Saturday, December 10, 2016

SF Magazine portraits for the anniversary of the Hunter's Point Riot 1966

Essie Webb, 98, for San Francisco Magazine's story on the 1966 Riot in Hunter's Point - "The Fire Last Time" by Walter Thompson. I photographed Essie with her son-in-law Oscar James and his childhood friend John Smith. I was not sure how mobile she would be for the photos, but she bounded down the stairs to her garage, ready. They did not have much time for the session, and though the subject of the story was the details of what happened during the riot and the deplorable continuation of police violence towards the black community in SF and beyond 50 years later - what we talked about was their years living on the hill in Hunters Point and how close they were as a community then. There was a palpable feeling of love between all of them. So when it was Essie's turn for the photos, I had her look over at John - it was like a love ball being gently tossed back and forth between them - beautiful to witness. May we all be so lucky to have that much love inside and out at 98 (or any age..:)
The story is online with amazing archival photos at

Oscar James is Essie Webb's son-in-law, (they live 2 houses away from each other). He was the same age as many of the young men interviewed in James Baldwin's 'Take This Hammer', and was there when the riot began in Sept. 1966. I've seen the footage of both the policeman after he shot the young and unarmed Matthew Johnson, which sparked the riot, as well as footage of a very young Willie Brown speaking during the riot. Oscar was present for both, and dismissed both performances as theatrics, that when the officer choked up he was trying to paint the situation in the best possible light to excuse himself of wrongdoing, and that Willie Brown only came for the cameras and did nothing to help Hunter's Point (even back then!) and the same for Terry Francois, the first black SF Supervisor, when he came down for a photo op...Oscar has an important collection of photographs and papers that document the history of his community and neighborhood (HP) as he knew it.

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