port of harlem magazine
Mosaic Theater
Commentary: The California Boomtown That Racism Destroyed
Oct 07 – Oct 20, 2021
Praising the Past


The recent 100th anniversary of the Tulsa massacre brought renewed attention to the way, throughout much of American history, racial violence has destroyed Black lives and livelihoods. But not all wealth destruction has been violent.

It’s no less important to recognize the myriad instances in which a white establishment has more subtly undermined Black efforts at world-building and economic advancement, effectively stealing their boots while telling them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

The sad story of Allensworth, California is a case in point.

The town owes its existence to two Black men: the distinguished Army officer Colonel Allen Allensworth of Kentucky and William A. Payne, an Ohio educator and Denison University graduate. Inspired by Booker T. Washington’s message of economic self-sufficiency, they set out to establish a place “where African Americans would settle upon the bare desert and cause it to blossom as a rose.”

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Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park
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