Last weekend I, my wife and our four children were relaxing in M. Justin Herman Plaza.
After hour or so of running in and around the fountain, my 8 year old son stated "this place is cool Dad!" He then asked, "Who is M. Justin Herman" and "why was the space named after him?"
Neither I nor my wife had a definitive answer, so we decided to research the question. What we discovered left us shocked, dismayed and uncomfortable.
We discovered that in the 1950s Mr. M. Justin Herman was an appointed head of the fledgling San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. Mr. M. Justin Herman's tenure gave rise to an agency marred by a culture rich in racist paternalistic dogma. A manifestation of this dogma resulted in the Agencys wholesale eviction of its all its citizens, who happened to reside in districts of Western Addition, Japantown and Fillmore . These districts were mostly minority at the time and boasted large populations of African Americans, Japanese Americans and Jewish Americans.
Mr. M. Justin Herman's policies effectively reduced the folks of these districts to a status of non citizens and ensured that their very lives existed for no other reason than to grease the misguided wheels of "progress".
M. Justin Herman was the so called "Architect" of San Francisco's great redevelopment program. He was the creator of its policies. His policies were not just overtly racist in presentation, but were also strategically and tragically racist in their implementation.
Under the leadership and direction of Mr. M. Justin Herman the San Francisco's Redevelopment program chose to focus its funding, energy and the omnipotent powers of imminent domain to accomplish the forced removal of more than 5000 minority families from their homes, businesses, neighborhoods and communities.
Then adding insult to injury, Mr. M. Justin Herman's "great redevelopment plan" went far beyond just cleansing these districts of their ethnic minority inhabitants. Mr. Herman's plan also included the bulldozing and razing of their former homes, businesses, neighborhoods, communities connections, roots, hopes, dreams, and aspirations, as well as their financial and cultural collective wealth.
When the dust settled it was revealed that Mr. M. Justin Heman's policies had effectively transformed 60 vibrant, and culturally rich city blocks into what could only be described as a barren and desolate wasteland. Most of these area's remained in these decrepit conditions for decades.
The results of unleashing such powerfully destructive forces, as well as the insidious connotations which attach to being victims of such a traumatic and emasculating event are incalculable and still emergent. Yet we feel that its safe to state with some degree of certainty that the outcomes of Mr. M. Justin Herman's actions are so severe and disastrous that even now some 50 years later, the spector of his failed policies continue to haunt the lives and communities of those whom it destroyed.
And this affects us all.
Although the above is common knowledge, San Francisco history and urban folklore, (it was all too easily discovered via a cursory search of the internet). Our efforts and research failed to locate any indication that the city and county of San Francisco has ever officially adressed the fatal injuries which it's agency delivered to the people of these communities.
Instead at some point in the past, city leaders made the unwise decision to name a central downtown Plaza after M. Justin Herman proclaiming him to be a man of "progress". All the while continuing to ignore or set aside the fact that this man is more notably known in many communities, and rightly so, as the "Director of Destruction" and "Mastermind of Mayhem".
As Director of San Francisco's Redevelopment Agency, Mr. M. Justin Herman was solely responsible for the agency's policies, actions and abuses. The audacious, callous, and unethical treatment of these citizens were so egregious that, even now, some 50 years later it shocks the conscious and screams out from the annals of history with demands for redress.
In an effort to initiate the redressing and healing process we propose a simple solution.
We demand the removal of Mr. M. Justin Herman's name from the plaza.
We then declare that the Plaza be renamed "The Maya Angelou Memorial Plaza".
Arguments supporting the choosing of the late, great Ms. Maya Angelou for this honor could and would fill volumes and require more time than I have available to write or most have to read (if you are unaware of her accomplishments please Google her) .
So instead we will focus on her famous ties to San Francisco.
Maya Angelou attended school during her formative years here in San Francisco.
Maya Angelou was married here in San Francisco.
It was in San Francisco that the late, great Ms. Maya Angelou chose her iconic name.
Maya Angelou gave birth to her beloved son here in San Francisco.
Ms. Angelou became America's first African American cable car operator right here in San Francisco.
Maya Angelou actually operated the cable car line that just happened to end at what is now..... M. Herman Justin Plaza.
The late great Ms. Maya Angelou lived in the Western Addition, worked and started her entertainment career in The Fillmore during redevelopment and was a victim of the policies and practices of M. Justin Herman.
Naming the Plaza after such a great American who was a stuanch supporter of fundamental human rights for all people, would be appropriate for a gathering site the size of the plaza.
We believe that San Francisco should honor the legacy and memory of Maya Angelou not only for her contributions to the vibrant fabic of citizenry whose lives are so deeply woven in the quilt of this city's history as to be inseparable of it, but also because of her acomplishments as a single mother, civil rights defender, writer, poet, teacher, cable car operator, singer, dancer, advisor to Presidents, advisor to Civil Rights leaders, an actress and a caring human being who expressed an undying hope and love for humanity with her every breath.
We ask that those who support this renaming to act quickly in an effort to thwart another tragedy in the making.
It has been anounced that San Francisco is going to host a downtown Super bowl village in February 2016. The plans call for the plaza to be designated as its T.V. network media center. This means the name of the plaza will then be broadcast to the world and will be regarded as iconic symbol of San Francisco.
On Super Bowl Sunday children and adults from all over the world will ask about this symbol and the meaning of its name. It is up to us whether that symbol and name reflects one of hope, love, peace and unity or the historic face of racist elitism still ripe with the stench of division, devastation and distruction.
We look forward to working with any person, group, or agency who believes in this cause and that of social justice. As San Franciscans we are acutely aware of inadequacies which exist within the housing supply.
We grapple daliy with the symptoms of our success and excess. These symptoms present as issues with affordable housing, Ellis Evictions, gentrification, Airbnb, Google buses, homeless families and the ever widening gap between those who have and those who have not.
But these problems pale in comparison to the plight forced upon the victims of M. Justin Herman redevelopment policy.
Many of us can not begin to imagine what it would be like for the government to appear at our door with a court order to evict us from our home and tear down our property, our neighborhoods and communities without hearing our voice or requiring our consent.
Many of us can not imagine the scattering of our families, friends, businesses and social structures and convents to the wind or the obliteration of all but the memory of what we once owned, what we once did and/or who we once were. Yet this is what we are asking you to do, Imagine these things happening to you because of your race, or because of your sexual preference, or because of your economic status, or because of your religion...
If after imagining these things something stirs inside you and compels that you to take some course of corrective action, then please feel free to imagine that signing this petition will provide you a way of saying NEVER AGAIN.
We ask the San Francisco Board of Supervisors recognize and support our choice for Maya Angelou based on the above but also on the fact that Maya dedicated her life to the challenge of rallying mankind to rise above our baser instincts.
Maya choose love over hate, to create not destroy, to enrich not delete, to forgive not retaliate.
We believe these examples are worthy of acknowledgment and preservation to ensure that future generations can take inspiration and solace from the life that Maya Angelou lived.
We reject M. Justin Herman because he chose to destroy and because he accomplished this destruction with and reckless abandon.
We ask that the San Francisco Board of Supervisers join us in recognizing and acknowledging that this government sanctioned destruction resulted in a gaping wound and long festering sore in the heart and history of San Francisco.
It's not the aim of this pettion to heal this wound. Signing it will not take the pian away from those who suffered.
But we the undersigned do belive that acknowledging an injury is the first step to the process of redress and healing.
By signing this petition we respectfully request and urge that the San Francisco Borad of Supervisors acknowledge the pain of its citizens by voting to remove the name of M. Justin Herman from the Plaza and issue a resolution naming the space the Maya Angelou Memorial Plaza.
Advocates For A Better World,