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Remembering Willie Mays' fight with housing discrimination

Willie Mays faced discrimination when he arrived in S.F.
Willie Mays faced discrimination when he arrived in S.F. 03:05

This week, San Francisco is united in honoring the memory of the late, great Willie Mays. But a historian sat down with KPIX to shed light on the baseball legend's arrival to the city - and how he overcame it.

"The magnitude of what he accomplished," said historian John William Templeton. "I just came from the stadium."

Templeton had just come from the growing memorial at the Willie Mays statue outside of Oracle Park at 24 Willie Mays Plaza in San Francisco. But long before the statue and plaza, Mays tried to buy a home on Miraloma Drive in the city's Sherwood Forest neighborhood just west of Mt. Davidson.

"The seller was willing to sell it to him, but his neighbors protested," Templeton explained. "It took intervention from the powers that be in order for Willie Mays to buy a house."

"It was a disappointment to me, because I didn't figure I would have much trouble trying to buy a place," Mays told KPIX in 1957.

When Mays arrived in San Francisco, he was landing in a largely segregated city, just ahead of its largest civil rights demonstrations, like in 1964 when thousands of protesters filled auto showrooms on Van Ness Avenue, ultimately pushing city business away from nondiscriminatory hiring practices.

"Well, that was five years after he came here," Templeton said of the Mays era in San Francisco.

The confluence of social change and Mays' success on the field tightened the bond between the player and the community.

"Willie Mays represents the high point of the Black community, from 1960 to 1972, when he was playing," he said. "So there is a particularly warm feeling about him and Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal and all those kinds of guys. Because it felt as though all of us were moving ahead together."

There were no protests or complaints when Mays moved into his second home in San Francisco, and nearly 70 years later, it's hard to think of him as anything other than one of the city's most beloved individuals. One essential part of the Willie Mays story is the history some may like to forget.

"And so when we do our California African American freedom tour we point out that Oracle Park has more statues of African Americans than any other place in California," Templeton said. "And so what makes him a real Giant is how many other people he opened doors for."

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