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Project to Restore Allensworth, Historic All-Black Calif. Town

“Allensworth has not been part of the conversations of reparations,” Broomfield said. “But (GEIG) is now bringing it to the forefront so that family members of the original Allensworth community, who are still living, are able to get reparations.”

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Allensworth Town Sign; Photo courtesy of California Black Media

As the California reparations task force determines the impact of slavery on the lives of Black Californians, a Black-led business management group in the Central Valley is revitalizing an obscure national treasure:  Lt. Col. Allen Allensworth State Historical Park.

The project pays tribute to Allensworth, California, a town founded by African Americans in 1908. The history of the settlement speaks to the perseverance of African Americans and the terror that they experienced.

Last week, at a ceremony held at the park, Global Economic Impact Group, LLC (GEIG) and the African American Network of Kern County (AANKC) announced the launch of their revitalization effort.

At the event, California State Parks and Recreation official Russ Dingman gave details about the groups’ plans to continue the late Lt. Col. Allen Allensworth’s vision, one of the town’s founders and its namesake.

“Col. Allensworth, with three other families, built this because of Jim Crow-ism,” said Randall Cooper, CEO of GEIG. “We want to be a part of the restoration.”

About 50 people attended the launch event held at Allensworth visitors’ center. Among guests were members of the Black American Political Association of California-Fresno (BAPAC), San Joaquin Valley Chapter of Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA), Fresno Black Farmers, Friends of Allensworth and others.

State officials present, virtually and in-person, included representatives from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office.

Remnants of the colony that had a population of about 300 Black residents during its heyday can be found at the park.

Allensworth was an educator and U.S. Army’s chaplain to four Black regiments. He was born into slavery in Kentucky. After leaving the Army, he moved to Los Angeles with his wife Josephine Leavell Allensworth.

In 1908, Allensworth and Pasadena-based educator William Payne formed two organizations: the California Colony and Home Promotion Association (HPA) to create a settlement where Black people could live free from discrimination and racism.

The organizations purchased 900 acres for the town. By 1909, Allensworth had become the first California town founded, financed, and governed by Black Americans.

The town had a church, post office, hotel, library, two schools and numerous businesses that offered the essentials and comforts of a thriving community.

Socially, Allensworth bustled with activity. There were sewing circles, holiday events, glee clubs, an orchestra, fishing, hunts for jackrabbits, and more.

 By 1914, “a difficult year for the town” the brochure states, Allensworth began suffering from droughts and the lack of irrigation for farmlands.

Some historians believe, by 1925, racist White authorities intimidated by Allensworth’s success were behind the Pacific Farming Company’s decision to cut off the town’s irrigation water supply. Fighting the action in court helped to deplete Allensworth finances.

The Santa Fe Railroad closed a major railway stop important to the town’s commerce, citing Allensworth’s low water level. That also factored into Allensworth’s economic decline.

Also, that year, the town’s inspirational leader Allensworth was struck by a motorcycle as he crossed the street in Monrovia, California. He died on Sept. 14, 1914, at the age of 72.

The residents of the Black town tried to carry on Allensworth’s vision but struggled when drought, poor crop harvests, and other hardships further deteriorated living conditions.

Recruitment of the town’s men to fight in World War I also decimated Allensworth’s population.

Allensworth has been the target of demolition many times dating back to the 1960s, but the state of California bought the land in 1974 and turned it into a state park. About 70,000 guests visit every year.

Gail Crooms, who lives in Central Valley, says it is important to keep the Black heritage of the area alive.

“I wanted to be a part of this the first time I visited Allensworth in 1999,” said Crooms, who is GEIG’s Director of Business Development.

“It had always been my dream to put a Historical Black College and University (HBCU) on this site.”

California’s Assembly Bill (AB) 3121, signed into law in 2020, created a nine-member task force to investigate the history and costs of slavery in California and around the United States.

The commission is examining the extent of California’s involvement in slavery, segregation, and the denial of Black citizens their constitutional rights.

It is also studying incidents of state-backed racial crimes, like the illegal shutting down and state acquisition of Black-owned property.

“Allensworth has not been part of the conversations of reparations,” Broomfield said. “But (GEIG) is now bringing it to the forefront so that family members of the original Allensworth community, who are still living, are able to get reparations.”

GEIG plans to restore landmarks and build a museum, an amphitheater, a water park, campground and other attractions.

“You don’t hear about Black history in California and the West Coast,” Broomfield said. “Because of what happened to Black Wall Street people are becoming aware of what happened to Black communities.”

Black History

BlackHistoryEveryday.com

Springfield Race Riot of 1908, Sixteen people died. $150,000 in property damage. The riot was a catalyst of the formation of the NAACP. The population of Springfield, Illinois was 45,000 at that time.

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9/22/2021: Carl Bean 1944-2021 singer and founder Unity Fellowship Church Movement, Black LGBT denomination.

9/15/2021: Black Theatre United “. . . stand[s] together to help protect Black people, Black talent and Black lives of all shapes and orientations in theatre and communities across the country.”

9/08/2021: Alliance for Digital Equality (Julius Hollis founder) was a “non-profit consumer advocacy organization that serves to facilitate and ensure equal access to technology in underserved communities.”

8/25/2021: Eugene Williams first victim at age 17, by being stoned and drowned on July 27, 1919, during “Red Summer” of 1919 race riot in Chicago.

8/18/2021: Springfield Race Riot of 1908, Sixteen people died. $150,000 in property damage. The riot was a catalyst of the formation of the NAACP. The population of Springfield, Illinois was 45,000 at that time.

8/11/2021: Enslaved Africans politically correct term coined for slaves who landed on the now U.S. shores in 1619.

8/4/2021: Trini Ross nominated to lead the U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of New York based in Buffalo, if confirmed she will be the first Black woman to head that office.

7/28/2021: Kimberly Drew born 1990 art curator and writer. Former Metropolitan Museum social media manager.

7/21/2021: Ketanji Brown Jackson born 1970, in 2021 elevated by Biden to U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. and is a contender to be the first Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court.

7/14/2021: Mary Ellen Pleasant 1814 – 1904 “The Mother of Civil (or Human) Rights in California.” Also a chef.

7/7/2021:  Florence Price 1887-1953 first Black woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer, and the first to have a composition played by a major orchestra.

6/30/2021: Skylar Heath, 20, Black transgender woman shot and killed in Miami, FL in November 20, 2020.

6/23/2021: Dior H Ova (aka Tiffany Harris), 32,  Black transgender woman, killed July 26, 2020 in Bronx, NY.

6/16/2021: Danika “Danny” Henson, 31, Black transgender woman shot and killed May 4. 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland.

6/9/2021: Alexus Braxton, 45, Black transgender woman aka Kimmy Icon Braxton, killed on 2/4/2021 in Miami, Florida.

6/2/2021: Serenity Hollis, 24, Black transgender woman shot and killed May 8, 2021 in Albany, Georgia.

5/26/2021: Cassie Ventura born in 1986 is a Black and Filipino singer, songwriter, actor, and dancer.

5/19/2021: Naomi Campbell born 1970. British actress, business woman and model of Afro-Jamaican and Chinese-Jamaican descent.

5/12/2021: George Maxwell Richards 1931-2018, first president of Trinidad and Tobago to be of Amerindian (and Chinese) descent.

5/5/2021: Marabou is Haitian and means mixed-race including European, African, Taíno and South Asian.

4/28/2021:  Thelma Harper 1940 – 2021.  First Black woman elected to the Tennessee legislature in 1989.

4/21/2021:  Baby Esther born Esther Lee Jones 1918 – 1921, date of death unknown.  Singer and child entertainer in the 1920s.

4/14/2021: Tishaura O. Jones born March 10. 1972, first Black woman mayor of St. Louis, MO in April 2021.

4/7/2021: Something Good—Negro Kiss 1898 first recorded kiss between Black folks on film.

3/31/2021:  Jayla Roxx first transgender woman of color to launch a beauty brand, “BatMe! Cosmetics” in the United States.

3/24/2021:  Nnenna Stella founded The Wrap Life out of her exploration of her individuality and the wraps are for everyone.

3/17/2021:  Maia Chaka first Black woman to officiate in the NFL.

3/10/2021:  Sheila Edwonna Branford 1/27/1960 – 1/29/2021  created Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center.

3/3/2021:  Katrina Adams born 8/5/1968. First Black president of the United States Tennis Association (USTA).

1/27/2021: Calendly is a Black owned scheduling app.

 

more facts log onto BlackHistoryEveryday.com

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Black History

Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie: First Black Grammy’ Winners

Two Black performers left the event that night with Grammys in hand: Ella Jane Fitzgerald (1917–1996) for Best Vocal Performance, Female, and Best Jazz Performance, Individual; and William James “Count” Basie (1904–1984), for Best Performance by a Dance Band and Best Jazz Performance, Group. Recognition for the pair was well overdue as their roads to the Grammy were storied.

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Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie, the first two African Americans to win Grammy awards, 1958. Photo courtesy of 9gag.com/gag/aQREN3K

It was the late spring of 1959. The music industry’s elite converged inside the Grand Ballroom of Los Angeles’ Beverly Hilton. Others were gathering at a function held simultaneously in New York City.

That night, the Grammy Award’s first show took place, and no one knew then that it would become a historic event for African-American performers.

Two Black performers left the event that night with Grammys in hand: Ella Jane Fitzgerald (1917–1996) for Best Vocal Performance, Female, and Best Jazz Performance, Individual; and William James “Count” Basie (1904–1984), for Best Performance by a Dance Band and Best Jazz Performance, Group. Recognition for the pair was well overdue as their roads to the Grammy were storied.

Fitzgerald was a teen when her mother died. Her aunt then took young Ella from her home in Yonkers, N.Y., back to Newport News, Va. Shortly after, Ella’s stepfather died. These events brought on depression. Ella began failing school and frequently skipped classes. After getting into trouble with the police, she was sent to a reform school. There she endured beatings by the caretakers. The brutality forced her to escape.

At age 15, she was alone and struggling to make a life for herself. But things would change when she was in New York City about five years later.

In 1934, young Ella performed at the Apollo’s Amateur Night. The crowd booed her; shouted “What’s she going to do?” A frightened Ella decided to sing. She asked the band to play Hoagy Carmichael’s “Judy,” one of her mother’s favorites. Her voice silenced the audience, and by the song’s end they begged for an encore.

Two years later, Ella made her first recording, “Love and Kisses,” under the Decca label. The rest was music history.
Later dubbed “The First Lady of Song,” Ella was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. On June 15, 1996, she died in her Beverly Hills home. She’d taken home 14 Grammys throughout her career.

Basie, born in Red Bank, N.J., was one of the all-time great jazz band leaders. Dubbed the “King of Swing,” his career started in clubs and speakeasies in Asbury Park and Long Branch, N.J., then New York City (1924) and later Kansas City (1927).

His music served as inspiration for artists including John Lewis, Thelonious Monk, and Oscar Peterson. Along the way, he faced discrimination but overcame barriers to become one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.

“Every day, we used to say, ‘Not one drop of my self-worth depends on your acceptance of me,’” musician and producer Quincy Jones said of the racism that he and Basie experienced back then. “It was horrible. It ain’t much better now.”

Basie wrote in a letter: “I can’t remember when I did not experience discrimination … And I didn’t let it bug me.”
The Count won nine Grammy awards over the course of his career. He died on April 26, 1984, in Hollywood, Fla.

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Art

David Drake: A Potter Who Inscribed His Work With Poetry

It was August 16, 1857. David Drake (c. 1800– c. 1870s), an enslaved African American, had just completed a 19-inch greenware pot. On it he inscribed: “I wonder where is all my relations / Friendship to all and every nation.”

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A pot created by David Drake. Wikipedia photo.

It was August 16, 1857. David Drake (c. 1800– c. 1870s), an enslaved African American, had just completed a 19-inch greenware pot. On it he inscribed: “I wonder where is all my relations / Friendship to all and every nation.”
According to some collectors and scholars, this message demonstrates “Drake questioning his heritage and personal history … signifies [his] positivity despite facing the many brutalities of slavery, including the loss of personal identity.” Further, by etching what is clearly a personal expression, Drake defied a South Carolina law forbidding Blacks to read and write.
South Carolina’s Negro Act of 1740, prohibited educating enslaved Africans, punishable by a fine of 100 pounds and six months in prison. Most Southern states in the early 1800s restricted Black literacy.
Drake’s date of birth is unclear. It is said that it was during the first half of 1800. The first legal record of him (June 13, 1818) describes “a boy about 17 years old country born … mortgaged to Eldrid Simkins by Harvey Drake.”
The (Harvey) Drake family owned a plantation in Edgefield, S.C. The term “country born” refers to enslaved Blacks born in the United States rather than Africa. David Drake lived and worked in Edgefield’s pottery factories for almost all his life.
David Drake was first enslaved by Harvey Drake, who alongside Abner Landrum, owned a large pottery business. Known to be a religious man, Landrum was the publisher of a local newspaper, The Edgefield Hive. Scholars speculate that he taught Drake to read the Bible, even if doing so was a punishable offense.
After Harvey Drake’s death, David Drake was enslaved by Landrum. In 1846, Landrum passed away. Drake was then purchased and enslaved by Landrum’s son Franklin, who was abusive. While owned by Franklin, Drake never inscribed his works. But Drake’s life, his works, blossomed in 1849, when he was sold to Lewis Miles.
Miles owned the pottery factory, Stony Bluff. There Drake created his best works once again inscribed with poetry. The number of pieces produced increased from one every few years to seven in 1859. Having produced alkaline-glazed stoneware jugs between the 1820s and the 1870s, Drake is recognized as the first enslaved potter to inscribe his work. He became a free man when the Civil War closed (1865).
According to Drake scholar Jill Beute Koverman, Drake created “more than 40,000 pieces over his lifetime.”
When Drake was alive, his pots sold for around 50 cents. Today they fetch as much as $50,000 and have auctioned for as much as $369,000. A butter churn with the inscription “This is a noble churn / fill it up it will never turn,” sold for $130,000.
Various collections including his work can be viewed at museums including the Smithsonian collection of the National Museum of American History in Wash., D.C.
It is thought that Drake died in the 1870s because according to scholars, “he is not found in the 1880 census.”

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