The City of Milpitas has awarded Henry Nichols with a Key to the City.
A proud Milpitas resident, Nichols has long been dedicated to preserving the unique history of the city that he has called home for the past 65 years.
“I’m very happy to live in this city that has a lot of history behind it,” Nichols told The Beat. “We had the first planned integrated community in the nation in Milpitas; right in my little housing tract in Sunnyhills. That’s history.”
Nichols served as Historian for the documentary ‘54, produced by Milpitas resident Donnie Eiland, which delves into the history of how Sunnyhills in Milpitas became one of America’s first integrated communities. Having grown up in the Sunnyhills neighborhood, Nichols has many great memories and stories to share about all that transpired there.
“Every race you could think of was in my housing tract,” said Nichols, referring to something that was not common in the 1950s. “Everybody got along.”
The City chose to recognize Nichols based on his work to preserve the old name of a park in Sunnyhills. In 2018, Nichols submitted paperwork to the Milpitas Recreation Services Department, asking that they consider changing the name of the park.
“The park was called Albert Augustine Jr. Memorial Park,” said Nichols. “But before that, the original name was Sunnyhills Park.”
Albert Augustine Jr., who had also lived in the Sunnyhills neighborhood, was a dedicated leader in the African-American community and had been actively involved in Milpitas during his life.
Nichols noticed, driving by the park years back, that “Sunnyhills” had been removed from the name. Given the neighborhood’s history, Nichols felt that it should be changed back.
After Nichols submitted the paperwork, the department voted to approve the name change. Nichols explained to The Beat that he also had to go before the City Council to talk about why he felt so strongly about the name change.
“I tried to get ‘Sunnyhills’ put back on the sign, and it was a big fight,” said Nichols. “But we got it done.”
“The park is now named Sunnyhills Albert Augustine Jr. Memorial Park,” he added.
It was a conversation between Nichols and Vice Mayor Carmen Montano a few years ago that initially inspired him to get the ball rolling on the renaming. Montano, who also grew up in the Sunnyhills neighborhood, believed it was a worthy pursuit and supported Nichols in his quest.
The Milpitas City Council presented Nichols with the Key to the City at their August 5 meeting, which was the first in-person meeting they held since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Please know the work that you did, the work that you continue to do…it inspires future generations of leaders to step up and participate in ‘good trouble,’” said Councilmember Anthony Phan during the City’s presentation. “And that’s what we really need.”
Nichols, who is also widely known for deejaying at community events, doesn’t plan on stopping his community involvement any time soon. Helping others, being actively engaged in community — these are things that come naturally to him.
“Receiving the Key to the City of Milpitas is such an honor and privilege,” said Nichols. “I don’t know how to express it. I just feel honored and very appreciative.”