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Black Man’s Free Store

Using a small grant from the Glide Urban Center, the Black Man’s Free Store opened in the Western Addition (1099 McAllister Street) in May 1967. The concept was first proposed by Roy Ballard, who had previously worked as an organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the south and was an “ardent follower” of Malcom X in the Organization for Afro-American Unity.254 Ballard was also involved with the famous Diggers of the HaightAshbury who opened the city’s first free store in the mid-1960s. “Roy saw the possibility of applying Digger concepts and philosophy to the poverty and depravity of the black ghetto.”255 Ballard approached Glide’s Intern to Young Adults, Larry Mamiya to ask for Glide’s support, which he soon received from Ted McIlvenna and Cecil Williams.

The concept behind the Black Man’s Free Store was described in 1967:

What is a free store? Its first principle is to give whatever can be obtained to those who will take. This means clothing, furniture, appliances, food. In a ghetto area where physical and emotional needs are critical, where American Opportunity is an outworn joke, where the ravages of racism are as real as the pavement, a free store means revolution…. In the case of the Black Man’s Free Store, the fundamental revolutionary function is to communicate love to fellow human beings.256

The Black Man’s Free Store also provided a free meal every Saturday in Malcom X Park (Turk and Laguna Streets); a darkroom for budding photographers; and trips to the Sierra Nevada with African American youth.

In a fundraising letter written by Cecil Williams in 1967, he says the Black Man’s Free Store is an “important service being offered poor people in San Francisco” that is “reaching people who none of us have been able to reach.”257

In May 1968, the free store moved to 689 McAllister Street and became the Black Man’s Free Store Medical Clinic. A grant from Glide paid for the rent and most of the equipment.258