In a significant gesture making good on a vow to honor a family driven from Piedmont a century ago because they were Black, the City Council has directed the city’s Park Commission to determine an appropriate way to memorialize the family of Sidney and Irene Dearing at the small triangle park in lower Piedmont near the home where the Dearings lived.
The council had been scheduled to vote on whether to name the small, redwood-filled park at Wildwood Avenue and Nova Drive the “Dearing Family Memorial Park,” after the couple acknowledged as Piedmont’s first Black homeowners. But City Manager Sara Lillevand said she had rethought the matter of deciding on a name for the park, suggesting more community input would be beneficial before a name is chosen.
Others said it also may be appropriate to contact living descendents of the Dearings, to get their feelings about whether naming the small park after the Dearings would be the best way to go, or whether they believe their forebears may be better honored in a different way.
The Dearings’ story is an infamous blot on the city’s past. In 1924, the Dearings were forced to sell their Wildwood Avenue house to the city after they were mercilessly harassed and threatened, including by the city’s police chief at the time. At one point a 500-person mob gathered outside the Dearings’ home demanding their removal from the city.
According to a city staff report, bombs were planted near the Dearing house before they eventually sold their house to the city, which had threatened eminent domain to acquire the house in the name of building a street connecting Wildwood and Fairview avenue a short distance to the north. That connecting street was never built.
The small triangle park is across the street from 67 Wildwood Ave., the Dearings’ home in the early 1920s.
The Dearings’ fate was but one chapter of a racist past in Piedmont, where “redlining” (refusing home financing to people living in an area deemed to be a poor financial risk) and “blockbusting” (getting homeowners to sell cheaply by creating fear of people of another race or class moving into that neighborhood) were common practices for decades thereafter.
The City Council has taken an upfront stand over the past two years to acknowledge that history of problems tied to racism, following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. A key part of the council’s “Resolution Unequivocally Rejecting Racism” was an acknowledgement of and apology for the city’s racist and discriminatory past.
Though the council stopped short Monday of naming the park, the commitment to memorialize the Dearings in some fashion there was praised by several commenters Monday night as one needed element of the council’s push to own the mistakes of the past and make the city more welcoming and equitable. In that vein, Councilwoman Jennifer Long asked city staff to come back to the council at a future meeting with other measures to help the city create “the inclusive community we all want.”
Councilwoman Conna McCarthy noted the timing of Monday’s action, after the weekend’s killing of 10 people at a Buffalo, N.Y. grocery store by an avowed white supremicist.
“The same hatred that allowed that to happen was the same hatred that was in Piedmont 100 years ago,” said McCarthy, adding she wanted to move ahead “cautiously, with intention” on honoring the Dearings.
However the Dearings are honored at that park space, Lillevand said, should “generate community conversation and awareness” about the family and about Piedmont’s past.
Contact Sam Richards at firstname.lastname@example.org