Come to the Water: Teaching San Francisco Black History

A diorama of the NIANTIC storehouse.
Diorama of the Gold Rush era vessel Niantic. The sailing ship was converted into a storehouse.


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News Release Date: January 28, 2011

Contact: John Cunnane, 415-561-7049

Come to the Water: Teaching San Francisco Black History
A discussion on the National Theme of Black History Month -- African-Americans and the Civil War
Saturday, January 29, 2011, from 1-3pm in the Maritime Museum

SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park hosts Come to the Water: Teaching San Francisco Black History, a discussion on the national theme of Black History Month -- African-Americans and the Civil War -- focusing on the local African-Americans who played a little-known, but significant role in the events leading up to and including the Civil War.

The Maritime Museum (located in the Aquatic Park Bathhouse Building, at the corner of Beach and Polk Streets in San Francisco), hosts the free program for all ages at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 29, 2011. Light refreshments will be served.

Leading the discussion will be historian John William Templeton, author of Come to the Water: Sharing the Rich Black Experience in San Francisco, a new textbook designed for education and reference use, and Park Ranger Guy Washington, the National Park Service’s Pacific West Region coordinator of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

Visitors will also get the opportunity to view the recently renovated Aquatic Park Bathhouse Building, which has several features relevant to the city's African-American heritage. A fresco over the front entrance and mosaics along the rear wall as well as other smaller artwork throughout the building were created by the African-American sculptor Sargent Claude Johnson, when the building was erected in the late 1930’s. Johnson worked for the Federal Arts Project during the Great Depression.

The program will include a ranger-led tour of the Johnson artwork in the building, and a brief chantey program focusing on African American contributions to sea music.

Additionally, the first floor permanent exhibits include a portion of the hull and the rudder of the ship Niantic, which was beached at Montgomery Street during the Gold Rush and become a store and hotel.

The vessel housed the boot shop of abolitionists Mifflin Gibbs and Peter Lester, where an incident contributed to the start of the movement known as the Black Exodus of 1858.

Templeton, also author of the four volume Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California, will describe for parents, educators and students a set of 35 lesson plans designed to infuse Black History Month into daily classroom activities from February 1 through March 5, which is designated as Black American Day in California schools in recognition of the death of Crispus Attucks in the Boston Massacre in 1770. The plans were originally developed as part of the Gold Rush Abolitionists exhibition designed for the Legislative Black Caucus after the Historic State Capitol Museum staff in Sacramento discovered the original copy of the California adoption of the 13th Amendment.

In 2008, Templeton conducted research for a keynote to the California Council for the Social Studies that indicated that fewer than ten percent of California social science teachers were familiar with key facts about African-American history in California and the West. Also in the audience will be members of five local African-American organizations, dating from 1852, which played a key role in the Underground Railroad to Freedom and still continue to this day.

This program is the second of a seven-part speaker series taking place around San Francisco this winter/spring. For more information about the series see
San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park includes a fleet of historic ships, the Maritime Museum, a Visitor Center, the Aquatic Park Historic District, and a maritime library. The park offers both regular programs and special events. For more information, call 415-447-5000 or visit the park’s website at

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Last updated: March 1, 2015

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