Black Los Angeles

By Levi Clancy for לוי on

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Of the 44 Pobladores, 26 of them were full-blooded Africans and their children. The settlers were all recruited from farming communities in Sinaloa and Sonora, which at that time were provinces of New Spain, now known as Mexico. They crossed over to Baja California by boat from Guaymas and made the one thousand mile journey northwards on foot with their livestock and possessions during summer 1781. They really given their house lots and planting fields on September 4th.

Many if their descendants became landowners known as Rancheros. They owned land in the San Fernando valley, eastern San Gabriel valley and the Rancho Rodeo de Aguas, now known as Beverly Hills which was granted to Maria Rita Valdez in 1841. Francisco Reyes also owned much of the San Fernando Valley but received another Rancho elsewhere when San Fernando mission was established there in 1797.

Peter Biggs was a colorful African American barber who came to Los Angeles in 1847 and set himself up as the town's only barber. He leased his barber shop from Maria Rita Valdez in the Bella Union Hotel. Because of his monopoly he charged high prices, only to lose his business when a French barber arrived and took all his business.

Don Pio Pico was the last Mexican governor and a wealthy landowner. His grandmother was African. Pio's life spanned almost the entire nineteenth century as he was born at San Gabriel Mission in 1801 and died in Los Angeles in 1894. He was governir of California twice, briefly in 1832 and then again in 1845-46. Pico also built the city's first elegant hotel and three-storey building, the Pico House. His brother Andres also had a distinguished career and served as commander of the Californio forces during the Mexican American War. He scored a decisive victory against the US forces at the Battle of San Pasqual in 1846.

Two major figures of the 1850s were Biddy Mason and Robert Owen. Biddy Mason was a slave who had been brought to California by her master Robert Smith who had intended or settle with the Mormons in Utah, but instead in 1851 left with his slaves to establish a Mormon community in San Bernardino. Only four years later he decided to move to Texas which was still a slave state. Hearing of their plans, a Charles Robert Owen, son of Robert Owen, an established lumberman, liveryman, and real estate owner in Los Angeles, alerted the sheriff who placed Biddy and the other slaves under his protection. Judge Benjamin Hayes heard the case and ruled that "by prohibiting slavery, the California Constitution emancipated all slaves brought into the State" and thus refused to allow Smith to take his slaves to Texas with him. Following employment with Dr. John Griffin as a nurse, Biddy acquired two properties between 3rd and 4th Streets and Spring and Broadway. She later sold some of her real estate which allowed her to spend much of her time and money helping others less fortunate than she was. Biddy was instrumental in founding the First African Methodist Episcopal Church. The Owen and Masons families were joined together by the marriage of Charles Owen to Biddy Mason's eldest daughter Ellen.