Sailing Away commemorates Black San Francisco Ancestors

>> Thursday, October 7, 2010

I was completely exhausted this week. Besides launching a story I had to triple fact-check before publishing, I had a couple projects I was working on.

The most challenging project was the most rewarding. I created a newspaper for an upcoming dance performance in San Francisco called, "Sailing Away." The show is a guerilla dance performance taking place on Market Street about the history of Black folks in early San Francisco.

Most of my friends know I don't like San Francisco. But this performance will warrant me taking a trip across the pond.

The performance talks about early Black San Franciscan's like Mary Ellen Pleasant, Mifflin Gibbs and Archy Lee, and the climate that led to the Black Exodus of 1858, when hundreds of Blacks left California for Canada. It's a fascinating story that I'm only familiar with because I used to do the layout for the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper.

California was a free state. But that good old "Compromise of 1850" led to the reintroduction of the Fugitive Slave Act. What made matters worse in California, laws were set up where only white people could testify. In fact, if a Black woman was raped, but no whites "witnessed" it, there was no crime. Just like slavery when white men had complete control over our bodies.

In this climate, Blacks – who then preferred to be called "Colored" – organized a major convention to fight back. When I think of these colored conventions, which took place while their brethren were still enslaved in the South, remind me of the Pan-African Congresses that began in the 1900s.

Moving on. Despite the discrimination, Black folks in Frisco were making moves. Owning property, businesses while being freedom fighters.

Mary Ellen Pleasant was widely known because she was a madam. But, like I wrote in the newspaper's headline, "Mary's more than Pleasant." Mary was a freedom fighter. Besides predating Rosa Parks and Ida B. Wells in her fight for transportation justice – she was discriminated against while getting on a streetcar – and she also used her fortune to fund abolition. As her tombstone says, "She was a friend of John Brown's."

And Gibbs was the founder of the first Black Newspaper West of the Mississippi; Mirror of the Times.

If you are in the city this weekend, be sure to go to Market Street and check out Sailing Away. The show takes place between Battery and Powell Street starting Thursday, October 7 and runs through Sunday, October 10. Performances will take place at the top of each half hour from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Be sure to get a newspaper. It has a lot of great historical information about the people I mentioned above, and many others.

Photo Credits: San Francisco Arts Commission



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Insight into my daily regimen. Obviously of a different specimen. Me, myself & I. So fly. Welcome to the Daily Regiment.

This blog is an outlet for me to write about my life experiences. While there will be consistent themes in my writing -- because I am what I project in written form -- the topics will vary from day to day, and post to post.

If you are interested in my formal news reporting, you can visit The Reginald James Report or The Black Hour.

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