Black couple rented to a Chinese American family when nobody would. Now, they're donating $5 million to Black community. 

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In 1939, nan Dongs, a Chinese American family successful Coronado, California, recovered themselves incapable to rent a location amid racially restrictive lodging laws that favored achromatic buyers and renters.

Emma and Gus Thompson, a Black entrepreneurial mates successful town, allowed nan family to rent and yet bargain their Coronado spot erstwhile cipher other would. Now, to convey nan Thompsons for helping them get a toehold successful American society, nan Dongs are donating $5 cardinal to Black assemblage students utilizing proceeds from nan waste of nan house. 

“It whitethorn alteration immoderate kids to spell and flourish successful assemblage that mightiness not person been capable to otherwise,” Janice Dong, 86, said astir nan scheme to waste nan family location they later purchased, arsenic good arsenic an adjacent property.

The Dong family will besides activity to person San Diego State University’s Black Resource Center named aft Emma and Gus, who was calved into slavery successful Kentucky. 

Lloyd Dong Jr., 81, said nan Thompsons gave their family a commencement pinch nan land, and it is clip for them to do nan aforesaid for others.

“Without them, we would not person nan acquisition and everything else,” Lloyd Dong Jr. said. 

Dong family photograph from 1955. From apical left, Lloyd Jr, Lloyd Sr, and Ron Dong. From bottommost left, Jackie, Margaret, and Jeanette Dong.
Dong family photograph from 1955. From apical left, Lloyd Jr, Lloyd Sr, and Ron Dong. From bottommost left, Jackie, Margaret, and Jeanette Dong. Courtesy Dong Family

The Dong family’s Coronado properties see nan Thompsons’ original location astatine 832 C Ave. and an eight-unit flat analyzable adjacent door. Family members estimate nan mixed worth to beryllium worthy $8 million. Lloyd Dong Jr. and his older brother, Ron Dong, scheme to donate their portions — $5 million. 

Amid nan backdrop of a nationalist speech astir reparations, this isn’t a communicative astir atonement and repair, said Kevin Ashley, a Coronado historian. The Thompsons’ motion was a transaction pinch nary strings attached; nan Dongs didn’t person thing to salary back.

Instead, Ashley said, nan communicative is astir honoring and recognizing nan enduring effect of 1 family’s will to thief different get ahead. As nan state continues to statement nan merits and logistics of reparations for its history of chattel slavery, nan Dong family’s determination to springiness backmost to nan Black organization could service arsenic an example, he said.

Ron Dong and his wife, Janice Dong, are some retired teachers who judge that acquisition tin alteration lives.

“It’s conscionable precisely what’s appropriate,” Ron Dong, 86, said astir their donation. 

Unity successful nan margins of society

The Dong family’s roots successful California day backmost to nan precocious 19th century. Lloyd Dong Sr. was a husbandman successful nan Central Valley earlier he moved to Coronado to go a gardener. He  worked connected nan onshore six days a week, according to his boy Ron. On nan seventh day, he did other activity to let his American-born children to be schools, build careers and put successful existent estate. 

In this section of their lives, erstwhile Lloyd Jr. and Ron Dong are reasoning astir their legacies, memories bubble to nan aboveground of group successful their past who changed nan trajectory of their lives. In 1939, Gus and Emma Thompson gave nan Dong family a spot to stay, a committedness to waste them nan onshore and a chance to build a amended life. 

Gus Thompson successful 1947.Gus Thompson successful 1947.Courtesy Kevin Ashley

It was a  clip successful Coronado, a edifice metropolis known for its opulent hotel and achromatic soil beaches connected nan San Diego Bay peninsula, erstwhile group surviving connected nan margins of nine recovered it difficult to unrecorded wrong metropolis limits. Racially restrictive lodging covenants prohibited immigrants and group of colour from renting and buying successful Coronado.

“I deliberation that erstwhile we talk astir racism mostly successful California, and particularly successful places for illustration San Diego and L.A., group deliberation because location was nary slavery successful California, that racism didn’t exist,” said Jo Von M. McCalester, a Howard University governmental subject professor who grew up successful San Diego. “But it doesn’t mean that groups and individuals didn’t understand their places wrong nan society.”

At nan time, nan only spot for minorities and immigrants to enactment successful Coronado was Gus Thompson’s boarding location connected nan precocious level of their barn. This didn’t hap by chance. Thompson had traveled from Kentucky to California to activity astatine nan Hotel Del Coronado. He built nan location and barn connected C Avenue successful 1895, earlier nan city’s group lodging covenants took effect making him exempt from nan restrictions. Thompson converted his barn into a boarding location for nan vulnerable. 

Gus Thompson owned and operated a livery unchangeable and boarding location connected nan property. Gus Thompson owned and operated a livery unchangeable and boarding location connected nan property. Courtesy Kevin Ashley

Gus Thompson’s inaugural shows a tone of defiance and a resoluteness to thief others, said Ballinger Gardner Kemp, his great-grandson. 

The Dong and Thompson families were connected nan aforesaid broadside of history. They were group trying to make it successful a onshore that didn’t spot them arsenic afloat citizens. It wasn’t abnormal past to person marginalized individuals surviving together and supporting 1 another, McCalester said. 

“It was conscionable thing understood that marginalized group successful San Diego had to trust very heavy connected 1 another,” she said.

In 1955, Emma Thompson sold nan Coronado location and nan barn adjacent doorway to nan Dongs, who became nan first Chinese American family to acquisition existent property successful Coronado, said Ashley, nan Coronado historian. 

The Dong family lived successful nan location astatine 832 C Ave. and successful 1957 replaced nan barn pinch an flat complex. Ron Dong became a precocious schoolhouse coach and Lloyd Dong Jr. became a jack of galore trades, including a taxation preparer. The brothers moved distant from Coronado to different parts of California and managed nan properties connected C Avenue from afar. 

The Dong Family presently owns nan single-family location astatine 832 C Avenue and nan flat analyzable adjacent door.The Dong Family presently owns nan single-family location astatine 832 C Avenue and nan flat analyzable adjacent door.Google

Memories of nan Thompsons mostly faded distant until nan Dong brothers started making plans for their Coronado properties. They lived comfortably and had nary children. Upkeep of nan properties, which they did themselves, felt progressively difficult. 

“It’s time,” said Janice Dong, Ron’s wife, astir their determination to waste nan Coronado properties. “We want to springiness back.” 

In 2022, Ashley contacted nan Dongs aft researching Black history successful Coronado and asked nan fateful question: Do you retrieve nan Thompsons?

Holding a reflector up to society

The Dong family’s determination to donate to SDSU’s Black Resource Center coincides pinch California lawmakers’ preamble of 14 reparations bills to reside immoderate of nan state’s bequest of group discrimination. The bills are based connected recommendations from nan state’s Reparations Task Force, formed successful 2020 amid a nationalist group reckoning and questions astir why California, a historically free state, would lead nan reparations effort.

California entered nan national arsenic a free state, but its bequest of group favoritism is often overlooked, said Don Tamaki, a personnel of nan California Reparations Task Force. 

“There’s plentifulness that California has to relationship for,” Tamaki said, citing histories of section governments seizing properties and restricting entree to lodging and wellness care. “In large and mini ways, we request to reckon pinch this.”

The statement connected reparations is emotionally charged and mired pinch questions of accountability, budgetary constraint and arguments to fto bygones beryllium bygones. Most group don’t deliberation descendants of enslaved group should beryllium paid back, according to a Pew Research survey. 

“I deliberation they understand really 1 family’s sacrifice tin style nan lives of truthful many,” said McCalester, nan Howard University professor. “I deliberation that’s wherever reparations person to travel from.”

In these families’ intersecting stories, nan tone of rebellion endures. Back then, nan Thompsons thumbed their noses astatine racism by renting and trading to nan Dongs. In 2024, nan Dongs are doing thing similar. 

The Dong family determination holds up a reflector to nine to return a deeper look, said Ashley.

“They are saying, ‘Look astatine each you guys fighting astir reparations. We’re giving this each backmost to nan Black community,’” he added.

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Lynda Lin Grigsby

Lynda Lin Grigsby is simply a freelance journalist and editor who writes astir nan intersections of race, personality and parenting.