Eloise Westbrook in 1968 speaking at a protest in support of students. Image courtesy of SF Call.

Eloise Westbrook was born in 1915 in Waco, Texas. She moved to the Bay Area twelve years before she earned her position as President of the Bayview–Hunters Point committee. In 1955, she was part of the staff of the Hunters Point poverty board. She was a mother, a grandmother to 15 children, and an active advocate for the San Francisco community. Community members have described her as “one of the most vocal advocates for the betterment of conditions for families living in the dilapidated warehouses at Hunters Point” (Bayview Footprints). Westbrook was a Bayview–Hunters Point pioneer and was described as “an outspoken, feisty, fearless woman, afraid of no one, no matter their status in life or power” (Metcalfe). Westbrook served as the head of the Hunters Point Joint Housing Committee and was sworn in on June 9, 1968, as only the second woman to take on this role. Not knowing that they would receive negative comments, the Joint Housing Committee flew out to Washington, D.C. to meet with the federal housing officials to fix the housing problem in San Francisco. Eloise Westbrook was tired of being disrespected by the Housing of Urban Development’s head and so she placed her foot on his chair so that he had no place to sit.

Westbrook never accepted no for an answer and Hunters Point’s residents were desperate for change. In 1970, the individuals from the Housing Committee had traveled a long way to fight for housing and the future of Hunters Point. HUD officials refused to negotiate with Hunters Point delegates which caused extreme levels of stress for Westbrook. Eloise Westbrook fought for the people until she physically couldn’t anymore. The levels of stress led Eloise Westbrook, Chairman of the Joint House Committee at that time, to have a stroke before fainting.

Westbrook led a delegation in 1973 under Mayor Alioto to get federal funding to build houses in Bayview Hunters Point. She was recognized as a woman who spoke her mind and was known as the voice of the community since 1980. She was the strongest tenants’ advocate on the commission. Her purpose was not only to build affordable housing with the redevelopment agency, but to build a better image for the neighborhood and to address the issue of social isolation that residents encountered within the city. Westbrook and her committee, who were known as “the big five,” hired their own architects, their own contractors, and created jobs for those in the construction field. Westbrook wanted more access to affordable housing and had a long-term plan to provide community members with jobs. She claimed, “I don’t think there’s another urban renewal that works the way Hunters Point works” (SFSU). The Bayview-Hunters Point community had always been involved in the decision making process for the new housing development program. Westbrook was known for her housing advocacy passion. It was no surprise when she decided to picket in front of the SF Housing Authority (Anders).

Eloise Westbrook was an advocate for those who were in need of food, shelter, jobs, and accessible health care.

Eloise Westbrook attended San Francisco State University where she showed her support for the San Francisco State Strike. In a speech, Westbrook stated, “I only have but one life to give children, when I die I’m dead. And you’d better believe it. But I’m dying for the rights of people” (Bayview Footprints). Westbrook always fought for justice. At San Francisco State University, she publicly announced her support for the Black Student Union and Third World Liberation Front so that her alma mater could establish a College of Ethnic Studies.

Eloise Westbrook will forever be a legend to the San Francisco and Hunters Point community. She was an advocate for those who were in need of food, shelter, jobs, and accessible health care. She was a voice for those oppressed in the city. Westbrook passed away on September 13, 2011 at age 96 (Metcalfe). In her memory, many health facilities carry her name including the Westbrook Plaza Health Center and Housing Complex (Metcalfe). Mayor Willie Brown spoke of Eloise Westbrook at her funeral, saying, “She used to scare me! She was a pure, unadulterated sister!” (Metcalfe).

Ashley Cruz and Meisy Tunay

Works Cited

Anders, Corrie. “From Picket to President of Board.”

Brekke, Dan, Alex Cherian and Adam Grossberg. “From the Archive: Bayview-Hunters Point Backs SF State Strike, December 1968.” KQED. 10 Feb 2015.

“Eloise Westbrook.” Bayview Footprints. 4 Mar 2014.

“Eloise Westbrook on the New Look for Hunters Point.” SF Bay Area Television Archive. 28 Oct 2013.

Johanesen, Harry. “Guaranteed Paid Urged for Poor.” SF Chronicle. 20 Nov 1966.

Metcalfe, Rochelle. “I Heard That: A San Francisco Pioneer Passes …” Beyond Chron. 28 Sep 2011.

Westbrook, Eloise. San Francisco: Hunters Point Joint Housing Committee and San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. 1969.

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