SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — A San Francisco woman at the helm of one of the nation’s most prominent Black community newspapers is stepping down after nearly three decades.
Mary Ratcliff edits the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper in her kitchen. Her staff sends out 20,000 copies of the monthly to San Francisco and the East Bay.
Ratcliff is stepping aside from the paper that’s fostered communication and change in the Black community for 44 years.
“I’ve loved every minute of it,” Ratcliff said. “I’m 81 and just got diagnosed with breast cancer. I need to take some of this load off my shoulders and share it.”
From her home office in the heart of the Bayview, Ratcliff – who is White – took over the paper in 1991.
“I’m not the right color to be the editor of a Black newspaper, not at all. And I’ve known that ever since I sat down on the seat, to keep it warm until I could find somebody to could take over,” she laughed.
She became editor. Husband Willie, who’s Black, became publisher. She was a lawyer, he was a contractor. They had no media training, but they had a mission.
“I wanted to go to the hardest problem and see what I can do to solve it,” said Ratcliff. “And what is bigger than the horrible oppression of Black people in America?”
Billed as the most-visited Black newspaper on the web, Ratcliff says 127,000 visitors nationwide log onto SF Bay View each month.
Ratcliff’s first issue was a stunning revelation about a secret room in low-income housing.
“Our photographer had gone over to Geneva Tower and the security guards put her in jail. They had a jail cell at Geneva Towers!” Ratcliff exclaimed.
The 24-page paper subscribes to its own brand of activism.
“We use the Bay View Newspaper as a tool to resistance,” said longtime writer JR Valrey.
He says he’s covered accusations of police brutality long before George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. When a BART police officer fatally shot Oscar Grant in 2009, Valrey didn’t just write the headlines.
“We helped to lead the initial protests,” Valrey said.
And they took the tactic to Ferguson five years later after a Black man died from a White police officer’s bullet.
“We went to Ferguson, we covered Ferguson,” Valrey stated. “They told us they were influenced by Oakland..”
Inmates also contribute articles. Three thousand subscribers are behind bars, including Ratcliff’s successor, Keith Washington, also known as “Comrade Malik.”
Ratcliff says Washington’s accounts of Texas prison life are generating reform.
“The pig barns were air-conditioned, not the prisons. So he made a big point of that,” said Ratcliff. “That campaign worked and they’re now installing air conditioning in Texas prisons.”
With Washington’s release this fall, Ratcliff will support the new editor in their shared mission: “We want people to believe in themselves,” she said.
Empowering through words. One story at a time.
A one-year subscription is $24. Ratcliff says the paper doesn’t make enough money for her to take a salary. One staff member is funded through a foundation grant, and fundraising is underway to pay for the new editor.