Over the course of our history in the Americas, black folks have gone through some stuff! Our struggle here began in slavery. We all know that North America for sure was founded on our black backs. Wall Street was founded on the auction block of slavery. In spite of the unspeakable brutality of that institution of slavery, and what it has done to black people, the spirit of the black man and the black woman has never failed. In spite of all that was stolen from us, it’s that black spirit that continues to rise and fight for our lives, our freedom, our empowerment! We some baaaad folks, y’all!
We’ve heard about those enslaved black people who escaped from slavery. We know about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. We know black folks tried to and succeeded in escaping time and time again. But where did they escape to? How far did black people take the ideal of self determination? Did we build any towns? Well we know about the black town of Eatonville, Florida, the home of novelist Zora Neale Hurston, and Chicago, Illinois being founded by Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, a black haitian man. But are there any other towns and settlements? Well my friends, I have some good news for you! Despite every kind of obstacle set before us black folks, we actually have founded many more towns and settlements and that part of our history is slowly being forgotten. But this is the Black Culture Blog, so let me give a hand to keeping some of this rich, lush history alive!
I have unearthed a book by Brother Morris Turner, III, who has dedicated himself to researching this very important part of our black history and culture. The title of this book is America’s Black Towns and Settlements, a historical reference guide, which names all the black towns and settlements that HE was able to unearth. Here’s a Youtube piece of one of his visits to the natural splendor of a black town in Vermont. (It’s worth it to listen to the entire video. The roosters are screaming over Mr. Turner’s voice, but focus in on him. He imparts a lot of important information and make a connection to the Gullah Geechee Nation as well)
A very famous black town in my neck of the woods is called Allensworth, which is in the San Joaquin Valley of California, a town which is still in existence to this day. Founded by Colonel Allen Allensworth, a great man, a Buffalo Soldier, an ex-slave and the highest ranking black military officer of his time, who served as a chaplin and was responsible for the moral uplift of the black troops, who fought in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and in the Philippines prior to being stationed at both Angel Island and the Presidio in San Francisco, (whew!) went looking for self determination.
He was a man whose philosophy was “self help” and independence from white people. So he set out and founded the town of Allensworth in a desolate area, midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 1908. In this town of self determination, a school was erected along with a church, because brother Allensworth was about moral and spiritual integrity. This town became an important shipping point along the Southern Pacific Railroad with trains stopping there eight times a day. The people of Allensworth manufactured products in their area such as alfalfa, sugar beets and poultry, and those products were marketed in the surrounding communities.
The townsite covered almost 900 acres and included grain warehouses, a cement manufacturing firm, a general store and a ten room hotel. When the population grew, a bond was passed which raised $5000 for a new school building. The town formed the Allensworth Rural Water Co, that had a very generous supply of water from three artesian wells. Allensworth was all good up until 1914, when the Founder, who was visiting in another city near Los Angeles, was run over as he stepped off the streetcar, by a mysterious motorcyclist. The motorcyclist made sure Colonel Allensworth was dead by turning around to run him over a second time. Of course no charges were brought against the murderer.
Times became hard. The people of the town had not only the death of their founder to deal with, but their prized artesian water wells were later found to be contaminated with arsenic! This forced the community to have to purchase water from surrounding towns, and haul it back to Allensworth. There’s no conclusive evidence of it, but there was open speculation that certain jealous characters of the neighboring towns poisoned their wells. So hard times certainly followed. Many years later, in 1976 the town of Allensworth became a recognized historic site and state park, the only one in the entire US dedicated to African Americans.
I thank God for brother Morris Turner III who put so much work and effort and love into researching and finding out and presenting to us these wonderful historical truths of black self determination in the face of brutal hardships. We have ALWAYS been able to overcome every obstacle put before us. It’s nothing short of amazing that our people, barely a generation away from slavery was able to set out and found towns for ourselves so as to be able to live in peace and harmony by the work of our own hands, with pride and love. We sure are beautiful!!
PS: I got a couple of very interesting comments from The Friends of Allensworth San Diego Chapter 12, and someone named Buffalo Soldier 9, giving me links and more information and asking me to talk about “Black Wall Street”! I’ll do some research on it someday soon!