California State Parks Highlights Contributions of African Americans During Black History Month

As Black History Month comes to an end, California State Parks would like to acknowledge and thank the African American community, who have made enormous contributions to the development of the state and the state park system.

Top left: The Monroe-Gooch family photograph with Andrew Monroe (center, in top hat) in Coloma, in what is now known as Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. Top right: John B. Adam’s granddaughters photographed at an exhibit produced by the Relevancy and History Project at California Citrus State Historic Park. Bottom right: Colonel Allen Allensworth. Bottom left: Don Pío Pico, the last governor of Alta California.

Here are highlights of some of the incredible stories shared in our social media platforms throughout the month of February:

  • Pío Pico State Historic Park, in the Los Angeles area, was the home of the last governor of Alta California, Don Pío Pico. He was of Italian, African, Mexican and Spanish ancestry, and lived through the land transition of Spain to Mexico in 1821 and then from Mexico to the U.S. in 1848. His mother was a descendant of enslaved Africans, and his dad was of Native American and Spanish heritage.
  • In the Central Valley, we tell the story of Colonel Allen Allensworth who was born into enslavement in 1842 and fled behind Union lines during the Civil War and escaped to freedom. Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park tells the story of the only town in California founded, financed and governed by African Americans.
  • Allen Light, a sailor from the East Coast, became one of the first African American business persons in San Diego, California. 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, to the right of the reconstructed American Hotel. 
  • 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 in Riverside, California, 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. His story has been featured in an exhibit produced by the Relevancy and History Project at California Citrus State Historic Park.
  • In Coloma, California, many African American families, like the Burgess, Frances, Harris, Julian, Monroe, Smallwood and Wilson families, formed strong community bonds and not only found ways to prosper, but also have left a legacy, helping to preserve much of the history in what is today’s Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.

We invite you to explore these historic parks and learn more how California’s rich history exists because of its diversity of people and cultures. Building on the efforts to support equity and inclusion, State Parks will continue to share a more thorough, inclusive and complete history of our state, including the stories of African American individuals and families. Learn more about this effort at www.parks.ca.gov/ReexaminingOurPast.

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