Harlem of the West
Written by Pepin & Watts

Fillmore People

Given the culture of entertainment in the Fillmore, it is not surprising that many performers came from the neighborhood. Since the 1906 Earthquake, vaudeville acts, singers, musicians and dancers of all ethnicities flocked to the area, where an aspiring artist could find work almost every day of the week. It was also a place to be discovered, and many local musicians would leave the local club scene to go on tour with famous musicians, returning to become headliners themselves.

African Americans had been living in the Fillmore District since before the earthquake, but their numbers were quite small. Racism in employment and a ban on non-whites by nearly all labor unions kept the San Francisco population from growing, in contrast to Oakland, which had a robust African American community, mainly due to its proximity to the railroad. In the decade prior to World War II, the African American population of San Francisco numbered just 4,846, most of them living in the Fillmore due to racial covenants in real estate deeds, which restricted where they could live and own property.

World War II dramatically changed the face of the Fillmore. By the 1950 census, San Francisco’s Black population had exploded to 42,520, due to the many African Americans from the South who were encouraged to come to the West Coast to work in the shipyards. The Western Addition, with the sudden removal of the Japanese and Japanese American population to relocation camps, and its small but established population of African Americans, naturally drew the newcomers. Soon, a thriving district of Black-run nightclubs, shops, and restaurants lined the streets of the Fillmore.

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House Party
Japanese Wedding
Sammy Davis Jr
Celebrating Thanksgiving