Well friends, it’s here. My first book Hidden History of Napa Valley is out in the world. I’m so fucking proud of this book and can’t wait for you to read it.
The beginnings of this book came out of my MA US History thesis on the Black history of Napa County entitled “There Are No Black People”: A History of African Americans in Napa County (excerpts from which can be found on the Napa County Historical Society blog). In turn, that thesis was inspired directly from my own existence as one of only a few hundred African Americans living in Napa in the 1980s-2000s. For most of my life in Napa, the only other Black people I interacted with on a daily basis were my mother and a few schoolmates. Growing up as a biracial Black girl in a predominately white region was difficult to say the least. Microaggressions were everywhere, although I was fortunate enough to not experience the overt racism some of my other Black friends did. This is not to say that Napa was an awful place to grow up (it very much wasn’t) or that it was more racist than other places (again, it very much wasn’t), but it was hard to always be the token Black kid.
I moved away for college, but kept circling back to my hometown. In 2012 I moved back yet again to run the Napa County Historical Society archives and research library. Soon, I went back to school for my second master’s degree. When I started looking around for possible thesis topics, I found myself wondering when the first African Americans arrived in the county. Nearly all I knew had arrived in the 1960s and 1970s – also known as the Second Great Migration. So I started digging. Back then, everything was still on microfilm, so back to the archives I went. Everyone kept telling me there were no Black people in Napa, that there was no Black history in Napa. But the history told a different story. African Americans were everywhere in the past, living their lives, changing the county in subtle yet important ways.
And the more I dug, the more “forgotten” people I found. Chinese immigrants who toiled in the fields and settled in Chinatowns and built nearly all the infrastructure that today supports one of the most profitable wine industries in the world. Braceros and Mexican migrant workers who picked up where the Chinese left off after the Exclusion Acts and virulent racism drove them away. Indigenous people who survived in the face of untold brutality. Alta Californian rancho owners who saw the land they stole from Indigenous people be stolen from them by Americans. Women who defied gender stereotypes. Innovators who looked beyond wine and winemakers erased from the narrative. There was a whole other side to the story of Napa County that was begging to be told. Hidden History of Napa Valley doesn’t explore all of that buried history, but it is a start. I hope it will inspire others to do their own research and tell their own stories.
Available now at Copperfield’s Books, Indiebound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other retailers.
I’m doing a number of events and signings – the full list is here.
These are the chapters in the book:
Part I: First People
The Wappo and Southern Patwin.
Part II: Alta California
The ranchos in Napa County, including biographies on Cayetano and Maria Juárez.
Part III: Struggle and Progress
African American history, including biographies.
Part IV: Strangers in a Strange Land
Chinese history, including a biography on Shuck Chan and his family.
Part V: The Bracero Program
Early 20th century Mexican immigrants and Braceros, including biographies.
Part VI: Women’s Work
Biographies on May Howard and Caterina Nichelini.
Part VII: Industry
The first winemaker, John Patchett, and the founding of the Sawyer Tanning Company.
Part VIII: Innovation
The stories of the inventions of the Magnavox Loudspeaker and the boysenberry.
Part IX: Lost and Gone
History of “lost” sites of Monticello and Napa Soda Springs.
3 thoughts on “My Book Is Finally Published!”
This sounds very interesting!! I lived in Napa Valley for almost 30 years after having lived in New York City, Los Angeles, Milwaukee and other more colorful places. One of my first awarenesses in Napa Valley was the same as the title of Ms. Brown’s MA thesis, “There are no Black people!” I look forward to reading this book. Brava for this accomplishment!
Alex – I just cataloged your book and realized we volunteered together for years at the History Room. I’m so happy for you and will try to make it to the Napa event!
Having been born and raised in Napa–escaping out of high school in 1966–I am very interested in this. During my years at Napa High with 3000 students there was one Black student—an exchange student from Africa. Sports between Napa and Vallejo schools was forbidden.
A few of us became involved in the Civil Rights movement in SF/Oakland/Berkeley on weekends.
The only African-Americans you might see were domestics who lived in Vallejo but even they were rare. We had a nanny when we were very young and I loved her passionately. Told her I would marry her when I was old enough even though she was married and had kids.She retired when I was about eight but agreed to take care of us a few years later when my parents went on a trip. I loved going to stay at her house in Vallejo where my father’s business was and one his top people was black and his wife was a judge. My perspective was not as enlightened as I’d have liked but certainly different than those around me.
But I have a few stories I could tell. Hoping to meet you and read your book.