Take This Hammer

About This Item

Note: to send your email vote in support of Take this Hammer's nomination to the National Film Registry, please visit this web page at the Library of Congress's web site: http://www.loc.gov/film/vote.html.

Please note: copyright to Take this Hammer is held by WNET. All rights reserved. WNET is the premier public media provider of the New York metropolitan area and parent of public television stations THIRTEEN and WLIW21. Take this hammer was originally produced by KQED for National Educational Television (NET) - the predecessor of WNET - and first aired on February 4th 1964 at 7:30pm, on KQED Ch.9 in the Bay Area.KQED's mobile film unit follows author and activist James Baldwin in the spring of 1963, as he's driven around San Francisco to meet with members of the local African-American community. He is escorted by Youth For Service's Executive Director Orville Luster and intent on discovering: "The real situation of Negroes in the city, as opposed to the image San Francisco would like to present." He declares: "There is no moral distance ... between the facts of life in San Francisco and the facts of life in Birmingham. Someone's got to tell it like it is. And that's where it's at." Includes frank exchanges with local people on the street, meetings with community leaders and extended point-of-view sequences shot from a moving vehicle, featuring the Bayview Hunters Point and Western Addition neighborhoods. Baldwin reflects on the racial inequality that African-Americans are forced to confront and at one point tries to lift the morale of a young man by expressing his conviction that: "There will be a Negro president of this country but it will not be the country that we are sitting in now." The TV Archive would like to thank Darryl Cox for championing the merits of this film and for his determination that it be preserved and remastered for posterity.

In the film’s very opening scene, Famios Bell (aka Jackie Bell) says to Orville Luster: “I’ll tell you about San Francisco. The white man, he’s not taking advantage of you out in public, like they’re doing down in Birmingham, but he’s killing you with that pencil and paper, brother!” Famios’ family moved to Bayview in 1943 and he eventually worked for almost 40 years as a federal employee before retiring. When interviewed about his meeting with Baldwin by Dutch filmmaker Caroline Bins in 2012, he recalled: “I asked him [Baldwin] what’s it like to be a great writer? … He told me you have to study. You have to become articulate and you have to care. These things I remember, and he also told me that we would have a Black president one day. That sticks in my mind more than anything.” Famios went on to play an active role in his community, coaching basketball and mentoring youth, and this is just one example of how Baldwin’s 1963 visit had a positive impact on the neighborhood.

Follow this weblink to view an interview with director Richard O. Moore, who discusses the original production and working with Baldwin in The Making of Take this Hammer. As Moore notes, 15 minutes were cut from his original version by order of KQED's Board of Directors, some of whom felt the film cast San Francisco's race relations in an overly negative way. One board member stated that: "I believe we would all agree that it is not the function of KQED to produce inflammatory, distorted, sacrilegious, extremist programming under the name of educational television. I believe this program is all of these." The original 59 minute director's cut may now also be viewed in DIVA.

Also note that KQED produced an edition of their Profile, Bay Area TV show on July 11th 1963, at 9:00pm on Ch.9, titled "Is San Francisco Another Birmingham?" This is listed on p.37 of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper from that day. As Take this Hammer was produced during the spring of 1963, it seems reasonable to speculate that this program was produced in direct response to Baldwin's hypothesis in Take this Hammer that: "There is no moral distance ... between the facts of life in San Francisco and the facts of life in Birmingham." But we are unable to find any copy of this program in our collections. If anyone has leads relating to the possible whereabouts of a copy of this Profile show, please contact the TV Archive. Another citation we found stated that this program was hosted by Caspar W. Weinberger.

Type of material
archival news film
Recording medium
16mm b&w optical sound film
Date aired
Originally aired on
KQ 327

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Great Video! This reminds me of the old days! 

Baldwin's analysis of the purpose of the concept of N*#$@ was absolutely genus.  I might say though, as someone who was born and raised in the Western Addition, and of the same era as this film, that the comparison of San Francisco to Birmingham is a bit unfair.  There was racism in SF to be sure, but the substantial contributing factor that is left out here and elsewhere is that any group of refugees (from Southern States) coming to any new perceived sanctuary (San Francisco) are considered to be competing for jobs, resources, etc. and contributing to the erosion of what natives considered to be "their" San Francisco.  Race was not as big an issue during the job-rich WWII era of San Francisco, while the same can not be said for Mobile.  Black servicemen and woman MOVED TO San Francisco based on their experiences here - how did Mobile do? 

"You aren't from around here"  was the greatest crime that African Americans, or any other group that did not participate in the building, and re-building of the City, committed.  The racist reaction was the most convenient to apply to this easily identifiable group, but as deep as Birmingham?  Hardly. 

Great video. Really interesting you share too many video in this blog. Like to subsribe. :)

Great documentary but KQED should be embarrassed by those captions. They read as though they were prepared by an algorithm or an illiterate. Invest the money to do them properly, transcribed by someone familiar with the English language, the time of the early 1960s, and the language Mr. Baldwin would likely have used. Really they're worse than nothing. 

is there a transcrpit available of "Take This Hammer?"

This is one of the most brilliant documentaries I've seen in a while. Baldwin was ahead of his time and someone I wish I had a chance to meet. I am from Queens, NY - Although I moved around a lot, I now live in San Francisco - While it's only been 7 yrs that I've lived here, considering this is the 21st century, it's a damn shame that little has changed.  Segregation is alive and well in the city of SF and I'll give our society a "good effort" award with hopes I see real change in my lifetime.

I don't think we've progressed as much as the self-congratulatory comments on this page would suggest. Look around and look deep into those cities you would never visit or reside in - look at who is made the target of our ridicule, anger and paranoia. I see little difference.

Thanks to Darryl Cox for arranging for the preservation of this documentary. It is an important historic marker of Baldwin and of SF and race relations (well, vis a vis blacks in SF) at that time in history. We know that 1963 was a watershed year in American race relations yet very little archival footage at national registries seems to include much from the West Coast, particularly from Northern California, which was distinctly free of large scale urban riots.

This is a major piece of literary, cultural, political documentation.

It is thrilling and disappointing all at once.

I am from Indonesia, I am very interested in copyright, I want to download the video you upload. How to get my video collection, because the video is great

Thank you for making this available in the public domain.  I learn more and more about my home everyday.

Amazing video. I'm so appreciative this video is available for viewing. I was born in 1975 and never heard of this film before.

Thank you Darryl Cox for your contribution and comment in regards to what Willie Mays and Willie Brown went threw to live in San Francisco, I had no idea.

very informational article

Please contact me directly with requests to access 'Take this hammer' on DVD, at acherian@sfsu.edu

While I get irritated at what remains of racism in the country, this film gives me a good perspective of how far we've gone.

What a glorious day it will be when we feel no need to identify what color a person is as we relate an incident to one another.

really interesting archive video.thannks for sharing with us.

I like your stuff. Useful for all students.

Thanks for your comment about the captioning error Joan. We outsource for this service. I'll try and get the line in question updated.

The captions are really inaccurate in places--e.g., around 6'37": Baldwin says, "What precisely do you say to a Negro kid to invest him of a morale which the country is determined he shan't have?" and his words are rendered as "What precisely do you say to a Negro kid to invest him his moral, this is a country as a German he shant have?" This is just one example. Any way to go over the captioning and fix it? Thanks.


The DIVA team has now added close captioning to Take this hammer. This optional feature may be added or removed when viewing footage by using the Disable captions tab, located to the bottom left of the visible screen.


Thanks for your question. Eventually we hope to provide closed captioning for all our online clips but right now there are issues of staffing and funding to negotiate. Here's a sample clip of how the (optional) closed captioning format works with our footage in DIVA:


thank you for posting this!!!

Is there a chance of posting a transcript of the video or closed captioning it for differently-abled viewers?

In response to the interest and positive feedback generated by users for Take this hammer, the TV Archive and DIVA will be making a related KQED documentary Losing just the same(1966) available to view online soon. This film examines the lives of an African-American family from West Oakland and: "Moves within the two overlapping worlds of the ghetto. The day to day physical reality and the world of dreams and fantasies of escape." Please contact me directly for further details: acherian@sfsu.edu.

Paul Miller - 

Please tell me more about your book. I was born in San Francisco on California Street and lived in the continuously until 1993. I grew up in Visitacion Valley (Sunnydale Housing Projects) and the Ingleside. I'm interested in knowing more about the particular focus of your book as it relates to the city's African Americans and the neighborhoods they lived in. Did you interview, for example, ordinary, everyday black folks (drylongso) or did you rely primarily on the views provided by the city's black leadership? You can email me at DarrylCox10@comcast.net if you like.Thanks!

Should anyone be interested, I have a book coming out at the end of 2009 or beginning of 2010 that examines the history of San Francisco's African American community from the end of WW II to 1975.  In it there is detailed information about housing, employment, racial discrimination and police brutality.  The book is called: The Postwar Struggle for Civil Rights and is being published by Routledge.  I would also welcome any questions, critiques or requests for information.  I believe short segments of this video appear in KQED's documentary The Fillmore.

Malaika - this footage is being streamed at 1000kbps. Perhaps your internet connection isn't fast enough to handle the video feed? If so, you'll need to view the clip on a computer with a broadband connection. Thanks.

I got audio but no visuals.  Please help.

 TAKE THIS HAMMER will be screened along with additional local news footage of the early 1960s at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on Aug 27 & Aug 29 with the permission of WNET and with the support of Alex Cherian of the Bay Area TV Archive. This special presentation is part of the film series Notes on Nothing Personal (July 2–August 29).

About the film series:In conjunction with the exhibition Richard Avedon: Photographs 1946-2004, we take up the celebrated photographer's 1964 collaboration with writer (and former high school classmate) James Baldwin: Nothing Personal. Published a year after JFK's assassination, the Avedon photos and Baldwin text work independently and often together to highlight the civil rights movement, left & right protest politics, & American identity.

I am quite appreciative of this presentation, which occurred just as I came to the Bay Area from Washington DC as a student at Stanford. Shortly after graduation, I joined Mayor Joe Alioto's staff as Director of the Model Cities Agency, reponsible for BVHP and Mission model neighborhood programs. With the $millions we had available from HUD, HEW and DOL at that time, we were able to initiate significant programmatic assistance to the BVHP area. We worked closely with many local leaders, including Orville Luster and others.

As a leading author, intellectual, personage and social activist,  Baldwin was able to document, and to bring wide-ranging recognition to the plight of BVHP and its residents, which mirrored the circumstances of African American communities across the country at the time. Many of these communities had undergone the negative impact of being ignored by federal and local administrations for many years, and so were in dire need of economic, housing, health and social redevelopment assistance.

The most important impact of the activities of community leaders in that time was to significantly increase the level of direct action on the part of residents in the civic element of governance. They became directly involved in communicating to local officials and defining to them their felt needs. Subsequently, government became more responsive.

However, economic and demographic factors have taken over the development of many of our communities in the past twenty years. What we are seeing today in our inner cities, including San Francisco, is the impact of economic and financial factors on our neighborhoods.

You can click on the lower right part of the screen to view the clip in a full screen mode. The icon is a square located NEXT to the volume button. It is a great feature that you can use with u-tube movies.

Have a great day!

This film ignited a great deal of controversy when it was broadcast especially from those, black and white, who were anxious about protecting San Francisco’s reputation and image. They accused Baldwin of focusing too much on angry, disaffected black youth and not enough on the positive work that was being done to change their conditions. I would argue, however, because I was there at the time, that Take This Hammer exactly captured the prevailing attitudes of a majority of the city’s black residents, regardless of their ages, at the time.

Blacks were widely discriminated against in employment, housing, and education. The great Giants’ center fielder Willie Mays, for example, was prevented from buying a home in the Forest Hills section of the city when his prospective neighbors pressured the owner not to sell the house to Mays and his wife. Harold Dobbs, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and a leading candidate for mayor in 1964, had his Pacific Heights home picketed by members of CORE who were protesting the fact that Dobbs’ restaurants, Mel’s Drive-Ins, did not hire blacks. (George Lucas memorialized the one located on Mission and South Van Ness Streets in the film American Graffiti.) Curtis Green, who years later became the first black general manager of the city’s public transportation system, was not able to live in a house he and his wife had purchased in the Excelsior District because of the racial animosity his family found there. Willie L. Brown, Jr., who became the first black person to be elected to any public office in San Francisco, first came to local prominence when he and his wife, Blanche, were denied an apartment in the Twin Peaks area because of their race.

These are anecdotal examples, to be sure, but they were repeated thousands of times for black residents of the city and the repercussions of these events, whether anonymous or publicized, continues to affect the city even today. The country has a black president and San Francisco has had a black mayor - Willie L. Brown, Jr. - but the plight of the average black person in the city hasn't really changed that much over the years.

When the film was shot the city's black population numbered well over 100,000 but that figure has continued to decline at a rate of about 10,000 per decade. Blacks were being pushed out of the Fillmore District (Western Addition) under the guise of the redevelopment program. Seventy-five square blocks (272 acres) of affordable housing and retail businesses were leveled. The city was so eager to clear the land that at one point it used the fire department to carry out controlled burnings of Victorian and Edwardian buildings that had survived the 1906 earthquake and fires!

Now the city's Redevelopment Agency is targeting the Bay View-Hunters Point (BVHP) community although in ways that are markedly different and distinct from what it did to the Fillmore District. What is often overlooked and forgotten about BVHP, despite its problems, is that this one-time overwhelmingly black community had for decades one of the highest rates of home ownership in the city. In 1982, for example, I had lunch with a vice president of Bay View Federal Savings who told me, among other things, that beginning in 1948, which was when his company began providing home mortgages to people in BVHP, Bay View Federal had never had one mortgage default in BVHP in all that time.

The city's decline as a manufacturing center and the closure of the shipyards was the beginning of the end for BVHP, especially its young people who had never been welcomed with open arms by the city's businesses and labor unions. In addition, the city's old guard black leaders, as one of them who was a deputy mayor at the time once told me, thought that people in BVHP should be seen but not heard. They should be seen because black leadership could use their numbers and plight to leverage concessions from the city's elite and power brokers but they were expected to accept whatever was given to them and be grateful.

The TV Archive does not own the licensing copyright for Take this hammer and has secured permission from WNET to make view only mp4 files available in DIVA. Please direct any questions regarding further access to this documentary to my e-mail address and I'll be happy to answer them: acherian@sfsu.edu.

Great docu. How can I download this clip to my laptop?It is fantastic and want to make sure I can watch it again at a later date..

When will this footage be available on DVD. I want to show it to my students here at Miles College in Birmingham, Alabama.  Thanks for saving this archival footage

How can one download or otherwise gain access to the mp4 vs. simply viewing in flash?

What an interesting film!  thank you for sharing!!

Great work! I am so pleased that this film was not lost and is available to be seen once again. 

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