Exploring California’s Overlooked Black History: A Chat with the Curator
In honor of Black History Month, let’s uncover the rich and often overlooked history of Black residents in California. I had the pleasure of chatting with Susan D. Anderson, the history curator at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles, to shed light on this fascinating topic.
Misunderstandings and Missed Opportunities
Anderson shared that despite California’s status as a free state, there’s a prevalent misconception that slavery didn’t exist there. This oversight, she explained, stems from a lack of attention paid by academic historians to the West, leaving a gap in our understanding of Black history in the region.
The Reality of Slavery in California
Contrary to popular belief, Anderson revealed that slavery did exist in California, with many slaveholders viewing the state as a territory ripe for expansion. Even after California joined the Union, the presence of enslaved individuals persisted, shaping the state’s early governance and laws.
Early Black Settlements
While Black settlements were relatively rare, they did exist, primarily in bustling areas like San Francisco and Sacramento. Anderson highlighted the diversity of California’s early population, with Black individuals living alongside white and Asian residents, particularly in Gold Country.
A Continuous Presence
From the earliest settlers to those who arrived during the gold rush of 1849, Black people have been an integral part of California’s history. Anderson emphasized that there has never been a time in California’s development where Black presence was absent.
Anderson’s insights offer a glimpse into a facet of California’s history that has often been overlooked. As we celebrate Black History Month, let’s continue to explore and honor the diverse contributions of Black individuals to our state and nation.