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Black History

Former Slave Bridget “Biddy” Mason, Los Angeles Real Estate Mogul

After 10 years of freedom, working hard and saving her money, Bridget “Biddy” Mason (1818–1891), in 1866, purchased two lots on the outskirts of Los Angeles, which was a small pueblo at the time. She paid $250 for the Spring Street property; the first piece of land Mason owned. This is said to have been a “remarkable feat for a woman having spent the first 37 years of her life enslaved.” But she wouldn’t settle for it being the last. She would become a savvy businesswoman.

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Bridget ‘Biddy’ Mason had made her living as a nurse and midwife. Public domain photo.
Bridget ‘Biddy’ Mason had made her living as a nurse and midwife. Public domain photo.

By Tamara Shiloh

The state of California joined the Union in 1850 as a free state. But after spending five years enslaved there, Bridget “Biddy” Mason (1818–1891) challenged her owner, Robert Smith, for her freedom.

In 1856, a Los Angeles district judge approved Mason’s petition, a ruling that freed Mason and 13 members of her family. She then made Los Angeles her home.

Not much is known about Mason’s earlier life. She was born into slavery, likely in Georgia. She was owned by slaveholders in Georgia and South Carolina before being returned to Mississippi where, as a young adult, she was enslaved in the Smith home. She cared for Smith’s sickly wife and the couple’s children, becoming a nurse and midwife, work she continued throughout most of her life.

After becoming free, Mason met John Griffin, a white Southern doctor who was impressed with her midwife and nursing skills. She began working for him, delivering hundreds of babies in Los Angeles. In her medicine bag, she carried the tools of her trade and the papers the judge had given her affirming that she was free.

After 10 years of freedom, working hard and saving her money, Mason, in 1866, purchased two lots on the outskirts of Los Angeles, which was a small pueblo at the time. She paid $250 for the Spring Street property; the first piece of land Mason owned. This is said to have been a “remarkable feat for a woman having spent the first 37 years of her life enslaved.” But she wouldn’t settle for it being the last. She would become a savvy businesswoman.

In 1884, Mason sold the north half of her first property for $1,500. On the other half, she built a two-story brick building for rentals. That same year she sold another lot for $2,800. She also helped her family buy properties around the city. In 1885, she deeded a portion of the Spring Street property to her grandsons. She signed the deed with an X because she had never learned to read or write.

Mason organized what is now the oldest African American church in Los Angeles: First A.M.E. Church. She used her wealth to give back to and support the entire community, donating to numerous charities, feeding and sheltering the poor, visiting prisoners, and was instrumental in founding an elementary school for Black children.

At the time of her death in 1891, Mason had amassed a fortune of $300,000 (approximately $6 million today), making her the “richest colored woman west of the Mississippi.” She was buried in an unmarked grave in Evergreen Cemetery.

In 1988, the mayor of Los Angeles and members of the church she founded held a ceremony, during which time her grave was marked with a tombstone. More importantly, Mason left a legacy of perseverance, compassion, and triumph.

Encourage young readers to learn more about this real-life champion for civil rights who was born into slavery in Arisa White, Laura Atkins and Laura Freeman’s “Biddy Mason Speaks Up.”

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Black History

Rep. Karen Bass Makes History as L.A.’s First Black Woman Mayor

“The challenges we face affect us all, and all of us must be a part of our solutions,” said Mayor-Elect Karen Bass in a prepared statement. “Los Angeles is the greatest city on Earth. I know, if we come together, hold each other accountable, and focus on the best of who we are and what we can achieve, we can create better neighborhoods today and a better future for our children.”

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Mayor-Elect Karen Bass addressing supporters on election night, Nov. 8, 2022. Maxim Elramsisy, California Black Media
Mayor-Elect Karen Bass addressing supporters on election night, Nov. 8, 2022. Maxim Elramsisy, California Black Media

By Maxim Elramsisy | California Black Media

“This is my home, and with my whole heart, I’m ready to serve, and my pledge to you is that we will hit the ground running on Day One,” Los Angeles Mayor-elect, Rep. Karen Bass announced Nov. 16 after the Associated Press (AP) declared her the projected winner in a tight race for the top job in California’s largest city.

Bass, who has represented the 37th Congressional District of California for 11 years, will be the first woman to lead Los Angeles when she is sworn in on Dec. 12, 2022. She will also be the second Black Angelino to hold the office in a city where 8.8% of residents are Black, according to the U.S. Census.

Before Bass was elected to Congress in 2010, she previously served as a member of the California State Assembly representing the 47th district from 2004 to 2010. From 2008 to 2010 she was the first Black woman to be State Assembly speaker.

In the U.S Congress, Bass represented West Los Angeles and from 2019 to 2021 served as Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Her opponent, businessman Rick Caruso, conceded that Bass had won the election Wednesday evening, just over a week after the polls closed in the deadlocked race that election watchers said until this week had no apparent winner until now.

A former Republican turned Democrat, Caruso told his supporters in a letter “the campaign has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I am so proud of my campaign. We held true to the core values of our family – integrity, honesty, and respect for all.”

A billionaire real estate developer, Caruso owns residential and retail properties around Southern California, including The Grove at Farmers Market in Los Angeles, Americana at Brand in Glendale and the Commons at Calabasas.

The vote was virtually tied on Election Day, but each subsequent update to the tally extended the lead for Bass. The counting will continue until every ballot is accounted for, but according to the AP, she has accrued an insurmountable lead.

Almost 75% of voters in L.A. County voted by mail in this election, contributing to some of the delay in announcing a winner.

According to California state law, each mail-in ballot must have its signature verified before it can be counted, and ballots are received for seven days after the election, so long as they are postmarked by Election Day.

A record amount of money was spent on the race, with Caruso’s campaign vastly outspending Bass. The Caruso campaign reported a total expenditure of $104,848,887.43.

Caruso himself contributed almost $98 million to his own campaign, which he spent primarily on advertising.

“Despite being outspent 12 to 1, Congresswoman Karen Bass proved L.A. voters can’t be bought,” said Kerman Maddox, the finance committee chair of Bass 4 Mayor.

Vastly outspent from the start of her candidacy, Bass also won the June 7 primary election.

Bass benefited from endorsements from Democrats at all levels of government, including former President Barack Obama, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, California Senator Alex Padilla and the Los Angeles Democratic Party. One notable holdout was Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Kellie Todd Griffin, Convening Founder of the California Black Women’s Collective — a collective of hundreds of Black women from various professional backgrounds across the state — referenced Bass’ background as a strong and respected voice for Los Angeles’ African American community.

“This is a victory that we are all vested in because it represents the power of what we can do through community organizing and collaboration,” Griffin said. “Mayor-Elect Bass is the change we need right now to ensure today’s most pressing issues will be addressed in a way that doesn’t leave us behind. We are proud because this a victory for Black women and our community.”

Bass is well known across Los Angeles for building cross-cultural, multi-racial coalitions of people and being able to rally them around causes.

During the crack epidemic of the 1980s, she was a physician’s assistant and a clinical instructor at the Keck School of Medicine of USC Physician Assistant Program who became a leading voice for victims affected by the highly addictive substance derived from cocaine.

Bass promised that her administration will be inclusive and “will bring everyone to the table.”

“The challenges we face affect us all, and all of us must be a part of our solutions,” she said in a prepared statement. “Los Angeles is the greatest city on Earth. I know, if we come together, hold each other accountable, and focus on the best of who we are and what we can achieve, we can create better neighborhoods today and a better future for our children.”

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Activism

March Against Fear: When ‘Black Power’ Became Mainstream

What began as a solitary peaceful protest for voter registration became one of the South’s most important demonstrations of the civil rights movement. Leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Carmichael formed unlikely alliances that resulted in the Black Power movement. This ushered in a new era in the fight for equality.

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James Meredith walking on the campus of the University of Mississippi, accompanied by U.S. marshals. (Photo: Marion S. Trikosko, the United States Library of Congress.)
James Meredith walking on the campus of the University of Mississippi, accompanied by U.S. marshals. (Photo: Marion S. Trikosko, the United States Library of Congress.)

By Tamara Shiloh

It was June 5, 1966.

James Howard Meredith (born 1933), on a mission to encourage Black voter registration and defy entrenched racism in the South, set out on a solitary walk from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi.

On the second day of his journey, Aubrey Norvell, a white gunman, waited on a roadside a few miles south of Hernando, Mississippi. He ambushed Meredith, shooting him in the neck, head, and back.

Within 24 hours, the nation’s three principal civil rights organizations vowed to continue the march: the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Success of the event could not be predicted. Leaders were aware that last-minute planning of a march could be dangerous, and the route chosen was not without uncertainty. The three-week march led to death threats, arrests, and the use of tear gas. Internal tensions surrounding leadership swelled and use of the slogan “Black Power” became a revolutionary phrase urging self-determination and Black pride.

The Deacons for Defense and Justice, a group of Black veterans from World War II who believed in armed self-defense, provided protection for participants. Founded in Jonesboro, La., in 1964, The Deacons for Defense had already protected civil rights activists from the Ku Klux Klan. About 20 chapters were created throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

The march ended on June 22, 1966. Meredith, sufficiently recovered, had been able to rejoin the event. Participants supporting Meredith along the way joined in, making the total number of marchers arriving in Jackson about 15,000. The March Against Fear was one of the largest marches in history for that geographical area. It was during the post-march rally that Stokely Carmichael first used the phrase “we want Black Power” during a public speech.

Carmichael sought to define the quest for Black Power in constructive terms, explaining to supporters in Detroit that “Black votes created Black Power…That doesn’t mean that we are anti-white. We are just developing Black pride.”

Meredith had become well known when he successfully challenged the Kennedy administration to protect his civil rights. His application for admission to the University of Mississippi, dubbed Ole Miss, had been twice denied. With backing from the NAACP, he filed suit for racial discrimination.

After heavy negotiations with U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Meredith was permitted to enroll at Ole Miss but only under escort of federal troops. He graduated in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

What began as a solitary peaceful protest for voter registration became one of the South’s most important demonstrations of the civil rights movement. Leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Carmichael formed unlikely alliances that resulted in the Black Power movement. This ushered in a new era in the fight for equality.

Understand the complex issues of fear, injustice, and the challenges of change in Anne Bausum’s “The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power.”

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Activism

Panel Discusses Supreme Court Case Threatening End of Affirmative Action

On Oct. 31, SCOTUS listened to oral arguments in two cases challenging race-conscious student admissions policies used by Harvard University and the University of North Carolina (UNC) to promote creating diverse student populations at their schools. The case emerged in 2014, when SFFA, a nonprofit advocacy organization opposed to affirmative action, brought an action alleging Harvard violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (Title VI).

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On Oct. 31, SCOTUS listened to oral arguments in two cases challenging race-conscious student admissions policies used by Harvard University and the University of North Carolina (UNC) to promote creating diverse student populations at their schools. The case emerged in 2014, when SFFA, a nonprofit advocacy organization opposed to affirmative action, brought an action alleging Harvard violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (Title VI).
“(Ending Affirmative Action) essentially, completely upends our ability to level the playing field and remediate for centuries of discrimination and marginalization,” said panelist Lisa Holder, an attorney and president of Equal Justice Society (EJS).

By Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media

A webinar hosted by ChangeLawyers, the American Constitution Society (ACS) Bay Area, and Equal Justice Society was held Nov. 15 to discuss the possible outcomes of the pending decision by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in the case of Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. Harvard.

The online event titled, “The End of Affirmative Action: How SCOTUS Is Coming After BIPOC Students” delved into the impact of banning the consideration of race as a factor during the college admissions process.

Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students would be affected by such a ruling, said panelist Lisa Holder, an attorney and president of Equal Justice Society (EJS). EJS is an Oakland-based nonprofit and civil rights organization that does work geared toward transforming the nation’s consciousness on race through law, social sciences, and the arts.

“(Ending Affirmative Action) essentially, completely upends our ability to level the playing field and remediate for centuries of discrimination and marginalization,” said Holder. “If you do not have intervention and take affirmative steps to counteract continued systemic racism, it’s going to take hundreds of years to repair those gaps. It will not happen by itself.”

Holder is also a member of the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans, a nine-member panel established after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 3121, authored by then-Assemblymember Shirley Weber. The task force is investigating the history and costs of slavery in California and is charged with recommending an appropriate remedy for the state to implement.

Also participating on the End of Affirmative Action panel were Sally Chen, education equity program manager at Chinese for Affirmative Action, and Sarah C. Zearfoss, senior assistant dean for the University of Michigan Law School.

Shilpa Ram — senior staff attorney for Education Equity, Public Advocates and a board member of the ACS Bay Area Lawyer Chapter — was the moderator.

On Oct. 31, SCOTUS listened to oral arguments in two cases challenging race-conscious student admissions policies used by Harvard University and the University of North Carolina (UNC) to promote creating diverse student populations at their schools.

The case emerged in 2014, when SFFA, a nonprofit advocacy organization opposed to affirmative action, brought an action alleging Harvard violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (Title VI).

SFFA argues that Harvard instituted a race-conscious admissions program that discriminated against Asian American applicants. SFFA also alleges that UNC is violating the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, by unfairly using race to provide preference to underrepresented minority applicants to the detriment of white and Asian American applicants.

Chen, of Chinese for Affirmative Action, is a first-generation college graduate from a working-class immigrant family. She is an alumna of Harvard College. She was one of eight students and alumni that gave oral testimony in support of affirmative action in the 2018 federal lawsuit Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. Harvard.

“Particularly as these cases were taking advantage of a claim that Asian American students don’t benefit from Affirmative Action or are harmed; we really saw how this was a misrepresentation of our community needs,” Chen said of hers and seven other students’ testimonies. “My testimony really spoke to that direct experience and making clear that Asian American students and communities are in support of affirmative action.”

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order 11246, requiring all government contractors and subcontractors to take affirmative action to expand job opportunities for minorities.

Fifty-seven years later, a decision by SCOTUS could be reached at the end of the current term in late June or early July 2023 banning affirmative action. The decision would dismantle race-conscious admission policies that overwhelmingly help BIPOC students create a better future for themselves, members of the panel stated.

“Schools take race into account as a factor in admission because that is the single-best, most effective way to create a racially diverse class,” Zearfoss said.

Zearfoss directs the University of Michigan Law School Jurist Doctorate (JD) and Master of Law (LLM) admissions and supervises the Office of Financial Aid.

California ended affirmative action policies in 1996 with the passage of Proposition 209.

Prop 209 states that the government and public institutions cannot discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to persons based on race in public employment, public education, and public contracting.

Proposition 16 was a constitutional amendment designed to repeal Prop 209, but the initiative was defeated by voters in 2020. Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber introduced the legislation that was the basis for Prop 16 when she was a state Assemblymember for the 79th District.

“When we no longer live in a white supremacist society then we can start thinking about ending these interventions that are necessary to counteract preferences for white people that exist and continue to exist,” Holder said.

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