The Richmond City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to rename South Street in Richmond to Ethel Dotson South, honoring the late community activist who had significant and lasting impacts community-wide and on South Street in particular.
The renaming of South Street, which runs from Carlson Boulevard to Wall Avenue, was initially proposed by the Pullman Neighborhood Council. Dotson’s son, Kariti Eric Hartman, went personally to each house on the street to get buy-in from residents. The Recreation and Parks Commission then recommended the renaming at its June 2 meeting.
Dotson, who lived on South Street, was described by those who knew her as an activist who worked for social justice in her neighborhood and beyond. She served on many local and state boards, including the Health and Human Services Board; Community for a Better Environment and Chair of the Contra Costa Public Authority Advisory Committee.
According to city and the Pullman Neighborhood Council, Dotson was manager and owner of the historic 20-room International Hotel, which was located at 396 South Street. The hotel was built by A. Phillip Randolph to house the black Pullman Porters who weren’t allowed to stay at the Pullman Hotel during the layovers while the Pullman railcars were being serviced, according to the city. Dotson was also a member of Seaport Baptist Church. She was born in November 1940 and died in November 2007.
Naomi Williams, President of Pullman Neighborhood Council, said the Pullman Neighborhood Council meets at Seaport Baptist Church because of Dotson’s invitation. Williams said Dotson told her, “You can meet here at the church, but I’m going to give you a key, and don’t give the key to nobody else.”
“I still have the key, and when I go in [the church] I think about her,” Williams said.
Dotson was among a family of community activists that includes Whitney Dotson, the late East Bay Regional Parks District board member. The former Breuner Marsh, a 238-acre regional park on San Pablo Bay, was renamed to Dotson Family Marsh in 2016 in honor of the family’s long legacy of environmental advocacy in the area.
“Honoring my mother will also be honoring my family,” said Hartman. “My mother did a lot of work on South Street, she helped the community a whole lot there.”