John William (271875)

Activist, historian and publisher John William Templeton, who has been working on his California African American Freedom Trail for 20 years, has announced the first eight sites to be marked on the trail, reports the Eventually, Templeton, who is the author of a 1,400-page book about African American history in California, he sees 6,000 markers statewide, with more than 400 in San Francisco alone. Templeton presided at a ceremony on Nov. 18, along the Embarcadero, where he is planning 30 sites. “The Black experience in San Francisco begins at the waterfront,” he tells the Chronicle. There were four African American sea captains whose ships landed here in the 19th century. Templeton says the first steamship that sailed into the San Francisco Bay was that of William Leidesdorff, “originator of the port of San Francisco, the school district and the hospitality industry.” Leidesdorff’s father was Danish, his mother Creole; he was born in the Virgin Islands. The list of sites to be designated eventually includes the 13 San Francisco schools named after African Americans. The first school marker, however, will be at Washington High, because a giant fresco that overlooks the football field was created for the WPA by Sargent Johnson (who for the World’s Fair of 1939, adds Templeton, created a relief of two Incas on llamas, which will eventually be moved from storage and put on display). “When you start unpeeling the history of African Americans in California,” Templeton says, “every time you turn over a rock, it leads to a gold mine.” Among the markers in the first group, says Templeton, who has support from SF Travel and the Hotel Council of San Francisco, is one in the Western Addition that will commemorate the spot where the Manor Plaza Hotel once stood, where Flip Wilson gave his first comedy performance. Other sites to be marked are: the Monadnock Building on Market Street, where Oscar Hudson, California’s first Black lawyer, worked; Sam Jordan’s Bar on Third Street, which Templeton says is California’s oldest Black-owned restaurant; the Third Baptist Church on McAllister, which was the site of (and was built with lumber from) a mansion of Captain Charles Goodall; a Ferry Building shoeshine stand where Aurelious Alberger, the first president of the Northern California NAACP, worked.