In 1945, a petition signed by 1,900 Pacific Beach property owners demanded the removal of William Payne, the community’s first Black teacher on the staff of Pacific Beach Junior High School, because of his race. The petition sought to have Payne transferred to “a more suitable assignment.”
Seventy-five years later, Crown Point resident and San Diego State University administrator Paige Hernandez has started a similar petition drive. Only the objective this time is not to discredit Payne, but rather to honor him for his courage and community service.
Hernandez’s goal is to get the same symbolic number of signatures, 1,900, to rename a Pacific Beach park for the late Payne and his wife Fannie. As of July 6, there were 996 signatures on that petition at bit.ly/PaynePark on change.org.
The petition asks to rename joint-use PB Community Park near PB Middle School and the PB Recreation Center, to Fannie and William Payne Community Park.
And it didn’t hurt that PB Community Park has recently served as a gathering place for Black Lives Matter rallies in Pacific Beach. Hernandez’s petition reads, “Because the current name is simply ‘Community Park,’ we have an opportunity to rename and celebrate the bravery, dedication and community service of Fannie and William Payne.”
An archaeology and anthropology student, Hernandez discussed the origin of her park-renaming quest.
“I love historical research and I wanted to feature the history of PB,” she said, adding she realized early on that “there is not a lot of diversity in largely white Pacific Beach … there was virtually no history of people of color here.
“I wanted to do something different,” said Hernandez who, during her research, found an old deed from a Crown Point subdivision that “forbid sales of homes to Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics.”
That’s when Hernandez found out about William Payne, the second black teacher ever hired by the San Diego Board of Education.
Payne started his 25-year career in public schools at Pacific Beach Junior High in 1945 (white parents fought unsuccessfully to have him removed) and retired at San Diego High. He was a lecturer and admissions director at SDSU’s College of Education where he worked from 1970 to 1976. He died in 1986.
Fannie J. Payne arrived with her husband in San Diego in 1942 with a degree from Talladega College in Alabama. In the post-war years, they both became pioneering public school teachers. In 1964, she got her master’s degree from SDSU.
Fannie Payne retired from teaching in 1979. After that, she devoted more time to such organizations as Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Links Inc, and Talladega Alumni Association, Altrusa Club of San Diego, Delta 39 Gamma International Society. Fannie received several honors for her exceptional service, including a Woman of Dedication recognition by the Salvation Army. She died in 2008.
“Black students wanted to take a stand in 2020 to have 1,900 PB residents sign the petition to honor Mr. Payne as a way of atoning for history and speaking out against things that have happened here that I’m sure was painful for Mr. Payne and his wife,” said Hernandez, adding, “We’re still trying to get the word out about the petition. A lot of folks don’t even know this happened. It was just buried in history. We wanted to solidify Payne’s legacy in PB.”
Asked how her petition is being received, Hernandez replied, “It’s been overwhelmingly positive.”
Confident she will eventually get the 1,900 signatures she’s seeking, Hernandez said she’s talking with District 2 Councilmember Jennifer Campbell’s office to determine what the next steps involved will be to make Fannie and William Payne Community Park a reality.
Concluded Hernandez, “As a Black educator, I wanted to make sure their (Paynes) history is not lost.”