SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted to commemorate the city’s first Black firefighter, Earl Gage Jr., by naming a block-long street in the city’s Western Addition neighborhood for him.
Supervisor Dean Preston proposed renaming Willow Street, which runs between Buchanan and Laguna streets parallel to Eddy and Ellis streets, and the board unanimously approved the measure on Tuesday.
Gage, a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, became a San Francisco firefighter in 1955 and remained the city’s only Black firefighter for 12 years. Before his retirement in 1983, Gage served as the department’s director of community services and helped the department adopt hiring policies that increased racial diversity.
Gage died in July 2017 at age 90.
Preston said the street name change had been in the works since February, but the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement since then has given it a whole new meaning.
“The street name change comes at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement has gripped the nation, causing really millions of Americans to have a new consciousness and so many people taking to the street in support of racial justice and in support of police reform,” Preston said. “We see racist statues being toppled around the country and, in this context, I think the renaming of a street after the first Black firefighter in San Francisco serves really to proactively honor and celebrate black leaders and pioneers of the civil rights movement here in San Francisco.”
San Francisco Black Firefighters Association President Sherman Tillman said Gage faced several injustices during his 12-year run as the city’s only Black firefighter.
“Mr. Gage’s humanity and willingness to make our department better and not to be disillusioned after all that he endured is nothing short of inspiring,” Tillman said. “It’s a story that every San Francisco, every Californian and really every American should be proud of because if Earl Gage could sweep aside all that was done to him and bring people together than surely, we all can.”
“My father taught me about this idea of perseverance and looking for opportunities,” said Blondell Gage Chism, Earl Gage’s daughter. “When he transitioned to the director of community services, it was my understanding that this was not something that naturally fell in his lap, but it was something he advocated for…. The learning for all of us in these very difficult times is to look for opportunities to make gains and continue pushing things forward.”
New street signs and a mural to further honor Gage are in the works.
Preston said he plans to celebrate the name change with a block party once it’s safe to hold one.