images of Tom Cahill and Jack ShelleyThe Irish ruled San Francisco in the sixties.  Judge O’Connor was responsible for the juvenile justice system.  Tom Cahill was chief of police while Jack Shelley occupied the mayor’s office (see photos).  All was as it was apparently meant to be.  Until 1966.  The mysterious death of George Sullivan, who was the top black music producer on the coast, seemed to trigger an avalanche of racial tension.  One hundred and sixty-seven dissidents were arrested for picketing the Sheraton Palace Hotel and their failure to hire blacks.  One hundred and eighty civil rights demonstrators were hauled downtown for illegal sit-ins at Wessman Lincoln-Mercury and Cadillac dealerships. 

A riot broke out in Hunters Point after a white officer shot and killed a seventeen-year-old African American, Mathew Johnson, as he fled the scene of a stolen car. 

Irish Rule:

At a public meeting, the restive crowd was quick to jeer Mayor Shelley while throwing tomatoes at him.  That evening on September 27, 1966 sporadic looting and arson broke out.  Governor Pat Brown authorized the use of the National Guard and Highway Patrol.  Martial Law was imposed on Hunters Point and the Fillmore District.  Troops patrolled the streets in jeeps with machine guns mounted on the back.  After the riots, the insurance industry refused to underwrite losses incurred by black business owners. Automatic weapons, portable artillery and military occupation offered a vivid demonstration of how far San Francisco Irish officials would go in the attempt to contain black rage.  The riots disappeared down the memory hole and few remember it as a meaningful event in the history of San Francisco.  Meanwhile, the gentrification of Hunters Point and the Fillmore District continues.  At last count, a mere 2,500 African Americans lived in the City.

For more, scroll down and click onto your favorite neighborhood or town.  The award-winning novel, Don’t Stop the Music, depicts several scenes in the Fillmore during this era.  If interested, go to the top and click on “Novels” and select the above book for more details.

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