A reception the other night at the Jazz Heritage Center unveiling busts honoring two iconic San Francisco African American community leaders, longtime San Francisco Redevelopment Agency Commissioner Leroy King and late San Francisco developer James Jefferson, was the type of event that journalist Greg Lewis would have covered during his tenure at the San Francisco Examiner during the 1990s.
Lewis, who passed away Wednesday of diabetes complications and prostate cancer, was a reporter with the San Francisco Examiner from 1987 to 2000 and with the San Francisco Chronicle for a year before moving to Florida in 2001 to work as a reporter with the South Florida Sun Sentinel. He was 57.
Lewis was part of a cadre of Black reporters, editors and columnists at the San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle in the 1980s and 90s; a group that included reporters Perry Lang, Venise Wagner, Thaai Walker, Austin Long‑Scott, Yumi Wilson, Paula Parker and Clarence Johnson. Lewis wrote stories about Willie Brown’s two terms as San Francisco’s first African American mayor, the impact of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake on the Bay Area’s African American communities, the Million Man March, the gentrification of San Francisco’s African American communities and many other issues during Lewis’ time at the Examiner.
Many people at the reception honoring King and Jefferson described Lewis as a “community journalist;” someone who lived and worked among the African American community. Lewis made a point to not only become acquainted with then Mayor Willie Brown and other Black community leaders, but everyday Black people who hung out in the Fillmore, Bayview‑Hunter’s Point, East Oakland and other Bay Area African American communities.
Black political activists at the reception like Shelley Bradford Bell said that if there was an issue or concern that needed coverage in the media, community leaders knew that Lewis was just a phone call away. Community leaders at the King/Jefferson reception say they didn’t see any Chronicle or Examiner reporters covering the event and that they did not personally know any Chronicle or Examiner reporters, but were still familiar with Lewis’ work and the whereabouts of many former Black Chronicle/Examiner reporters and editors. (Yumi Wilson and Venise Wagner are journalism professors at San Francisco State, former Chronicle editorial writer Clarence Johnson is a Public Information Officer for AC Transit and former Chronicle reporter Perry Lang is an official with the San Francisco Black AIDS Coalition.)
Another associate of Lewis at the reception was Paula Parker, a former editor with the San Francisco Chronicle. Parker said she was unfamiliar with any African Americans currently on the Chronicle staff other than columnist Chip Johnson and editorial writer Caille Millner, and that the departure of Lewis and other African American reporters and editors from the Chronicle has left a void in the paper’s coverage of the African American community. Many community leaders at the Jazz Heritage Center reception said events they produced would not have received coverage if not for Lewis and other African American reporters and editors insisting that Chronicle editors cover stories of importance to the African American community. Others at the reception compared Lewis to another local “community journalist,” East Bay reporter Chauncey Bailey, the relentless Oakland Tribune and Oakland Post reporter who was assassinated nearly four years ago
Many of the attendees at the King/Jefferson reception said that because there are so few African American reporters and editors on the Chronicle, they no longer read the Chronicle and that if they want to read news about the San Francisco African American community, they’ll read Rochelle Medcalfe’s column in BeyondChron or the San Francisco Bayview.
Lewis would have been at home hanging out with former Mayor Willie Brown and a variety of Black community leaders, activists and Black community residents gathered at the Jazz Heritage Center on Fillmore Street. Lewis would have been working the room, notepad in hand looking for quotes that would be included in the next day’s San Francisco Examiner story.
Former Chronicle editor Parker said because of the drastic changes in the newspaper business it was unlikely that the Chronicle would hire a reporter like Lewis whose primary focus was covering the African American community. In addition to his coverage of the African American community, Lewis was an Examiner general assignment reporter and wrote a column on collecting baseball cards. Lewis also worked with the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, the Oakland organization created by late former Oakland Tribune publisher Robert Maynard that trains and recruits journalists of color.Filed under: Archive