"Owned and Controlled by Negroes": Allensworth and the Study of Subnational Space.
Allensworth was founded in 1908 with the goal of challenging the institutionalized racism that existed within legal and social spheres in the United States. In Allensworth, African Americans acted as judge and jury to the crimes committed within its limits, even when a white man committed the crime. This upending of social and legal norms reveals the power this all-black community was able to exert by carving out its own, self-governed space in an isolated corner of California. Allensworth, and the African Americans who governed, farmed, educated, and funded it, represent an example of the power that has been exerted through the creation of subnational spaces in American history and the ability of those spaces to destabilize legal and social norms of the state.
The term subnational space indicates a space that falls within the national legal purview but which contests its dominant legal, social, or religious structures. (2) As semi-insulated communities of individuals with a shared worldview, these spaces embody a microcosm of the larger society in which new norms and rules of behavior can be experimented with and lived out. These communities have, at various time periods in United States history, been referred to as utopian communities, communes, or intentional communities, though all have been subnational in form, in that they have existed within a national boundary. (3) Thus, the term subnational space represents a variety of communal experiments, while highlighting the challenges and opportunities presented through their existence as micro-societies within the purview of the nation-state. Though the members of Allensworth referred to themselves as a colony, the more contemporary term intentional community applies well to Allensworth. In many ways Allensworth embodies the definition of an intentional community employed by scholars today, particularly in the existence of a shared vision, relative isolation and autonomy, and the goal of presenting a challenge to the norms of its surrounding society. (4)
This research contributes to, and refocuses, the contemporary shift being made by historians toward a transnational perspective of history. The transnational approach looks beyond the constructed borders of nation-states and toward the interconnections of people, goods, and ideas across those borders. The study of subnational spaces also encourages looking beyond borders, though in a way that requires zooming in, rather than out. While transnational research has been criticized for focusing too much on "big" topics including large-scale migration, globalization, trade agreements, and war, the subnational perspective responds to those criticisms, while still decentralizing the nation as the primary unit of research. (5) Instead, highlighting subnational spaces turns the focus toward those individuals and groups who defied national boundaries by constructing and navigating an independent space within, and regardless of, those constructed borders.
The notion of the subnational space will be studied in this article through the intentional community of Allensworth. This community reconstructed many of the roles and functions of the nation-state, forming its own governing body, creating processes of punishment and reward, opening and maintaining educational institutions, and producing social norms. Through simultaneously mimicking and challenging the nation, subnational spaces like Allensworth introduced new elements to those historical narratives that present national legal systems as dominating individuals' and groups' lives. Studying communities such as Allensworth can thus return the focus of historical research to those individual actors and groups who chose to reject their national setting by constructing alternatives.
Subnational spaces have assumed a variety of forms in United States history. Some of these communities were made up of religious denominations that found themselves in hostile settings and decided to consolidate their members to find strength and support in shared communities. Examples of these religious communities include the Mormons, the Shakers, and the Oneida community of the nineteenth century, as well as more contemporary examples such as the International Society of Krishna Consciousness or the 1960s Evangelical Christian community known as Children of God. Other communities were formed as a reaction against capitalist impulses and the financial insecurity caused by free market exchange and speculation run rampant in the nineteenth century, including the Fourierist Phalanxes and Robert Owen's New Harmony.
Allensworth does not fall within either category. The community was not meant as a response to spiritual anxiety or economic uncertainty but instead was founded in reaction to the racism and legal discrimination prevalent in early twentieth-century United States. The founders of Allensworth, including its namesake, Colonel Allensworth, were primarily well-educated African Americans from across the country. They were tired of discriminatory laws and social norms that prohibited them from finding jobs suited to their high education level, excluded them from being able to purchase land, and restricted their access to safe and highquality education for their children. In response to this institutionalized discrimination, they decided to step outside of the nation's legal structure and create their own, anti-racist space.
Utopian visionaries including French nineteenth-century writer Charles Fourier imagined a world in which the nation-state model would be replaced by clusters of harmonious utopias, where highly esteemed members visited each other as communal diplomats. Thus far, however, all intentional communities formed since the emergence of the nation-state have existed under the overarching legal structures of their ruling state government, and Allensworth was no exception. Though Allensworth was formed in an effort to escape racial inequality, its people continued to be impacted by the reverberations of institutionalized racism, if a few steps removed. Through their dealings with the Pacific Farming Company, the Santa Fe Railroad, and the California State legislature, the residents of Allensworth felt the sting of discrimination even in their separate communal space. Examining the experiences of Allensworth residents can help reveal both the ways Allensworth achieved separation from the state through the formation of an intentional community and the challenges the community experienced by inhabiting a subnational space that could never be fully removed from national influence.
But the story of Allensworth is not only one of discrimination finding its way into a separate communal space but also, and more importantly, the story of the way that the community influenced change in the outside society. By forming an organized challenge to racist legal and social structures prevalent in federal and California laws, Allensworth posed a threat to those entrenched norms, which evoked a firm, and even violent, response by those forces. Similar to the way that labor unions of the early twentieth-century United States threatened corporate financial interests and thus inspired a violent response, the state and corporate response to Allensworth is proof that its existence was interpreted as threatening. The Allensworth colony was eventually stripped of its natural and economic resources, effectively shutting down the community because its presence was deemed menacing and therefore illegitimate. By focusing on the Allensworth community as a powerful actor against institutionalized racism, historians can shift the historical narrative of Allensworth away from a record of the hegemony of discriminatory laws and organizations and toward a story of the community's success in exposing and challenging entrenched social norms.
To understand the existence and impact of Allensworth requires first understanding its founders and the inspiration for the communal experiment. Allensworth's founding principles were based on Booker T. Washington's vision of the development of supportive spaces where African Americans could receive education and vocational training to rise above white expectations of them in Progressive-Era America. (6) Convinced by the emerging view that African Americans' low social standing was the result of social condition and not biology, Washington inspired black communities to develop independently of white communities in order to prove themselves worthy of eventual equality within white-dominated society. (7) William H. Wells, a resident of Allensworth, echoed Washington's vision when he explained his own motives for moving to Allensworth: "I am trying to prove to the white man beyond a shadow of doubt that the Negro is capable of self-respect and self-control." (8) Created with the intention of existing separately from neighboring white communities, Allensworth's residents sought to create a model society through which they could demonstrate the talents and abilities African Americans contributed to the United States.
The founder of Allensworth colony, Colonel Allen Allensworth, was born into slavery in Kentucky in 1842. Like other now-well-known former slaves, including Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, Allensworth believed that literacy and education were key to freedom for black slaves. (9) After teaching himself to read and write throughout his youth, Allensworth later escaped from slavery during the Civil War, enlisted in the United States Navy, and had achieved the rank first class petty officer by the end of the war. (10) During Reconstruction, Allensworth studied theology at the Baptist Theological Institute in Nashville and worked as a Baptist minister before entering politics as one of Kentucky's delegates to the Republican National Convention. (11) In 1884, Allensworth re-entered the military as a chaplain, a position he held for the rest of his career, which led him to travel with the army across the United States and abroad, including to the Philippines and Japan. (12) Allensworth retired in California with the ranking of lieutenant colonel in 1906.
While living in Los Angeles after his retirement from the military, Allensworth met William Payne. Payne was also a university-educated African American and had formerly worked as a professor at the West Virginia Colored Institute, though at the time he met Allensworth, Payne was working as a janitor in Pasadena. The two became quick friends and fell into discussions on the state of "the black race," concluding that they must find a way to combat prevalent notions of biological inferiority of African Americans, as promoted through the eugenic science of the era. Payne and Allensworth wanted to show that the social inferiority whites perceived among African Americans was due to circumstance and lack of opportunity, echoing Booker T. Washington. (13) They decided to take on the task of proving African Americans' biological equality to whites by starting a colony for African Americans, somewhere within California, where African Americans could show their social worth without the impediment of racism and discrimination. The pair started the California Colony and Home Promoting Association in Los Angeles, with the purpose of offering land to African Americans, and particularly to former soldiers in all-black regiments. (14)
The California Colony and Home Promoting Association received its incorporation papers in 1908, and Allensworth began searching for property. (15) Before the Great Migration of 1915, only a few thousand African Americans lived in Los Angeles, most of whom were elite and highly educated. (16) Nevertheless, segregation in Los Angeles communities based on race had already begun, and in 1908, desirable land was rarely made available for African Americans to purchase near to Los Angeles. So Payne and Allensworth went north, into the arid farmland of the San Joaquin Valley. (17) There they negotiated with the Pacific Farming Company, a white-owned land development firm that aimed to develop rural areas into towns and farms. (18) The company agreed to sell them land for a higher price than they asked of white buyers, but Allensworth and Payne accepted nonetheless. (19) The land was far from Los Angeles but deemed accessible and farmable because of a Santa Fe Railroad stop located at the property and the promise from the Pacific Farming Company that the land would be provided with sufficient water for farming. After purchasing the land in Tulare County, which eventually equaled over
The emergence of a black community in the rural San Joaquin Valley immediately attracted the attention of nearby white residents. The Visalia Morning Delta reported in 1908 that a black community would be opening, with the stated goal to "encourage industry and thrift in the race." (21) The article continued with positive remarks on the merit of this goal: "It is the first enterprise of its kind in the United States, and as such has secured the endorsement of leading white and colored men of all sections." (22) While the notion of Allensworth being the first all-black colony in the United States is untrue--many black colonies arose in the South, Midwest, and even Baja California to offer havens to oppressed African Americans--the Allensworth community nevertheless represented a new communal experiment to rural Central Valley residents. (23)
By 1910, the Tulare County superintendent had approved the opening of a county school at Allensworth, which the community had built for its residents' children. The colony was declared a judicial district by the County Board of Supervisors in 1914. This title offered the colony more internal autonomy over decisions, including the decision to erect a larger schoolhouse to accommodate the rapidly growing population, which by 1914 had reached approximately 160 people. (24) In 1918, a journalist focusing on African American pioneers in California referred to Allensworth's future as bright, positing that Allensworth "is destined to be one of the greatest Negro cities in the United States." (25)
Many residents of Allensworth found employment within the town itself, making the community semi-autonomous and self-sustaining. For instance, George Johnson, a carpenter, built many of the community's houses, as well as the large schoolhouse commissioned in 1914 by the community. (26) John Heitzig (among many other Allensworth residents) was a farmer, W. H. Dodson ran a poultry operation, William H. Wells installed irrigation through the Pacific Farming Company, and Elmer Carter opened a livery barn. Farming was a common pursuit at Allensworth, with residents growing alfalfa, sugar beets, wheat, barley, and hay, as well as raising various animals, including pigs, cows, ducks and chickens. (27) Many small businesses were also opened by Allensworth residents. Mary M. Gross, a local nurse, established the Gross Drug Company at Allensworth in 1912. Zebedee M. Hindsman and his wife, Sarah Miller, owned and operated the Z. Hindsman and Company General Store. Clara Morris and her husband John Morris opened the Allensworth Hotel around 1910 and managed it continuously for several decades, though under various owners. In 1912, Joshua and Henrietta Singleton opened the Singleton General Store. (28) Various businesses operated successfully in the early years of Allensworth, revealing both a thriving community and the residents' willingness to financially invest in the community's future.
Education was always a primary concern of the Allensworth community, reflecting Booker T. Washington's focus on vocational education for blacks as an avenue toward self-improvement and eventual social equality. The original schoolhouse at Allensworth was eventually converted into a reading room and a larger schoolhouse built to replace it. The Allensworth school acted as a key site where the community could both enact Washington's vision of producing equal social standing through educating the next generation and also further African American equality in a more immediate way, by employing African American teachers denied jobs elsewhere. Alice Royal, born into the then-declining Allensworth community in 1923, attended Allensworth school in her early childhood. She remembered her teacher: "My aunt was my teacher in second and third grade. She was a straight-A student from San Francisco State, and could not get a job where she did her practice teaching at Prescott school when she finished college, and so, Allensworth school was open and she became our teacher." (29) This story is similar to that of Allensworth's cofounder William Payne, who was denied work as a teacher in Los Angeles but later became the principal of Allensworth school.
While it is difficult to reconstruct an exact picture of daily life in the Allensworth community, one can get a glimpse through the oral and written history of descendants of the early community members, some of whom lived at Allensworth as children. James Calbert, the grandson of James and Alice Hackett, early members of Allensworth, wrote a "day in the life" expose for Turning Points journal in 1993. In it, he recreates the life of early residents of Allensworth. His story presents a gender-divided routine, highlighting the women rising in the early morning to begin baking and washing clothes. Boiling, cooking, and washing continues throughout the day for Alice Hackett, in the memory of James, while his grandfather would "slowly dress and sleepily drag himself into the kitchen for his first cup of coffee." (30) The grandfather is not mentioned again in the domestic-oriented story until after dinner, when he prepares for his community meeting with the other men of town, for which Alice Hackett has baked a cake. Only men are mentioned as attending this meeting, which that day is concerned with the water being diverted away from Allensworth, causing lowering water tables. The men are frustrated by the way "institutionalized prejudice was again haunting and frustrating their efforts to be self-sufficient." (31) Alice Hackett takes up the final scene of this tale, lying in bed, praying for her family while the men continue arguing over political affairs into the night. Calbert's recreation of Allensworth, written in 1993, shows gendered assumptions about women, either from his own worldview or from the family stories he heard of life at Allensworth--it is hard to tell. He paints a picture of women removed from the political life of Allensworth, concerned with domestic duties.
Women in early twentieth-century California had comparably greater legal rights than in other states of the period. By 1911, they gained the right to vote, following a pattern set by other Western states, many of which gave women the vote before the Nineteenth Amendment gave women this right nationally in 1920. In Allensworth, African American women arguably had more rights and opportunities than African American women in the state as a whole, as they were not restricted from pursuing particular careers due to race. In Allensworth, women were teachers in the community's elementary school, librarians, general store owners, nurses, and community organizers. While the mission of Allensworth was the social separation and equality of African Americans as a race, not necessarily that of African American women in particular, the creation of an intentional community naturally led to the questioning of multiple social norms at once.
As intentional communities upend everyday life and habits, so the norms of gender roles are often questioned in the communal setting. However, in Allensworth, only sparse evidence of true gender role disturbance can be found. While women participated in leadership roles within the community, these roles were also within the realm of acceptable roles for women found outside of the community as well. The Women's Progressive Improvement Club at Allensworth stated its purpose as concerned with all things related to "science," but this primarily included the beautification of the land and preparing children for a successful financial future by opening bank accounts for them. (32) Josephine Hackett, childhood resident of Allensworth, remembers her mother as domestically oriented, working primarily in the house and caring for her children. (33) Thus, Allensworth's contribution to gender equality must be approached with a nuanced perspective. The intersection of race and gender often placed an exponential burden on African American women in the United States at the time, and Allensworth's removal of racial discrimination from employment or educational opportunities thus improved opportunities for women. However, a conscious goal of improving social equality for women in comparison to men does not seem to have been an explicit concern of the community.
Religious devotion also represented an important part of life at Allensworth, though not a central aspect of the community's goals. Allensworth supported multiple Christian denominations within the town. Alice Royal's family was part of the A.M.E. Zion church. The large church building in Allensworth held services for the Baptist Christian denomination, the chosen denomination of Colonel Allensworth. Methodists and Seventh-day Adventists also lived and worshipped in Allensworth. While only the Baptists had their own church building, other denominations held services in the Allensworth school or in residents' homes, and non-Baptist residents were welcome to use the Baptist church for weddings, funerals, and graduations. (34) This Protestant-based religious pluralism, while not a primary focus of the community, stemmed from mutual acceptance of diverse beliefs. Though religious dogmatism is often a point of contention within intentional communities, at Allensworth the shared goal of racial equality surpassed any disagreements over denominational loyalty and thus created a space ripe for the development of religious pluralism.
Many public accounts of life at Allensworth are filtered through the white-owned newspapers and legislative records of the period. The 1915 news story that opens this article, which described a white man on trial for verbally abusing an African American woman in Allensworth, is one such example. This story was reported in various regional newspapers, each emphasizing race as the most important factor in the case. The Los Angeles Herald reported the incident by highlighting the all-black community where the events took place, painting a picture of black men surrounding the white perpetrator (depicted as victim), while downplaying his crime: "George Smith, a white man, today was guarded by negro jailors in the negro colony of Allensworth, thirty miles south of here, awaiting trial by a negro jury before a negro justice of peace on a charge of insulting the negress proprietor of the negro colony store." (35) The focus of the article on the number of "negroes" surrounding the white defendant erases his offense. The crime committed is only added at the end, as a sort of afterthought, after the truly shocking elements (the race of those involved in the arrest, trial, and jury) are first addressed. Another newspaper reported the case in a similar manner:
A negro Jury has been called by a negro justice of the peace at Allensworth, a negro colony, thirty miles south of here, to try George Smith, a white man and a rancher of the Allensworth district, on the charge of using vulgar and profane language in a public place. Smith is alleged to have made insulting remarks to Mrs. C. Johnson, proprietor of a general store in the negro colony. (36)
The focus on race in these newspapers reveal the social norms of early twentieth-century California and the ways Allensworth was upending those norms by placing African Americans in positions of power as judge and jury, presiding over a white male defendant. (37)
Regardless of the details of the case, the way in which events in Allensworth were reported by the surrounding media outlets reveal the assumptions and fears of neighboring townships. The idea that a white man would be tried by a black justice of the peace (Oscar Overr, resident of Allensworth) and judged by an all-black jury was clearly an unusual series of events in 1915 in the United States. The reactions by white journalists, including their focus on the many "negroes" involved in Smith's detention and trial, reveal the concern for race hierarchies and power in this case. Even through a verbal harassment case, the colony of Allensworth served to challenge normative ideas of the legal system and race-based authority.
In addition to negotiating race-focused narratives of the community produced by outsiders, the Allensworth colony also dealt with numerous instances of the state interfering with the independent operation of the colony. The Mary Dickenson Reading Room in Allensworth, built by Josephine Allensworth in 1913 and supplied with her husband Allen Allensworth's personal library, represents one such example. (38) Josephine, who owned the plot of land as well as the building in which the reading room was housed, wished to donate the property to the Allensworth community for communal ownership and upkeep. In letters exchanged between Josephine and local government officials regarding the legal process for gifting land, Josephine was informed that she would be unable to donate her reading room to Allensworth because it was an unincorporated town, and only incorporated towns could legally take control of land. Instead, Josephine was encouraged to donate her reading room to Tulare County, thus making it a county library branch.
Josephine resisted donating the property to Tulare County for a decade, knowing the donation would mean a loss of community control of the building. In her opening remarks at the library dedication ceremony in 1913, Josephine expressed her disappointment at her inability to donate the library to Allensworth: "I will say that I regret very much that I cannot do as I have planned, to turn over with the building, a deed to the same, but I will as soon as it is lawful to do so." (39) Finally in 1923, in the waning years of the community, she donated the building to the county. (40) By then, Josephine had moved out of Allensworth, and her husband had been dead for nine years. The Tulare County librarian of the time wrote a letter of appreciation to Josephine on June 1, 1923, thanking her for her "co-operation in seeing that Allensworth has proper library facilities," implying that ownership of the library by the county would produce appropriate upkeep of the library, as opposed to what Josephine or the Allensworth colony would have been able to provide. (41)
The library building, now restored and standing at Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, was often referenced by those familiar with Allensworth as an important element of the community and a sign of the community's dedication to education and self-improvement. (42) However, the history of its ownership and control reveal another aspect of life in the community--the legal limitations of the subnational space developed at Allensworth, which removed its members from the racial discrimination of some state laws and regulations but also limited the community's power in the face of those same state institutions. Josephine Allensworth's negotiation and ultimate concession to state legal structures offer an example of the struggle for autonomy faced by communities formed as subnational spaces.
In many ways, Allensworth withstood outside interference for years, including legal entanglements over ownership of the community reading room and court cases that challenged race hierarchies. From its founding in 1908 to 1914, Allensworth thrived in every measurement: the community ran a successful and widely acclaimed school, community members managed lucrative farming operations, and residents were largely selfgoverned and widely praised for their high education levels by surrounding communities. Allensworth was fulfilling its proclaimed mission to prove the thrift and intelligence that could be achieved by the African American community when it was able to live without institutionalized discrimination. But a series of events beginning in 1914 started to unravel the community, eventually leading to its slow demise. Each of these events represented further examples of the influence that overarching legal structures imposed on Allensworth, often through the existing racist laws or their effects. This influence operated through both corporations and state-level government, which together were able to force Allensworth residents out of their community through the depletion of essential natural resources, blocking of access to neighboring communities, and denial of educational opportunities for Allensworth members entering early adulthood.
For Allen Allensworth and William Payne, a major part of the appeal of Allensworth's location was its position at a well-trafficked railroad station. The Santa Fe railroad, which ran parallel to the Allensworth colony, had installed a station called Solita before the purchase and development of the Allensworth colony had ever been proposed. Once the colony was developed, this station enabled residents of Allensworth to find employment outside of the immediate vicinity of the town and facilitated the movement of farmworkers and the shipment of grain through the colony. This access to surrounding towns facilitated the creation of the Allensworth Hotel and brought more customers to Allensworth's local businesses. Thus, from the beginning of the colony, the railroad station created dependent ties between Allensworth citizens and surrounding corporations and farms. Allensworth residents found employment as plasterers for nearby construction projects, harvesters at nearby largescale farms, and work with the Pacific Farming Company and the Santa Fe Railroad itself. (43) The railroad station had enabled the transportation of grain grown on the Tulare Lake Basin, west of town, and its storage at the Allensworth grain depot. (44) But in 1914, the Santa Fe Railroad added a spur line at Alpaugh, a few miles northwest of Allensworth, to bypass the Allensworth station and cut off the community from outside business. Never supportive of the "colored" community, the Santa Fe Railroad had refused to hire African Americans for any work beyond manual labor associated with the railroad, even declining to hire a black ticket agent at the Allensworth station. (45) The effect of the new spur line was devastating for Allensworth, as a significant financial base for the town was eliminated, and residents were cut off from resources located outside of the community.
Even before the Santa Fe Railroad bypassed its station at Allensworth, the scarcity of water in the region had threatened the community's future. In 1918, William Payne is quoted as portraying the water situation in Allensworth as excellent, explaining that "the irrigation system is under the Allensworth Rural Water Company, a State corporation, owned and controlled by Negroes, with a capital stock of $45,000 all paid in." (46) Despite Payne's optimism, in reality the creation of the Allensworth Rural Water Company was an act of desperation in response to insufficient water offered by the Pacific Farming Company. Under the original land purchase agreement, the Pacific Farming Company had guaranteed sufficient water for farming and personal needs of the community, but by 1918 the company had reneged on its promise, and Allensworth was forced to take control of the outdated water systems. (47)
Tulare County had been increasingly drained of its water supply over the previous fifty years. Though the land on which Allensworth was founded had once been resting at the edge of Tulare Lake, a large freshwater lake covering 570 square miles in 1849, the lake had since been damned, diverted and drained for farming and development. (48) Soon after selling the land for the Allensworth colony, the Pacific Farm Company sold surrounding lands to white investors for farming purposes, privileging their water supply and reducing overall availability. (49) By 1910, the water supply in Allensworth showed high saline content, and by the 1920s a drought aided in depleting the remaining water supply, creating limitations on farming and development in Allensworth. (50)
Though outside forces threatened to deplete the financial and natural resources of Allensworth, it was public attacks on the community's goals and self-image that ultimately threatened the enthusiasm of Allensworth residents in their communal experiment. William Payne, principal of Allensworth school, had long believed in the value of vocational education for black students. In line with the theories of Booker T. Washington, Payne believed that giving black students quality education through polytechnic training would allow them to prove their value in a society that currently kept them in menial, low-paying jobs without opportunity for advancement. While Payne had worked as a professor at the West Virginia Colored Institute, he had found no equivalent training institutions for African Americans in California. Payne had married Zenobia B. Jones, the niece of a professor at the West Virginia Colored Institute, and there both Payne and his wife had been exposed to the positive social role of vocational schools for black students. Payne became determined to open a polytechnic school at Allensworth, where the black students could live in a safe, supportive community and receive training that would further African American employment in the state. (51) In 1914, Allensworth and Payne began lobbying for the creation of an institute modeled after Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and designed after the nearby polytechnic school constructed in San Luis Obispo, California. (52) A bill regarding the institute was introduced in the California state legislature in early 1915.
The bill inspired an unexpected alliance of support from Allensworth community members and pro-segregation white legislators. White newspaper reporters also took the side of the legislators and reported on the proposed school using race-based paternalist language, arguing that it would be a positive step toward further segregating schools. The Los Angeles Herald reported on white legislators' intentions for the school project: "F. H. Scott of Tulare will ask [for] the establishment of a vocational school for negroes in Allensworth, Tulare county. Scott plans this as the first step toward segregation in the schools, and it is said the Los Angeles delegation is greatly opposed to it." (53) John Collins, editor of Western Review, wrote an opinion piece in the Sacramento Union, arguing that perhaps segregation is the best path forward for African Americans:
We sincerely hope that the legislature will grant the petition of the people of Allensworth. If it leads to segregation, so much the better. If there ever was a public institution that was a detriment to any people, the mixed schools are to the negroes of California. It kills aspiration in the young negro. drowns race pride and makes him an imitator of the white man on a small scale; that is in little things which amount to nothing.... When this subject is looked at from a broad standpoint, to many negroes it appears that segregation would be the very best thing that could happen. (54)
By framing the vocational school as a step toward segregation, and arguing that they had the good of African Americans in mind, white public figures created a strange alliance with the Allensworth community and pushed for the project to go forward. The racial paternalism of white California legislators was further expressed in a letter from the commissioner of vocational education, Edwin R. Snyder, to H. E. McPherson, member of the Assembly, on February 3, 1915. In the letter, Snyder introduced the African Americans of Allensworth as "my colored people," going on to praise them as "hard-working, ambitious, self-respecting people," indicating that they were deserving, in this white legislator's mind, of receiving opportunities for education beyond grade school. (55)
By May of that year, the bill had been defeated, largely due to the opposition of African American leaders in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland who had also interpreted the school's mission as one of segregation. (56) By creating a black vocational school, these black community leaders argued, the Allensworth community was taking the black community a step backwards, back into the unequal conditions created by segregation that activists were trying to move beyond. By framing the issue as one of segregation vs. integration, instead of highlighting Allensworth's original goal of facilitating black student advancement and vocational training, black activists and pro-segregation white legislators made the bill unsupportable by many members of the California legislature and the black community alike. (57)
Allen Allensworth never learned the fate of his proposed vocational school that May; he was killed in September of the previous year. On September 13, 1914, Colonel Allensworth was leaving the train station in Monrovia, California, when two white men on a motorcycle struck him at high speed. He died of his injuries the next day. (58) While the two men were arrested, they were never charged, and Allensworth's untimely death was deemed an accident. Allensworth's death has been represented by historians as the lethal blow to the once-thriving community, though it can also be viewed as one of many events that indicated that forces of racism and institutionalized discrimination were filtering into the imagined borders of the community. While the unresolved death of the founder, the failed attempt at constructing a vocational school, the altered railroad line, and the depleting water table may seem like unrelated events in the history of a community, at Allensworth they were all tied together by the very racism the community had been created to avoid.
The construction of Allensworth as a project to counter institutionalized racism and demonstrate African American worth had proved too threatening to legal and social norms, and thus provoked opposition. Though it took the concerted effort of numerous corporations, legislators, and individuals to devastate the community, together they successfully crippled community members economically and psychologically, and residents began to move away. By 1920, William Payne and Josephine Allensworth had left the community, and homes were left abandoned in the increasingly arid land. By 1930, Allensworth's black population had declined to 44 residents. However, Tulare County's African American population had increased from 190 people in 1910 to 819 by 1930, suggesting that the colony members might have moved on to neighboring communities. (59)
Though the physical space of Allensworth became increasingly deserted throughout the 1920s, Allensworth's former residents took with them a desire to improve African American lives and opportunities. Ed Cornelius Pope, who had lived in Allensworth as a child, continued working for racial justice by publishing a monthly newsletter called Golden Opportunity, which analyzed African American unemployment in California and sent out employment opportunities to African Americans. (60) In 1968, Pope was working in Sacramento as a draftsman and planner for the California Department of Parks and Recreation when he heard about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Pope remembers his initial reaction: "A bunch of us were angry, and we wanted to do something violent after that, because of Martin," Pope said. "But my wife said I shouldn't get involved in anything like that.... I had to do something, though. And I remembered Colonel Allensworth and the town he founded." (61) Pope helped write the proposal to restore the Allensworth settlement as a state historical site and pitched the plan to the Parks Department.
Even in the preservation of its memory, however, Allensworth was resisted by state legislators using thinly veiled race-based arguments. Senator Howard Way, who represented Allensworth as part of his district, strongly opposed the proposed park, dismissing Colonel Allensworth as a "con man," and arguing instead that "they should just tear down the town and let Jim Phillips farm it." (62) Jim Phillips was a white farmer of cotton and alfalfa at the time. Way and Phillips argued that the park would not be visited, and that "there just has to be a better place for a black history park," though, of course, comparable alternatives in California would be hard to find. (63) Despite opposition, the proposal for a state park was successful, and plans were made to restore and reconstruct many of the important buildings in the community, including the church, schoolhouse, and reading room. The Colonel Allensworth Historic State Park was established in 1976.
Though Allensworth only thrived as a community for about ten years, its memory lives on today as an example of the grassroots challenges posed by African Americans to institutionalized racism. While Josephine Allensworth was never allowed to donate her library to the Allensworth colony because it was not legally recognized as an incorporated town, the former site is now ironically maintained through the California State Parks system and maintained through state funds. Perhaps the state, through its recognition of the Allensworth site as a state park, has turned the subnational space into a nationally recognized one, even if long after its residents hoped. Through this community, the residents of Allensworth created a new narrative that challenged that of a racist status quo in which white legislators determined the laws and black Americans remained passive subjects. Allensworth residents produced and demonstrated an alternative option, one they hoped would be adopted outside of their community as well.
Despite its funding and maintenance through California State Parks, the historical site of Allensworth remains isolated, and a visit to the park presents a grim scene. The desolate location still speaks to the history of racism in California that nudged this African American community away from Los Angeles real estate and into the flat, dry desert of central California. Walking through the former colony, the earth cracks underfoot, and the dearth of vegetation reveals the limitless flat land stretching to the horizon. No trees, no crops, no water--Allensworth remains dry. This ultimate end reminds visitors of the reverberating effects of institutionalized racism in the Unites States and creates the felt presence of perennial discrimination haunting the land. Though the people are gone, the stores are closed, and the land is fallow, the space holds onto its history, never letting the visitor forget that a struggle for citizenship, legitimation, and social freedoms happened on this site. Today, the area surrounding the park is primarily populated by Latino families, about half of whom speak exclusively Spanish. (64) In many ways this transition of the primary ethnic group from African Americans to Latinos represents the cycles of discrimination in the United States, bringing one marginalized ethnic group after another to this impoverished region. As Latino farm workers continue living and working around this historic site, hope remains that one day the poverty and discrimination found in this space will not be passed on to the next oppressed minority group but instead be transformed into the harmonious, equal relationship across racial identities for which Colonel Allensworth strived.
The lasting impact of the Allensworth community is perhaps best represented through the descendants of former residents, who carry childhood memories and lessons from Allensworth with them, passed down from their family members who lived through the phases of idealism and disappointment that define Allensworth's history. Elizabeth Payne McGhee, daughter of Allensworth school principal and cofounder William Payne, remembered something her father said just before his death: "He talked about building bridges, and how we build bridges that we will never use, plant trees that we will never see, that we do all of these things for those who come behind us.... All over the state, there are men and women who have lived different lives because of the impact they felt from my father." (65) Even if the thriving days of the Allensworth colony have passed, the legacy of its founders, and their role in subverting racism, continue on in the memory of those who came after.
Amy Hart is a PhD candidate in history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a lecturer in the history department at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. She researches women who joined Fourierist communities in the United States throughout the 1840s. She has published articles on topics including the history of intentional communities in the United States and the history of religion.
(1) "Condensed News of California: San Joaquin Valley," Sausalito News, October 2, 1915.
(2) See Louis A. Perez Jr., "We are the World: Internationalizing the National, Nationalizing the International. Reviewed Work(s): Rethinking American History in a Global Age by Thomas Bender," The Journal of American History 89, no. 2 (September 2002): 559-60.
(3) The term Utopian society was employed in the nineteenth century to refer to the romantic socialist communities inspired by Charles Fourier, Henri Saint-Simon, and Robert Owen, which found expression in various communal experiments enacted across the United States. This term is also used to refer to the utopian literary genre, begun and coined by Thomas More in his book, Utopia. Commune was largely employed as a term to describe communal experiments of the 1960s and 1970s in the United States, which often pooled financial resources and possessions among members of the community. The term intentional community is the most widely accepted by present-day historians of community, who find it the least loaded with political implications and social condemnation. Thus, I have chosen to use that term in this article.
(4) These guidelines for defining an intentional community stem from the many works of Timothy Miller, particularly his book The 60s Communes: Hippies and Beyond (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1999), xxii-xxiv.
(5) Perez expressed hesitation with the transnational perspective in "We are the World," 564-65. Margot Canaday also cautions historians who make their geographic scope too large within the context of sexuality studies in "Thinking Sex in the Transnational Turn: An Introduction," The American Historical Review 114, no. 5 (December 2009): 1255. Daniel E. Bender and Jana K. Lipman also touch on the transnational historian's preference for people and resources that are in movement across national borders, thus acknowledging the risk of overlooking nonmoving actors who are often working class, women, or children. Daniel E. Bender and Jana K. Lipman, introduction to Making the Empire Work: Labor and United States Imperialism, ed. Daniel E. Bender and Jana K. Lipman (New York: New York University Press, 2015), 8.
(6) For more on Booker T. Washington's approach to race in the United States, see Michael
McGerr, A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America 1870-1920 (New York: Free Press, 2003), 198-201.
(7) Robert J. Norrell, Up from History: The Life of Booker T. Washington (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009), 231.
(8) Delilah L. Beasley, The Negro Trail Blazers of California (Los Angeles, CA: published for the author, 1919; reprint, California Historical Society and R and E Research Associates, 1968), 156.
(9) Evelyn Radcliffe, Out of Darkness: The Story of Allen Allensworth (Menlo Park, CA: Inkling Press, 1998), 1.
(10) B. Gordon Wheeler, Black California: The History of African-Americans in the Golden State (New York: Hyppocrene Books, 1992), 172.
(11) Charles Alexander, Battles and Victories of Allen Allensworth (Sherman, French and Company, 1914; reprinted by University of Microfilms International, 1980), 192; Wheeler refers to Allensworth's school as the Roger Williams University, the more recent name of the school, in Black California, 173.
(12) Alexander, Battles and Victories of Allen Allensworth, 399.
(13) Wheeler, Black California, 175. Payne and Allensworth pursued one strategy for achieving black equality, espoused by Booker T. Washington, but of course this not the only strategy expressed at the time. Washington famously disagreed with W. E. B. Du Bois on the best way to improve the social standing of African Americans, with Du Bois arguing for political activism and liberal arts education, in opposition to Washington's focus on economic autonomy and industrial education. The origins of this disagreement are discussed by Thomas Aiello in "The First Fissure: The Du Bois-Washington Relationship from 1898-1899," Phylon 51, no. 1 (Fall 2014): 85.
(14) Aiello, "The First Fissure," 176.
(15) Beasley, The Negro Trail Blazers of California, 154.
(16) Gregory Christopher Brown, James Diego Vigil, and Eric Robert Taylor, "The Ghettoization of Blacks in Los Angeles: The Emergence of Street Gangs," Journal of African American Studies 16, no. 2 (June 2012): 211-12.
(17) Alice C. Royal, Mickey Ellinger, and Scott Braley, Allensworth, The Freedom Colony: A California African American Township (Berkeley, CA: Heyday Book, 2008), 8. For early examples of Los Angeles real estate developers limiting home sales to "only Caucasians," see Kim Hernandez, "The 'Bungalow Boom': The Working-Class Housing Industry and the Development and Promotion of Early Twentieth-Century Los Angeles," Southern California Quarterly 92, no. 4 (Winter 2010-2011): 360; For further discussion of race segregation in Los Angeles in the early twentieth century, see Becky M. Nicolaides, "'Where the Working Man Is Welcomed': Working-Class Suburbs in Los Angeles, 19001940," Pacific Historical Review 68, no. 4 (Nov. 1999): 557-58; Lawrence De Graaf disagrees with other scholars' notion of the Great Migration impacting the class makeup of African Americans migrating to Los Angeles, though notes the efforts to restrict African Americans to certain areas of Los Angeles in the early 1900s. Lawrence B. De Graaf, "The City of Black Angels: Emergence of the Los Angeles Ghetto, 1890-1930," Pacific Historical Review 39, no. 3 (Aug. 1970): 335-37.
(18) Wheeler, Black California, 176.
(19) Royal, Ellinger, and Braley, Allensworth, The Freedom Colony, 8.
nine hundred acres, Allensworth and Payne immediately put it on the market for black families to purchase as plots. (20)
(20) Ibid., xiii. Various sources give different numbers for the acre count. Allensworth's newspaper, The Sentiment Maker, claimed two thousand acres had been sold for community members, though this number might have been given in context of a booster campaign aimed at attracting more residents to the community. The Lompoc Journal implied three thousand acres were controlled by the colony in 1911, noting "FINE COTTON GROWN BY A NEGRO COLONY IN VALLEY 3000 Acres Instituted to Demonstrate Ability of Negro to Develop." B. Gordon Wheeler puts the number at nine hundred acres. In a letter to Booker T. Washington at the beginning of the Allensworth land purchase, Colonel Allensworth claimed he had "secured over 9,000 acres." The most conservative estimate thus indicates the community consisted of at least 900 acres. See The Sentiment Maker, May 15, 1912, front page; Lompoc Journal, November 4, 1911; Wheeler, Black California, 178; and Radcliffe, Out of Darkness, 101.
(21) "'Black' Colony Near Delano," Visalia Morning Delta, Aug. 6, 1908, Tulare County Library, Allensworth Materials, folder 4, coll. FF009.
(23) See Royal, Ellinger, and Braley, Allensworth, the Freedom Colony, 4; see also Delores Nason McBroome, "Harvests of Gold: African American Boosterism, Agriculture, and Investment in Allensworth and Little Liberia," in Seeking El Dorado: African Americans in California, ed. Lawrence B. De Graaf et al. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001), 154. Allensworth is still referred to today as "the first town in California founded, financed, and governed by black Americans" on official Colonel Allensworth State Park materials. Allensworth State Park Brochure, https://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/583/files/ColAllensworthFinalWebLayout011415.pdf, 2.
(24) Alexander, Battles and Victories of Allen Allensworth, 1.
(25) Beasley, The Negro Trail blazers of California, 154.
(26) Ibid., 155.
(27) Ibid., 156.
(28) "Township," The Friends of Allensworth, http://friendsofallensworth.com/colonel-allensworth/township/.
(29) Alice Royal, interview by Deborah Quinn Carpenter, March 26, 2004, African American Museum and Library at Oakland, mins. 3:30-4:16.
(30) James Calbert, "A Day in the Life: A Look at Some of the Early Pioneers of Allensworth, California," Turning Points, Spring 1993, Tulare County Library, Allensworth Materials, folder 4, coll. G018, 5.
(31) Ibid., 6.
(32) The Sentiment Maker, May 15, 2012, http://www.tularecountylibrary.org/allensworth/sentiment03.jpg, 3.
(33) Royal, Ellinger, and Braley, Allensworth, The Freedom Colony, 33.
(34) Ibid., 48.
(35) "White Man Awaits Trial for Insult," Los Angeles Herald, September 25, 1915.
(36) "Condensed News of California: San Joaquin Valley," Sausalito News, October 2, 1915.
(37) Similar harassment cases apparently occurred multiple times at Allensworth, as another newspaper story dated around the same time discussed a similar occurrence: "A trial of the case of the people vs. O. A . Simpson, a white storekeeper in Allensworth, the negro colony, for using indecent and profane language, has been set before Justice Overr at Allensworth for Oct. 8." "Allensworth Case Reset for Oct. 8," Visalia Daily Delta, September 1915, Tulare County Library, Allensworth Materials, folder 3, coll. F0023. On this case, see also "Simpson Trial Will Not Be Transferred to Another Court," Visalia Daily Delta, September 27, 1915, Tulare County Library Historical Microfilm Holdings.
(38) Josephine named the reading room after her mother.
(39) "Copy of Mrs. Allensworth Address," no date (presumably July 4, 1913, the date of the library's dedication ceremony), Tulare County Library, Allensworth Materials, folder 1, coll. 008.
(40) "In Regard to the Deeding or Transference of Allensworth Library Property to the County of Tulare," Memo, Gretchen Flower, May 25, 1923, Tulare County Library, Allensworth Materials, Folder 1, coll. 031.
(41) County Librarian to Mrs. Allen Allensworth, Tulare County Library, Allensworth Materials, folder 1, coll. 032.
(42) In a letter to D. R. Hayes regarding the proposal for a vocational school at Allensworth, the library is referenced as evidence of the "manner of people they are" at Allensworth and that "they are trying to help themselves." Letter to D. R. Hayes, unknown author, February 4, 1915, Tulare County Library, Allensworth Materials, folder 1, coll. 023.
(43) Beasley, The Negro Trail blazers of California, 155-56.
(44) "Township," The Friends of Allensworth, http://friendsofallensworth.com/colonel-allensworth/township/.
(45) Wheeler, Black California, 181. The railroad also resisted changing its station name from Solita to Allensworth, claiming the name was too long, though as Alice Royal notes in her book Allensworth, The Freedom Colony, "Allensworth" contains the same number of letters as "Bakersfield." Royal, Ellinger, and Braley, Allensworth, the Freedom Colony, 84.
(46) Beasley, The Negro Trail Blazers of California, 155.
(47) Wheeler, Black California, 181.
(48) Royal, Ellinger, and Braley, Allensworth, the Freedom Colony, 81.
(49) Evidence of this can be found in newspaper reports of land sales at the time: "Through the agencies of Hal H. Benner & Son and Leland S. Davis three lots on East Ninth street in the P. J. Brannen subdivision have been sold by Judge F. W. Houser to W. H. O'Bryan for a reported consideration of $20,000. The same firm also reports the sale of a 400-acre ranch near Allensworth belonging to the Pacific Farming company to a local investor for $32,000. Hal H. Benner & Son have also just sold for James Ewins his residence and two acres of ground at 747 Verdugo road, Glendale, to Alexander Mitchell for $12,500." "East Ninth Street Lots are Sold for $20,000," Los Angeles Herald, June 27, 1914.
(50) Royal, Ellinger, and Braley, Allensworth, The Freedom Colony, 83.
(51) Beasley, The Negro Trail Blazers of California, 157.
(52) Wheeler, Black California, 180.
(53) "Friction Over Committees at Capital: 'Stand Pat' Progressives and 'Stand Pat' Republicans Are at Loggershead," Los Angeles Herald, January 11, 1915; see also "Wants Negro School," Sacramento Union, January 17, 1915.
(54) "Race Segregation in Public Schools," Sacramento Union, January 21, 1915.
(55) Letter from Edwin Snyder to H. E. McPherson, February 3, 1915, Tulare County Library, Allensworth Materials, folder 1, coll. 021.
(56) Royal, Ellinger, and Braley, Allensworth, The Freedom Colony, 89.
(57) Wheeler, Black California, 181.
(58) Ibid., 182.
(59) McBroome, "Harvests of Gold," 156.
(60) Wheeler, Black California, 202.
(61) "Tulare County Historical Archives Workbook," compiled by David Christian, February 15, 2009, Tulare County Library, Appendix C, http://www.tularecounty.ca.gov/cao/index.cfm/mooney-grove-plan/appendix-c-historical-background-for-exhibit-planning-doc/,295-96.
(62) William Endicott, "Forgotten Town for Blacks May Bloom Again," Los Angeles Times, December 22, 1971, A3.
(64) Royal, Ellinger, and Braley, Allensworth, the Freedom Colony, 110.
(65) As quoted in Royal, Ellinger, and Braley, Allensworth, The Freedom Colony, 21.
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|Title Annotation:||African American intentional community in California's Central Valley|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2018|
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