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Harlem of the West, revised

The new and earlier editions of Harlem of the West.

IN THE LATE ’80s, Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Lewis Watts began an archival journey to resurrect a piece of San Francisco’s cultural history that had been bulldozed into oblivion. The Harlem of the West Project sought to make visible the rich history of the Fillmore District — one of the few neighborhoods in the Bay Area where people of color could go for entertainment in the 1940s and ’50s.

More than a dozen clubs dotted the 20-block radius, cheek by jowl with independent restaurants, pool halls, theaters and stores, many of them owned and run by African Americans, Japanese Americans, and Filipino Americans.

The authors gathered more than 200 photographs and images, lovingly restored them at considerable cost — drawing upon funds that many supporters generously gave — and gathered together oral histories of residents and musicians to take readers through an all-but-forgotten multicultural neighborhood — one that revealed a momentous part of America’s musical heritage.

The resulting book, Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era, has gone through several iterations. Now, at long last, it has found a proper home: Heyday Books, an independent, nonprofit publisher founded 45 years ago in Berkeley. They have international distribution through Publishers Group West, which will allow the book, for the first time, to be distributed outside the United States. The current climate in the country seems especially in need of this book, which has been given a new cover and been updated.

“It is a stunning volume and realizes our most precious ambitions,” says Pepin. “Because Heyday is a scrappy independent publisher and is always in need of funds to help make possible its authors’ dreams, Lewis and I are asking supporters once again to dig deep into their pockets to help publish and market the book in the most robust way possible.” 

Heyday Press needs to raise $30,000 in order to publish the book. Because Heyday is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, all contributions are tax-deductible. The new African American Museum in Washington, D.C., will be featuring the book prominently in its bookstore, as will the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco. SFJAZZ has vowed to help as well. 

Donate online at the link below, or send checks to Heyday Books, P.O. Box 9145, Berkeley, CA 94709.