Summertime is just around the bend, and that can only mean one thing: Vacation time. If long-distance domestic and/or international travel is beyond your means this year, consider a road trip to one of the historic Black landmarks peppered throughout California. The bulk of them range from old-fashioned towns to national parks and memorials, to an assortment of intersecting pathways used by old settlers and freed slaves during the Gold Rush era. Here are a few suggestions:
Allensworth State Historic Park
In August 1908, Colonel Allen Allensworth and four other settlers established a township to operate on the financial strength and governing power of African Americans. This unprecedented undertaking, stemmed directly from a thorough belief in the ability of Blacks to achieve self-sufficiency, while also creating better lives for themselves. At the start of 1910, Allensworth’s success became the focus of many national publications, Black and White, praising the town for standing on its own two feet.
An unavoidable set of circumstances (increasing debt, infighting, external opposition, etc.) precluded future inhabitants from preserving the original Allensworth over the long term. The town’s populace eventually dwindled to a handful of Black families and individuals, who managed to stay around long enough to merit the title “The town that refused to die.”
In 1974, the California State Parks department purchased land within the limits of Allensworth, prompting its transformation into Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park. Today, a collection of restored and reconstructed early 20th-century buildings–including the colonel’s house, the schoolhouse, Baptist church, and library–once again dot this flat farm country.
Located 30 miles north of Bakersfield, the park is bike friendly, features helpful staff and tour guides, and its visitor’s center shows a film about the area on a daily basis. A yearly rededication ceremony takes place every October, and a Juneteenth celebration will be held on the 11th of this month. Park hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but reservations for tours are required and can be made online or by calling (661) 849-3433. Self tours are available without calling ahead, but visitors will not be able to access buildings. Campers do not need a reservation.
Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial
On the evening of July 17, 1944, residents in San Francisco’s East Bay community were jolted awake by a massive explosion that cracked windows and lit up the night sky. At nearby Port Chicago Naval Magazine, 320 soldiers, most of whom were Black, instantly perished as a result of the blast, caused by the reported mishandling of live ammunition rounds being loaded into munitions ships.
Although an official explanation for the incident couldn’t be given, a number of complaints had been filed previously that working conditions at the port were hazardous. African American sailors, barred from active naval duty because of segregation, were never trained to handle artillery; yet White officers coerced them into loading ships anyhow. More than 250 sailors refused to return to work after the explosion, citing these dangerous working conditions.
Most of those sailors eventually yielded to the Navy’s orders, and continued loading ammunition at other bases. But 50, who stood their ground, were charged with mutiny and put on trial. The Port Chicago disaster, and its aftermath, served as catalysts for desegregation of the military and improved safety at naval ports. Legislation introduced in Congress in 2008, made this site a full unit of the California National Park system.
The memorial consists of a plaque with the names of the dead, a bench and the American flag.
Every July, an annual commemorative event takes place at the memorial to honor those who died at Port Chicago. The port is also open Tuesdays through Saturdays by request, with tours operated from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The memorial is closed now through July 17, as well as on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. Because the site is located on a still-active military base, valid forms of identification, and proof of United States citizenship are required for everyone. For reservations (must be two weeks advance), call (925) 228-8860, ext. 6522.
The African American Firefighter Museum
The African American Firefighter Museum in Los Angeles opened its doors December 13, 1997. The structure was originally used as fire station No.30, one of the two segregated firehouses in Los Angeles between 1924 and 1955, and stands as the first and, so far, the only one of its kind in the country.
The first floor contains vintage fire apparatus, stories and pictures of pioneering Black firemen.
The museum gallery is located on the second floor and features pictures, artifacts and other memorabilia of former firefighters, captains, chief officers and historical women fire service professionals from across the United States. There is also a memorial tribute to the firefighters who perished during the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. Currently, the museum is open to the public and is strictly volunteer and donation driven. Admission is free for individuals and groups of up to 10 persons. Hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m.-2p.m., and Sundays from 1-4 p.m., 1401 S. Central Ave, Los Angeles. For information, (213) 744-1730.
Julian Gold Rush Hotel
The Julian Hotel, the oldest bed and breakfast in Southern California, first opened its doors during the mining boom of the 1880s, serving both miners and members of Victorian high society in the heart of the old mining town of Julian, California. Established by freed slave, Albert Robinson, and his wife, Margaret, the structure was originally named the “Hotel Robinson,” and was operated by its namesake until his death in 1915. Margaret ran the hotel until 1921, when she sold it. Located just 60 miles from San Diego, the Julian is currently listed in the National Register of Historic Places in Washington, D.C., and the State of California “Points of Historical Interest” list. Nearby are numerous wineries, historic sites, hiking trails, horseback riding, bird watching and natural attractions, including Cuyamaca Rancho State Park as well as the Palomar Observatory.
For reservations, (800) 734-5834.