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Colonel Allensworth
Five Views: An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California



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current topic Farming
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A History of Black Americans in California:

Americans who established farms in the San Joaquin and Imperial Valleys toward the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century recruited Southern Blacks, a plentiful source of cheap labor, to introduce their experimental crops. Consequently, Afro-Americans were among the earliest contract laborers recruited from outside the state to develop California agriculture.

Fresno County is one early example of the recruitment of Afro- American farm laborers. At the end of the nineteenth century, the agricultural industry in Fresno County began to shift from cultivation of cereals to deciduous fruits and grapes. This more labor-intensive production heightened the demand for field laborers. Formal labor recruitment was directed at Southern Black communities. Oral testimony taken from descendants of these pioneer toilers states that "a train load" of Black people from North Carolina reached Fresno County in 1888 under work contracts that obligated them for several years. Shortly thereafter, another immigrant group arrived by train from Canada. While the actual number of immigrants in these groups is not known, Fresno County's Black population did increase notably from 40 in 1880 to 485 by 1890, but did not increase substantially thereafter.

Until around 1905, the Imperial Valley was a vast, dreary desert region, part of the Colorado Desert. After 1905, growers began to transform it into an agricultural center with a great need for labor. Its name was changed to Imperial Valley, and a 70-mile canal was put through Mexican territory to water its fertile but arid terrain, making it attractive to settlers.

Cotton, experimentally introduced in Imperial County in about 1913, was a labor-intensive crop that required a large labor force. Growers recruited agricultural workers directly from the South and Mexico to work the fields. By the middle of the second decade, Black people had begun to relocate to the Imperial Valley. Many settled in El Centro where a number of notable Black institutions developed. On arrival in El Centro, Black people met racism not unlike that which characterized the communities from which they had emigrated. Their organized resistance to the Jim Crow system probably contributed to the group becoming less desirable as field workers than Mexican nationals.

Although Black people were among the first contract farm laborers, they never became a major work group in the agricultural industry. Direct Southern recruitment, obviously inimical to Southern planters' interests, encountered local resistance, especially after thousands of workers walked off the plantations during the 1870s to homestead land in the Kansas Territory. [13] Furthermore, growers soon found that persons recruited during the 1880s and 1890s would not accept the status of field laborers when other occupational opportunities existed.

The nineteenth-century growers' recruitment efforts, aided by the African Episcopal Zion Church, attracted educated and skilled laborers from Southern cities. African Methodist Zion ministers began the colonization program in the 1880s to expand African Methodist Zionism in California. Hundreds of emigrants assembled in North Carolina cities for transportation to California. However, many emigrants considered contract labor to be a means to relocate and become established, and sought to be come entrepreneurs, skilled workers, and yeoman farmers when their contracts terminated.

California growers, who had long resisted the Afro-Americans' efforts to achieve a competitive edge, found Black workers unsuitable, and turned their attention to a foreign labor source. Other non-White foreign workers could be recruited in a less competitive labor market, and growers resolved to use them.

Land-based economic development in agricultural settlements was promoted at various times after the turn of the century in Yolo, San Bernardino, Tulare, and Fresno counties. The Yolo County settlement in 1900 was perhaps the first group attempt to build an agricultural base on homesteaded land. Settlement by Blacks could not have occurred earlier, since California's homestead laws had previously required a homesteader to be a White citizen.

In California, like other regions, Black homesteaders had to settle for the least desirable land. The land Black families successfully homesteaded overlooking the town of Guinda in Yolo County had earlier been given over to bandits. High above the valley, at a considerable distance from the county seat and transportation points, the area was remote and relatively inaccessible.

For years, maps showed the settlement as Nigger Hill, the pejorative place name used by locals. The nomenclature reflected local racial conditions. Despite social and environmental adversities, Black ranchers moved in from Northern California and the Bay Area, and raised cattle and experimented with orchards and other agricultural products. On what was once the main road leading to the summit stands a sandstone boulder, "Owl Rock," on which residents over the years have etched their names. Owl Rock represents the last physical evidence of the early settlement.

At least two different efforts at colonization occurred in San Bernardino County between 1900 and 1910. The Forum, a Los Angeles civic club organized in 1903, solicited families to homestead government land in the Sidewinder Valley, desert land near Victorville. The first homesteader took up 640 acres at a site where ground water could be easily lifted, but water, although critical to subsequent development, was never available in ample supply. Little is known about the actual number of families who relocated to Sidewinder Valley during the Forum's promotional effort. However, in a newspaper account in 1914, the Forum reported that more than 20,000 acres had been homesteaded by Blacks. Lucerne, an adjacent town situated in the arid Sidewinder Valley, has been singled out by pioneers in Sidewinder Valley as an originally Black settlement.

Another highly publicized colonization effort in San Bernardino County occurred in 1904. [14] The African Society, a group based in the town of San Bernardino and capitalized at $10,000, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, had been created to colonize the Southern California area.

The Tulare County agricultural settlement was the town of AlIensworth. Established in 1908 by a group of promoters, Allensworth was more than an agricultural settlement. It was designed to be a self-governed Black town. The promoters attracted more than 200 settlers to the town in the first few years. For nearly a decade, Allensworth's pioneers struggled to create a viable town in the arid San Joaquin Valley. Artesian water, initially abundant, soon stopped flowing at the volume required to meet domestic and agricultural demand. Although various plans were implemented to acquire adequate water, this town, like other agricultural settlements, be came another dream deferred.

Second Baptist Church
Second Baptist Church, San Joaquin County

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