The preservation of Allensworth State Park and the celebration of the 100th anniversary of its founding was a priority for the Legislative Black Caucus (LBC).
The significance of Allensworth has importance for all Californians. Our history, indeed, is the platform from which we spring. Col. Allen Allensworth’s dream of progress and self-sufficiency, shared with his contemporary, Booker T. Washington, imbued the residents of Allensworth with a can-do attitude which they took with them and spread throughout California.
Let’s celebrate that pioneering spirit, which is indeed the spirit of our Golden State.
This formerly thriving community, which most people have never heard of, is a place where African Americans put down their own roots in California; the only town in California founded, financed and governed by African American citizens. As such, this community became one of the most important places in the history of African Americans in this nation. It is the place in California where African Americans felt they could start new lives in a new land and they would be in a self-sufficient environment free from discrimination. This accomplishment, not long after the years of slavery, is seen as profound, distinguished and worthy of an extraordinary celebration.
During my first year as chairman of the caucus, I devoted a substantial portion of my time and resources to the development of the traveling exhibit, “Allensworth: 100 Years of the California Dream” that opened at the State Capitol, and it will be on display at Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park during the centennial.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to be in positions of leadership in this great state must remember those who paved the way before us. Their first steps in California to create this town cleared the way for our generation to rise to positions of leadership, and we honor that courageous, pioneering spirit.
A little over a year ago, the integrity and very survival of Allensworth was in jeopardy, when the Tulare County Board of Supervisors gave approval to build two huge dairies–housing more than 12,000 cows–to locate within a mile of Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, the only state park in California honoring contributions of African Americans.
The stench and flies created by nearly 100 daily tons of waste from thousands of cows would have most definitely had an adverse affect on park attendance, jeopardized the state’s $13 million investment in the site’s restoration and defiled what many African Americans consider sacred ground.
Caucus members and other legislators were besieged by alarmed supporters of Allensworth, who couldn’t fathom how Tulare County, California’s “Capitol of Dairies” would allow another dairy to be located so near the historic town. They argued that the park was a state resource and that the cultural and natural resources should be protected.
The Legislative Black Caucus, together with 42 other state legislators, co-authored a bill to create a buffer zone that would ban dairies and other concentrated animal feeding operations near the site. Tulare County officials fought the legislation, proclaiming their rights to make local land use decisions. The bill was carried by Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter of San Bernardino. Widespread public concern (and pressure) worked, and we won the battle. The issue was resolved when Gov. Schwarzenegger struck a deal with the Tulare County farmer to pay $3.5 million to guarantee that the two dairies would not be built near the park.
Allensworth, the “little black town that refused to die,” continues to exist, and its founders’ dreams of dignity and equality for all Californians, continue to be told.
During this 100th anniversary celebration, the town will be filled with educational programming, movie stars and entertainers, volunteers in period costumes, special events and tours, live music and entertainment, and a wide variety of food.
LBC members are scheduled to speak about the importance of keeping the history of Allensworth alive.
Awarding-winning actor and director William Allen Young, who is recognized by millions of fans as Frank Mitchell, the tough but loving father on the hit TV series “Moesha,” and as the corrupt Chief Judge Joseph Ratner on “CSI Miami, will headline the program.
In addition, Rick Moss, director and chief curator for the African American Museum in Oakland, will also speak. He is currently a member of the California State Historical Resources Commission.
The world famous Crenshaw High School Elite Choir, will rev up the centennial celebration with musical selections. The group has performed for kings, queens, presidents and others around the world as well at such prestigious events as the World Choir Games.
Lonnie G. Bunch III from the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, will also participate and brings the considerable stature and prestige of the Smithsonian to draw attention to the significance of this historic community to the African American community of America.
Allensworth is one of the 50 state historic parks within the state parks system and since 1985, the state has spent over $9.4 million for reconstruction, restoration and furnishings at the historic park. Additionally, extensive road, utility and other infrastructure improvements have also been made. More than 22 different structures have been reconstructed or restored, including the historic Baptist Church, the Hackett House, Hackett Barn, Ashby House and Barn, Johnson Bakery/residence, the Carter Livery Stable and the historic hotel.
Today, a walk through this town and its historic homes, businesses, church and school, is an experience in turning back the clock, because one sees much of this restored community as it appeared in the early 1900s.