A Point of Resistance: The Hunter's Point Uprising of 1966

POOR correspondent - Posted on 25 June 2010

Jasmine Sydullah/PNN Race and Poverty Reporter
Saturday, September 23, 2006

"When a people is oppressed, neck-stepped on, butt kicked and they decide to rebel and fight the powers that be, that's not a riot..that is an uprising!" Cati's voice boomed out of the phone into POOR Magazine's Community Newsroom and there was no room for doubt. Cati would have been about as old as I am now when she and her girlfriends watched from her porch as a conflict that raged for three days in late September 1966 exploded before her--the inevitable culmination of years of racial segregation and violence known as "The Hunter's Point Uprising"

Born and bred in the southeast sector of San Francisco, better known as Bay View Hunter's Point, Cati Hawkins Okorie is more than a product of her environment“ she is a masterpiece. With six decades of first hand wisdom and lots of love she holds the story of this dynamic neighborhood's ongoing struggles with violence, oppression, negligence and resistance with a grit and grace found only among those strong enough to have faced it all with hope. When I was asked to take part in the very important archival project of permanently documenting the events that occurred in the 66 Uprising led by the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper in collaboration with POOR Magazine's Race, Poverty and Media Justice Institute I was very excited to be returning for a second interview with this extra-ordinary woman to record her personal account of the 1966 so-called riot in Hunter's Point.

“For years the black people and people of color in this city were getting whooped, beaten, shot and killed by the SFPD and on that day on September the brothers decided they were not going to take it anymore. Mathew Johnson, a 16 years old reminiscent of the Steve Urkel character from the sitcom Family Matters, was riding around on what Cati recalled as a nice hot sunny day with his cousin in a car his cousin had not told him was stolen.

Police violence being no less pervasive then as it is now, when the police pulled up to the car, the young men inside had what could have been the good sense to take off running. Unfortunately, as Mathew climbed a fence that separated the shipyard from the projects down at the end of Palou, a warning shot reportedly aimed above his head struck him in the back and proved fatal.

In the years leading up to Mathew Johnson's death, Hunters Point suffered a devastating economic blow with the closure of the shipyards. Employment for blacks was not easily come by so when the shipyard agreed to hire blacks, Bayview Hunter's Point residents quickly became their core work force. People once dependent upon public housing, so-called temporary sorely decrepit old naval housing, began to dream of landownership, some even bought property. At its height 10,000 of the shipyard's 17,000 employees were from the neighborhood. When it closed, all 10,000 jobs were dissolved.

Cati recalled that September 28th was one of those dog day afternoons and since the unemployment was so high a lot of people bore witness to the police chase. Shortly thereafter, from where Cati sat on her porch with her friends a few blocks away, she heard the voices of angry men coming close. They looked and saw a whole bunch of men walking up Palou, shouting, "We're not going to take it any more! That's it we're going to take care of these jokers once and for all!"

They explained the events that had just transpired and continued, marching and chanting until they arrived at 3rd Street. Even without the effortless convenience of cell phone technology, word quickly spread to neighboring housing projects in Double Rock, West point, Middle Point, Potrero Hill, and Alemany and more and more people began to pour onto Hunter's Point's main intersection, 3rd and Palou. Cati was quick to point out that these were the self same hoods that currently battle for turf, reputation and trafficking which at one point stood together as a unified front.

With a collective a call for retribution, jobs and an end to policy brutality, men began to tear up the store fronts that lined 3rd and Palou. They were breaking the windows, setting the stores on fire, and raising all kinds of hell. The police arrived around the same time as the network media so Cati was able to watch the hand-to-hand combat between the men of HP, their allies and the police from her TV on the evening news. They were whoopin those police's butts, ok? With their bare fists, ok? That's anger. And I say they did it not to be thugs, not to be rough necks, but they did it out of the love for that child, Matthew Johnson. His killing was the catalyst for them going down to 3rd street and starting Uprising at that time.

Cati was at home, pregnant and proudly cheering them on. She likened the mood of that warm September night to the small victories she experienced in her years of anti-aparteid work before liberation was in sight but where everyone felt galvanized by the miracle of progress and rallied around building on one another's energy. We were all gathered around the TVs watching on the news, and happy for what was happening because we had been mistreated for so long. It was good to see the guys finally striking back and getting noticed.

Eventually others sought to join the the rebellion. Sympathizers from the Fillmore, the historically black central San Francisco neighborhood, and from Folsom Street, who were predominantly Latino and largely Mexican immigrants made their way towards 3rd Street where they encountered a Police barricade at Cesar Chavez, then Army Street and Market Street.

After a couple days of fighting after night all, the tanks, jeeps and troops of the National Guard came up over 3rd Street and imposed a curfew of sundown. But by then most of the damage had been done. For the next couple days nothing on the scale of what they had done that first day. However, every night, before sundown, formations like townhall meetings took place just outside the Opera House on the corner.

Speakers stood up and from within the community began the process of crafting demands and visions for the future. Mayor Shelley caught wind of these meeting and seeing a way to influence the situation, appointed black cronies to speak at the meetings but within no time they ran them both out.

The Newsroom was silent, our bodies perched on the little chairs. Tiny, co-teacher of the journalism class that sponsored the interview opened up the floor to the students in the room who asked Cati if the Black Panthers who were organizing across the Bay got involved. The Black Panthers who were organizing at the same time in Oakland came across the Bay and educated the HP community.

Another student inquired as to the changes that were made in the community after the uprising. There were many innovative programs that the uprising inspired such as the re-opening and renovation of the Bayview Opera House to act as the site for community based service providers like the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) and the Bayview Hunters Point Foundation (BVHP).

Then Cati's powerful voice rose and filled the room with collective anger, "But there has been a lot of harm too". A pool hall was opened which brought violence and drugs to the community, Crack came and tore up our mothers and fathers courtesy of the US government and police brutality increased.

I concluded by asking her what her dream/reality for change is now, the Black community, the Brown community, the Asian Pacific islander community, the Red community we are all going to get married, we are all going to bring our own ethnic food, we are goin to come together and we are going to uplift our young. All things are possible if your faith is big enough!


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