THE “BIG FIVE” WOMEN OF BAYVIEW: HISTORIC ADVOCACY TO NEW COMMUNITY CENTER
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
The new Southeast Community Center under construction in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood will be a showcase providing access to opportunities for the entire community. It will extend the services available at the nearby Southeast Center of the Community College of San Francisco, offering education, skill building, childcare, job training, meeting space, recreation and more.
This modern facility, slated for completion in 2022, becomes the newest public facility to serve the more than 100,000 residents of the Bayview/Hunters Point district of the city. Yet, the foundation of the project go back nearly half a century, to a small group of women who were determined to see improvements and resources flow to their neighborhood, the largest majority Black area in the city.
Julia Commer, Bertha Freeman, Osceola Washington, Eloise Westbrook, and Rosalie Williams are African-American women and trailblazers, often known as the “Big Five of Bayview”. They were mothers who joined forces to become powerful advocates for their entire community.
At a time when the rest of San Francisco was benefitting from a host of public projects and improvements, the “Big Five” was determined that the Bayview Hunter’s Point neighborhood not be left behind. Although they encountered intense injustice and political opposition in their struggle, they persevered through adversity. In 1973, they traveled to the nation’s capital and, refusing to take no for an answer, secured a $30 million redevelopment grant that brought housing improvement and resources to the community. They continued to fight for their neighborhood over the ensuing decades.
As the builders of the Southeast Community Center, we mark Women’s History Month by saluting these dedicated and tireless advocates for their community. Their influence spawned the next generation of community leaders, from whom we have learned about the needs of the community and who have been directly involved in the planning and execution of the project taking shape at 1550 Evans Avenue. We acknowledge our debt to the work of the “Big Five” whose many decades of work set a tone and legacy that continues to shape the Bayview community today.