Thursday, February 12, 2009

Figures in Black History #9

Allen Allensworth (1842-1914) was the highest ranking African American commissioned officer in the U.S. Military at the time of his retirement in 1906.
Allensworth was born in slavery in Kentucky, teaching himself to read and write, when he escaped to join the army, he taught the illiterate soldiers and other escapees to read. He became the army’s first black chaplain, obtained his teaching certificate and was stationed in San Francisco.

Upon leaving the military he moved his family to Los Angeles. While in Los Angeles Allensworth envisioned a self-sustaining all black town where those like him could live free of discrimination and be a self- governing community. In 1908, the colony of Allensworth was established, in Tulare County. The towns people began building houses, schools, laying out streets and other public buildings. Allensworth soon became a town which consisted of 900 acres. The town flourished and became known as the “Tuskegee of the West”. All of the streets in Allensworth were named for notable African American abolitionists, poets and authors.

Unfortunately, two things happened to aid in the demise of this town. First, Allensworth while on his way south to publicize the town was struck and killed by a motorcycle. The second being that the land developers that sold the land promised a good supply of water to the town but as white’s moved into the area, the company’s people began siphoning the good water to them, causing the deterioration of the town as blacks moved away.

The town has since been restored and is now a State Historic Park, thanks to Cornelius Ed Pope, a black man, that worked for the state department of parks and recreation and remembered living in Allensworth as a child.
Allensworth today is still a town pushing on and upward.
There were others, some not so lucky as to have the town sustain into present day. But at a time after Reconstruction many blacks attempted to etch out a place all their own. Blackdom was yet another. Blackdom like Allensworth had the same concept, made plans and and began, unfortunately this town and it's people were not allowed to live and prosper. To watch a video that tells about Blackdom and its founder Frank Boyer click here.

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