Big Five of Bayview

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The Big Five of Bayview were the community leaders and political activists from the Bayview and Hunters Point districts in San Francisco who were instrumental in backing the India Basin and Hunters Point Redevelopment Projects to completion in the 1960s and 70s.


The five African-American women were all outspoken mothers and members of the Crispus Attucks Club who worked to improve their neighborhood.[1] Arthur Hippler characterized the day-to-day social organization of Hunters Point as "matrifocal".[2]:169

The Big Five first became active in the early 1960s, confronting poverty and discrimination in Hunters Point, filling the void left by weak religious leaders. Pat Womack identified them as "strong Black women who took a stand"[3]:D-33 They won fame by marching in 1973 in Washington DC for funds that had been promised to complete the housing to replace temporary housing in Hunters Point, not leaving until they had secured a $30 million grant. Streets and landmarks in the neighborhood have since been named in their honor.

Biographical sketches and legacy[edit]

The Big Five are identified in a 1996 oral history as Julia Commer, Bertha Freeman, Osceola Washington, Elouise Westbrook, and Rosalie Williams.[3]:D-33 One source from 2007 identifies Ruth Williams as one of the Big Five instead of Bertha Freeman.[4] A second source from 2011 states the Big Five includes Beatrice Dunbar instead of Rosalie Williams and identifies Julia Commer as "Julia Coleman".[5] A third source from 1972 states Ardith Nichols was one of the Big Five instead of Rosalie Williams.[1] The three undisputed members are Julia Commer, Osceola Washington, and Elouise Westbrook.

Julia Commer[edit]

Commer was credited as "one of the community leaders who had fought to turn the 134-acre slum ... into a new environment of garden homes and sparkling schools" in a 1978 San Francisco Chronicle article describing the demolition of the temporary housing built to house World War II shipyard workers at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard.[6]

Osceola Washington[edit]

Elouise Westbrook[edit]

Elouise (sometimes written as Eloise) Westbrook was born in Gatesville, Texas in 1915[7] and moved to San Francisco in 1949. She died in her home on September 13, 2011. At her funeral on September 21, 2011, she was eulogized by Mayor Ed Lee and former mayor Willie Brown, who said "she used to scare me" by demanding he answer her calls and showing up at his office unannounced.[5]

Alternate membership[edit]

As noted above, the following five names have been advanced as part of the Big Five on some lists.

Beatrice Dunbar[edit]

Bertha Freeman[edit]

Bertha Freeman was featured on the news for leading a community sub-committee that selected teaching assistants for the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood.[8]

Ardith Nichols[edit]

Rosalie Williams[edit]

Ruth Williams[edit]

The theatre at the Bayview Opera House was renamed the Ruth Williams Memorial Theatre in 2016.

Successors and other areas[edit]

One writer identified Espanola Jackson as the successor matriarch in Bayview/Hunters Point. Mary Rogers was cited as having filled a similar role for the Fillmore/Western Addition district.[5]


  1. ^ a b Miller, Paul T. (2010). The Postwar Struggle for Civil Rights: African Americans in San Francisco, 1945–1975. New York: Routledge. p. 144. ISBN 978-0-415-80601-5. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  2. ^ Hippler, Arthur E. (1974). "8: Social Organization". Hunter's Point: A Black Ghetto. New York: Basic Books, Inc. pp. 165–186. ISBN 0-465-03192-7. LCCN 75-135554.
  3. ^ a b "Appendix D: Hunters Point Shipyard, A Community History (February 1996)". Hunters Point (Former) Naval Shpyard Disposal and Reuse: Environmental Impact Statement, Volume 1 (Report). Southwest Division, Naval Facilities Engineering Command. March 2000. Retrieved 12 February 2018. alternate URL
  4. ^ Betcher, Jeffrey (18 November 2007). "People Made the BVHP Great". Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  5. ^ a b c Metcalfe, Rochelle (28 September 2011). ""I heard that:" A San Francisco pioneer passes ..." BeyondChron. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  6. ^ Grieg, Michael (18 August 1978). "Good Riddance to Bad Housing". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  7. ^ Jones-Presley, Balynda (8 October 2011). "In memory of Elouise Westbrook, 1915–2011: A message to my community and extended family". San Francisco Bay View. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  8. ^ KPIX (7 February 1972). "Hunters Point Teaching Assistants". San Francsico Bay Area Television Archive. Retrieved 27 February 2018.

External links[edit]