A group of San Francisco supervisors held a press conference Monday at the Chinese Historical Society of America in Chinatown to discuss a resolution urging the city's Recreation and Park Commission to rename the Julius Kahn Playground.
Located in Presidio Heights at West Pacific Avenue and Spruce Street on the edge of the Presidio since the 1920s, the popular playground is named for a Republican congressman who was instrumental in extending the Chinese Exclusion Act more than a century ago.
"The ironic thing is he was an immigrant himself -- he came from Germany," said Hoyt Zia, president of the Chinese Historical Society Board of Directors. "Yet Kahn stated that Chinese people were morally the most base people on the face of the earth."
Originally signed into law in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act severely restricted Chinese immigrant rights. Under its terms, Chinese laborers were barred from entering the U.S., those already in the country had to obtain certificates to re-enter if they left, and they couldn't obtain U.S. citizenship.
When the act was supposed to expire in 1902, Kahn authored the "Kahn Exclusion Act," which he hoped would make it permanent.
Ultimately repealed in 1943, the Chinese Exclusion Act was the first law implemented preventing a specific ethnic group from immigrating to the U.S.
Supervisors Norman Yee, Sandra Lee Fewer and Aaron Peskin presided over the public meeting aimed at raising awareness about the proposal to rename the playground.
"It is time to rename this park that reflects the values of San Franciscans," said Fewer, a fourth-generation Chinese-American. "So we can take away these negative stereotypes that are still being reintroduced into our our country at this time."
The resolution comes in the wake of similar efforts to rename or remove other controversial San Francisco landmarks over the past few months.
These include the re-christening of Justin Herman Plaza, named for the urban planner responsible for displacing thousands of African-American families from the Fillmore District during the redevelopment of that neighborhood in the 1960s, and the removal of a statue near City Hall subjugating Native Americans.
The resolution is pending at the Public Safety & Neighborhood Services Committee, which may take it up in May. The proposal's supporters hope to have the change approved later this year.
A new name hasn't been decided upon yet, though suggestions currently being floated include "Immigrant Park" and "West Pacific Park."
The press conference happened to coincide with a special exhibition about the Chinese Exclusion Act at the Chinese Historical Society's Museum.