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Chapter Eight— Forest Knolls
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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]


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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:


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


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


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


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]


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


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.


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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