Saturday, February 14, 2015

Colonel Allensworth

Having gone to school in Oklahoma I learned about the state's many “historically black towns”. At least that was what they were called when I went to school. There were many such towns in Oklahoma. And while some are still in existence, there are many that no longer exist. And sometimes the town names tell us about the people that lived there, names like Bookertee and Liberty.

Well, California had an all-Black town and it isn't too far from here. The town of Allensworth is preserved in the Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park. This park is a little west of Earlimart just up north off the 99. There are several restored buildings in the park, including a library, schoolhouse and the house of the founder of the town Lt. Colonel Allen Allensworth (1842-1914).

He had been born a slave and had learned to read illegally and when the Civil War came he escaped and joined an Infantry group from Illinois to fight against the South. After the Civil War he served as a chaplain in the US Army for 20 years. After he retired he came to California and began to develop his all-black community where he hoped to create a “Tuskegee of the West”. Which explains the importance if the school and the library to the town.

Well, the town of Allensworth didn't live up to the dreams of it founder and first citizens. After the death of Col. Allensworth in 1914, like much of the Central Valley, water levels dropped and farming became more difficult. Factor in the endemic racism of that time and place and the town faded over the years.

However, in 1974 Governor Ronald Reagan authorized the development of a State Historic Park to preserve this part of California history. And since then the park has worked to restore buildings and provide an educational resource for the people of California. And if you're interested in going to visit this park they have a couple big events coming up in a couple months. There is a celebration of Col. Allensworth's Birthday on April 11th 10 am to 4 pm, and an Old Time Jubilee on May 16th 10 am to 4 pm. And if you have an interest in things paranormal you could go for a ghost tour on May 9th at 8:30 pm where paranormal researchers will provide information on their findings and then take a tour of the park. (For more information, including camping check out

 As for the state of the historically black institutions back in Oklahoma, when my sister took classes through a consortium of colleges in Tulsa, several of her classes were actually from Langston University which was originally an all-black college in Oklahoma. And as an aside many of her other classes were offered through Northeastern State University, which was originally a Cherokee teachers college. Which just goes to show, the desire for learning can be universal.

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