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How Willie Mays faced housing discrimination when moving to San Francisco

Remembering Willie Mays' 1957 fight for fair housing
Remembering Willie Mays' 1957 fight for fair housing 03:15

SAN FRANCISCO – As the country mourns the loss of Willie Mays on this Juneteenth, his legacy also includes overcoming racial barriers. When he first moved to San Francisco, he faced housing discrimination. 

Mays sat down for a television interview about his San Francisco housing problem in 1957. 

"Was this a disappointment to you and your wife to find this trouble that you've entered into the past couple of days," the reporter asked Mays.

"Yes, it was a disappointment for me because I didn't figure that I would have this much trouble trying to find a place. When I go looking for a house I don't worry about who is living beside me. I go in and try to find the best place I like and I think I'd be comfortable in," Mays said.

When the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1957, Mays tried buying a home in the exclusive Sherwood Forest neighborhood. The seller refused his offer after neighbors complained about a Black family moving in.

The housing discrimination made newspaper headlines across the country: "Willie Mays Faces Problem of a Home" and "Willie Mays Is Refused In Try To Buy SF Home."

Chris Lango is a researcher who has archived California's housing discrimination history.

His own home includes a collage on his wall of understanding the struggle, from government redlining to neighborhood codes and covenants on race. 

Lango says Mays' fight for housing shows how pervasive the problem was. 

"It just highlights the history of housing discrimination that took place in California because you had one of the most famous athletes in the history of the United States having trouble finding housing," Lango said. 

Responding to the national headlines over Mays' housing hunt, San Francisco's then-mayor George Christopher stepped in putting political pressure on the home seller to go through with the sale. The Mays family eventually moved in.

Now, as the nation pays its respects to Mays' greatness, this is an ugly reminder of what he first faced when he arrived in California.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 put a stop to this kind of housing discrimination all across the country, at least by the letter of the law.

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