Bayview residents Brett and Michelle Harris Anderson have posted a petition to Change.org that seeks to ask San Francisco's Board of Supervisors to rename Justin Herman Plaza to Maya Angelou Plaza.
The husband and wife were playing with their four children in Justin Herman Plaza when one of their sons asked who Herman was. After researching the history of the former city planner of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency (who passed away in 1971), they were "shocked, dismayed, and uncomfortable" to learn of the Agency's track record for displacing blacks, Jews, and Japanese residents from their homes in the Western Addition, Japantown and Fillmore neighborhoods in the 1950s.
"Naming the Plaza after such a great American who was a staunch supporter of fundamental human rights for all people would be appropriate for a gathering site the size of the plaza," they wrote of Angelou. "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."
Angelou was the first black and female cable car operator in San Francisco in the 1940s when she was just 16-years-old. The Harris Andersons point out that her route concluded at the Ferry Building, making the potential renaming even more appropriate.
Brett Harris Anderson's mother was a witness to and victim of Herman's redevelopment efforts and saw it destroy the close-knit fabric of the community, he told Hoodline.
"How do you reward a man for such a tremendous failure?" he asked. "It was beyond me. I was insulted somebody felt this place was worthy of honoring him. . . This is a way to say we’re sorry; we acknowledge we were wrong. I feel that’s the first step to trying to heal this thing."