Antonio Ray Harvey, 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, representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Friends of Allensworth, the African American Clergy Caucus of Fresno, Kern County Black Chamber of Commerce, Mothers’ Against Gang Violence, Kern County Black Chamber of Commerce, Buffalo Soldiers of Kern County, Allensworth Progressive Association, and others.
State officials present, virtually and in-person, included representatives from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office; California U.S. Congressmen David Valadao (D-CA-21) and Jim Costa (D-CA-16); Tulare County Supervisor Pete Vander Poel III; Corcoran Mayor Patricia Nolen, among others.
“One of Col. Allensworth quotes was, ‘Create sentiment favorable to intellectual and industrial liberty,’” Stephen L. Sanders, Chief of Staff for Kern County School District said. “It’s all about teaching our kids that spirit is still alive.”
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.
The Birth of California’s Historic All-Black Town
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.