I continue to be busy with research documenting overlooked African American and other marginalized groups’ histories, as well as with making presentations about these findings in a few places. I have also been continuing to build new bridges with other like-minded folks to soon illuminate this past in public programming to inspire and empower folks to make our lives better today and in the future.
Join me in exploring the past and gaining inspiration to shape the present and future from all these activities and a few articles, books, and exhibitions I highlight below.
Kicking off the new year on January 6, 2023, in the above photograph I am at the West African Research Center/Centre de Recherche Ouest Africain (WARC/CROA) in Dakar, Senegal. I am responding to questions from the audience at a presentation I made about my work to illuminate the Black California experience and the struggle for access to United States, Jim Crow era outdoor places. Next to me on the dais is Dr. Abdoulaye Nidaye of the American Studies and English Departments, Cheikh Anta Diop University who served as the moderator and commentator for the afternoon conversation. Included in this presentation was information from my recent book, Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era, and on the public programming that has emerged from it that is empowering people with useful knowledge to be a force for civic engagement, justice and equality, while facilitating individual and community pride. I was pleased to contribute to the dialog and discourse on transnational (and particularly Black experience) common issues that scholars around the world are concerned about in their research, such as heritage conservation, identity, the impacts of enslavement, resilience, and the long freedom rights struggle, the challenges of funding knowledge production, and other.
I also visited some historic sites, including Goree Island, off the coast of Senegal near Dakar. From the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries, under the rule of Portuguese, Dutch, English, and then the French, this place was the largest center of the enslavement trade on the African coast. Designated a United Nations World Heritage (UNESCO) site in 1944, visitors can view this “memory island’s” history of the tragic slave trade through the architecture of buildings, fortresses, streets, and squares, such as the Castle, a rocky plateau covered with fortifications which dominate the Island; the slave quarters; the elegant houses of the slave traders; the Relais de l’Espadon, former residence of the French governor, among other features. I stood in the Slave House and looked out the door where my ancestors were forced to board ships headed for the Americas and I got chills from this experience.
Nick Gabaldon Day 2023, Saturday, June 3
Nick Gabaldon Day is an innovative celebration that provides an amazing opportunity for broadening outreach, action, and education to connect Angelenos and others with their cultural, historical, and natural heritage. Gabaldon is the first documented surfer of African American and Mexican American descent in the Santa Monica Bay. He represents Black people of his era’s aspirations and challenges to racial and class structures when they confronted the politics of leisure and recreation space access as they sought self-fulfillment at the oceanfront, a public space that was and continues to be a centerpiece of California’s twentieth and twenty-first-century identity.
The June 3, 2023 event is presented by the Black Surfers Collective, Heal the Bay, Surf Bus Foundation, and Santa Monica Conservancy in partnership with Swim Up Hill, Color the Water, LA28 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and Sofly Surf School. This year’s participating youth groups are Outward Bound Adventures and The Boys & Girls Club of Pasadena.
Learn more about this celebration of Black California coastal culture enjoyment that takes place at the Jim Crow era African American, Bay Street beach site (sometimes controversially called “the Inkwell’; which has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places) in Santa Monica here and about the history of the locale here. Learn more about Nick Gabaldon (1927–1951) here. Also, see the event media release for more information.
New Orleans Corridor LA Naming Ribbon Cutting and Street Festival, June 17, 2023
Join Los Angeles City Councilmember Heather Hutt, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell, former Mayors of San Francisco and Los Angeles, Willie Brown and Antonio Villaraigosa, musicians, and dignitaries from around the country for the Juneteenth Weekend New Orleans Corridor Celebration, taking place on Saturday, June 17, 2023, at 11:00 am.
On this day a stretch of Jefferson Boulevard will be dedicated as the “New Orleans Corridor.” A ‘Second Line’ will lead a procession from Holy Name Catholic Church, located at 920 West Jefferson Boulevard to the street festival main stage at Harold & Belles (Jefferson and 10th Avenue).
Learn more about the event here.
“Black California Dreamin’: Claiming Space at America’s Leisure Frontier” Exhibition, Presented at CAAM, August 5, 2023 – March 31, 2024
The “Black California Dreamin’: Claiming Space at America’s Leisure Frontier” will be among the exhibitions opening at the California African American Museum (CAAM) galleries after the months-long building renovations. Join me to see “Black California Dreamin'” at the planned reopening celebration on the evening of Friday, August 4, 2023.
This exhibition illuminates Angelenos who worked to make leisure an open, inclusive reality in the first half of the twentieth century when Southern California was reimagining and positioning itself at the center of the Californian and American Dreams. African Americans during the Jim Crow era (1900s–60s) challenged White supremacy and situated Black identity at the oceanfront and inland recreation and social gathering places throughout California.
Curated by Alison Rose Jefferson, independent historian and author of the book Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era, the featured exhibition materials of historical photographs and memorabilia along with contemporary artworks and public policy action illustrations illuminate the book’s research content on Bruce’s Beach, Bay Street Beach (“Inkwell”), Eureka Villa (Val Verde), Huntington Beach, Lake Elsinore, and Corona, among other places.
Among the historical materials showcasing Black Angelenos, featured artists’ works include that of Derrick Adams, April Banks, Yrneh Gabon Brown, June Edmunds, Chase Hall, and David Mesfin. As I say in the exhibition materials: These artists “have created art and documentary works that speak to the past, present, and future of Black people’s self-image, aspirations, and cultural contributions in California and beyond. Their works are individual political acts in the social justice struggle for broader inclusion and access to natural and other resources.”
Learn more about this exhibition, and CAAM here.
Also, look for future updates on public programming that will take place during the exhibition run on CAAM’s website.
NPS Publishes two historical studies surfacing the tragedy and resilience in Black recreation
On Friday, March 31, 2023, new National Park Service (NPS) African American outdoor recreation reports and a digital project were released as partner historians, including me, Alison Rose Jefferson, presented their findings at an Organization of American Historians (OAH) conference session in Los Angeles. These new studies examine histories of institutional segregation, discrimination, loss, and tragedy, but also of joy and resilience associated with African American outdoor recreation.
Elsa Devienne (Northumbria University, UK) and I did a tour on Saturday, April 1 of the Santa Monica African American Beach and other Pacific Rim experiences that dovetailed with this announcement. Sites on the tour are covered in my book Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era and other work is mentioned in the new NPS projects. Other tour sites featured appear in Devienne’s book The Sand Rush: An Environmental History of the Los Angeles’s Beaches which is forthcoming in an English edition and articles she has penned.
CA Reparations Task Force Proposes Cash Payments at May 6, 2023 Meeting
The California Reparations Task Force at its fifteenth meeting on May 6, 2023, voted to approve payment of Reparation to Black Californians for discrimination and harmful practices since the enslavement era. The Task Force will send its final proposal to the legislature by July 1, 2023. Learn more here.
In her testimony at this meeting, US Congressional Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA 12) applauded the California Task Forces’ work as she called on other states and the federal government to pass reparations legislation. Following her testimony on May 18, 2023, Lee reintroduced her legislation calling for the establishment of the first United States Commission on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) which will examine the effects of slavery, institutional racism, and discrimination against people of color, and how our history impacts laws and policies today. This legislation is compatible with the other (HR 40) which has been proposed that calls for federally sponsored reparations.
I found this article, “Reparations Put Democrats In A Quandary” written by Trip Gabriel, Maya King, Kurtis Lee, and Shawn Hubler for The New York Times (May 28, 2023) useful as it offers diverse perspectives on what Americans should pay for the legacy of slavery and a century of Jim Crow segregation from different people who have contributed to the more recent discourse on reparations.
TPL’s Black History and Culture Council Celebrates Nearest Green Distillery, the Dan Call Farm Origin Story and Conservation of Sites of Black American Life
On April 14, 2023, me and other members of the Trust for Public Land’s (TPL) Black History and Culture Council joined in unveiling a state historical marker at Dan Call Farm in Lynchburg, Tennessee (two hours south of Nashville), to recognize the place where the world’s first-known African American master distiller, Nathan “Nearest” Green produced his highly regarded whiskey. Although known by some in Tennessee, Green’s story had largely been in the shadows until a series of events recently illuminated it.
TPL Black History and Culture Council president and national board member, Keith Weaver and his wife Fawn, owners of Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey Distillery located in Shelbyville, TN teamed with TPL at the time of the historical marker unveiling to host a night of celebration to showcase the non-profit’s work to preserve and enhance public parks, green spaces, and historic sites. That night we raised funds for TPL’s continuance of decades-long work of preservation of land and sites that tell the story of Black life in America. You can make your contribution to this worthy effort here.
Learn more about these two April 14 history-making events to amplify the Nearest Green story and other erased voices of the Black experience which TPL is a partner in conserving here.
Learn about Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey Distillery, along with the Lincoln County coal filter process which makes Tennessee whiskey so uniquely flavorful, and its production history here.
Living the California Dream…Book and Other Work Continues to Garner Praise and Media Attention
In recent months the book, Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era (University of Nebraska Press, 2020) or other work was profiled, reviewed, or mentioned in articles where I was quoted in global media, including Eco Justice Radio, KTLA 5 TV and The New York Times. Review these media pieces and find others about my work here.
Please contact me to begin the invitation process to schedule public presentations and interviews on American history and the African American experience which includes book talks for Living the California Dream… You can review all my speaking topics to pick your favorite for me to present at your event here.
Here are inspiring articles, books and places to check out about omitted and once-forgotten stories of the Black experience in the national and global narratives which have recently been reinserted in public memory. Additionally, there are items on why history matters for our reevaluation and resistance to legacies of White Supremacy.
- When you are in Riverside, check out the new Civil Rights Institute of Inland Southern California. The Institute features ongoing programming in exhibitions and others about the lived experience of Black residents of the Inland Empire from the Great Migration to the present. The inaugural exhibition debuts three interactive story maps that use sound and video to assist visitors in learning about the development and growth of Black communities in the area and their advocacy for equity in housing, education, leisure, jobs, and public policy actions.
- The New England Black experience is not something most people think about when considering the farthest northeastern part of the United States. Learn about the African American history being uncovered all over New Hampshire in a new project and about the Clemmons Family Farm in Vermont. Long-overlooked stories of the African American experience from Early America to the present and discussions of innovative conservation and community-building efforts occurring now are illuminated in both these projects.
- “Radical Rethinking at Biennale: Africa Meets What’s Next In Venice [Italy]” By Christopher Hawthorne, New York Times, May 23, 2024. The 18th Venice Architecture Biennale confronts fraught subjects of race, colonialism, and climate change. Africa and African diaspora stories are showcased in the works on display from Walter Hood, Mable O. Wilson, Adjaye Associates, and other notable Black architects and landscape architects.
- Blunt Instruments: recognizing Racist Cultural Infrastructure in Memorials, Museums, and Patriotic Practices (Beacon Press, 2022) by Kristin Ann Hass. “If you have ever wanted to understand how and why monuments work, this stunning book is your decoder ring.” – Tiya Miles, author of All That She Carried: the Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake.
- King: A Life (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2023) by Jonathan Eig. “[A]…compelling look back reveals a complex leader, driven by his faith and an unflinching determination to stamp out racial injustice, yet dogged by personal conflicts and relentless secret government efforts to discredit him.” — Karen Gray Houston, author of Daughter of the Boycott: Carrying on a Montgomery Family’s Civil Rights Legacy. Read The New York Times book review.
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