The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

Charles Collins

Community leader, association branch chief executive and Harvard trained lawyer Charles Collins was born on November 22, 1947 to Daniel Collins and DeReath Curtis James in the Fillmore community of San Francisco, California. After graduating from Tamalpais High School in 1965, Collins pursued higher education at Williams College, where he earned his B.A. degree with honors in 1969. Four years later, Collins earned his M.S. degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and subsequently his J.D. degree from Harvard Law School in 1976.

Upon completing his education, Collins began his professional career working with the law firm of Steinhart and Falconer, and then the law firm of Berkeley and Rhodes. An active member of the San Francisco and California communities, Collins led a comprehensive study for the City and County of San Francisco in 1979 and subsequently became the deputy secretary of the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency for the State of California in 1980. Collins has also served in leadership capacities as president and chairman of WDG Ventures, Inc., a real estate development firm in San Francisco; president and chief executive officer of the Family Service Agency of San Francisco; and president and chief executive officer of the YMCA of San Francisco. In his work with the YMCA, Collins has supported its mission to strengthen the foundations of communities through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.

Collins has received much recognition for his work in community development, including the 2003 Bicentennial Award from Williams College. In 2005, Collins was named the senior vice chairman of the National Urban League. For his dedication to the organization, the National Urban League established the Charles Collins Award in his honor. Collins was the author of The African Americans, a collection of photographs recognizing the accomplishments of African Americans in various capacities. He was also the senior editor of A Day in the Life of Africa.

Collins is married to Paula Robinson Collins. They have two daughters, Sara DeReath Collins and Julia Elizabeth Collins.

Collins was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 10, 2011.

Accession Number

A2011.010

Sex

Male

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

3/10/2011 |and| 11/9/2012

Last Name

Collins

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Schools

Old Mill Elementary School

Edna Maguire Elementary School

Tamalpais High School

Williams College

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Flexible

First Name

Charles

Birth City, State, Country

San Francisco

HM ID

COL20

Speakers Bureau Preferred Audience

Youth, but all ages

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

No

Favorite Season

Spring

State

California

Favorite Vacation Destination

Mediterranean

Favorite Quote

Must Be A Responsible Adult Guiding Youth.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

11/22/1947

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Bay Area/San Francisco

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Fish

Short Description

Association branch chief executive and community leader Charles Collins (1947 - ) was a Harvard trained lawyer known for his dedication to the San Francisco community, primarily in his position as president and chief executive officer of the YMCA of San Francisco.

Employment

YMCA of San Francisco

Family Service Agency of San Francisco

WDG Ventures Inc.

San Francisco Art Institute

National Urban League (NUL)

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Berkley and Rhodes

State of California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency

Favorite Color

Green

Timing Pairs
0,0:960,13:1604,21:8780,202:19403,357:23273,385:27967,424:28451,429:33039,459:33434,465:33829,471:34145,476:35488,505:37384,535:37700,540:39280,566:39596,608:40860,627:41176,632:42677,662:47733,708:49629,739:50103,746:51604,772:52078,779:53895,800:54369,807:54843,814:60267,878:64030,961:76281,1153:76613,1158:77609,1172:78688,1190:79269,1199:80514,1226:87055,1281:87805,1292:89230,1322:90580,1349:91180,1358:93430,1405:94330,1418:95380,1435:97255,1470:104048,1544:104516,1551:105764,1567:106076,1572:106544,1579:107246,1590:111928,1628:112616,1643:112960,1649:113304,1654:115282,1685:121256,1746:123500,1779:124316,1792:126458,1822:126866,1828:130420,1837:131320,1847:132120,1857:136388,1918:137108,1933:137900,1948:138692,1961:138980,1966:142780,2001:144940,2031:145390,2037:145840,2043:149988,2110:152640,2165:152952,2170:153420,2177:153732,2182:160526,2256:161818,2280:162502,2291:163414,2304:164098,2322:164706,2331:165542,2347:166378,2362:167062,2372:167518,2379:168354,2402:168734,2411:178210,2545:178684,2555:182615,2583:183460,2598:183720,2603:183980,2608:184305,2614:185020,2626:188140,2700:190155,2744:190415,2749:192430,2785:192755,2792:193405,2803:194705,2828:195030,2834:196070,2862:200635,2883:201085,2890:201460,2896:203035,2916:204610,2955:205810,2971:206335,2979:206785,2987:207310,2996:208960,3028:209410,3034:211885,3110:212185,3115:217330,3167:218422,3181:219332,3196:223550,3261:224980,3294:230907,3379:232256,3413:232611,3419:233250,3429:233818,3439:237213,3458:237781,3471:240692,3540:240976,3545:241473,3554:242183,3565:243390,3585:244029,3600:244313,3605:247366,3680:254912,3778:255327,3784:255742,3790:257153,3816:258066,3839:258564,3846:259394,3861:259975,3869:260722,3888:261552,3906:267023,3957:267607,3966:268191,3976:268848,3988:269432,3999:270308,4014:270746,4022:273082,4072:274396,4092:284470,4205:284730,4221:284990,4226:290060,4344:295455,4494:309680,4704:309960,4709:310310,4715:310590,4720:313174,4733:317762,4854:318280,4863:318576,4868:319760,4892:320130,4898:321388,4925:326325,4963:326665,4968:327515,4979:329130,5004:329470,5009:329810,5014:332030,5027$0,0:7542,202:7977,208:19973,427:26042,504:27446,532:29630,575:30020,581:30488,591:38910,706:39230,714:60580,1080:68500,1209:81175,1382:81475,1387:82525,1412:83125,1421:87850,1529:90850,1589:94640,1601:97940,1656:103115,1755:111256,1868:114337,1922:114890,1930:115206,1935:119314,2010:120262,2146:123738,2217:131377,2315:136560,2405:136986,2412:138832,2522:145932,2651:146571,2661:160274,2838:161429,2858:162584,2875:164432,2908:171524,2969:177385,3046:179356,3082:180086,3094:180597,3102:183152,3169:195078,3392:198042,3440:202526,3533:203818,3555:207086,3619:213338,3699:213978,3714:216026,3755:217818,3806:218074,3811:218330,3816:218586,3852:220826,3910:223514,3942:224090,3953:224922,3976:230060,4001:232580,4064:235520,4121:237130,4156:244175,4234:244491,4239:245913,4263:253339,4438:269721,4699:272206,4750:275440,4759:276352,4777:279772,4839:281520,4867:281976,4875:284788,4921:285244,4929:285928,4939:286460,4947:295480,5048:296088,5058:296392,5063:296772,5069:301180,5172:312873,5326:314861,5362:319831,5468:336744,5741:337079,5747:337682,5757:338151,5766:342070,5771:343045,5786:346045,5856:349195,5929:353020,6015:356040,6022
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Charles Collins' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Charles Collins discusses his maternal lineage and the history of their family business

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Charles Collins discusses his maternal family history, his grandparents, and his maternal great grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Charles Collins discusses his family's relationship with Howard Thurman and his mother's, Dereath James Collins, upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Charles Collins describes his paternal family and his father's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Charles Collins talks about his father's education, how his parents met, and his early childhood in San Francisco, California

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Charles Collins discusses his developmentally challenged brother, Craig Collins, and their upbringing in the Fillmore District of San Francisco, California

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Charles Collins discusses the sociopolitical aspects of San Francisco, California during the 1940s and 1950s

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Charles Collins describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood, and his family's leisure activities

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Charles Collins discusses his early education and his family's move to Mill Valley, California

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Charles Collins describes his experience living in Washington, D.C. in the 1950s

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Charles Collins describes his experiences living in Washington, D.C., segregation, and his parents' civil rights involvement

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Charles Collins talks about the shift in his perspective after returning from Washington, D.C. and his summer experience in Finland.

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Charles Collins discusses his parents' political party affiliation, and his junior high school experience and his father's work

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Charles Collins describes his high school experience in Mill Valley, California and his classmates

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Charles Collins discusses his teen years and the musical influences in his home

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Charles Collins describes his college application process and experience attending Williams College in Massachusetts

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Charles Collins talks about his father's trade business in West Africa, and the challenges of importing and exporting and West African Politics

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Charles Collins describes his first impressions and experiences at Williams College

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Charles Collins talks about his art history education, African American Art and his relationship with Romare Bearden

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Charles Collins describes Williams College's political and social environment

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Charles Collins discusses his experience in the later years of the Civil Rights Movement and his extracurricular activities at Williams College

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Charles Collins talks about his post graduation plans, receiving the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship and meeting his wife Paula Robinson

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Charles Collins discusses researching migration and city planning in South America and Rio de Janeiro, and the death of Whitney Young

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Charles Collins discusses cinematic depictions of Brazil and the impact of rapid urbanization in Rio de Janeiro

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Charles Collins talks about his educational influences, time spent in Athens, Greece and transitioning to Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Charles Collins discusses his time attending Harvard Law School, his classmates and professors

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Charles Collins talks about working with Steinhart and Falconer, and Berkeley and Rhodes

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Charles Collins gives his thoughts on the People's Temple suicide, urban renewal and displacement, and draws connections between these phenomena

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Slating of Charles Collins' interview, session 2

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Charles Collins remembers Jim Jones and the massacre in Georgetown, Guyana

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Charles Collins describes his position at the law firm of Berkley and Rhodes

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Charles Collins talks about the study he conducted for the San Francisco Planning Department

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Charles Collins describes his role at the State of California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Charles Collins recalls his accomplishments at the State of California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Charles Collins describes his reasons for starting Western Development Group

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Charles Collins talks about Western Development Group's construction projects, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Charles Collins talks about Western Development Group's construction projects, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Charles Collins describes San Francisco's Fillmore District, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Charles Collins describes San Francisco's Fillmore District, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Charles Collins remembers the 1989 earthquake

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Charles Collins talks about his book, 'The African Americans'

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Charles Collins remembers John Hope Franklin

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Charles Collins describes the process of selecting photographs for 'The African Americans'

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Charles Collins describes Venus Williams' photograph in 'The African Americans'

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Charles Collins talks about individual photographs in 'The African Americans'

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Charles Collins remembers acquiring a photograph of Arthur Ashe

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Charles Collins talks about the initial idea for the book 'A Day in the Life of Africa'

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Charles Collins describes the shooting process for 'A Day in the Life of Africa'

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Charles Collins talks about one of the photographs in 'A Day in the Life of Africa'

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Charles Collins recalls the reception of 'A Day in the Life of Africa'

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Charles Collins describes how he came to work for the Family Service Agency of San Francisco

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Charles Collins remembers his accomplishments at the Family Service Agency of San Francisco

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Charles Collins describes how he became the president and CEO of the YMCA of San Francisco

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Charles Collins recalls the state of the YMCA of San Francisco upon his arrival

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Charles Collins talks about the YMCA of San Francisco's programs

Tape: 9 Story: 9 - Charles Collins talks about his work with the YMCA Sri Lanka

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Charles Collins talks about the importance of youth programming at the YMCA of San Francisco

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Charles Collins describes the growth of the YMCA of San Francisco

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Charles Collins talks about publicity for the YMCA of San Francisco

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Charles Collins describes the National Urban League's Charles Collins Award

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Charles Collins lists his organizational involvement

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - Charles Collins talks about his interest in art

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - Charles Collins talks about his future plans for the YMCA of San Francisco

Tape: 10 Story: 8 - Charles Collins describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 10 Story: 9 - Charles Collins reflects upon his life

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - Charles Collins reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - Charles Collins talks about his family, pt. 1

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - Charles Collins talks about his family, pt. 2

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - Charles Collins describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

2$2

DATape

9$8

DAStory

1$3

DATitle
Charles Collins describes the shooting process for 'A Day in the Life of Africa'
Charles Collins talks about his book, 'The African Americans'
Transcript
Yes, we were talking about the--'A Day in the Life of Africa' [David Elliot Cohen and Lee Liberman], how, you know, one of my questions is another quan- a quantity question. Ho- how many photographers were employed on this?$$We had close to 100 photographers.$$And I guess you had to sit down and decide like where are they gonna go in Africa, right?$$You have to have an outline for such a big project and the outline was both geographic and thematic. The thing about this book ultimately that made it important and the impetus for this book was the then looming AIDS [acquired immunodeficiency syndrome] crisis in Africa. Time magazine had put on its front cover, you know, the scourge of AIDS, and the decimation of the continent of Africa because AIDS had not been really focused on as a huge public health hazard. And this is an epidemic, a pandemic, and you--you, you have to--sometimes you just have to get up and do something about things. And our response and the impetus for this was that, you know, David [David Cohen] and Lee [Lee Liberman], you know, really felt that, you know, that something had to happen. We had to shine light on this continent and really let people know how important it is, you know, that Africa is not expendable. And it's certainly not expendable from the point of view of its people. And so all of the proceeds from the 'A Day in the Life of Africa' went to support AIDS education on the continent. So that was the cause, that was the reason, you know, for doing this. That we needed to shine a bright light on Africa that people would care more, that they would see the face of Africa through many, many lenses and understand how, how much we all share in its outcome. And so, you know, how you tell that story is, you know, to slice it and dice it. North, south, east, west, central, different cultures, religious, you know, themes, and, and how do you--how do you then pull that together. You bring in the best photographers in the world and you essentially ask them to go to their sweet spot. These are photojournalists, they know how to get into tough spots, they know how to get out of it. So they can go into places that would be remote or could be perilous or hazardous. But, but their, their skills, you know, their social and professional skills, and their artistic vision would be able to render something really important. They could find the moment and really define it. And so we all met in Paris [France]--there was a huge amount of planning, but we all met in Paris for a couple of days and we briefed all the photographers, gave them their equipment. Their equipment was all digital, and that was new then, you know, digital technology and photog- and photography were just beginning to fuse. And so that was just a tremendous opportunity for a lot of these photographers that had been basically, you know, taking their pictures on film to learn digital photography. And it was then gonna be a project that we could do electronically. We worked with Apple Computer [Apple Computer, Inc.; Apple Inc.] also. And so we could fuse all this technology now in the new way of storytelling. The storytelling, itself, is, is still you know rooted, you know, in humans, but we would use new technology, you know, to get the output. So we all met in Paris, we briefed them and then we sent them, you know, on planes, you know, to go to all of these different places in Africa. We had to have lots of connections. We had to have a whole command center. We had to make sure that any situations that got tight, you know, we could work through. We informed all of the embassies, all of the--all of the nations from which all of these photographers came to make sure that all of their visas and all of their, their basic needs could be met on the spot. So there was an entire logistical and support unit, you know, in case somebody got into trouble. So the photographers fanned out and they had about two days to get into their situation, two days to figure out, you know, what they were gonna do and then on the 28th of February in 2012 [sic. 2002], you know, they took those pictures.$$So, so they arrived four days ahead of time?$$They were--they were there probably, you know, yeah in some cases, you know, two to three days ahead of time just to get themselves on the ground and to get their logistics straight and how they were gonna go and what they were gonna photograph. And then they went in and they took these pictures on that day.$$Okay. This--that must've been really expensive. (Unclear)--(simultaneous)--$$It was an expensive project. It was a very expensive project because then we had to get them all back from, from where they were back to Paris. They had to deposit all their film and then we had to get them back to where they came from. So that, you know, that was just wonderful, you know, to think about, you know, getting a chance to see, you know, these, these just incredible people who wanted to co- make this contribution.$I don't know if it's time to ask you about the development of the book or not. But the book came out in nine--1993, 'The African Americans' [Charles Collins and David Cohen].$$Yeah.$$Did--when did you start working on 'The African Americans'? (Unclear)--(simultaneous)--$$That's--you know, that's--this is one of the happiest chapters of my life, you know, me doing these books. My neighbor, David Cohen, who lived literally next door to me, and his wife were very good friends of ours. And David had just completed, you know, a great set of books and he and his wife and their kids were setting off to go to Bali [Indonesia]. And we were talking over the fence and they said, "Well why don't you come over to Bali and visit us." I'd never been to Indonesia and Paula [Collin's wife, Paula Robinson Collins] hadn't either, and so we thought well what a great invitation, we--we're gonna go to Bali. And so there we were, you know, we got on the plane, went to Hong Kong and then we ended up in Indonesia and--on this beautiful island of Bali where we stayed for a couple of weeks. And in that type of space it's again amazing how creative your mind can be, when it's calm and what I always say sort of flat and horizontal and you get a chance to see new patterns. And so David and I were out playing golf in an impossibly horrible rain storm, we were the only people on the golf course. We just started thinking about, you know, books and you know, what would the shape of a book that we would do together be. And so I said, you know, "Let's do a book that really celebrates the significant achievements and contributions that black people--that African Americans have made not only to the American landscape, but to the world." And so we just committed right then and there, we said when we get back we're gonna do this book, and we did.$$Okay, okay. Now there have been other such books way back, I mean not exactly like yours but, but similar in some ways. There--(simultaneous)--$$'Songs of My People' ['Songs of My People: African Americans: A Self-Portrait,' Eric Easter and Dudley M. Brooks].$$Yeah, 'Songs of My People.' Way back Langston Hughes and Milton Meltzer actually produced 'A Pictorial History of the Negro in America'--$$That's right.$$--which a, you know, dealt with more, I think, historical pictures but then had a--had contemporary pictures done in black and white. A couple others, I think Ebony had a set, 'Black America' ['Ebony Pictorial History of Black America'], you know, with black and white pictures. Now were you--had you seen those and--$$Sure, I grew up with that type of literature. I grew up in a household where everything, you know, that was published about black people was sitting there in the bookshelves or on the table or beside the chair. So the idea of this type of ongoing celebration, a real storytelling was important to me. But one of the reasons why this book became important to me was that it was also at the beginning of the hip hop generation. And you know, young people were redefining themselves and, and brushing up against culture in really different ways and voicing who they are and what they saw and what they were concerned about, very powerfully. And my daughters [Sara Collins and Julia Collins] are of that generation. And I wanted, at the same time as they were developing their own voice and their own culture which is absolutely important for every generation to do, is to again self define and look at their own creativity and their own way that they're going to express themselves. I wanted them also to know where they came from and who they are, and to make sure that they are grounded in pride and not working from a deficit. So no matter how hard that you work, you know, as a parent to make sure that your kids feel good about themselves and they know about themselves, that they know that they're not unique, that they know that they're not really all that special, but they come from a long line of people that have been forging the story of America. You know, this was a time to create a new book that would tell the story, you know, in new terms, and that was what 'The African Americans' was all about.$$Okay, okay. So it's an idea that we've been working with for a long time, but this is a refreshment of that idea for another generation?$$I think that it's very much like HistoryMakers. You know, if you don't tell your story, somebody else is gonna tell it or they're gonna interpret it or misinterpret it, or at least you have the opportunity to have an interpretation. And in this case, I wanted 'The African Americans' not only to have the historical roots and references, you know, that we have been a part of the foundation of this country, that this country would not be the America that it is if it hadn't been for the blood, sweat, tears, labor, effort, intelligence, genius and vision of all of its people, including African Americans. And so as, as you in this great project, you know, called The HistoryMakers are allowing people to tell their story, I wanted to put it in--in a book form. I--I would've loved to have done it and there were many offers in fact for us to begin to tell the stories in other ways, but in a sense, you know, I'm really ultimately not a storyteller, I'm ultimately not a book maker, I happen to have done a couple of these things, but it takes that persistence to be able to really map it out and, and to see the future, you know, through story telling. But this was my stab at it and I wanted it not only to be grounded in the historical matter, but I also wanted to tell contemporary stories so that people could see the new heroes and sheroes are being made every single day in all these different walks of life throughout our country, throughout the landscape in all these different dimensions. That, you know, it's not over, that the best can lie ahead of us, but we need to be able to ground ourselves in the past and then also to see our way into the future.