Evicted: Country's Oldest Black Bookstore in San Francisco

After more than half a century, the nation’s oldest black bookstore, Marcus Books – named after Marcus Garvey, a man who is known as the father of black nationalism – is closing its San Francisco location on Fillmore Street following an eviction notice for nonpayment of rent. 

According to the San Francisco Examiner, the eviction has been drawing a lot of attention from members of San Francisco’s black community, even eliciting a response from the President of San Francisco’s NAACP chapter, Amos Brown, who says, “You can't deal with this bookstore without dealing with the bigger sickness.” Brown cites the bookstore's closure as another chapter in the poor treatment of black people in California and San Francisco, going so far as to blame “the public policy, that created the conditions for the black community to be torn asunder.”

Supervisor London Breed, who represents the Fillmore district, said of the eviction that “for me, it was almost the last evidence that African-Americans have a significant existence in San Francisco,” as she recalled being given the book Autobiography of Malcolm X by Marcus Books as a teen, because she didn’t have enough money to pay for it.

A note on the store’s door from the owners points to Mayor Ed Lee’s numerous speeches “stating his commitment to righting the wrongs of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency's slaughter of the thriving African American Fillmore District.” As a result of his words, “we at Marcus Books believed the City would take some affirmative action on our behalf,” the note said.

After several attempts to fight their eviction, the bookstore failed to raise $1 million, falling short by $750,000 despite being designated as a city landmark by the Board of Supervisors.

President Barack Obama has been receiving mixed reviews on his approach to making greater strides forward for black Americans. An article published by The Atlantic begs that question, saying, “for many… a history-making president may not be enough.”  

Author Ishmael Reed says that Marcus Books’ closure is a reminder that the struggle for black equality is not over and "can also be blamed on the post-race mass delusion that the oppression of blacks is an 'old fight.’”

Reed was referring to "post-racial America," a term that was ushered in with Barack Obama’s historic election. National Public Radio (NPR) conducted a poll in 2010, in association with the Pew Research Center, which indicated that 39% of black Americans felt that they were in a better position than they had been in five years. CNN published a piece headlined, "The Post-Racial Revolution Will Be Televised," with a picture of a multiracial cast, captioned,Still looking for post-racial America? Turn on the TV.

But many still believe that racism and prejudices are at extremely high levels. Most recently, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers Donald Sterling’s comments about blacks earned him a one-way ticket to be “banned for life” from the NBA. 

According to the White House’s website, President Obama and the White House have been working since the beginning of this presidency "to secure the future prosperity of the African American Community." The most recent initiative the White House launched in this regard is My Brother’s Keeper in February of this year, which touts the motto “creating opportunity for boys and young men of color.” Two other initiatives are the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans and the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

However, it doesn’t seem like San Francisco’s black community thinks enough has been done. According to the Examiner, Reed said the recession has “hit blacks harder than others as a result of discrimination from the banks, leaving little over for the purchase of cultural products."


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