Chinese-American family gifts $5 million to California university to thank Black family for renting to theirs


By /Originally published by thegrio

A Chinese-American family has gifted $5 million to a California college in honor of two Black homeowners who rented to their parents 85 years ago during the racially restrictive housing practices in the early 1900s.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Gus and Emma Thompson — a Black couple who succeeded in acquiring properties in Coronado, California, before its racial restrictions on renting and purchasing homes — bravely rented one of their homes to Lloyd Dong Sr. and his wife. The Dongs eventually came to own it.

Ron Dong and Lloyd Dong Jr., the sons of Lloyd Dong Sr., are giving $5 million to the Black Resource Center at San Diego State University from their portion of the proceeds from the sale of the property.

Director Brandon Gamble said the gift will expand scholarships for Black students and fund future renovations at the center.

“I don’t know how to describe the feeling in my chest, but there’s a feeling that racism gives that folks are familiar with; you may not be able to describe it all the time,” said Gamble. “This is the complete opposite, and we don’t get to access it enough.”

Gus Thompson was born into slavery in Kentucky in 1859, two years before the Civil War, and relocated to Coronado in his 20s in search of employment and a fresh start.

He quickly garnered respect in the San Diego area and established a Prince Hall Freemasonry lodge for Black middle-class men to gather and discuss civil rights. In 1893, he married Emma, who operated a coffee tent in Coronado’s Tent City, where locals and visitors would go to eat, shop and sleep.

The Thompsons were among the few Black real estate investors in Coronado who purchased multiple properties before the National Association of Real Estate Boards formally implemented racially discriminatory procedures in the 1920s.

They used their influence as leaders of the Black community in greater San Diego to assist Asian-Americans in Coronado, who were also victims of racist acts in that era.

“It’s just something you do, because there was a lot of oppression so you help people that were under threat as well,” said the Thompsons’ great-grandson, Ballinger Gardner Kemp, 76. “To me, the beautiful part is that it wasn’t considered that big of a thing.”

In 1939, the Thompsons rented their house to Lloyd Dong Sr. and his wife under a rent-to-own agreement. They also rented a room in another one of their properties to Lloyd Dong Sr.’s younger brother, George, after he returned from serving in World War II.

Eight years after Gus Thompson’s death in 1947, Emma Thompson sold one property to George Dong and two to Lloyd Dong Sr., including a livery stable constructed in 1902 that was used as a boarding house for Black people.

Dong Sr. turned the livery stable into an apartment building in 1957, which, together with the home, is estimated to be worth over $7 million today.

The Dong children are too young to remember the Thompsons, but they have memories of growing up in Coronado that include experiencing discrimination because they were Asian-American. They knew they wanted to donate a share of the proceeds from the property sale to the community when they were contacted by an area historian in 2022 and learned of the Thompsons’ familial link.

“We have other assets, and my nieces and nephews are established,” said Lloyd Dong Jr., the Times reported, “so I just thought I’ll give it to someone who could benefit from it.”