Save Marcus Books, soul of San Francisco, oldest Black book store in US!
June 15, 2013
by Malaika H Kambon
Welcome to Marcus Book Store. Long may it live, at 1712 Fillmore St., San Francisco. – Photo: Malaika Kambon
There is nothing in the world more precious than knowing how to read and having access to books. As the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey said, "A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots."
Marcus Book Store, Garvey's namesake, at 1712 Fillmore St., San Francisco, in the Fillmore District once known as Harlem of the West, is packed with that knowledge and has purveyed it since 1960, for 53 years. Housed in the landmark Bop City building that once hosted all the jazz greats, the oldest Black book store in the country has been ordered out – evicted – this coming Tuesday, June 18.
After a standing-room-only press conference at the store on June 10, a plan of action to save Marcus Books, conceived by Archbishop Franzo King, is set for tomorrow, Sunday, June 16. Supporters will attend a church service to pray that speculators who purchased the building will sell it to a non-profit investment group at a small profit so that the bookstore can remain open.
At 10:30 a.m., Marcus Books supporters will hold a press conference at the entrance to Christopher Playground at Diamond Heights Boulevard and Duncan Street in San Francisco and then proceed to St. Nicholas Church, 5200 Diamond Heights Blvd, where the recent buyer at a bankruptcy sale, Nishan Sweis, is a subdeacon. Nishan and his wife Suhaila are also real estate investors specializing in buying distressed properties and the owners of a taxicab company, according to the Examiner.
Archbishop King, who works with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) to stop foreclosures and evictions and who pastors the internationally acclaimed St. John Coltrane Church, declared: "This Afrikan-American community has been preyed upon by what we call 'banksters.' … If we do nothing, we will be nothing.
Archbishop Franzo King and other supporters of Marcus Books will hold a press conference Sunday morning, June 16, at 10:30, followed by attendance at the St. Nicholas church service to pray and inspire the buyer of the Marcus Books building, a subdeacon at the church, to allow the book store and its proprietors to stay in its home of 53 years. – Photo: Malaika Kambon
"I would say to the people who bought this building to remember the scriptures, that it is more blessed to give than to receive. And let me say it's less blessed to steal than to give back that which is not yours! This is NOT yours! You've been used by the banksters to come into (our) community and devastate us in this way!"
"There is an assault on this community," Rev. Arnold Townsend of the Equal Opportunity Council of San Francisco told the press June 10. "All of everything that we've talked about today as it relates to the Afrikan American community – urban renewal, the foreclosure crisis – it's just a question of the transfer of wealth. When you see this building taken out of the hands of Afrikan Americans and put in the hands of some others, once again, it's a transfer of wealth.
"And the wealth that has been taken out of Afrikan Americans' hands, no one is speaking out against it, outside of the Afrikan American community – and that means that you're complicit!" he said to the general public, as news cameras rolled and reporters noted his words.
Backing up his charge of complicity, he quoted Albert Einstein, who served as president of the Anti-Lynching Society, decrying the "attitude of Whites toward their fellow citizens of darker complexion. … I can avoid the feeling of complicity in it only by speaking out." "And so," Rev. Townsend concluded, "it is time for the city to speak out against racism as it pertains to African Americans."
Julian Davis, attorney for the Johnson family, summed up the situation at the end of the press conference: "Where we stand right now is that Westside Community Services has made an offer to repurchase the property from the Sweis family that purchased it less than two months ago after a bankruptcy court proceeding (after Marcus Books missed) a court imposed deadline. Now they have the resources available, through Westside Community Services, to be able to purchase the property and remain here and continue to operate this fantastic institution that means so much to so many people in this community.
Rev. Arnold Townsend called the forced sale of Marcus Books "an assault on this community" and "a transfer of wealth" to "see this building taken out of the hands of Afrikan Americans and put in the hands of some others." Those "outside of the Afrikan American community" who are not "speaking out against it," "that means that you're complicit," he said. –
"We have been in negotiation with the Sweis family through their legal counsel, who we have put an offer towards in the amount of $1.64 million. The Sweises paid $1.59 million dollars for the property, so it's an offer of an additional $50,000 or 3 percent, which is a good yield (in less than two months) for something that, if you put it in a safe investment of a U.S. Treasury bond, it would take much longer to yield 3 percent.
"So we're appealing not only to the compassion of the Sweis family but to their business sense as well. This is a solution that makes them whole and then some, and keeps Marcus Books here at its historic site.
"The Sweis family has not responded to the offer of $1.64 million. As Dr. Mary Ann Jones, the chief executive officer of Westside said, they put out a number of $3.2 million, which she found to be unconscionable and which might not be in the best faith in terms of real negotiations. They'd asked us for a number and we've given them a very good number that we're hoping that they will consider more seriously.
"June 18 is a deadline for the Johnson family to vacate the property. I know that the Johnsons are working with a number of people including the mayor's office of redevelopment to find an alternate location for the book store in the neighborhood. There are some tenants upstairs who aren't under the stipulation to vacate – for instance, some of the Johnson family members, such as their daughter who has a lease here.
"So I think you have a situation pending on the 18th that I think the Johnsons want to make clear does not spell the end of Marcus Book Stores. It may eventually mean that Marcus Book Store is no longer here at this great location at 1712 Fillmore St., but they will always be a part of the neighborhood, and they will be in the neighborhood at another location if that's what it comes to. We're all hoping it doesn't."
"There are a number of folks who plan to reach out to the Sweis family to request their cooperation," attorney Davis concluded.
"The Sweises might end up the heroes of the story," the Examiner quoted Marcus Books proprietor Gregory Johnson saying at the press conference. Then "everyone wins," said his wife Karen Johnson, daughter of Marcus Books founders Drs. Raye and Julian Richardson. "It sounds good to me."
Dr. Mary Ann Jones, CEO of Westside Community Services, is offering $1.64 million for the building, giving the Sweises, who bought it in a bankruptcy sale, a modest profit. She "came from a family of activists," she said. "My mother lay down in front of this building the first time they tried to bulldoze it. Our ancestors are looking down upon us and asking us to do something." – Photo: Malaika Kambon
Dr. Mary Ann Jones, CEO of Westside Community Services, which has formally made the generous offer of $1.64 million for the building, "came from a family of activists," and said: "My mother lay down in front of this building the first time they tried to bulldoze it. Our ancestors are looking down upon us and asking us to do something."
Freedom needs knowledge
In his book, "Christopher Columbus and the Afrikan Holocaust: Slavery and the Rise of European Capitalism," Ancestor Dr. John Henrik Clarke states: "Before the breaking up of the social structure of the Afrikan states such as Ghana and Songhai, and the internal strife that made the slave trade possible, many Africans, especially West Africans, lived in a society in which university life was fairly common and scholars were held in reverence.
"In that period in African history, the University of Sankore at Timbuktu was flourishing and its great chancellor, the last of the monumental scholars of West Africa, Ahmed Baba, reigned over that university. A great African scholar, he wrote 47 books, each on a separate subject. He received all of his education within Africa; in fact he did not leave the Western Sudan until he was exiled to Morocco during the invasion in 1594.
"My point is this: There existed in Africa prior to the beginning of the slave trade a cultural way of life that in many ways was equal, if not superior, to many of the cultures then existing in Europe. And the slave trade destroyed these cultures and created a dilemma that the African has not been able to extract himself from to this day" (Page 82 in print, 42 online).
"We did not consider the fact that for most of the time Afrikan people have been on the Earth, they have been free people, determining their own destiny, and they have not been slaves," said the late Dr. Clarke.
During the enslavement of Afrikan people, every attempt was made to destroy the Afrikan memory of ever having been a part of a free and intelligent people.
Marcus Books, purveyor of knowledge and freedom
But Drs. Raye and the late Julian Richardson established a dynasty that in over half a century has gone a long way toward counteracting this dangerous misconception.
At age 15, Dr. Raye Gilbert Richardson graduated from high school. Forty-five years later, in 1960, four years prior to the year known as the Year of the Ballot or the Bullet, Drs. Raye and Julian Richardson co-founded in San Francisco the first of the internationally renowned Marcus Book Stores, named for Marcus Garvey. In 1976 a second store was founded in Oakland.
"I wish I could come up with the money to buy it myself," said Supervisor London Breed, according to the Examiner. She's a Fillmore native who grew up in public housing and spent "countless" afternoons in the book store as a child. "But unfortunately, it's a capitalist society, and it doesn't work like that." –
Known for over a half century to be at the hub of global Afrikan life, the stores have hosted prominent authors, R&B musicians and activists, a veritable who's who of Afrikan people, from Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Chaka Khan, Queen Latifah, Terry McMillan, Nikki Giovanni, Angela Davis and Iyaluua Ferguson to Michael Eric Dyson, E. Lynn Harris, James Baldwin, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, Randall Robinson, Muhammad Ali (one of the biggest events in 48 years), Ralph Ellison, Baba Herman Ferguson, Cornel West, Samuel Yette, Walter Mosley, Ishmael Reed and more, not to mention hosting such legendary jazz greats as John Coltrane, B.B. King, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Earle Davis, to name but a few.
Archbishop King captured the classlessness of Marcus Books when he said at the June 10 press conference: "We don't want to lose this building and we don't want to lose this fight. And we're not just speaking for intellectuals; we're speaking to the thugs too. Thugs need this place. Or else they will be thugs for the rest of their lives."
Both stores have hosted televised interviews with jazz greats, outstanding entrepreneurs, scholars, political activists and former political prisoners. Black Panther Party meetings were held at Marcus Books as were the meetings when the Black students at San Francisco State University went on strike in 1968. The San Francisco 8 were interviewed there by Lance Burton in the midst of their fight for freedom.
And on June 17, 2013, Dr. Raye Richardson will celebrate her 93rd birthday.
Drs. Raye and Julian Richardson's daughter Blanche Richardson said, when asked about the Marcus Book Stores' intersection with the Civil Rights Movement: "Marcus Books was a part of the Civil Rights Movement. Marcus Books provided a forum for many Civil Rights and Black Power organizations. We also hosted many authors who were writing about the political scene at the time. When the Black students at San Francisco State University went on strike, our home was put up as collateral to get them out of jail. My parents were frequent speakers at various political events. Marcus Books initiated dozens of forums and seminars on race relationships and the politics of Blackness. Our family – sometimes just our family – picketed every place there was to picket: hotels, car dealerships, retail businesses, housing developments."
And when asked about her favorite events that have taken place, she replied: "All events are great that happen at Marcus Books because they are instructive, informative, exciting and positive. (Nutritious too, if we serve food!)"
When asked how Marcus Books survives among chain bookstores and online bookstores like Amazon, her response was, "Marginally! That we survived is a testament to some very dedicated customers who appreciate the value, the warmth, the camaraderie established by Marcus Book Stores. It has to be very rewarding for a Black person to walk into a business establishment and not be subjected to preconceived notions that he or she is a thief."
The Marcus Book Store dynasty started as Success Printing in the Fillmore District when the Richardsons, avid readers, discovered that books by, for and about Black people everywhere were difficult to purchase and harder to find. They began to publish popular works by Black authors and poets, as well as out of print literature they deemed to be essential reading. When racism and redevelopment began pushing Afrikan people out of San Francisco and gutting the once vibrant Fillmore District, they opened their second book store in Oakland in 1976.
Through redevelopment, bulldozers, racism and a retail giant, Amazon, that undercut prices for small book stores by offering the same books for cheaper prices online, Marcus Book Stores have kept their doors open by providing what their Afrikan community needed most: a progressive avenue of information about ourselves, our own bookstore, a way of being FUBU – for us, by us.
Black businesses under attack, yesterday and today
And now, in 2013, the ugly monster of racism in San Francisco is coming again to try and steal what is ours – our land and our Marcus Books, in an effort to derail our historic place and pretend that we as Afrikan people do not exist in any way but that which is warped and underdeveloped in their colonized mentalities.
But why does this keep happening to us? The insights of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, Malcolm X, provide some of the answers.
El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, Malcolm X
In 1964, Malcolm X was the minister of the newly founded Muslim Mosque Inc., whose offices were located in the Teresa Hotel in Harlem, New York'
On April 12, 1964, Malcolm X delivered his famous "The Ballot or the Bullet" speech in Detroit, Michigan. He addressed brothers and sisters, moderators, religious and spiritual leaders – and friends and enemies. He stated, in fact, "We would be fooling ourselves if we had an audience this large and didn't realize that there would be some enemies present."
He pointed out several Christian ministers who came to be known more so for their political struggles on behalf of the Afrikan community: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rev. Adam Clayton Powell of Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church and a longtime member of Congress, Rev. Milton Galamison, who fought against Brooklyn's segregated school system, and Rev. Henry Cleage, from Detroit, Michigan, who headed the Freedom Now Party.
Malcolm was a Muslim minister who stressed that unity between different religions could be achieved when we "keep our religion between ourselves and our God. When we come out here, we have a fight that's common to all of us against an enemy who is common to all of us."(Continued tomorrow )
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