Fannie and William Payne Community Park, honoring Black educators, to be dedicated Aug. 5

A park is being dedicated Aug. 5 to honor William Payne, a Black teacher who was pushed out of Pacific Beach Junior High.
William Payne was the first Black teacher at Pacific Beach Junior High. In 1945, residents and parents collected 1,900 names on a petition demanding his removal.

A dedication ceremony will be held Thursday, Aug. 5, for Fannie and William Payne Community Park — an event over a year in the making.

The late William Payne was a Black educator who lost his teaching job at what was then Pacific Beach Junior High in October 1945 after parents collected 1,900 names on a petition demanding his removal to a “more suitable assignment.”

Efforts to rename the Pacific Beach Middle School field in honor of Payne and his wife, Fannie, also a longtime San Diego educator, kicked off in June 2020 with a petition spearheaded by Pacific Beach residents Paige Hernandez and Regina Sinsky-Crosby.

Middle Schoolers Juliniel Woods and Nuhamin Woldeyes pushed for park renaming to Fannie and William Payne Community Park.
Pacific Beach Middle School students Juliniel Woods and Nuhamin Woldeyes coordinated a successful campaign to get a park renamed Fannie and William Payne Community Park.
(Milan Kovacevic)

Inspired by the petition, Pacific Beach Middle School students Juliniel Woods and Nuhamin Woldeyes started their own drive for the name change in October. They created surveys, circulated petitions and made Google presentations at school on how parents had pushed back against William Payne’s hiring, saying they didn’t think a Black teacher was needed when only two Black families owned property in the community.

The dedication ceremony will be held at 11:30 a.m. on home plate at the field. Scheduled speakers include Lamont Jackson, interim superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District; San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria; District 2 Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell; Kimberly Meng, principal of Pacific Beach Middle School, and Sinsky-Crosby, Hernandez and Nuhamin.

“It’s important to recognize the dedication and impact of San Diegans who change our community for the better, especially brave trailblazers like William and Fannie Payne,” Gloria said in a statement. “Our city has come so far since William started as the first Black teacher at Pacific Beach Middle School. Dedicating this field in their memory is a wonderful representation of their contributions, not only to the Pacific Beach community, but to all of San Diego.”

Pacific Beach Middle Joint Use Field is an 82,000-square-foot park on Diamond Street with a baseball and soccer field. It’s used by students during class time and by the community when school is out.

Juliniel and Nuhamin worked to educate the community about the Paynes, attending meetings of various school district committees and local organizations such as the Pacific Beach Planning Group, Pacific Beach Town Council and Discover Pacific Beach to seek support for the park renaming.

The final school approval came on March 9, when the two students made a Zoom presentation to San Diego Unified trustees, urging them to approve the new name for the park.

“We understand that this is a symbolic action that does not directly undo the historical implications of racism and anti-Blackness in Pacific Beach,” Juliniel told the trustees. “They may not have received the praise they deserved in their lifetime, but now, with your help, we can finally give them their rightful recognition and continue to uncover the history of San Diego.”

William Payne, a graduate of Sorbonne University in Paris, went on to teach for 23 years at San Diego High School after being forced to leave Pacific Beach Junior High He was also lecturer and an admissions director at San Diego State’s College of Education. He was only the second Black teacher hired by the San Diego Board of Education.

His wife, Fannie, received her master’s degree from San Diego State and worked 36 years in San Diego schools, holding positions as teacher, counselor, district resource teacher for special education and finally vice principal at Dana Junior High School until she retired in 1979.

William died in 1986, Fannie in 2008.