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SF to pull racist congressman’s name from park

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Julius Kahn Playground’s namesake was noted for his virulent hatred of Asian immigrants

In what’s becoming a familiar tale in San Francisco, the San Francisco Recreation & Park Department plans to remove the name of a racist 20th century congressman from a playground in the Presidio.

Rec & Park announced the long-planned change via Facebook earlier this week, writing, “Last year, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopted [urged] the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission to rename Julius Kahn Playground. A neighborhood survey and process was completed and a recommendation for the replacement name was made.”

The city agency didn’t announce the new potential names until Wednesday night. San Francisco Examiner says that the utilitarian titles “West Pacific Playground” and “Presidio Wall Playground” are the most likely candidates.

The push to rename the playground started in 2018, with neighborhood groups citing the renaming of Justin Herman Plaza—now Embarcadero Plaza—and similar recent initiatives.

Julius Kahn represented San Francisco in Congress from 1905 to 1924. Kahn was instrumental in perpetuating exclusion acts targeted at immigrants from Asian communities and noted for his virulent racist comments on the floor of Congress.

According to the notes for the 2018 city measure authorizing the name change:

Julius Kahn stated that Chinese people were “morally the most depased people on the face of the earth,” that they “resorted to trickery and duplicity to circumvent our laws,” that “their daily intercourse with the Caucasian has not materially changed their customs or habits,” that “gambling and sensuality are the great vices of the Chinese while murderous assaults, robberies, kidnapping, and blackmail are a frequent occurrence.”

Kahn also targeted Japanese immigrants, declaring, “The people of the Pacific Coast feel satisfied that [Japanese immigrants] will always remain loyal to the mikado” and not to the US.

Of people from the Philippines, Kahn said “they combine in themselves nearly all the vices of the Chinese and the Malays, with practically none of the virtues of either race.”

Six board members co-sponsored the renaming legislation, and the measure passed unanimously in June of 2018, in large part thanks to Kahn’s mouthiness in hindsight.

In an email encouraging city lawmakers to make a change, Angelica Cabande, director for the South of Market Community Action Network wrote, “We all can learn from San Francisco’s unfortunate past that exclusion of one minority group does not work and we as a city and as a country should not repeat history.”

Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, whose district includes the playground, said that the renaming can combat “negative stereotypes that are still being reintroduced into our our country.”

Neighbors will continue to debate a new name, with a final change tentatively scheduled for later this year.