San Francisco city officials held a ceremonial event to celebrate a street renaming change at City College of San Francisco that will represent hope for the future instead of an ugly racist past.

Supervisor Norman Yee along with City College community members led a year-long effort to change the name of Phelan Avenue after learning how the name Phelan resonated with an awful period in The City’s history.

The avenue had been named after banker James Phelan. His son, James Duval Phelan, was mayor of San Francisco and a U.S. Senator who supported anti-immigration policies, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Immigration Act of 1924. The acts ended Chinese and Japanese immigration to the United States.

Yee said at a press conference at City College of San Francisco inside the Diego Rivera Theater about Phelan’s campaign run for U.S. Senate:

“He ran his senatorial campaign on the theme ‘Keep California White’ and ‘Save Our State from Oriental Aggression.’ That was his theme. That was his platform.”

It was fitting to have the press event behind the Diego Rivera “Pan American Unity” mural inside the theater named after him as Kahlo and Rivera were once married. Kahlo is also painted in the mural with a palette of different paint colors and paint brush in hand.

City College Chancellor Mark Rocha said Kahlo’s artwork still resonates today with many people, and that she is one of the most significant artists of her time:

“To name the street in honor of Frida Kahlo is act of self-respect and self-empowerment that lifts a street name out of the realm of politics and into the inspiring world of art.”

City College Trustee Ivy Lee said Kahlo represented the same type of resilience the college went through during its accreditation crisis:

“To me Frida Kahlo represents resilience because even with a broken body, her spirit was never broken. I think there’s nothing that is a better example college and this city, especially communities of color, than for Frida Kahlo to represent the same kind of resilience that City College has been through when we’ve been broken but we’ve come back and we’ve never given up.”

Angelica Campos, vice president of administration for Associated Students, said Kahlo is an inspiration for her and students in art classes at the college:

“She is a figure that many students who are taking art classes there would look up to seeing as she was a queer woman of color and an activist.”

City College officials plan to move the Rivera mural to the future site of a new performing arts center now at Frida Kahlo Way, and not Phelan Avenue.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to jerold@sfbay.ca or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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