Here’s Why MLK Visited San Francisco in 1964

Martin Luther King Jr. visited the San Francisco Bay Area frequently in his activism work. But his 1964 trip to SF was particularly meaningful: speaking out against housing policies that harmed Black people — a continuing issue today.

During Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life of activism, he made many trips to the Bay Area to speak at Stanford University, UC Berkeley, San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, and other venues. But King’s descent on the region back in May 1964 had two specific purposes: organizing support for the Civil Rights Act at the state level and countering attempts to repeal California’s Rumford Fair Housing Act.

This housing policy, passed in 1963 by the California legislature, set out to help end racial discrimination via property owners and landlords who could previously have refused to rent or sell their property to people of color. The hope: to end racial discrimination and segregation in the state’s housing system. Yet it still remains a large problem in the Bay Area and elsewhere in California to this day.

On July 7, 1964, King delivered remarks at a political event many would find hard to believe now: the 1964 Republican Convention, which took place at Daly City’s Cow Palace. He was there to convince the party to adopt the Civil Rights Act as part of the party’s platform.

The event featured the party’s then-presidential nominee, Sen. Barry Goldwater (who would eventually lose to President Lyndon B. Johnson in a landslide election). King spoke in front of the platform committee in defense of the Rumford Fair Housing Act and the Civil Rights Act.

“The current Negro revolt … will be infinitesimal compared to the civil strife which would ensue if the enactment of the new civil rights bill receives the same kind of resistance imposed to the implementation of the (school) segregation decision,” King testified in front of the committee, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Per the Chronicle, the platform committee King spoke in front of mirrored the conservative beats echoing around the Bay Area around that time, which included housing segregation — particularly in Berkeley (between predominately white neighborhoods and minority areas). Members of the committee strongly disavowed King’s call for support of the Civil Rights Act, and they ended up voting 68–31 to reject the initiative on the party’s platform.

The Rumford Fair Housing Act faced a similar fate later that same year. The California Real Estate Association launched a repeal campaign in the summer of 1964, exploiting the hatred at the time of California’s failed liberal social programs and claiming they would restore “property owner rights.” It was successful. In November, Proposition 14 repealed the Rumford Act (however, it was later restored in 1966 when the California Supreme Court ruled Proposition 14 was illegal because it violated the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act).

King’s advocacy for civil rights conclusively proved fruitful over time, helping bolster generations of civic activism and more inclusive legislation. The issues he fought against are unfortunately still prevalent today, and we can all do our part by educating ourselves and speaking out.

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