Opinion

Black History Month: Jefferson A. Beaver (1908-1991)

  • Memorable moment: Mr and Mrs Jefferson Beaver at the 1961 inauguration of President John F. Kennedy

February is Black History Month. Throughout this month The Royal Gazette will feature people, events, places and institutions that have contributed to the shaping of African history.

Jefferson August Beaver, banker, businessman, local politician and civil rights activist, was born in Warren, Arkansas, on May 20, 1908 to the Reverend Robert Jefferson Beaver, a minister with the African Methodist Episcopal Church and Ethel Jordan.

Beaver’s family resided in Monticello, Arkansas, before moving to San Francisco in 1911, and he spent the rest of his life in the Bay Area.

Beaver received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Berkeley in 1936 and pursued postgraduate studies at Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts.

He spent one year at Golden Gate University Law School in San Francisco. Beaver married Fanny May Ansley in 1938 and the couple had three children: Jane, Jeffrey and Jonathan.

A fourth child, James Michael Beaver, died of tuberculosis in infancy.

Jefferson Beaver was known for his civil rights activism in San Francisco’s black community and particularly in the campaigns for public housing and fair employment opportunities. Beaver held the presidency of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People San Francisco branch and the Bay Area Urban League in the mid-1950s.

He was appointed to the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission in 1956 and later became its president. He was also a member of the San Francisco Council for Civic Unity, which campaigned for a fair housing ordinance in the 1940s and 1950s.

During this period, he also served on the California Committee for Fair Employment Practices and held the position of Special Deputy Commissioner of Corporations for the State of California. He was a member of United States Department of Commerce trade missions to the Soviet Union in 1959 and to Nigeria in 1961 to report on business opportunities in each country.

Beaver, a Democrat, was a California delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1956 that nominated Adlai Stevenson for president, and the Convention in Los Angeles in 1960 that nominated John F. Kennedy for the presidency.

Beaver incorporated civil rights activism into his work as a banker by cofounding Transbay Federal Savings and Loan in 1949 and Golden Gate National Bank in 1961.

Transbay Federal was one of the largest savings and loan institutions to serve primarily black customers in this era. He was also editor of the San Francisco Reporter, the city’s African-American newspaper.

Jefferson August Beaver died in Seattle on September 8, 1991, at the age of 83.

Sources: San Francisco African American Historical & Cultural Society, National Japanese American Historical Society, and Holocaust Center of Northern California. 62 Heroes of the Western Addition (San Francisco: San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, n.d.), http://www02.us.archive.org/stream/businessopportnig00unit#page/n1/mode/2up; Paul T. Miller, The Postwar Struggle for Civil Rights: African Americans in San Francisco, 1945-1975 (New York: Routledge, 2010); James Richardson, Willie Brown: A Biography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996); Jefferson August Beaver Obituary, September 13, 1991, from the family of Jefferson Beaver