Pacific Beach residents push to rename park after black educators
Residents in 1945 pushed back against William Payne’s hiring at Pacific Beach Junior High in 1945 because they argued there were few Black students at the school.
Two Pacific Beach residents have launched an online petition to rename a community park after black educators William Payne — whose hiring in 1945 at Pacific Beach Junior High School drew protests from dozens of white parents — and his wife, Fannie Payne, who taught in San Diego schools.
It calls for the Pacific Beach Middle Joint Use Field, known to community members as Pacific Beach Community Park, to be renamed Fannie and William Payne Community Park.
The 82,000-square-foot park, which includes a baseball and soccer field, is on Diamond Street. It is used by students at Pacific Beach Middle School and by residents when school is not in session.
Hernandez and Sinsky-Crosby said they chose the park because it was recently the meeting spot for a Black Lives Matter protest.
“We thought it would be almost symbolic and a great opportunity to make sure the Payne legacies are not lost,” Hernandez said.
Payne was the second black teacher hired by the San Diego Board of Education. He started at Pacific Beach Junior High, now named Pacific Beach Middle School.
In October 1945, Pacific Beach residents and parents protested his hiring, collecting 1,900 names on a petition demanding Payne’s removal to a “more suitable assignment,” according to a 1945 San Diego Union article. They argued that there were fewer than six black students enrolled in the school and only two black families who owned property in the community.
Will Crawford, the superintendent at the time, defended Payne’s appointment, saying that teachers with the best qualifications were selected as instructors for San Diego schools.
“In choosing teachers, neither race nor religion is ever considered,” Crawford said at the time. “We teach democracy in our schools and try to practice democracy in our employment policies. In the past and at present, our employees include representatives from many religions and races — all chosen for their qualifications.”
Payne taught at Pacific Beach Junior High and later at San Diego High School, where he taught for 23 years. He later moved to an administrative position for San Diego City College and in 1968 was hired at San Diego State University and served as director of admissions until he retired in 1976. He died in 1986.
Hernandez, who is director of student retention and success at San Diego State’s Center for Intercultural Relations, moved to Pacific Beach in September. To learn more about her new community, she began following a popular Pacific Beach Instagram account but noticed that the page did not reflect stories of local black and Latino residents, she said.
She set out to fill that void by creating an Instagram account, blackbrownpb, to amplify experiences of the neighborhood’s diverse residents. She was looking for content for the new account and learning the history of the community when she came across Payne’s story on the San Diego History Center’s website.
When Pacific Beach resident Paige Hernandez was in third grade, she observed racism for the first time in her hometown of Camarillo.
Sinsky-Crosby, a former board member of the Pacific Beach Town Council, connected with Hernandez over social media. They originally set out to name the park after Payne, but when they discovered that his wife was an educator as well, they included her name.
Fannie Payne had a 36-year career as a teacher and guidance counselor at San Diego schools. After retiring in 1976, she volunteered with local organizations and received several awards. She died in 2008.
Hernandez and Sinsky-Crosby said they plan to collect at least 1,900 signatures and take the renaming proposal to school and city officials.
“I feel like just changing the narrative and gathering those 1,900 signatures would be awesome for people to affirm that black lives matter,” Hernandez said. “Maybe in 1945 that didn’t happen and we ousted people from our community ... but I think this is a start.”
The women said they sent a letter to Pacific Beach community and business groups to get their support for the name change. They also made several recommendations to the groups about increasing representation of minorities in local groups and diversifying events.
“Our local all-volunteer Pacific Beach Town Council ... is open to all ideas on how best to commemorate the life and career of William Payne,” Brian White, the council president, wrote in an email.
Karl Rand, chairman of the Pacific Beach Planning Group, said in an email that the group will review the proposal and hear public comment before issuing a formal endorsement at the group’s virtual meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 8. Information about how to join the meeting is posted on the group’s website, pbplanning.org.
Sinsky-Crosby said she knows changing the name of a park is a small step but she hopes its sends a message to the neighborhood’s black residents.
“I hope it just says ‘We see you, we’re listening and we’re learning,’” she said.