Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Gold Rush Era to 1900

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Gold Rush Era to 1900

Article excerpt


A small number of people from Latin America of African ancestry and other African people arrived in California before the Gold Rush. A few were a part of the early explorations. A few others, like entrepreneur Williams Leidesdorrf (1810-1848), came to seek their fortunes. The biracial Leidesdorff came to California from the Virgin Islands in 1841. By 1844, he was a major San Francisco (then called Yerba Buena) landowner and later became the city's U.S. Vice Consul.

The Gold Rush Era

The Gold Rush Era marked the real beginning of African American migration into California. About 200 to 300 of the enslaved came to work the gold fields, followed by 'free' African Americans (black and white miners worked side by side).

In 1850, when California joined the United States as a free state, the census showed California with 962 African American residents. Many of the formerly enslaved gained their freedom, but lack of government oversight allowed slavery to flourish in certain regions. In 1852, a fugitive slave law made it illegal for the enslaved to flee their captures within California's supposedly free borders. Thus, all African Americans in California born free or formerly enslaved lived under a constant threat of arrest.

Nonetheless, as indicated by the political cartoon "Difficult Problems Solving Themselves," African Americans continued to move to the West. They came not only from the Deep South, but from Virginia, New York, and Massachusetts. …

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