Montgomery: I do what I feel I wanna do. I do what I think is right. I got that from Spike Lee. He’s a good friend of mine.
Narration: This is Mr. Ulysses J. Montgomery. He’s 92 years old, and is a trained civil engineer. We met him at the Western Addition Senior Center, where he goes almost every day to eat lunch and meet with friends after his mile long walk and a bus ride.
After graduating in 1952 from MIT with a degree in civil engineering, Mr. Montgomery worked mainly on projects that bettered communities and empowered them to be part of important construction and building decisions in their own neighborhoods.
As we got to know him on our weekly visits, we learned that Mr. Montgomery was instrumental in helping the Fillmore community fight the redevelopment plans that drastically changed the neighborhood.
Montgomery: I was in Nigeria teaching engineering when the Watts riots broke out in Los Angeles. I decided to come back to California to help rebuild Watts. I planned to stop a couple of days in San Francisco. While I was on my way to Watts, I agreed to help the Fillmore community fight redevelopment in the Western Addition. So I stayed here and helped organize the community to help fight the redevelopment agency in San Francisco. I’ve been here ever since.
Narration: Although he wasn’t born in San Francisco, Mr. Montgomery was passionate about wanting to help the Fillmore community. The Fillmore has been his permanent base every since he agreed to stay over 54 years ago. With his credentials, he oversaw large housing projects in the Fillmore and Hunter’s Point neighborhoods.
Montgomery: The Fillmore was one of my main projects that I was able to show how the people in the community can make redevelopment serve the community using government guaranteed mortgages for the community groups, which they’d been giving to wealthy development groups and owned by outsiders of the community. So we turned it around, and saying that redevelopment should be built by the community, owned by the community, and they should have the first right to buy any land. The government was using taxpayer money to buy and finance the construction of. They should first offer these opportunities to the community groups. When they refused to do that, we sued, and won. Finally the redevelopment agency had to do that, give the community groups first priority to build replacement housing in the Fillmore and Hunter’s Point for residents in the community.
Narration: Because he received redevelopment consultant rights, Mr. Montgomery helped community groups sponsor and own almost 1500 units of housing. He also helped these groups secure financial support by getting government backed subsidies and funding.
Montgomery: Most of the projects were designed as cooperatives, not rental, but cooperative, and later on the redevelopment agency in 1970, started to change the projects from co-ops to rentals. We fought that and finally the redevelopment agency forced me to give up all of my contracts and leave San Francisco.
Montgomery: So that’s when I went to Africa in ‘72 and stayed in Africa building housing, and came back to San Francisco in 1975, and started trying to complete some of the projects I had started that they had forced me to give up.
Narration: The Western Addition Senior Center, where we had met Mr. Montgomery, was actually a project he had convinced the government to finance. It opened up around 1973 or 1974.
Montgomery: I like the atmosphere here. It’s owned by and for the community. The community organization composed of the Queen of Adah organization, they don’t take orders from nobody. They paid off their mortgage. Just about all of the sponsors and owners of these projects built in the Western Addition for moderate income families owned by community groups, I helped them get their projects done. Some of them I was their consultant.
Montgomery: The basic advice I have for any American citizen is that they should learn and memorize, the Declaration of Independence, and live their lives in accordance to the principles of the Declaration of Independence with certain corrections: that’s the abolition of slavery, equal rights for men and women, and that governments are the servant of the people. Not the other way around. The governments are established by the people, with the authority of the people.