New Digital Archive Reveals California's History of Slavery

Article excerpt

Many Californians have long believed their role in slavery's history to be that of innocent bystander, accidental tourist or casual observer. The state mythos accentuates a warm, wide-open land of opportunity - free of the burden of long-held regional enmities displayed by northern and southern states' chauvinisms. However, new research disputes that myth.

The Underground Railroad Digital Archive project at California State University, Sacramento (CSUS), documents a slave history in the state. The archive collection brings together a bibliography of more than 1,000 documents related to 19th century African American history in California and the West. According to Joe Louis Moore, organizer of the project, the archive was established to house this material so that researchers, students and anyone else interested in the subject could find these documents in one location.

Moore, a retired photographer and a researcher on Blacks during the Gold Rush era, has wanted to unearth California's slave past for some time. In 2002, he embarked on a sixmonth research project about slavery in the West with the help of graduate students from Sacramento State and his wife, Shirley, a CSUS history professor. They found that, despite California being formed as a free state in 1850, slavery existed in some form. State law allowed slaveholders who were passing through the state to bring slave property, which they could not keep if they planned to live as residents in California. …