HomeCommunityAn Asian family is giving back $5 million to Black college students

An Asian family is giving back $5 million to Black college students

When the Dong family arrived in Coronado, California, in 1939, racially restrictive housing laws made it impossible for them to find a place to live. That changed when Emma and Gus Thompson, a Black couple in town, stepped in and allowed the family to rent and eventually buy their Coronado property.

Now, 85 years later, the Dongs are donating $5 million to Black college students with the proceeds from the sale of the house. They want to thank the Thompsons, who helped them find footing in a foreign land, and their hope is to do the same for others.

“It may enable some kids to go and flourish in college that might not have been able to otherwise,” Janice Dong told NBC News. The Dong family will also work to name the San Diego State University’s Black Resource Center after Emma and Gus.

Gus Thompson was born into slavery in Kentucky and later left for California, Essence reported. Gus worked at Hotel Del Coronado and built his house and barn on C Avenue in 1895, before the city’s racial housing covenants took effect. He later turned the barn into a boarding house and made a practice of renting out their home to immigrant families. The Thompsons also converted the upstairs of their livery stable into a boarding house for Black Americans doing seasonal work in Coronado.

According to Coronado Times, local historian Kevin Ashley said, “Gus and Emma Thompson didn’t back down from anything. They did the right thing to lift up the community, and they weren’t afraid to speak up.”

When Llyod Dong, who was a gardener, and his wife Margaret arrived in Coronado looking for somewhere to live, the Thompsons agreed to rent to them. Coronado Times reported that the Dongs continued to rent for the next 17 years, and the family raised four kids who attended the local school there. Later, the Thompsons agreed to let the Dongs buy the property.

The Dongs and the Thompsons found themselves on the same side of history, marginalized from a place that didn’t see them as full citizens. NBC News reported that it wasn’t abnormal for marginalized people to live together and support each other, according to Jo Von M. McCalester, a Howard University political science professor who grew up in San Diego.

“It was just something understood that marginalized people in San Diego had to rely very heavily on one another,” she said.

For McCalester, this story sheds light on the racism in California that is rarely talked about.

“I think that when we talk about racism generally in California, and especially in places like San Diego and L.A., people think because there was no slavery in California, that racism didn’t exist,” McCalester told NBC News. “But it doesn’t mean that groups and individuals didn’t understand their places within the society.”

In 1957, the Dong Family built an apartment complex in place of the barn. The descendants of the family later moved away to different parts of California and managed the property on C Avenue from afar.

Now, Ron Dong and Lloyd Dong, both in their eighties, are the only remaining Dong children. Coronado Times reported that they were in the process of selling their Coronado property because of old age, when they decided that a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Black Resource Center of San Diego State University. With SDSU senate approval, the center will be renamed the Gus and Emma Thompson Black Resource Center.

This generous act coincides with California lawmakers’ introduction of 14 reparations bills to address the legacy of racial discrimination in the state, NBC reported. McCalester said the Dongs understand that one family’s sacrifice can shape the lives of so many, and that’s where reparations have to come from.

“They are saying, ‘Look at all you guys fighting about reparations. We’re giving this all back to the Black community,’” Ashley, the local historian, added.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.


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