As part of an ongoing effort by the city to come to terms with the darker moments of its past, the City Council has directed staff to move ahead with a memorial to Sidney and Irene Dearing, Piedmont’s first Black homeowners in the 1920s who were driven from the city because they were Black.
The council also on Monday committed to taking a broader-brush approach to acknowledging all aspects of its history and to explaining it publicly.
The memorial to the Dearings will be at what is known as “Triangle Park,” in the median of Wildwood Avenue at Nova Drive – near the home that in 1924 was bought by Sidney Dearing.
Soon after he moved in, a mob of 500 white residents surrounded the house, demanding he move out of Piedmont because he was Black. After Dearing refused to leave, three bombs were planted on his property.
Dearing sold his Piedmont house less than a year later, in 1925. The Dearings’ experience in Piedmont has tainted the city, and Piedmont leaders in the last few years have been working hard to make the city more welcoming and more diverse, and to be up front about confronting its past mistakes..
Since May 2022, after first meeting with descendants of the Dearings, a Piedmont Park Commission subcommittee has hosted five stakeholder meetings to help create a plan for a memorial site. Among those stakeholders — the Piedmont Anti-Racism and Diversity Committee, the Piedmont Racial Equity Campaign, community members in the “Sidney Dearing Working Group,” the Piedmont Beautification Foundation, and immediate neighbors of the Triangle Park. Members of the Dearing Family have been working with Piedmont leaders on this project, and City Administrator Sara Lillevand said they’ve been involved in every step of the process, including five meetings of stakeholders.
“Guiding principles” for whatever form the Dearing Family Memorial eventually takes, include honoring both Sidney and Irene Dearing; being visible from the street, not just from inside the park; and making educational elements about the Dearings’ lives and accomplishments, and their history in Piedmont, part of the memorial.
The Dearing family is open to the idea of bronze sculptures or other relevant pieces of physical art. Local Black artists and/or designers would be commissioned to create any such pieces, though Councilwoman Conna McCarthy said she hopes Piedmont High School art students can be part of the process, too.
The city has been working with consultant Cornelia Sylvester on the memorial project. Monday night, Sylvester told the council she has been “surprised and delighted” that Piedmont leaders have made the commitment they have to this memorial project, and that they’re “brought this subject to the surface” over the past two years.
Two descendents of the Dearings — one from Texas, another from Oakland — weighed in Monday night, both welcoming the efforts to memorialize their family and their history.
“The family does hold this historical, horrible event near to our hearts,” said Tympani McCoy, a Texas resident who referred to Sidney Dearing as her great uncle. She has been in contact with subcommittee members in Piedmont. “We all know the horrible things the family went through … and we appreciate you guys having the (nerve) to address it.”
Councilwoman Jennifer Long said to family members that there are “no words, no actions” that can give them back what they lost with the Dearings’ treatment in Piedmont in the 1920s. But she praised them, and the involved Piedmont locals — notably Meghan Bennett, who operates the sidneydearing.com website — for their work.
“We all wonder, when we step out on a limb, whether it will make a difference,” Long said about Bennett. “You told a story that wasn’t told. You did the hard work, you stayed persistent. Your passion for bringing this story to light … also encouraged others to step forward and become engaged.”
City Administrator Sara Lillevand said the next step, likely of many, is for the working group to reconvene and discuss “high-level conceptual ideas” for what the memorial ultimately will be.
Said McCarthy, “I think it’s going in a real meaningful direction.”
PHS girls basketball team honored
For the third meeting in a row, the City Council on Monday honored a Piedmont High School team for a great season. This time, it was the PHS women’s basketball team, which went 27-1 this season, its only loss being the team’s final game of the season in the California Interscholastic Federation Open Division Northern regional semifinal on March 4 — two games short of the state championship game. The Highlanders were ranked seventh among the state’s 1,374 women’s basketball teams of any size high school.
Senior Eva Levingston thanked the gathered throng. “We felt the support during the whole season,” she said. “Having that feeling of playing for the whole community was really special for all of us.”
Contact Sam Richards at email@example.com