City of Piedmont to honor Black family who was forced to sell home in 1924

The City of Piedmont is taking the next step to honor a Black family that was forced to sell their home after racist threats from neighbors nearly 100 years ago.

The history of the first Black family to own a home in Piedmont was once buried, but now the city is hoping to shine a light on its dark past, in order to create a brighter future.

It all started here in early 1924, when Sidney and Irene Dearing moved into the affluent--and exclusively Caucasian--neighborhood of Piedmont.

By May of that year, a mob of over 500 people gathered around the home on Wildwood Avenue, including some members of the Ku Klux Klan. The mob ultimately forced the family to sell.

"They were the first black family who lived in our community, who were pushed out of our community and yet their descendants live on and thrive in nearby communities and throughout the country," Jen Cavenaugh, Mayor of Piedmont. 

Gary Theut has lived at the Dearing's former home on Wildwood Avenue for 18 years. He tells KTVU he raised his kids in the home, but even he didn't know its history until recently. 

"What's really heartening about it, is it's not just a plaque, and the entire community seems invested in what's happening," Theut said. 

Now, the City of Piedmont has commissioned Oakland-based Hood Design Studio to develop a memorial at the park across from the family's old home, now known as Dearing Park.

Walter Hood, designer, artist and founder of Hood Design Studio, takes a unique approach to design.  

"The process in my studio of design has always been an inclusive process, no matter what project we're working on, it's really about place and people," Hood told KTVU.

Descendants of the Dearing family were also in attendance at the presentation. One family member, who asked to remain anonymous, says that most of her family members are not aware of the challenges their ancestors faced in Piedmont.

"My family being the first Black family to own a home in Piedmont is something that we should all be very proud of. Instead, it's been something that's very traumatic and unsettling to the point that people don't want to talk about it at all," the  family member told KTVU. 

Though this time is difficult for the family, the descendant tells me that she is glad to see the memorial moving forward.

"What I appreciate is the city of Piedmont recognizing what they did and how wrong it was," they said. 

Though it's unclear what the final memorial will look like, Hood plans to develop the design alongside the Dearing family. 

"They could actually become almost a beacon for how other communities might want to do it in our Bay Area," he said.  

Looking forward, Hood hopes the memorial can serve to inspire a deeper look at our past. 

"Because there are other communities, I'm assuming, where there are histories that are buried," Hood told KTVU.