Mainstream San Francisco News Media

Aren’t in Touch with Racial, Ethnic Communities




About urban renewal in the 1950s in San Francisco, he says, “we (at the paper) started calling it urban removal.

"At first we thought it was a good idea to renovate inner cities…. We needed new schools.… [It might] help employ more blacks...but it didn’t turn out that way. We still live in bad housing, and we’re not receiving the education we should be.”



On Viet Nam, he says, “if it had been a white nation, the US wouldn’t have been there.”


On racial profiling, he argues that stopping a black person in a high-priced car is not right. “Cops should not stop anybody unless they are seen performing an illegal act.”


Fleming was born in Jacksonville, Florida almost 93 years ago. But his family soon moved to Chico in the Sacramento River valley. “I went to every school in Chico,” he recalls, “...the high at Chico State.” He wrote for newspapers at both schools.


If it is of any solace to Fleming, I can only point to the ebbing of policy-making by "white owners of newspapers." Crucial editorial decisions are more and more being made by the working staff members.

I hope very much that Fleming might yet see the day when Kipling's twain do meet.

William German began his San Francisco journalism career in 1940. He is editor emeritus at the San Francisco Chronicle. Like Fleming, he still writes a weekly column.Grade the News invited his comment on the adjoining article and appreciates his contribution.



Fleming was in and out of journalism during the late 1920s and in the 1930s.  He was living in San Francisco, one of about 5,000 blacks in the city. Fleming remembers “restaurants where we couldn’t eat and hotels where we couldn’t sleep. I didn’t try to eat in restaurants or stay in hotels that wouldn’t serve me.”


White newspapers were not hiring black journalists in those days, he says. [Professor Tom Leonard, associate dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at U.C. Berkeley, says Fleming’s claim is “quite likely” true.] So Fleming signed on for free with the Spokesman, a black newspaper. Its roots, he says, arose from “the communist and radical movements” of the late 1920s, centered at that time in Berkeley.  The paper “supported black causes” and “that’s why I worked there.”


After a short stint with the Spokesman, Fleming worked as a cook, a bail bondsman, and columnist for the Oakland Tribune. His column was called “Activities Among Negroes” and he wrote about church and social goings on in the black community.  He made $10 a week. The column was canceled after three months.


“I didn’t like writing that column anyway”, he says.


Several odd jobs and 10 years later, Fleming joined the Reporter, a black newspaper founded by San Francisco businessman Frank Logan.  The first edition was published in June, 1944 and Fleming was the founding editor. “I still have that title, and no one can replace me in that position.”


A year later, The Reporter merged with rival black newspaper the Sun, and became the Sun-Reporter. It is now the largest and most influential black paper in Northern California.


Fleming retired four years ago and lives in a Fillmore Street apartment complex for senior citizens. He still bangs out one column and one editorial a week on an old Royal typewriter.


For 25 minutes a day, sometimes over, but never under, he pedals away on a stationary bike.  “Its good for the legs,” he says. Fleming had a pacemaker implanted several weeks ago, but for a man about to celebrate his 93rd birthday, he is robust.


Fleming’s stories, along with the people he has met, form a tapestry of his time. They include the moneyed families of San Francisco, celebrities like Paul Robeson, Marion Anderson, and “Fats” Waller, and sports heroes Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens. He clearly enjoys remembering in a voice that almost booms with enthusiasm.


His take on problems in the black community is uncomplicated and blunt. The cause, he contends, “is racial discrimination.” He says Bay Area newspaper and television stations “largely ignored” that. “If white papers had taken it up seriously, then there never would have been a black press.” 


Right now he is focused on the presidential campaign.  Fleming, a Democrat, thinks George W. Bush is a “boob” and only “mouths what others tell him.”  But, he’s not avid about Gore, and in one recent editorial said Gore “should have shown some real courage and chosen a black for his running mate.”


As to the future of race relations in this country, Fleming is unsure.  On the day of our interview, the San Francisco Chronicle carried a headline: “Racial Divide in Boom Time, Study Reports.” The sub-head read “black, Latino workers left behind in state’s economic expansion.” Fleming shook his head and said “the racial divide won’t end; it just continues.”


“Who was it, … Rudyard Kipling, who wrote that east is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet?”  But he seemed to catch himself and added, “we humans are not perfect, are we?”



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