The Bay Area movement gets down to business: The Ad Hoc Committee to End Discrimination joins CORE and the NAACP in winning jobs for blacks in "front counter" positions at major Bay Area businesses
Part 1: The San Francisco Sheraton-Palace Hotel
Sources Used in this article
This article would not have been possible without the work of Jo Freeman, . Most of the historical information used in my essays for Part I (Sheraton Palace Hotel) and Part 2 (Oakland Tribune) 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 (and can be seen as part of) of the mass actions led or inspired by 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 get schooled: Bay Area students learned all this from the mass media and from visits from Southern sit-in participants. Thousands of students at Bay Area colleges and universities heard speeches from James Farmer. National Director of CORE and author James Baldwin. In 1958 the U.S. Civil Rights Commission held hearings in San Francisco. The hearings made public a 1958 report on Employment Opportunities for Members of Minority Groups in Berkeley. Detailed surveys had been taken of large numbers 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 merchants, there was an occasional porter, maid, dishwasher or stock clerk.
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 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. In Berkeley, Mel's was a hangout for fraternity and other kids that we would-be revolutionaries didn't really relate to. Mel's diners served blacks, of course, but they could not work there, except in the kitchen. BThe 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 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.
DuBois' membership was largely white, but was 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
Ad Hoc mounted a series of campaigns directed at restaurants (notably the Mel's drive-in chain, San Francisco's major hotels, including the Sheraton-Palace Hotel, San Francisco branches of the Bank of America and the Oakland Tribune newspaper. CORE targeted Lucky's supermarkets and the San Francisco branches of the Bank of America. Notably, the B of A demonstrations and negotiations resulted in the hiring of 240 and the San Francisco NAACP were also involved, targeting Lucky's supermarkets and other businesses. The San Francisco NAACP, led by 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 there is an amazing 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 widespread publicity, the Cadillac 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 agreed to hire at least 60 blacks , The San Francisco Hotel Owners 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 agree to target of 16-30% minorities in future hires. The Ad Hoc, 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.
The first protest of Mel's Drive-in in Berkeley was a bit of a disappointment. I took a photograph of one of its patrons in a sharp Chevy Impala giving what I hoped was a "V" for victory sign. I was able to photograph the Ad Hoc Committee's demonstrations at the Sheraton-Palace hotel in San Francisco and at the Oakland Tribune
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Mel's protesters and gawkers gathered directly across Telegraph Avenue from Mel's in Berkeley
On March 7, 1964 over 1000 people participated in disrupting activity at the Sherato-Palace , first picketing outside, then moving inside to picket and then organizing a sit-in that resulted in approximately 100 arrests
I'm sure the hotel would have preferred that we remain outside
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We didn't remain outside. We formed a picket line that looped through the hotel, outside and back in. We sang songs, chanted and had a great time entertaining the staid, older crowd of Sheraton-Palace patrons. We 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 at the Ad Hoc Committee Oakland Tribune demonstration).
Alan _______ and Mark Comfort book-ending 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 a lot of pointed sarcasm in the hand-made signs
I hope this guy was a news cameraman, not FBI
About 90 demonstrators were arrested. We didn't resist - that would have added one more charge to our arrest