1964 — The Ad Hoc Committee to End Discrimination in Hiring takes on San Francisco's hotels
Sources Used in this article
Thanks are owed to historian Jo Freeman. Much of the historical information used in my essays on the Ad Hoc Committee to End Discrimination in Hiring was taken from her paper given on April 19, 1997 at the annual meeting of Organization of American Historians. She is the author of At Berkeley in the Sixties - The Education of an Activist, 1961-1965, published by Indiana University.
Bay Area activists become part of a national civil rights movement of mass demonstrations and civil disobedience
The Bay Area Ad Hoc Committee's series of demonstrations and negotiations with employers and politicians were one consequence of the mass actions in the South led by SNCC, CORE, Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. During 1963 almost one thousand civil rights demonstrations occurred in at least 115 cities, more than twenty thousand people were arrested, ten people were killed and there were 35 bombings.
Students learn about job discrimination in the Bay Area.
In 1958 the U.S. Civil Rights Commission held hearings in San Francisco. The hearings made public the Commission's report on "Employment Opportunities for Members of Minority Groups in Berkeley." Detailed surveys had been taken of large numbers of employees in grocery stores, banks, department, variety and specialty stores. The results varied, but the trend was clear: only 1.5 % of grocery employees, almost zero bank employees and less than 1% of sales clerks were black. Where the few blacks were observed at these businesses, most worked away from the public eye as porters, maids, dishwashers or stock clerks.
CORE initially went after Berkeley's downtown and university district merchants. Some agreements were reached, then cancelled, then reached again. It would take a large, militant Bay Area campaign by the Ad Hoc Committee to end Discrimination to bring about significant change.
Formation of the Ad Hoc Committee to End Discrimination
The Ad Hoc Committee was initially organized for the purpose of mounting a campaign to get Mel's, a drive-in chain on both sides of the Bay to hire blacks. In Berkeley, Mel's was a hangout for college fraternity youth and other local kids. Mel's diners served blacks, of course, but they could not work there, except in the kitchen. The Mel's drive-ins were partly owned by a vulnerable target for political pressure: Harold Dobbs, a San Francisco Supervisor who was running for Mayor of San Francisco at the time.
The Committee was put together by members of the DuBois Clubs, a left-wing youth group composed mainly of radical students and young workers, some of whom were members of the Communist Party of Northern California.
The DuBois Clubs' membership was largely white, but the Clubs were working with black youth in San Francisco and the East Bay, from whom they learned of Mel's hiring practices. The first big demonstration by the Ad Hoc Committee was at a Mel's in San Francisco, and was the first mass sit-in of the civil rights movement in the Bay Area.
The Ad Hoc Committee, CORE and the NAACP organize Bay Area campaigns
The Committee mounted a series of campaigns directed at Mel's drive-in chain, San Francisco's major hotels, including the Sheraton-Palace, and the Oakland Tribune newspaper. At the same time, CORE targeted Lucky's supermarkets and the San Francisco branches of the Bank of America (B of A). The San Francisco NAACP was also involved. It's Director, Dr. Thomas (Nat) Burbridge organized the largest and most spectacular demonstration and sit-in, which was held on April 11, 1964 at the palatial Cadillac Agency on Van Ness Avenue's "auto row.
At https://diva.sfsu.edu/collections/sfbatv/bundles/209396 there is a video shot by KRON-TV that shows the huge crowds protesting inside the Cadillac agency, some of the over 200 arrests and the notables that joined the protest, including actor Sterling Hayden. As a direct result of the disruption of "business as usual" and the negative publicity directed at the Cadillac agency, the agency signed a "non-discrimination" agreement and other car dealers followed suit, followed by the hiring of numbers of black car salesmen.
The legacy of the struggle: jobs and a movement
Over a period of six months in 1963 and 1964, over 500 Ad Hoc Committee demonstrators were arrested, and major agreements to "end discrimination" in employment were signed by major Bay Area employers. Lucky's supermarket chain agreed to hire at least 60 blacks. The co-owners of Mel's, Harold Dobbs (then acting-mayor of San Francisco) and Mel Weiss agreed to hire at least "one Negro" at each of their 13 Bay Area restaurants within 7 days, and to train blacks for two weeks on a half-time basis, at the regular hourly rate, after which the trainees would be hired full-time. The San Francisco Hotel Owners Association agreed to hire 15-20% minorities in white collar and "front counter" positions. The Bank of America hired 240 minorities between May and July, 1964 and the Auto Row agencies signed an agreement to hire 16-30% minorities in the future. The Ad Hoc Committee, CORE and NAACP campaigns energized many young activists, particularly students, who went on to join the "Freedom Rides" in the South, to organize the "Free Speech Movement" at Berkeley and to be a major factor in the movement to end the war in Vietnam.
On March 7, 1964 over 1000 Ad Hoc Committee protesters formed a picket line at the entrance to the Sheraton-Palace.
Picketing outside at night didn't seem very effective, and the crowd was growing to big for the area in front of the hotel entrance..
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The Ad Hoc protesters didn't remain outside. They formed a picket line that looped through the hotel, outside and back in. The picketers sang songs, chanted and had a great time entertaining the staid, older crowd of Sheraton-Palace patrons. They got no applause, but no boos either.
The leaders of the Ad Hoc Committee demonstrations were a fiery 18-year old young woman from Berkeley, Tracy Sims, Ron Ballard (with beret) and Mike Myerson (pictured elsewhere on this site in the photos of the Ad Hoc Committee protest at the Oakland Tribune.
Mark Comfort, with a pointed message about blacks and welfare.
A mink coat and an informational sign at the entrance to the Sheraton's bar
The stuffy atmosphere inside the posh hotel brought out unmistakeable sarcasm in the hand-made signs
I hope this guy was a news cameraman, not FBI
About 90 demonstrators were arrested. They didn't resist--that would have added one more charge to their arrests.