Public Education Campaign Unveils Hidden History Of Slavery In California

Isheka N. Harrison
Written by Isheka N. Harrison
Slavery In California
The ACLU created a public education campaign to unveil the dark and troubling history of slavery in California. In this Nov. 24, 2019 photo, a set of shackles used to hold enslaved Africans in forts and castles along the coast from Tamale, Ghana, are displayed at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, England. The museum seeks to tell the story of the enslavement of people from Africa and how the British city benefited from human bondage. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)

Even today’s most progressive states have a troubling history with slavery. California is no exception. The ACLU has started a public education campaign called “Gold Chains: The Hidden History of Slavery in California” to ensure the state’s role in the evil institution of slavery no longer remains hidden, reported Next City.

“This isn’t a history that is sometimes glossed over, it is always glossed over. … It’s not taught in schools, it is really not known,” Candice Francis, the communications director for ACLU NorCal, told Next City. Her chapter led the Gold Chains initiative.   

According to Next City, among those stories that are not known is this one:

“Following the 1852 passage of California’s Fugitive Slave Law, three formerly enslaved black men who built a lucrative mining supply business were stripped of their freedom and deported to Mississippi to re-enter enslavement.”

It is a dark history the state doesn’t really talk about. Historian Susan Anderson is working on a book about Black history in California. She said others who’ve come before her intentionally left California’s ties with slavery out of the state’s historical narrative.

“There are historical materials in California and elsewhere that document what we’re talking about. … As someone writing about California’s African-American past, I’m looking at these historical materials [of slavery] and realizing past historians saw they same things I did, but decided to leave them out of their works.”

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Black slaves were not the only ones treated brutally in California’s early days. According to Gold Chains’ research, Native American people were also enslaved by Europeans who seized their land, raped their women, force fed Catholicism and gave tribes diseases in the 1700s. The Gold Rush in the 1800s brought similar terrors for America’s indigenous people.

Like many Southern states, the west coast’s epicenter boasted slave markets and passed laws teeming with white supremacy that excluded – and downright robbed – Blacks and Native Americans.

Also, like their southern peers, Black and Native American people didn’t just lay down and die. There are various examples of them fighting against the injustice they faced.

It’s a history Anderson – who is also the director of public programs for the California Historical Society – believes needs to be known far and wide.

“Every state in the United States has a story to tell vis-a-vis its relationship to the system of slavery,” Anderson said. “We have this huge opportunity to uncover the story in California, and at least encourage people to think about it, learn about it and dig up their own information about it.”