endorsed January 2015 by the California State Historical Resources Commission and July 2014 by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.  

SOURCE:  Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California, Vols. 1-4    Templeton, John William (ed.) Shaheed, Agin (ed. Vol. 2)


Sargent Johnson Century 1915-2015

Born an orphan to mixed race parents, Sargent Johnson chose to be a forceful advocate for art devoted to the authentic depiction of black people.   Arriving in San Francisco for the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915, he graduated from the California College of Arts and Crafts and was taken under wing by Ralph Stockpile and Beniamo Bufano.  But he was also a disciple of Alain Locke's New Negro cultural movement and is considered one of the top artists of the Harlem Renaissance with ten consecutive exhibitions for the Harmon Foundation.   His Incas on Llamas was featured during the 1939 Golden Gate Exposiiton and his 1940 frescoes for the Aquatic Park were commissioned by the Federal Arts Project.  Other public art in San Francisco includes (background) The History of Athletics at George Washington High School.


Sargent Johnson relevance

ReUNION Executive Producer John William Templeton describes how Sargent Claude Johnson got the commission to create the fresco behind him at the National Maritime Museum at Aquatic Park in San Francisco as Christian Frock of California College of Arts and Ernest Jolly of UC-Davis join the discussion of the Harlem Renaissance artist during SFMOMA’s Meeting Points: Stories in Art From The Urban Frontier, , photo by Charles Villyard


Exploring the California African-American Freedom Trail 

View 900 sites along the trail in the ReUNION: Education-Arts-Heritage series Our Roots Run Deep daily.  Book tours at californiablackhistory.com 

The Hotel Somerville (Dunbar Hotel) was constructed by Dr. John Somerville, the first black graduate of the University of  Southern California School of Dentistry in 1928 to host the NAACP conference because blacks could not stay in local hotels.

It became the hub of the Central Avenue business district, attracting name entertainers through the 1960s.

Ironically, the first hotel in Los Angeles was built by another African-American entrepreneur, Pio Pico, the richest man in southern California throughout the 19th century and the next to last Mexican governor of Alta California.  The Pico House was the first three story and the first steel framed building in Los Angeles.  Pico and brother Andres owned 532,000 acres in southern California at their height.

When the Hotel Somerville was built, Beverly Hills, the former Rancho Rodeo de Aguas, owned by the Afro-Californio Maria Rita Valdez, was relatively undeveloped.   But the Beverly Hilton Hotel was built on the hope that the new stars of Hollywood would flock there.

Paul Revere Williams undertook a remodeling of the nine-story building from 1946 to 1957 that added a ballroom and the Copa Club.  Williams was the first licensed black architect in California who gained a reputation as "architect to the stars " in Hollywood.   One of those stars, Danny Thomas, had Williams design the original building for St. Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis.  Williams also collaborated on many of the classroom and dorm buildings of Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Speaking of luxury hotels, the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental atop Nob Hill in San Francisco, houses the Maynard Dixon-Frank von Sloun murals in the Room of the Dons based on the 1510 epic La Serges de Esplandian, which featured the island nation of California, "which was peopled only by black women."  The allegory, like hundreds of other works during the 1300-1500 era, was inspired by the wealth of the West African rulers who travelled from Mecca to southern Europe as the richest traders in recorded history.

The richest man in northern California during the 1840s was  Capt. William Alexander Leidesdorff, who held a note on Sutter's Ranch and owned the current city of Folsom as a Mexican land grant.   In San Francisco, Leidesdorff owned 41 lots downtown, including the first hotel and general store and the largest house in the settlement, and financed the Mexican War by providing provisions for the U.S. Army and Navy.  He built California's first public school at Portsmouth Square.

The Robinson Hotel and Bakery, started in 1887 by Albert and Margaret Robinson, is on the National Register of Historic Sites as the oldest continuously operating hotel in southern California.   The Robinsons settled in Julian soon after gold was discovered there and began the popular establishment, now known as the Julian Gold Rush Hotel.

At one time, Pio Pico lived on a 9,000 acre ranch in Whittier. The adobe home he built is part of the Pio Pico State Park.

Andres Pico was the third in command of the Mexican Army during the Mexican War and won the only battle by the Mexican forces at this battlefield , the San Pasqual State Historic Battlefield.  He was the last Mexican governor of Alta California.

Each of the three largest America cities had African-American founders.  In Los Angeles, the names of the 26 of 44 pobladores, or settlers of African descent are listed on the Founders Plaque in the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument.

Bridget "Biddy" Mason arrived in Los Angeles with a Mormon party, but through her own industry became one of the city's largest landowners.   She was freed from slavery by a U.S. District Court in 1856 and bought a house at 331 S. Spring Street.   A monument , just one block from City Hall, at the site of her holdings describes her legacy.  Her grandsons donated the land for the Rose Bowl.

As early as 1830, Bishop Richard Allen encouraged his members to migrate to California because of the favorable racial climate.   St. Andrews A.M.E.  in Sacramento was the first of a number of A.M.E. churches founded during the Gold Rush as the leading edge of the Underground Railroad on the West Coast

One of the most picturesque churches in California is the home of the largest African-American collage in the world.  Rev. Roland Gordon has created The Great Cloud of Witnesses throughout the 1907 sanctuary with images of African-American accomplishment over 30 years at Ingleside Presbyterian Church in the Ocean-Merced-Ingleside neighborhood.  While being built, the church housed refugees from the 1906 earthquake and fire.

Bridget Mason founded First A.M.E. Church in Los Angeles at Eighth and Townes Streets  to begin a role as the spiritual bulwark of the city's growing African-American community.   Under new pastor Rev. J. Edgar Boyd, the church carries out dozens of ministries.  FAMELA photo by Clayton Everett

William J. Seymour was a former Union Army soldier who began the Azusa Street Revival, attracting as many as 100,000 worshipers for what became the Pentecostal denominations. Now, West Angeles Church of God in Christ, among the city's largest churches, with Bishop Charles Blake, leading the largest African-American denomination.

When Rev. Thomas L. Griffith decided to build Second Baptist Church in 1924, he insisted on using only African-American workmen and retained Paul Revere Williams , the only licensed African-American architect in the country to design the structure.   Dr. Adam Clayton Powell Sr. gave the dedication speech.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Sites, its pulpit has hosted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X as well as three NAACP national conferences.

J. Goodman Bray discovered the Himalayan Mine near Julian, CA and established a residence and bunkhouse for workers there.  Bray was a Cornell University graduate sent out to find gem tourmaline in 1898.

Bethel A.M.E. Church in Marysville was launched in 1854 as the town was a hub for the gold mining trade.   Now 161 years old, it continues to keep the flame of freedom burning in the Sierra.

Emanuel A.M.E. in Stockton is another Gold Rush era church. An early pastor was Rev. J.B. Sanderson, secretary of the A.M.E.  Conference which began meeting in 1863.

James P. Beckwourth was the first American to transit  the low pass of the Sierra Nevada, which is named Beckwourth Pass in Plumas County.  Beckwourth Peak and the community of Beckwourth are also there.  His California adventures began during Mexican rule, aiding rebels who unseated a tyrannical governor sent from Mexico City.  Later he became a scout for the U.S. Army during the Mexican War.  His autobiography was a best-seller in 1863, as the first "frontiersman" to become a national hero.  But somehow, he's never been included in the Westerns.

The largest living thing on Earth was saved by the service of the Buffalo Soldiers stationed at San Francisco's Presidio who patrolled the first national parks at Sequoia and Yosemite.  They built  a fence around the tree to protect it from poachers and vandals.  Then Lt. Charles Young was the first superintendent of the park.  Rep. Jackie Speier has introduced legislation to create the Buffalo Soldiers National Historic Trail to mark their route from the Presidio to the Sierra.

Hannibal Lodge No. 1 is the oldest Prince Hall lodge in the West, founded in 1852, and occupying its current building at Baker and Bush Streets in San Francisco since 1929.  Inside the staircase is a portrait gallery of every Worshipful Master since 1852.    

Also established in 1852 were Promethian No. 2  in Sacramento and Victoria No. 3 in San Francisco.   Prince Hall members were extensively involved in the Underground Railroad.

Capt. William Alexander Leidesdorff was chair of the school committee and school construction committee for the first public school in California, dedicated on April 3, 1848.  An annual tour visits the site each April.

1000 Van Ness Ave. was the site of a Cadillac dealership which was the focus of the Auto Row Sit-ins in 1964, which led to the desegregation of the entire automobile industry as a result of the pressure from the United San Francisco Freedom Movement.

John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968 as the culmination of a black athletes revolt from San Jose State University, where the are commemorated with a statue.