Willie Brown being Willie Brown," he groaned. Then, leaning back in his chair and looking up at the ceiling, Brown continued: "My public utterances have always created consternation in most people, and they've always been somewhat of a burden for me because I've had to do lots of explaining over the period of my life. I will say candidly what everybody else is thinking, and I will say it in words that are sometimes at least quotable, and with some flavor. And that always gets me into some difficulty."[58]

Fortunately for Brown, his missteps were soon lost amid the political confluences pushing and tugging at San Francisco and California in 1963. Phillip Burton was immersed in a complex game of musical chairs involving the San Francisco mayoral race. Burton engineered the election of Congressman John F. Shelley as mayor, opening Shelley's congressional seat so that Burton could win it for himself. The maneuver was ultimately successful. Meanwhile, in Sacramento, the state's first law prohibiting racial discrimination in housing was pushed through the Legislature that year, authored by Assemblyman Byron Rumford of Oakland. From the day it was signed, the governor and Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh feared that a white backlash would remove it from the books.

The civil rights movement in San Francisco reached a critical juncture in 1963. Negro leaders regrouped shortly after the Judge Kennedy fiasco, forming an organization called the United San Francisco Freedom Movement.[59] Its sponsors included the Reverend F.D. Haynes and Thomas Burbridge, the leaders of the NAACP branch. Their move was designed to take the San Francisco civil rights movement outside the formal structure of the NAACP and away from the unwanted oversight of Roy Wilkins in New York. Other groups sprang up, including the Direct Action Network, another organization of Negro leaders. Students from across the bay in Berkeley became militant in the civil rights movement. Many were returning from Freedom Summer in Mississippi, where they had endured arrests and risked their lives for the cause. Among them was Terence Hallinan, son of prominent left-wing defense attorney Vincent Hallinan. Terence Hallinan would become the San Francisco district attorney in 1996, but in 1963 he was a twenty-six-year-old Hastings law student nicknamed "Ka-o" for his fondness of fisticuffs. "I was so pumped," he recalled.[60]

They were ready to focus their militancy on discrimination at home, and they were not easily intimidated by homegrown police or politicians. The students formed a new chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality at the University of California at Berkeley, calling it Campus CORE.[61] Most were white, and they looked for festering civil rights disputes that Negro leaders had failed


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to resolve. "We added muscle. We could throw our weight into something," Hallinan recalled.[62]

In November Campus CORE and the even more radical W.E.B. Du Bois Club organized pickets at Select Realty, a rental firm that served whites only. Willie Brown was alerted by the demonstrators and arrived in time to see many of them arrested.[63] Next the picketers targeted three Mel's Drive-In restaurants, popular hangouts that just happened to be owned by Harold Dobbs, who was Congressman John F. Shelley's opponent for mayor. The demonstrators claimed that the restaurants discriminated against hiring Negroes except for menial jobs. Dobbs, however, claimed that the picketing was "politically contrived,"[64] and it proved embarrassing to Jack Shelley. A number of the demonstrators, like Terence Hallinan, were working in the Shelley campaign. Although Shelley had his loyal champions, many, including Hallinan, were there to help move him aside so that Burton could take over his congressional seat.

On the weekend before the November 5 election, Mel's Drive-In patrons at the restaurant on Geary Street threw food at the picketers. Scuffles broke out. Police arrested sixty-four demonstrators on Saturday night and another forty-eight on Sunday.[65] It took three police officers to subdue Hallinan before they could shove him head-first into a police wagon.[66] As soon as he was bailed out of jail, Hallinan collected his precinct material and went back to work in the Shelley campaign. "We got out and started working our butts off at the polls."[67] Although Shelley's campaign managers fretted that the demonstrations would backfire on their candidate, Shelley won the mayoral race.

As the Mel's Drive-In demonstrators were being hauled off to jail during that first tumultuous weekend of arrests, Willie Brown and his friend, lawyer John Dearman, stood nearby watching.[68] Soon Brown and Dearman busied themselves arranging bails and rounding up defense attorneys to represent the demonstrators in court. Even as Brown readied his next campaign for office, the task of defending demonstrators and finding other lawyers to share the burden became increasingly time-consuming for the budding politician.[69] The demonstrators increasingly relied on Brown for advice on developing realistic "demands" for their protests. "He was very positive when everybody else was 'don't do this.' He was open-minded toward what we were doing," said Hallinan.[70] But chastened by the public lambasting he had endured in July, Brown kept his mouth shut in public about his activities on behalf of demonstrators—for the moment. The demonstrating continued even after the mayoral election, and there were more arrests.

The fall of 1963 was eventful for Brown, who became a father for the third time. His son, Michael Elliot, was born on October 22. A new mayor, John F. Shelley, generally considered friendly to civil rights, took office. Brown's mentor, Phillip Burton, seemed assured of winning a seat in Congress to fill the seat vacated by Shelley. The strains between Shelley and Burton had


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become palpable, and in November Shelley tried to recruit someone else to run for his seat to forestall Burton. Shelley's machinations came to an abrupt end when President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. By the time politicking resumed, it was too late to stop Phillip Burton, who was elected to Congress in a February 1964 special election.[71]

The year was a watershed for San Francisco politics, remaking the landscape for a generation. Besides Burton's election to Congress, one of his protégés, George Moscone, was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Also winning a seat on the board was Leo McCarthy, who was aligned with a rival Democratic organization in San Francisco.

Statewide, as Democratic leaders feared, a white backlash developed over the Rumford Fair Housing Act. Opponents, backed heavily by the real estate industry, qualified a measure for the November 1964 ballot, Proposition 14, that would repeal the landmark legislation. Democratic President Lyndon Johnson would have to run for reelection on the same ballot. Backers reported spending $379,000 on the initiative, and opponents spent $500,000. But the reporting laws of the time were loose, and it is likely that both sides spent close to $2 million, a considerable sum for the period.[72]

As the election year began to unfold, the civil rights demonstrations in San Francisco reached a new level of fervor. The newest target was the Sheraton-Palace Hotel on Market Street, an institution catering to presidents and evoking a nineteenth-century elegance. In March pickets surrounded the hotel and then filled the lobby for two days, seeking to make the Palace the symbol of hiring discrimination in all the city's major hotels.[73] Soon after the demonstration began, lawyer John Dearman got a call from his friend, Willie Brown, who asked him to join him at the hotel. When Brown and Dearman arrived, a crowd estimated at six hundred was sitting shoulder to shoulder in the lobby. By the end of the day, it grew to 1,500. The protesters were led by Tracy Sims, an eighteen-year-old black woman with a megaphone. She was not from any of the city's established civil rights organizations. Indeed, the demonstrations marked the beginning of a new, amorphous period in the civil rights movement in which leaders appeared overnight and disappeared again almost as fast.

The protesters blocked the doorways. Hotel patrons begged to leave, and the crowd roared "Nobody gets out!" Terry Francois pleaded with demonstrators to clear the doorways, but to no avail. Willie Brown tried: "If you stay here, you're going to jail. But if you are desirous of protesting the Sheraton-Palace, it makes a hell of a lot more sense for you to sleep in the lobby than to go to jail."[74] There were scattered hecklers calling Francois and Brown "Uncle Toms." The police then arrested 171 protesters, among them Terence Hallinan and two of his brothers. Of those arrested, only eight were black.[75] Dearman explained: "We both decided that we wouldn't get arrested. We decided that we would be part of the group of lawyers that would defend these people."[76]


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Warren Hinckle of the Chronicle , who later became the iconoclastic editor of the left-wing monthly Ramparts , again recorded Brown's words. But this time Brown was the picture of reason. There was no more talk of the enemy. "I think [Police] Chief [Thomas] Cahill did a terrific job in handling this situation, and I have a lot of respect for the police department now," he said.[77]

As that day's protest wore on, Mayor Shelley summoned Brown, the Reverend Boswell, and Joseph Sullivan of the Hotel Employers Association, representing thirty-three hotels, to meet with him privately in a room upstairs. The arrests stopped, and 250 demonstrators were allowed to sleep in the lobby. They negotiated through the night. None of those in the room had any authority to represent anyone, not the mayor, not the Hotel Employers Association, and certainly not Willie Brown on behalf of demonstrators who had just finished calling him "Uncle Tom." But everyone in the room acted with authority. At 4 A.M. on March 7 the negotiators appeared to have an agreement until the hotel representatives balked, asserting that it could not be ratified without the approval of the San Francisco Hotel Association. That set off a new round of chanting and blocking of doorways in the hotel lobby. Finally, the Hotel Employers Association caved, agreeing to sign the pact. Boswell signed for the civil rights leaders, and Joseph Sullivan signed for the hotels. Shelley shook hands with both for newspaper photographers. Downstairs the sit-in ended with a chorus of "We Shall Overcome," and comedian Dick Gregory then suggested that the demonstrators clean up their mess in the lobby. They dutifully responded.[78]

Brown's role in the pact was the first public display of his talent for negotiating sensitive agreements under intense pressure. He assumed authority where he had none, and he made it stick; the pattern would repeat itself again and again in his political career. The pact looked like a victory for the demonstrators, but in fact it was a carefully worded compromise. It called for bringing the level of minority hiring by hotels up to 15 to 20 percent of total payrolls, but was essentially nonbinding; the percentages were to be considered as hiring goals, not quotas.

In the days ahead, Brown arranged bails and recruited defense attorneys to represent the demonstrators. Defense attorney Vincent Hallinan put up $4,000 in bail money for sixty-seven demonstrators, including his three sons.[79] Vincent Hallinan also agreed to act as the lead attorney in the most serious cases. Moscone and John Dearman agreed to represent some of the demonstrators. As he recruited other lawyers, Brown paired experienced with inexperienced attorneys to form defense teams.[80] Brown kept his own involvement low-key. He was rarely quoted in the newspapers about the cases; his picture appeared once in the Chronicle sitting next to Tracy Sims.[81] He wanted to do nothing to jeopardize his political future.

A mass arraignment for 161 demonstrators was held two days after the hotel sit-in ended.[82] That day, pickets appeared in front of San Francisco's


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posh Cadillac salesroom on Van Ness Avenue. Joining the pickets, Thomas Burbridge, the NAACP branch president, said they were protesting "the fact that out of some 260 employees San Francisco Cadillac hired only seven Negroes."[83] Eight police wagons were dispatched, but no arrests were made.[84] Brown and Dearman showed up as well. They decided to take a stroll through the showroom and see what would happen. "Willie represented a lot of pimps, and they all drove Cadillacs," Dearman remembered. "Willie and I walked out of the picket line and walked into the place. Willie was playing it really straight, just like he was really interested in buying a Cadillac, and the sales people were exceedingly helpful. They dashed over, 'How can we help you?' Willie put on his usual thing. But they were really nervous because they thought we came in there to break windows or sit down and sit in the cars. As I recall nobody else went in but the two of us."[85]

The next day, Governor Brown publicly fretted that the demonstrations were hurting political efforts to stop the repeal of the Rumford Fair Housing Act.[86] He convened a meeting of high-level city and state officials to talk about containing the demonstrations, but he did not include any protest leaders, nor even any of the established Negro leaders. The governor's efforts were doomed from the outset.

Demonstrators returned to the Cadillac showroom that weekend. When they stormed inside on Saturday, police arrested 107. At least twenty-two of them had been among those arrested at the Sheraton-Palace a week earlier. Brown and Dearman watched but"stayed on the edges" as Dearman later put it.[87] In the days ahead, the demonstrations expanded to more car agencies, and nearly four hundred were eventually arrested in the Auto Row demonstrations.[88] Brown quietly arranged more defense teams: "I went to the downtown firms to recruit some of these people. And it was frankly the most incredible coming together ever. I put together maybe a hundred lawyers or more. I don't remember exactly how many. Moscone tried a case. Every name you can call tried a case. You can't call a name of a lawyer in this town that didn't try a case: old and young, big firms, small firms."[89]

Auto dealers and civil rights leaders negotiated, but their talks broke down. This time no one was buying any bluffs. In April another 226 demonstrators were arrested at sit-ins in three auto showrooms.[90] The sit-ins against auto dealers that began in San Francisco spread to fifty major cities.[91] The Chronicle , in its quirky only-in-San Francisco way, discovered a civic pride in the whole thing. In a front-page editorial headlined "Let Style Prevail," the Chronicle said:

LET US THEN regard the sit-inners (or is it sitters-in?) in the best spirit and tradition of San Francisco and trust that they too carry on in this spirit, doing nothing of which they or the city need be ashamed.


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To borrow from what Lawrence W. Harris said of the earthquake ruins half a century ago, if she must have them at all, let San Francisco have the damnedest finest sit-ins anywhere.[92]

A pact was reached in April between the Motor Car Dealers' Association and the NAACP to accelerate the hiring of Negroes in auto showrooms. The Mayor's Interim Committee on Human Rights would act as the monitor.[93] The demonstrations ended. Later that month the trials of more than six hundred demonstrators began, and Brown recruited nearly fifty lawyers to represent them.[94] Prosecutors systematically excluded Negroes from the juries, and legal appeals proved futile.

The trials went on for months and years, and the verdicts were mixed. Dozens were acquitted, and others were sentenced to jail terms ranging from a few days to several months. The Sheraton-Palace and Auto Row sit-ins resulted in $13,289 in fines and $9,948 in forfeited bails.[95] Although the NAACP did not instigate the demonstrations, and indeed its top leadership was squeamish from the start, the NAACP nonetheless raised nearly all the money to pay the fines and forfeitures. Many of the early civil rights activists in San Francisco paid a heavy price. Tracy Sims served time in jail and never recovered a leadership position. One of the stiffest sentences was handed to Thomas Burbridge, the president of the NAACP San Francisco branch, who was sentenced to nine months in prison. The severity of his sentence shocked those in the civil rights movement in California. As the cases wore on, Brown periodically visited those serving sentences and pressured jail officials to protect them from real criminals and bullying guards. Brown remained committed to defending the demonstrators long after their cases were no longer covered by the press and long after he was elected to office.[96]


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Chapter Nine—
The Gaffney Triangle

We can't lose. It's impossible.
Willie Brown
Primary election day, June 1964


Despite his earlier promises to Democratic legislative leaders that 1962 would be his last race, San Francisco Assemblyman Ed Gaffney ran again, promising that 1964 would be his last race.[1] But this time, the Burton organization threw everything at Gaffney. It did not matter who Gaffney was or how he voted or what promises he made. They were going to take him down, and Willie Brown was going to have his seat.

After winning his congressional seat in a special election in February 1964, Phillip Burton immediately launched into helping his younger brother, John, replace him in the Assembly and helping Willie Brown win the Assembly seat he should have won two years earlier.[2] Looking back, John Burton reflected that Willie Brown "got almost everything" from his brother that year.[3] The money and volunteers Brown lacked in 1962 were in plentiful supply for the 1964 race. Phillip Burton lent him his personal campaign manager, Rudy Nothenberg. Brown was even given a professional pollster, Hal Dunleavy. It was almost as if Phillip Burton believed he owed Willie Brown for his narrow loss two years earlier.

From the start of the 1964 campaign, Brown was tagged "Willie Brown, Negro attorney" in the newspapers. But he did not run as a Negro candidate. He labeled himself "a responsible liberal."[4] The antisegregation platform of two years earlier went on the back burner. There was no talk from the


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candidate about the Sheraton-Palace and Auto Row demonstrations unless he could not avoid it. Willie Brown would do whatever he had to do to win in 1964. The black churches, the core of his campaign two years earlier, took a back seat. The Reverend Boswell was still the campaign chairman, but this time he was just a name on the letterhead, and, sensing victory, he gladly did not complain. This campaign was run by a new breed of professionals, and they would leave nothing to chance.

Brown looked for expedient means to beat Gaffney, and he soon found them. He grabbed onto an emotional issue—a state Division of Highways proposal to build a freeway through Golden Gate Park's Panhandle[5] —and Brown wrapped it around Gaffney's neck. Brown, who later became identified with downtown developers, ironically rode into office as an antidevelopment crusader.

Brown found the perfect issue. Golden Gate Park was sacred ground for San Franciscans. Built on sand dunes, the rectangular park had become heavily wooded, a forest in the urban environment. Contained within the park were botanical gardens, a zoo, an aquarium, a planetarium, and a world-class art museum. Cutting a freeway through it was unthinkable except to highway engineers looking for an efficient route to link the Golden Gate Bridge with the suburbs on the Peninsula. The engineers were logical: the straightest path was through, or under, the park. But their proposal became a symbol of urban development gone amok.

Willie Brown suddenly seized upon an issue about which he had shown no previous interest. He and George Moscone began showing up at Highway Commission meetings and Board of Supervisors meetings, and they soon brought neighborhood residents with them to jam the audience. They tormented the state highway engineers until, long after the election, they dropped the project.

Brown began using the issue in mass mailings to San Francisco voters. "Whether you like it or not, the State is pushing an ugly, sprawling freeway through your neighborhood," Brown declared in a letter mailed by the thousands to voters:

Your "representative" is silent on this issue. In fact, he is never heard speaking in your interest. Our district has no political leadership, no fighting political voice. I would like to be that voice. . . . I ask for your vote, so that I can fight for you—against the freeway fanatics, and against anyone who threatens our district. You're entitled to be represented, not misled.[6]

It did not matter that Gaffney also opposed the freeway. But Gaffney did not understand the potency of the issue. Goaded by Brown's broadsides, Gaffney officiously explained (accurately) that Assembly members did not vote on highway projects. In a form letter to voters, Gaffney said that he was "greatly concerned" about the freeway proposal but he noted (accurately) that the state constitution gave authority to the state Highway Commission


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for the routing of freeways. He urged voters to write members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, who had real power on the issue.[7] Without realizing it, Gaffney was admitting he was an ineffective legislator. He was exactly where Brown wanted him.

Willie Brown papered the district with his freeway issue missives. An official-looking broadsheet entitled "The Haight-Ashbury Democratic Reporter"—put together by his friends from law school—pictured a sharply dressed Brown standing in Golden Gate Park. "Brown points out path of freeway which threatens to destroy Panhandle," the caption said.[8]

Gaffney replied with his own broadsheet entitled "Haight-Ashbury Backs Gaffney." The text said, "Gaffney spoke out in the legislature when the state attempted to blackmail San Francisco into accepting the Panhandle Freeway. . . . The facts, not fiction, speak plain enough. Gaffney's career is a record of achievement."[9] But Gaffney was now playing Willie Brown's game. It was Brown's issue, and Gaffney could not win by explaining how the highway commission works. The one issue that might have put Brown on the defensive—his close involvement in the civil rights demonstrations—Gaffney did not try, probably out of fear that it would have backfired in the heavily black Western Addition.

Brown's campaign stirred interest any way it could dream up. A mimeographed leaflet handed out on street corners invited all comers to the opening of his campaign office at 1405 Divisadero Street: "Meet your old friends—drink the beer—meet Willie Brown."[10] The new headquarters was closer to Geary Street, the main east-west artery through the district, than his old headquarters. A campaign poet laureate whose name is lost to time scripted this tortured verse for a flier recruiting campaign volunteers: "Workers—if we don't haff any, we'll be stuck with Eddie Gaff Any."[11] Postcards were mailed with return postage and a box that could be checked: "We join Willie Brown in opposing the unwanted Panhandle Freeway!"[12]

Working in the background, pollster Hal Dunleavy identified, block by block, Gaffney's stronghold in the Irish neighborhoods of the Castro District. The campaign nicknamed it the "Gaffney Triangle" and worked at weakening Gaffney in his home turf.[13] It was the same tactic that Phillip Burton had used. The center of the Gaffney Triangle was Monahan's, a bar owned by John Monahan that was a center of Irish-American politics. "We really got in the face of the Gaffney people," Brown gleefully remembered thirty years later.[14]

The key to weakening Gaffney in the Gaffney Triangle was to neutralize his support from labor unions.[15] Brown sent an "Open Letter to Labor" claiming that Gaffney was last among San Francisco Democrats on labor votes in the Legislature and that he ranked twenty-sixth out of the fifty-two Assembly Democrats overall.[16] Brown again won an endorsement from the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU), surprising no one since the organization was closely aligned with Phillip


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Burton. The union was already heavily integrated, and by some estimates it was one-third black. The ILWU supported advancement for blacks at a time when larger unions, including the American Federation of Labor, were highly resistant to giving blacks jobs. The ILWU lent volunteers and professional organizers to help in the campaign. There were also setbacks in Brown's labor strategy. Gaffney won the endorsement of the San Francisco Committee on Political Education (COPE), an arm of the AFL-CIO. Brown won only 53 votes to 139 for Gaffney at the April 2 COPE convention.[17]

Brown also sought mainstream support from the city's newspapers, and he picked up a major endorsement: the San Francisco Chronicle . The newspaper argued that Gaffney's time had come and gone. "Gaffney has served since 1940 in the Assembly with an indifferent record of accomplishment for his district and the city. His seniority in service should pay dividends for San Francisco; unfortunately it does not."[18] The Chronicle noted that Brown was a "leader in the fight" against the Panhandle freeway.

In Brown's view, the key to getting the Chronicle endorsement was Brown's budding friendship with Herb Caen, the newspaper's leading columnist.[19] Caen was more than a chronicler of local affairs. He invented San Francisco's modern sense of itself, and his short-item column was the first thing thousands of readers turned to every morning.

Brown said he was introduced to Caen by a public relations woman who was helping Brown's campaign. She set up a lunch for him with the columnist: "At lunch, we two no-nonsense guys who don't have a whole lot of sensitivity about people's feelings, started off playing, cutting each other. And he just started to laugh, and of course she was a little uptight because she couldn't figure out why I would be so direct, caustic, to Herb Caen. He finally told her we were having a good time and it's okay if you leave. She left. And we sat there and bullshitted the rest of the afternoon and then agreed that we better have lunch at least once or twice a week from that day on—and we did."[20]

Brown and Caen discovered they had much in common, and their friendship became legendary in San Francisco: "He [Caen] started probing me about the town, and he realized that I literally spent my entire life in the streets, that I knew every bartender, every doorman, that I knew the after-hours joints. He was into that setting as well and fascinated with it because he had reached a stage in his life where that kind of activity was not what his companions and his acquaintances and his associates were doing. So he was delighted to come back to the side of life that had really originally been his."[21]

In contrast, the conservative Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner had no use for Willie Brown, the Burtons, or any of their ilk. The newspaper published a red-baiting editorial headlined "Two We Cannot Support" that lambasted Brown and John Burton for "holding hands with the Marxist W.E.B. Du Bois Clubs."[22]


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Across town, Brown's friend, John Burton, fighting to succeed his older brother in the Assembly, faced John Delury, who had the endorsements of the two most powerful Democrats in the state, Governor Pat Brown and Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh. Delury was the administrative assistant for state Senator Gene McAteer, who was Phillip Burton's top rival for preeminence in San Francisco Democratic Party politics. Delury's campaign manager was Leo McCarthy, a county supervisor and a former McAteer protégé. The campaign was bitter from the start, and the bad blood deepened when John Burton won the endorsement of the California Democratic Council club in San Francisco. McCarthy accused the Burton brothers of "unfair and unethical tactics" and claimed that they packed the meeting with nonmembers, a tactic not unfamiliar to the Burton organization.[23] McCarthy appealed to the California Democratic Council state board of directors, claiming that he had "uncontroverted proof" that John Burton had padded the membership roles. One of the so-called members had given as an address the Moulin Rouge nightclub.[24] However, the endorsement stood. Leo McCarthy and the Burton camp would fight again another day.

John Burton had one possibly fatal vulnerability, but Delury never used it. In 1962 John Burton, who was a deputy state attorney general at the time, was arrested for bookmaking in a downtown parking lot when he was caught phoning in a bet on a horse named Legal Beagle. Police had the parking lot under surveillance after hearing reports that John Burton frequently used the booth to phone in bets. But Burton was acquitted; his defense attorney was George Moscone.[25]

Willie Brown took no such chances, and he stayed far clear of his gambling uncle. Everything Brown did was intentional, serious, and totally committed to winning. Brown surrounded himself with a hugely talented group of staff and volunteers. Many of them went on to illustrious political careers of their own. The Chinese precincts were assigned to Bill Honig, a gangly young law clerk to a state supreme court justice.[26] Eighteen years later, Honig was elected California superintendent of public instruction and became a key ally of Brown in legislative battles with Republican governors. Another young campaign worker was Bill Lockyer, who thirty years later became the most powerful Democrat in the state Senate. Rudy Nothenberg, in addition to acting as campaign manager, also walked precincts. He later became a Brown legislative aide and then San Francisco's chief administrative officer in City Hall, equivalent to city manager. Susan Bierman, a longtime neighborhood activist and future county supervisor, was in charge of "special projects," and Brown's lawyer friend, John Dearman, a future judge, coordinated the campaign's speakers bureau. Terence Hallinan, another future county supervisor and district attorney, coordinated student volunteers. Two future mayors were frontline soldiers for Willie Brown in 1964: Dianne Feinstein worked in the office and made sandwiches for the precinct walkers, and George Moscone worked in the Italian-American neighborhoods.


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George Moscone wrote a letter to Italian households describing Brown as "a Sunday school teacher with strong roots in the community" who would support "more liberal immigration laws" to make it easier for their relatives to come to America.[27] Of course, state Assembly members had nothing to do with passage of federal immigration laws. Similar letters were sent to other ethnic groups signed by prominent members of those communities. However, the letter sent to Latinos left out the line about supporting "liberal" immigration laws.[28] Latinos at the time opposed relaxing immigration laws because they viewed an influx of poor Mexicans as competition in the labor market. Chinese-American voters got a letter written in both English and Chinese.[29] In a letter mailed to teachers, Brown proclaimed schools "the first responsibility of democratic government."[30] If Brown had lacked focus with specific voter groups two years earlier, he more than made up for it in 1964.

However, there was one person who, sadly, was lost in the campaign: Blanche Brown. "Willie was going great guns with his career. I helped him campaign in the beginning, but he wanted to keep his private life in the background," she explained. She hated politics and everything about it. "Nobody really cared about me or what I had to say. I can remember being introduced to the same people every time. Nobody remembered who I was. Eventually, I just stopped going." Like many reluctant political wives, she devoted herself to raising her children, mostly without her husband. Blanche Brown receded into the background of Willie Brown's career. "I guess I never realized I was so far back," she reflected years later.[31]

As the campaign wore on, Ed Gaffney feebly tried to find an issue to get his campaign jump-started. He proposed that Alcatraz Island be turned into a memorial for John F. Kennedy, but his idea went nowhere.[32] Even so, Gaffney still had respectable support. Governor Brown's endorsement letter said, "It is only by electing public officials with Ed Gaffney's abilities that our State and City can continue to move forward."[33] Gaffney reprinted it, but the milquetoast letter was the only help he would get from the governor. Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh wrote a form letter for Gaffney addressed "To Whom It May Concern:"

Assemblyman Edward M. Gaffney, the veteran legislator of San Francisco's 18th Assembly District, commands the respect and admiration of his colleagues in the Legislature as well as high ranking officials in the Administration. . . . I am proud to endorse Assemblyman Gaffney for re-election. The State of California, the Legislature, and the people of the 18th District will profit from the continued service of this seasoned, highly qualified legislator.[34]

Endorsement aside, Unruh did as little as he could get away with for Gaffney. Perhaps Unruh was put off by Gaffney's broken promise not to run, or more likely, Unruh did not want to pick new fights with Phillip Burton. Unruh declined to attend a 1963 San Francisco dinner for Gaffney to help him raise funds for his rematch with Brown. Unruh instead sent a


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telegram to be read at the dinner: "I regret I am unable to be present in person to tell his supporters in detail all of the many reasons Eddie has so clearly earned another term in the State Assembly."[35] Willie Brown claimed years later that Unruh's absence from the dinner was not accidental. Burton, who was not yet in Congress, told Unruh that his reelection as Speaker could be in jeopardy if he continued to help Gaffney. "Phil Burton kept [Unruh] from going. Burton said he wouldn't vote for him for reelection to Speaker, and Burton controlled twelve to fourteen people."[36]

Gaffney was the butt of jokes in the Assembly. It was said that he only delivered one speech a year and that was for Mother's Day. When his colleagues once hid his speech, Gaffney frantically searched his desk until Unruh intervened.

A few months before the campaign got underway, Unruh got a sardonic memo from one of his lieutenants, Assemblyman Tom Bane, noting that Gaffney needed "particular tender loving care."[37] At Bane's suggestion, Unruh gave Gaffney a prominent seat in the second row of the Assembly for the 1963–64 session, right behind Unruh for the session's class photo. It made Gaffney look important. Unruh also surrounded Gaffney with two of his smarter cronies on the floor, Assemblymen Robert Crown of Alameda and Charles "Gus" Garrigus from Fresno County, to keep Gaffney from saying or voting for anything dumb.

Unruh tried to help Gaffney indirectly. He bypassed Gaffney's district during a preelection voter registration drive targeted at Negroes everywhere but in San Francisco. Unruh kept his fingerprints off his play by directing the drive through allies in the Democratic State Central Committee. For good measure, Unruh also ordered that no registration drive take place "where Mexican registration is very heavy but where there are Anglo incumbents whose position in a primary would be worsened by a heavy registration drive among Mexican-Americans."[38]

For all of Unruh's stratagems, however, he might as well not have bothered. Brown was smart enough to pick up on Unruh's intrigues even if Gaffney was not. The key to Brown's 1964 campaign was voter registration in the black neighborhoods, and he did a far better job than Unruh could have done. Brown's registration drive in the Eighteenth Assembly District netted 5,577 new Democratic voters in three months, a staggering number for the era.[39] Many of the frontline troops registering voters had been among those arrested in the civil rights demonstrations. Terence Hallinan organized his radical friends from the W.E.B. Du Bois Club into the "Youth Committee for Assemblyman Brown," which worked primarily on voter registration. Hallinan kept the youth committee active for two years, helping Brown to permanently harden his base of support in his district.[40] In later years, registration drives underpinned Brown's campaigns for favored Assembly candidates when he became Speaker. His first effort in the science was impressive.


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During the 1964 primary campaign Brown worked by day in his law office defending prostitutes, drug dealers, and civil rights protesters. By night he rang doorbells. He never stopped working. "With all the talk about being raped and strangled, you'd think it would be difficult to get anyone to open the door for you," he told a reporter from the San Francisco Examiner who followed him around for an exhausting day. "But it isn't. I've punched practically every doorbell in Haight-Ashbury and I've held at least 700 conversations with registered voters, white and black."[41]

He had a tough sell with Chinese-American audiences, tending to put his foot in his mouth. Typical was a luncheon at Kuo Wah's restaurant on April 4, where Brown said, "To prevent lawlessness, we have to respect social relationships. The corner store that renders a service to a community usually would not be robbed. A Negro merchant would not be robbed because he would be considered part of them. A Chinese merchant has to achieve a similar relationship." His comments were duly noted, and his speech was given prominent play in the Chinese World newspaper.[42] Fortunately for Brown, his words were not noticed in the mainstream press.

On June 2, 1964, primary election day—the day that launched him into political orbit—Brown awoke at 7 A.M.[43] He had a breakfast of bacon and eggs with Blanche and their three small children at a small Formica kitchen table. The telephone soon began ringing, and Brown took calls from Gina Moscone, the wife of his friend George, and Carlton Goodlett, the newspaper publisher and political patron. Brown dressed, putting on a sharply creased dark suit, a black knit tie, and a button-down gray-striped Oxford shirt. He made himself look every inch a powerful politician, and then he headed out the door.

Brown did not rest that day. All his nervous energy was in full play, and he left no detail to chance. By 8:30 A.M. he was at his campaign headquarters on Divisadero Street. He showed a young woman how to operate a sound truck so that she could cruise the district for the rest of the day urging people to vote. Brown took more telephone calls, greeted visitors, and talked with Nothenberg and Francois. He could not sit still. He went to polling places and counted, line by line, how many people had voted up to that moment. He dropped off a bag of laundry. He wolfed down a ham sandwich and then drove around the district shouting out the window, "Have you voted? Be sure to vote!" Outside a housing project in the Fillmore district, Brown stopped and signed autographs. One of his campaign workers ribbed, "Hey, you kids, that ain't Willie Mays—it's only Willie Brown!"

As the polls closed at 8 P.M., Brown was back at his Divisadero Street headquarters. An anxious campaign worker, tears welling in her eyes, asked, "Oh, Willie, what if we lose?" Brown put his arm around her shoulders, grinned, and said, "We can't lose. It's impossible." He grabbed a banana and ate it. He was out the door again.

Brown went to another of his campaign headquarters, a converted barbershop that by now was jammed with 250 people. Mirrors lining the walls


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made the crowd seem even larger and more impressive. Brown did not stay long. He went out for a sandwich and stopped by City Hall to briefly watch the vote tally as it came in. At about 10:30 P.M. he returned to his campaign rally at the converted barbershop. A few minutes later, he claimed victory.

It was not even close. Brown routed Gaffney, 14,308 votes to 11,463, to win the Democratic nomination for the Eighteenth Assembly District seat.[44] The margin of victory was practically the number of new voters his campaign had registered.

Now Brown faced Republican attorney Russell Teasdale, a former Democrat who had switched parties in 1960,[45] in the general election for the Eighteenth Assembly District seat. In his 1961 reapportionment of the Eighteenth Assembly District, Phillip Burton had made certain that the Republican nominee for the fall general election would stand little chance of winning because of the two-to-one Democratic voter registration margin. But Brown could leave nothing to chance. San Francisco had never elected a Negro to the Legislature. Party registration might mean nothing. Attempting to imbue his campaign with a patina of respectability, Brown named a "cabinet" of advisers on various issues, including his law school friend, Gerald Hill. Brown was pictured in the newspapers surrounded by his "cabinet," all of them white.[46] Except for Hill, none were really insiders with the campaign.

Brown also got a new infusion of precinct workers from the anti-Proposition 14 campaign in San Francisco, which Hill was managing. When there was not enough to do in the No-on-14 campaign, Hill sent volunteers to Divisadero Street to help Willie Brown.[47]

The general election campaign soon took an ugly turn. Teasdale took to red-baiting Brown over an endorsement from the W.E.B. Du Bois Club, named for the socialist cofounder of the NAACP.[48] Teasdale resorted to the smear tactics that Gaffney had avoided: "I demand to know why Brown has accepted the support of these socialists who, under the name of an avowed Communist, openly espouse the principles of Marx and Lenin."[49]

Brown went on the attack, accusing Teasdale of "raising the ghost of [Sen. Joseph] McCarthy" and "engaging in racial smears." Asked by reporters to explain, Brown said that Teasdale's supporters had gone door-to-door asking voters whether they supported Teasdale "or the young Negro gentleman." As for the W.E.B. Du Bois Club, Brown said it was working to elect all Democratic candidates (which was not completely true) and to defeat the proposed repeal of the open housing law, Proposition 14 (which was true). "I would like to ask my opponent whether he accepts the support of those rightists and extremist groups traditionally found in the camps of candidates who use this type of smear tactics," said Brown.[50]

Brown took Teasdale's barbs personally. In return, Brown called Teasdale "pathetic" and said he was a racist for misspelling his name as "Willy" on campaign literature. "I do not think the question of race has anything to do with my campaign. Yet he even puts it in his literature. It says 'Defeat


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Willy Brown Jr., elect Russell Teasdale.' Willy Brown Jr. obviously is a Negro name. That's why he mentions the name of his opponent."[51]

The two candidates finally met face-to-face in a debate on October 19 at San Francisco State College—Brown's alma mater. The crowd, estimated at seven hundred, sat under an unseasonably hot sun at noon to hear what turned into a less-than-enlightening dialogue about Proposition 14.[52] Both candidates opposed the measure, both proclaimed they favored open housing. Agreement ended there. Teasdale accused Brown of contributing to a "white backlash" that was fueling the campaign for Proposition 14. Brown countered that he "did not fear the white backlash." Brown then said the country needed a "Marshall Plan" for Negroes to "prepare for the mainstream of American life."

The following week, Teasdale went back to hammering Brown over the W.E.B. Du Bois Club, quoting FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's statement that the organization was the "newest facade" for the Communist Party.[53] Teasdale's latest attack rated only three paragraphs buried inside the Chronicle . Teasdale might have gotten somewhere if he had skipped the red-baiting and simply attacked Brown for his support of demonstrators. Instead, Brown was able to ignore his opponent's inept attack and go on the high road. Brown staged a series of community forums on four issues: taxation, social welfare, land-use planning, and transportation. The forums received a relatively lengthy article in the Examiner .[54] They were forerunners of another technique Brown would employ to promote his candidates for the Assembly.

"The voters are entrusting their franchises in you," Brown said. "I think a person running for office has the duty to involve himself in every issue." Open housing was still at the forefront of his concerns. Under the guise of urban renewal, dilapidated buildings were being torn down, but their occupants had nowhere to go because whites would not rent to blacks in many of the city's neighborhoods. "Throughout our meetings with the people of the Eighteenth district," Brown said, "one thing became overwhelmingly clear—displacement of large groups of people is not an acceptable way of solving the problems we face."[55]

When the election sputtered to its close, Brown won handily, polling 32,886 votes to Teasdale's 22,789.[56] A recent analysis of Brown's 1964 election by University of Southern California political scientists Larry Berg and C.B. Holman shows that Brown won 89 percent of the black vote and 70 percent of the wealthy white vote.[57] Asian Americans were evenly split between Brown and Teasdale. Overall, whites voted slightly more for the white Republican than for the black Democrat, but their votes were more than offset by Brown's support among other groups. "Willie Brown's initial campaign victory in 1964 appears to have been the result of a coalition between black voters and upper middle-income white voters. . . . Brown was carried into office by a 'liberal' coalition of blacks and younger, well-educated whites,"


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the two political scientists concluded.[58] In other words, Brown won with a "rainbow coalition" long before the term became fashionable.

Brown's fund-raising goal for the 1964 campaign was $15,000.[59] He ended up raising $31,644, more than twice what he budgeted and almost seven times as much as he had spent two years earlier. Campaign laws in those days did not require accurate disclosure, so it is not unlikely that Brown raised and spent even more. Brown himself probably did not know the exact figures.[60] His largest donation came from Carlton Goodlett, publisher of the Sun-Reporter , who gave him $8,500, a huge amount for the era. Brown was also supported indirectly by Goodlett and other prominent African-American leaders. Among Brown's law clients in 1964 was the Beneficial Savings and Loan Association of Oakland, of which black Assemblyman Byron Rumford was the board chairman and Goodlett was president.[61]

As Brown prepared to depart for Sacramento, he rearranged his personal affairs. Brown ended his law association with Terry Francois. San Francisco was not large enough to contain both their egos, and Francois was increasingly envious of his protégé, whose star was eclipsing his own. The breaking point came when Mayor Shelley was considering appointing Francois to a vacant seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Shelley gave Francois the appointment in 1964, but not before getting a phone call from Willie Brown asking him not to do it. Outraged, Francois later told friends: "I expected Willie to oppose me. What I didn't expect is he would phone the mayor from my office to oppose me."[62]

After his election to the Assembly, Brown joined another black friend, John Dearman, in forming a new law partnership. Dearman had come to San Francisco from the Midwest and was soon heavily involved in San Francisco's civil rights movement, in which he met Brown. Physically large, Dearman had a hearty laugh and enough energy to keep up with Brown. They opened a law office on Octavia Street, on the eastern edge of the Western Addition, closer than Brown's old office to the centers of power near City Hall. "I said to him, we should combine our law practices so that his family could live in the style that they had become accustomed to," Dearman recalled.[63] Their friendship worked for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that Dearman stayed out of the limelight. He was the one friend Willie Brown could count on to never make demands, but always perform quiet personal favors when required. Brown and the even-tempered Dearman remained law partners for two decades, and their friendship never wavered.

Brown's election in 1964 made him the first African American legislator to represent San Francisco. It was also a sweet night for Phillip Burton in his fight to break the established lines of power in San Francisco. John Burton won his election to succeed his brother in the Assembly. The one cloud from the election was the passage of Proposition 14, repealing California's open housing law. And not everyone on the Left rejoiced at Willie Brown's


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election. The Mallet , a black separatist newsletter in San Francisco with a surprisingly wide circulation among politicians, can be credited with first asking the question that would nag Brown for the rest of his career:

The question arises, who will he be representing? Brown, who is a Negro and whose district comprises what is known as the "ghetto" had very little to offer the Negroes of his district. His campaign for the most part was staffed by white liberals of the "sob sister" variety. . . . Most of Brown's campaign was aimed not at Negroes, but at the white liberal element who inhabit the fringes of this district. . . . For all the material distributed during the course of this campaign, hardly five Negroes could be pictured with the candidate. . . . To sum up the political outlook as it concerns Negroes in the 18th District, Willie Brown will be a tool of white liberals and black reactionaries.[64]

In the years ahead Brown was accused by Republicans of being a "fire-brand" black militant. Among his accusers was a white Republican assemblyman, Pete Wilson, who years later would be governor and Brown's chief adversary. But, in fact, Brown always kept his distance from black extremists. Beginning with his 1964 campaign, they never trusted him and Brown returned their enmity in kind. "The militants and nationalists would spend all their time arguing who was blacker than who," he once huffed.[65]

Skeptics notwithstanding, it was a sign of racial progress in the fall of 1964 that Willie Brown, age thirty, was elected to the California Legislature. The Young man who had shined shoes in Mineola, Texas, enduring the indignities of white men throwing quarters into a spittoon for him to fish out, had overcome one obstacle after another and was now taking his first step toward power. Brookie Brown was headed to Sacramento, and no one would dominate the Capitol the way he eventually would.


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