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BLACK TOWNS

 

 



BLACK TOWNS CALIFORNIA


Allensworth

Beulah

    Under the leadership of founding member Mrs. Emma Scott and a generous donation of land by white businessman, George Montgomery, the Old People’s Home Association of Beulah, was erected in 1892. The Association, consisting of civic minded black women, sought to build a retirement community for black veterans of the California gold rush and others who were homeless, elderly and ill of health.

    Located in East Oakland within a stone’s throw of Mills College, this treasure of the Bay Area and the state of California, was the site of the Beulah "Home for Aged and Infirm Colored People." Alvin Coffey, a former enslaved person who made a fortune during the Gold Rush, donated a large sum of money toward the completion of the Home and was also one of the original financiers of the Red Cross. According to black historian Delilah Beasley, he later became the Home’s first resident. Another famous resident was Virginia "Jenny" Prentiss, liaison and commonly believed mistress to author Jack London.

    The board of directors, headed by Mrs. A.T. Stanford, was composed entirely of women but renowned sea captain, William Storey and William Purnell, one of Oakland’s first black doctors, were allowed to participate in an advisory capacity. The Home charged a lifetime membership of $500 and was self-supporting. Black churches, social clubs and societies contributed financially while private individuals supplied towels, pillows, and linen which could be readily used at the Beulah settlement.

    The home continued to operate until 1938 when rising costs, coupled with the onset of the Depression, and increased housing options afforded by the Social Security Act of 1935, made its operation no longer viable. The Board attempted to move the Home to West Oakland, feeling that it might be more successful in the black community, however, relocation efforts failed and the organization was liquidated. In 1940, the original site was sold to Mills College for $13,000.


Beckworth

   Strategically located in the heart of the California gold country, Beckworth was the only trading post west of the Salt Lake where travelers could purchase life saving supplies.

   The settlement was established by James Pierson Beckworth, one of the real mountain men of the West; a man truly larger than life and considered a legend in his own time. He was born April 26, 1798 to the union of an African mother and a Caucasian slave owning father. Beckworth first apprenticed as a blacksmith in St. Louis and later headed a fur expedition through the Rocky Mountains with General W.H. Ashley in 1824.

    Beginning in 1828 he spent several years with the Crow Nation [Rocky Mountain territory] where his prowess as a warrior earned him the position of chief. He married within the Nation and had several children. He was also multi-lingual, speaking several Native American languages as well as French and Spanish.

    Recognized as a truly extraordinary individual, he navigated the Beckworth Pass [now known as Sierra Valley], the first safe winter route through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He participated in the Bear Flag Revolt, rode for the pony express, was a skilled trapper, gold miner and blacksmith as well as a respected scout for the Union Army.

    Despite these incredible accomplishments, he was still a black man and the laws of California were a constant reminder of his tenuous status. The Right of Testimony Law, which was formally repealed in 1852 but remained in affect three additional years, prohibited testimony by African Americans in a court of law. It for this reason that Beckworth had to find a white man to file a suit on his behalf for the theft of one of his wagons. However, nothing ever became of the charges.

    To add insult to injury, Hollywood produced a film about his exploits called "Tomahawk" in which he is erroneous portrayed by a Caucasian actor.

Negro Bar

    Now the town of Folsom, the land was originally purchased by William Leidesdorf as a portion of the Rio del Rancho Americano land grant. Leidesdorf, an entrepreneur of African and Danish ancestry, also brought the first steamship up San Francisco Bay. He owned the land until his death in 1846, when it was sold by his dependents to the Folsom family. Negro Bar was also inhabited by black gold miners of the area.


Negro Slide


    Located in Plumas County, a mining camp on the steep slope, two miles below Goodyear’s Bar and just above St. Joe’s Bar.


African Bar


    Mining camp located in Placer County on the north bank of the Middle Fork of the American River above the junction of the Middle and North Forks.


Kentucky Ridge


    A colony established in 1851 by African Americans formerly enslaved by Colonel William English. Colonel English had brought these individuals to California to seek his fortune in quartz mining, however the operation did not prove profitable. The settlement, located near Hangtown [Placerville], was attacked by white vigilantes in 1853 after which the black founders moved to nearby Grass Valley and Nevada City.


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