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Regional Interests

The Re-Renaming of SF’s China Beach: Honoring Immigrants, Rejecting White Supremacy

I was aghast when I discovered that San Francisco’s beautiful little pocket beach, China Beach, was once named after James D. Phelan. Who is Phelan, you ask? He was a virulently anti-Asian San Francisco mayor and U.S. senator in the early 1900s who campaigned for reelection on a “Keep California White” platform.

In 1934, the State Parks Commission voted unanimously to rename China Beach “James D. Phelan State Beach,” in part because he helped finance turning it into a park.

It struck me as odd (OK, infuriating) that a place where Chinese people fished and camped on land formerly inhabited by the Yelamu Ohlone was, for over 40 years, named in honor of a guy who wanted to “keep California white.” California turned the beach over to the National Park Service in 1974, which recommended changing the name back to China Beach.

Read the cartoon to learn about a more recent immigrant story that led to the big granite monument that’s now at the beach, which honors the Chinese fishing community.

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