How Willie Mays confronted housing discrimination when transferring to San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO – While the country mourns Loss of Willie Mays This Juneteenth, his legacy includes breaking down racial barriers. When he moved to San Francisco, he faced discrimination in his search for housing.

In 1957, Mays gave a television interview about his housing problem in San Francisco.

“Have the difficulties you have gotten yourself into over the last few days been a disappointment to you and your wife?” the reporter asked Mays.

“Yes, it was a disappointment for me because I didn't expect it to be so much trouble to find an apartment. When I go apartment hunting, I don't worry about who lives next door to me. I go in and try to find the best apartment that I like and feel comfortable in,” Mays said.

When the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1957, Mays tried to buy a house in the exclusive Sherwood Forest neighborhood. The seller rejected his offer after neighbors complained about a black family moving in.

Housing discrimination made headlines across the country: “Willie Mays struggles to find a home” and “Willie Mays’ attempt to buy a house in San Francisco is rejected.”

Chris Lango is a researcher who has archived the history of housing discrimination in California.

On his wall at home hangs a collage that shows his understanding of the struggle for equality, from policymaking to neighborhood ordinances and racial covenants.

According to Lango, May's struggle for housing shows how widespread the problem was.

“This just highlights the history of housing discrimination in California because one of the most famous athletes in the history of the United States had difficulty finding housing,” Lango said.

In response to national headlines about Mays's house hunt, then-San Francisco Mayor George Christopher stepped in and put political pressure on the home seller to go through with the sale. The Mays family eventually moved in.

While the nation now celebrates Mays' greatness, it is an ugly reminder of what he first experienced when he arrived in California.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 put an end to this type of housing discrimination across the country, at least the letter of the law.

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