California State Parks Pays Tribute to Pioneering African Americans

Did you happen to catch California State Parks’ social media posts for Black History Month? If not, no worries because here’s a recap and a few history lessons and facts that you may not have known.

Photo 1: Colonel Allen Allensworth. Photo 2: The Chapel of Saint Marie at Camp Reynolds on Angel Island State Park. Photo 3: Col. Allensworth’s wife, Josephine. Photo 4: Col. Allensworth’s daughter, Eva. Photo 5: The Colonel’s other daughter, Nella. Photos from California State Parks. 

Feb. 4, 2021:

On this #ThankYouThursday, CA State Parks shares a little-known historical connection between Angel Island State Park and Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park during #BlackHistoryMonth.

  • The Chapel of Saint Marie is tucked away in the trees that have grown over the hill behind the historic row of Officers’ quarters at Camp Reynolds on Angel Island State Park, the largest island in the Francisco Bay.
  • This is where Col Allen Allensworth served as Chaplain for the 24th Infantry here with his wife Josephine Leavell Allensworth at the turn of the last century.
  • An 1880 description of the Saint Marie Chapel noted the building contained several beautiful memorial stained-glass windows.
  • There was a schoolroom attached for children of the post. Col and Mrs. Allensworth emphasized and valued education through their lives as seen in the design of the town of Allensworth in the San Joaquin Valley.

To learn more about the Colonel Allensworth and the historic park, visit www.parks.ca.gov/Allensworth.

John B. Adam’s granddaughters, Helen Adams Armstrong (far left) and Eunice Adams Lisberg (middle in blue) stand with family members in front of their photograph included in an exhibit produced by the Relevancy and History Project at California Citrus State Historic Park in Riverside, California.

Feb. 11, 2021:

On this #ThankYouThursday and as part of #BlackHistoryMonth, CA State Parks shares a family’s story and their ties to the “second Gold Rush” in California and how citrus became king in the golden state. 

  • Born into slavery, John B. Adams came to California a freed man and was trained in horticulture on Lucky Baldwin’s ranch in Los Angeles County. In 1873 Riverside, Adams budded the first Washington navel orange tree, which effectively started the citrus industry as we know it today. That parent tree is California Historic Landmark No. 20. More info on this here: http://bit.ly/3jEl9Ox
  • Adam’s granddaughters, Helen Adams Armstrong (far left) and Eunice Adams Lisberg (middle in blue) stand with family members in front of their photograph included in an exhibit produced by the Relevancy and History Project at California Citrus State Historic Park in Riverside, California.

For more information on the Relevancy and History Project and hidden histories of the citrus industry, please visit parks.ca.gov/CalCitrus and http://sweet-sour-citrus.org.

*Note: Photos were taken in 2018, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Adam’s granddaughters, Helen Adams Armstrong (left) and Eunice Adams Lisberg point to an exhibit featuring their family’s famous roots in the citrus industry.
“Budding Landscapes: African Americans in Citrus” exhibit panel, one of five thematic clusters featured in Finding Ourselves in the Groves: Stories and Storytellers of Inland Southern California, an exhibit produced by the Relevancy and History Project at California Citrus State Historic Park in Riverside.
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.

Feb. 18, 2021:

On this #ThankYouThursday and as part of our continuing tributes during #BlackHistoryMonth, California State Parks is highlighting the incredible story of Allen Light, a sailor from the East Coast who became one of the first African American businessmen in San Diego. 

  • During the late 1840s, Allen Light lived in Old Town San Diego with another free Black man, Richard Freeman, in a building Freeman had purchased next to La Casa de Machado y Silvas adobe, on the right of the reconstructed American Hotel. 
  • During their time in San Diego, Light and Freeman operated a saloon and dry goods store together. They became the first African American businessmen in San Diego and much of this information may never have come to light, if it wasn’t for a heater installation a century later.
  • In the 1940s, workers installing a heater in La Casa de Machado y Silvas adobe found a pocket of space intentionally created with smaller adobe bricks. Inside, they found Allen Light’s sailor protection papers and his orders of appointment from the Mexican government, documents which had been hidden away a century prior.

To learn more about Allen Light and how he became the head game warden in then Alta California, watch our video at www.parks.ca.gov/OldTownSanDiego.

Photo of Light’s sailor protection papers courtesy of San Diego History Center. 
Rufus Morgan Burgess (third from left) prospecting.

Feb. 25, 2021: 

On this #ThankYouThursday and as part of our continuing tributes during #BlackHistoryMonth, California State Parks is highlighting the story of African American settlers and miners in Coloma – California’s gold discovery site. The many Black families’ successes as merchants and farmers helped support the town’s social, religious, and economic life well into the 20th century.

  • The first groups of American-born Blacks arrived in California as early as 1816 with American commercial ships or overland trading and trapping expeditions.
  • As word of James Marshall’s gold discovery on January 24, 1848 spread, both free and enslaved Blacks brought by their enslavers from the Midwest and southern U.S., joined the gold rush. Many of them eventually prospected in the region and some settled in Coloma.
  • California joined the U.S. as a free state in the Compromise of 1850 that saw the passage of the federal Fugitive Slave Act. This law, coupled with the California Fugitive Slave Act of 1852, required the capture and return of enslaved persons.
  • After the passage of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, California added laws limiting voting, property, and marriage rights for black people and other minorities.
  • Coloma’s many African American families, like the Burgess, Frances, Harris, Julian, Monroe, Smallwood, and Wilson’s formed strong community bonds and not only found ways to prosper, but have also left a lasting legacy, helping to preserve much of the history in what is today’s Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park (SHP).

To learn more about the African American families of Coloma, check out Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park Facebook Page and its webpage at www.parks.ca.gov/MarshallGold.

Monroe-Gooch family photograph with Andrew Monroe (center, in top hat). Andrew Monroe’s parents were Nancy and Peter Gooch. Why the different surnames? The Monroe family bought Andrew as an infant from his parent’s enslaver. His mother Nancy saved $700 and after her husband Peter’s death, she paid off Andrew’s tenant-farmer contract. She helped Andrew, his wife Sarah, and their sons Pearly and Grant move to Coloma and start a farm.
Nancy and Peter Gooch were brought to California by wagon train in 1849 or 1850 as enslaved persons. Peter began working as a farmhand and died about a decade later, in 1861. Nancy saved her money doing work for miners by cooking, washing, and mending.
James (Jim) Monroe was the son of Andrew and Sarah Monroe. His family’s 360 acres included the sawmill site where gold was discovered. In his younger years Jim worked the family’s farm and orchards. He later worked for many years on the railroad for the Pullman Company and later for the state doing janitorial services. Jim lived to be 101, and was remembered for occasionally attending the Gold Discovery Celebrations in Coloma with his wife Stella.

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