USF's Phelan Hall renamed to honor football great Burt Toler

A building at the University of San Francisco is no longer named after former Mayor James Phelan who many considered racist.

After facing mounting criticism from students, officials at USF decided to change the name to honor football great Burl Toler.

Toler was one of USF's shining football stars on the undefeated Dons team in 1951.

"[They were] arguably the best collegiate team in the country but when they were invited to bowl games afterwards, they were told that they would have to leave their black players at home and USF the team unanimously rejected the bid saying honor over glory," said USF President Paul Fitzgerald.

Toler went on to become the first African American on-field official in the NFL. He was also the first African American principal of a San Francisco junior high school.

To honor Toler, who died in 2009, USF renamed Phelan Hall after Toler this week.

Phelan was a controversial figure: one whom many students felt didn't deserve to have a building named after him. He steadfast opponent of Japanese immigration and once ran a campaign with the slogan "Keep California White."

"USF is all about change so the fact that students were able to see like, how Phelan was maybe a little bit racist, and they were really alarmed about that. And so wanted to make a change so I'm really proud of our school for that," said Ikenna Eke, a USF student.

You may recognize the name Phelan. There's a bust of him in the entrance of City Hall, Phelan Avenue runs through the City College campus and there's an 11-story office building in Union Square named after his family.

"We're going to keep James Phelan's name somewhere on campus and we're going to keep his legacy. It's also a part of our story because it's important for us to see that xenophobia and anti- immigrant rhetoric is still an effective political tool and still a lesson we need to relearn," said Fitzgerald.

The change comes in the midst of efforts to remove confederate memorials in the South and rename San Francisco schools named after slave owners.

Students say they're proud that USF is part of that movement.

"Especially at this campus. I feel it's very progressive and doing a lot to make everyone feel included and I think this was a big step in doing that, too," said USF student Barbara Zachariassen.

By honoring Toler, students say they are honoring a USF alumnus whose story inspires social justice and unity.