Quite a small, dusty town where residents constantly battled heat and drought may seem an unlikely setting for a heroic effort at colony building and racial self-determination, this community of ‘race pioneers, with its commitment to limiting the parameters of prejudice, served as a beacon of hope to blacks in the Golden State and across the nation. Here’s the story of the African Americans only town called Allensworth;
By the late 1800s and early 1900s, several all-black settlements had sprung up in the USA. The African American community began to establish settlements where they were free people and could live as they wanted rather than toiling for hours without reaping the benefits of their labour. By this time, many African Americans were not only free but were gaining education and taking up several professional careers.
The advancement of the Black race in America from enslaved people to well-educated professionals did not sit comfortably with many anti-abolitionists and white supremacists who believed that African Americans were only good as slaves and were slowly taking over their lands
One of the first of such settlements was Unionville set up in 1867 in Talbot County, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore by 18 black soldiers who served in the Union Army during the war.
Inspired by the many settlements that had sprung up, retired African American clergyman Colonel Allen Allensworth led a group of other African Americans to establish an African American town called Allensworth. Colonel Allensworth was a freed slave by virtue of escaping slavery and joining the army becoming a union soldier during the American Civil War. The town was the first of its kind in California and was well accepted by the African American community who believed in the ideas and goals of its founder.
Allensworth town was a community established with the aim of becoming an independent state and a country soon enough. The town was also established on the principle that African Americans could gain an education by teaching themselves, own their own property, produce their own goods, run their own economy and thrive. Many African Americans who believed in its principals and success called it the land of the African American dream.
By 1907, Allensworth town flourished and rose with significant speed. Several African Americans moved into the lands from all over the country and many bought lands to help support the dream.
The town succeeded as an independent town, with its own government and California’s first African American school in 1910. The school was successfully built after locals worked hard and raised five thousand dollars at the time to finance the construction.
Free from racism and segregation, many of the inhabitants worked as farmers and traders and they lived in harmony supporting each other.
On September 14, 1914, Allen Allensworth was killed by a motorcyclist in California at the age of 72 and Allensworth town saw a drastic decline after the death of its leader.
Businesses began to fail and many sold their properties as a means of survival. Unfavourable weather conditions did not help the town either and several droughts destroyed farm products. At the start of World War I, residents began to abandon the town seeking refuge and safety from the war.
Oscar Overr took over the town and was able to keep it together until 1966 when the State of California identified arsenic in the drinking water and ordered that the town is closed down. The discovery made many residents leave for other areas until there were just less than 35 families left in the town.
In 1967, the California State Parks and Recreational Commission approved that the town is turned into a historic Park to protect what remained of it.
A few families can still be found in Allensworth town and to date, the town has not hosted white inhabitants.