Happy Juneteenth! To celebrate the emancipation of my ancestors, here’s a bit of history on a site in California most people have never heard of: Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park. Why? Because I’m a history nerd, that’s why.
Before you go any further, however, I highly recommend reading this detailed biography of Allensworth and history of the town.
Black founded towns, also known as Freedmen’s towns and Freedom towns, were established in 24 states and often by former enslaved African Americans. Many existed in Oklahoma and Texas in particular, but only 1 was built in California: Allensworth.
Allensworth was an early success, but unfortunate circumstances cut it down. Col. Allensworth was killed in a terrible motorcycle accident in 1914. A few years later it became clear that the Pacific Farming Company was never going to deliver on the irrigation water it promised – and a lack of water made it very difficult to gain a foothold in agriculture. Costly and prolongued legal battles further damaged the town. But it wasn’t until arsenic was found in the water in the 1960s that the population dwindled to only 34 families.
Plaque reads: “Established on August 3, 1908, the town of Allensworth was the vision of Lt. Colonel Allen Allensworth. Born in 1842, Allensworth escaped slavery during the Civil War and joined the Union Navy. In 1866, he became the chaplain of the 24th Infantry Regiment, retiring in 1906 as the highest ranking African American officer in the U.S. Army. On June 30, 1908, Colonel Allensworth, Professor William Payne, Dr. W.H. Peck, Harry Mitchell, and J.W. Palmer formed the California Colony and Home Promoting Association. They purchased land at this location to build the town of Allensworth – the only town in California founded, built, governed, and populated entirely by African Americans.”