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Blacks abandon San Francisco

No US city has seen a more rapid decline of its African-American population.

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The task force also said that the per capita income for African-Americans here is 56 percent less than that of whites. Blacks "lag behind the rest of the city in almost every key economic indicator and face significant barriers to addressing the disparities," it said.

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The absence of middle-class blacks in San Francisco leaves the impression that "we are not stakeholders in the community," says Pastor Boyd.

"A lot of African-American people feel that way," says Fred Blackwell, executive director of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, echoing the task force's conclusion that many black San Franciscans feel increasingly disconnected with the city.

That was true for Rachel Satterfield, the child of an African-American father and Puerto Rican mother, who came to San Francisco three years ago searching for the diversity her hometown in Alaska never had.

Now, the 20-something hipster with a burst of dark curly hair has found people like her – but only after leaving San Francisco. She has moved across the San Francisco Bay to Oakland. "That's what I was expecting to find when I moved to San Francisco," she says.

The decline of the black community began decades ago, many say, long before the dotcom boom and the housing bubble pushed housing to a peak median price of $665,000 in 2007.

During a massive redevelopment of Western Addition between 1958 and 1971, hundreds of homes owned by black residents were torn down and businesses razed. Public housing tracts replaced blocks of the large Victorians – houses that may have been dilapidated at the time but would be valuable now.

What's more, the transformation of San Francisco's economy has been a key factor. Closure of the city's shipyard in the early 1970s caused many blacks to leave for jobs elsewhere in the Bay Area and to move out of the Bay View-Hunters Point neighborhood. As San Francisco's economy moved away from manufacturing, activists say, blacks were left out of the new service economy.

But the out-migration of blacks from San Francisco has positive aspects, too. An "increase in economic status has enabled many African-American homeowners to sell their houses and take the profits to the suburbs," states a study by San Francisco State University's College of Ethnic Studies and its Public Research Institution.

For John William Templeton, author and black historian, there's no choice: He's smitten with San Francisco even though he says blacks are being "excluded from the heritage and the economy."

"Everybody in the world is trying to get to San Francisco, but black folks are leaving. What's up with that? It's because they don't see a future," he says. •