Los Angeles

The Little-Known History of California's Only Black-Founded Town

From annual Juneteenth celebrations to a state park with preserved remnants of the town's past, Allensworth deserves a visit.

Wayne Hsieh/Flickr
Wayne Hsieh/Flickr
Wayne Hsieh/Flickr

To seek out America’s Black history is to unwittingly assume the role of archeologist and detective-so many of our stories have been buried or tossed aside, waiting for a patient explorer to unearth them. Such is the case with America’s Black-founded towns, which sprang up in the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War, a product of America’s brief and since-defaulted commitment to provide security for the formerly enslaved. During those fleeting years-before Jim Crow, redlining, and similar codified measures took hold-newly freed Black citizens set off to make good on the long-promised American Dream, planting their flags in undeveloped plots and offering safehavens where race-based discrimination and violence didn’t exist.

That was the goal of Colonel Allen Allensworth. Allensworth was born enslaved in Louisville, Kentucky, taught himself to read and write, escaped enslavement during the Civil War, and rose to become the highest ranking Black officer in the US Army by the time he retired in 1906. That same year, he met Professor William Payne, who had left his position at the West Virginia Colored Institute to pursue a teaching career in Pasadena, California. When Payne found that he was not qualified to teach in Pasadena, he and Allensworth decided to spearhead a new Black-led community. Together, the two men-along with LA-based AME minister Dr. William H. Peck, Nevada miner J.W. Palmer, and LA realtor Harry Mitchell-set their sights on a patch of land in southwest Tulare County.

As Sasha Biscoe, president of nonprofit organization Friends of Allensworth, clarifies, the fact that they landed in Central California wasn’t an accident.

“It was centrally located, with three artesian underground wells that bubbled up freely so they didn’t have to dig,” she explains. “Colonel Allensworth understood water, so he knew that the wells were not enough to handle the town as a whole. That’s why, when he purchased the land from the Pacific Farming Company, it stated in the contract that water would be provided as the town grew. Well, that didn’t happen.”

Zack Frank/Shutterstock
Zack Frank/Shutterstock
Zack Frank/Shutterstock

The Golden Age of Allensworth

Originally founded as Solito, the name of the town was changed to Allensworth in 1908 to honor its founder. In 1912, Allensworth became a voting precinct and established its own locally funded school district-the first Black-founded school district in the state-featuring a schoolhouse with an elementary, middle, and high school. Colonel Allensworth’s wife Josephine Leavall served as the first school teacher and a trustee on the school board. Branches of the Tulare County Library and Post Office were established soon after, complete with a reading room in a separate library building. In 1914, Allensworth was sanctioned as a judicial district, with Oscar Overr and William H. Dotson elected as Justice of the Peace and Constable, respectively.

“Allensworth was a paradise, a place where everyone knew each other and watched out for each other,” says Biscoe. “There was no jail by design. The Colonel did not want to lock his people up. [You] would be removed from the town if you misbehaved, but there was no jail.”

Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park
Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park
Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park

Over 300 people lived in Allensworth at its height in the early 1920s. In addition to opening a barbershop, bakery, and general stores, Allensworth was a successful agriculture town, attracting farmers thanks to its fertile soil. Eventually, however, a series of unfortunate events led to the town’s devastating decline.

In 1914, Colonel Allensworth was killed after being struck by a motorcycle during a visit to Los Angeles. The town’s co-founder and school principal, Professor William Payne, took over Allensworth’s responsiblities alongside Justice of the Peace Oscar Overr, both committed to realizing the Colonel’s vision. But as the town grew, the demand for water increased. Despite its promise, Pacific Farming Company never delivered a sufficient supply of irrigated water, choosing instead to divert it to white communities. To add insult to injury, the train that had once stopped in Allensworth was moved several miles to the town of Alpaugh, resulting in a loss of an estimated $5,000 in monthly revenue.

Biscoe notes, “Racism was the reason why Allensworth had to exist in the first place, and it was also to blame for why it did not blossom as the Colonel intended.”

mlhradio/Flickr
mlhradio/Flickr
mlhradio/Flickr

Present-day Allensworth and a hopeful renaissance

Today, Allensworth has a population of less than 500 residents, made up primarily of migrant workers (the 2010 census reported a Black population of zero). The town was memorialized in 1974, and while it’s technically a ghost town, there’s reason to be optimistic.

Allensworth recently received a grant to clean up the local water supply, and Friends of Allensworth still actively organizes regular events and educational tours, working with the Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park to share the town’s unique history and protect it for future generations. They’ve been holding an annual Juneteenth celebration since the association was established in 1984, featuring music and dance performances, informational talks, vendors, and more. It all goes down the weekend before Juneteenth, so as not to interfere with other popular events. Elsewhere, an annual rededication event takes place every October, followed by a Black History Month celebration in February, and an Allensworth May Festival each spring.

But outside of these occasions, Allensworth enjoys a dry, mild climate that makes it a great day or weekend trip from LA or San Francisco-both of which are within a three-hour drive and accessible by Amtrak.

Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park offers 15 campsites with picnic tables, fire rings, bathrooms, and showers, including facilities for disabled visitors. School field trips and educational tours can be organized with the park, including self-guided “cell phone tours.”

California State Parks/Flickr
California State Parks/Flickr
California State Parks/Flickr

Colonel Allensworth’s home is painstakingly decorated to reflect the time period, with preserved materials from his life in the military and ministry. In use until 1972, the schoolhouse represents one of the town’s most significant buildings, furnished just as it was in 1915. You can also visit the Mary Dickinson Memorial Library and check out a small display of farm equipment that serves as a nod to the town’s former status as an agricultural center.

“The park purchased the same prefab homes from Sears & Roebuck, so when you come here, it gives you a feel of the downtown area with houses, two stores, a drugstore, and a barber shop,” adds Biscoe. “When you go inside the buildings, you can see how they lived-it’s like you’re driving back into 1918.”

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Danielle Dorsey is the Los Angeles Editor at Thrillist.

Los Angeles

8 LA Fundraisers that Support Abortion Rights and Reproductive Justice

In light of the recent Supreme Court decision, LA businesses and organizations are stepping up to raise money and support reproductive justice for all.

Matt Gush/Shutterstock
Matt Gush/Shutterstock
Matt Gush/Shutterstock

As Beyonc√©’s talented sister Solange once sang, “I got a lot to be mad about.” At the top of that growing list is the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, clearing the way for states to regulate abortion. Since the ruling, abortion is now illegal in states like Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Kentucky, while others like Utah, Idaho, and Missouri, have signaled plans to ban or create significant barriers to accessing abortion services.

Many are outraged by this decision, which is certain to disproportionately impact low-income and BIPOC communities. Protests have erupted in cities across the country and legal battles are already underway in attempts to counteract the ruling. Many are calling for the Supreme Court to be reformed, calling into question other recent decisions, including a ruling that limited the federal government’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions at existing power plants.

Those in California are lucky to be protected by a state constitution where abortion is recognized as an individual right, with Governor Newsom recently vowing to continue to safeguard these rights, as well as women who travel west for reproductive care. But just because we don’t currently have to worry about our reproductive rights being stripped doesn’t mean that we can’t step up and provide support for those who are in the thick of these struggles. From donating to on-the-ground activism, there are plenty of ways to get involved in the national fight to protect abortion care and access for all.

LA’s hospitality industry is doing just that, providing plenty of delicious and fun opportunities to stand up for reproductive rights and abortion care, including food pop-ups, bake sales, wine and mezcal tastings, shopping deals, and more.

Satisfy your munchies at a stoner food pop-up

Ongoing
Genever, Historic Filipinotown
One of our favourite bars in LA right now, women-owned Genever is hosting a weekly Friday pop-up with food from Bodega that they describe as Asian Stoner Food. Every pop-up donates 50% of proceeds to a rotating reproductive rights organization.
Cost: Varies

Photo courtesy of Local Angeles
Photo courtesy of Local Angeles
Photo courtesy of Local Angeles

Order a Westside Cocktail

Ongoing throughout July
Winston House, Venice Beach
Each month, the team at Winston House, a lively supper club off the Venice Boardwalk, donates $1 from every sale of their Westside Cocktail to a different charity. In June, they donated proceeds to The Trevor Project and for July, they’re donating to the National Network of Abortions Funds. The cocktail is made with butterfly pea- and cucumber-infused Future Gin, lime juice, and mint syrup.
Cost: $15

Photo courtesy of Madre
Photo courtesy of Madre
Photo courtesy of Madre

Sip on women-made mezcals at Madre Restaurant

Ongoing from July 11 for four weeks
West Hollywood, Torrance, and Palms
Get an education in mezcal while supporting women with a special mezcal flight curated by owner Ivan Vasquez, featuring women-owned or produced brands. Dubbed Her Mezcal, the flight includes a one-ounce pour of Real Minero, Agua Del Sol, and Rezpiral, available for $45 beginning Monday, July 11, with 10% of the net sales from each flight going to the National Network of Abortion Funds. And if you buy a bottle of one of the three featured brands, Madre will donate 10% of those sales, too.
Cost: $45

@vanillabeansanddaydreams
@vanillabeansanddaydreams
@vanillabeansanddaydreams

Bakers Against Racism: Bake Sale For Reproductive Justice

Saturday, July 17
These Hands Makers Collective, Culver City
Launched during April 2020 as a pop-up, Bakers Against Racism is a social community “connecting bakers and creatives all across the globe to fight against racism in all of its forms.” On Saturday, July 17 from 11 am to 3 pm, they’re firing up their ovens to raise money and awareness for reproductive justice, with all sorts of treats and desserts available for sale, including cookies, pies, cakes, pastries, traditional Southern desserts, gluten-free and vegan options, and more. All proceeds will be donated to the National Network of Abortion Funds. Bakers who are interested in joining the sale can reach out to LA lead @winterfatebakes on Instagram.
Cost: Free to participate, baked goods vary.

Photo by Jenny Caloca, courtesy of Vinovere
Photo by Jenny Caloca, courtesy of Vinovere
Photo by Jenny Caloca, courtesy of Vinovere

Taste natural, women-made wines with Vinovore

Saturday, July 23
Virtual tasting
Woman- and LGBTQ-owned Vinovore stocks predominantly small-batch, natural, and woman-produced labels in its Virgil Village and Eagle Rock wine shops. On Saturday, July 23 at 5 pm, they’ll host a WINEsplaining event over Zoom, which includes two bottles of natural, women-made wine that attendees can enjoy as they discuss tasting notes with owner Coly Den Haan. All proceeds will be donated to The National Network of Abortion Funds. Register online and wines will be ready for pick-up, shipping, or delivery the week before the tasting, with the Zoom link sent the day before.
Cost: $75

Join a community bake sale for reproductive rights

Saturday, July 23
The Oinkster, Eagle Rock
Over in East LA, chef Andre Guerrero is opening up the patio to local bakers for a massive community bake sale, with proceeds benefiting Planned Parenthood, Plan C Pills, and Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project. And since you’re there, you might as well grab a stacked Frito Pie burger, a house-cured Pastrami Sandwich, or some Chili Fries. For more info and to participate, reach out to chef Kristi Descher on Instagram.
Cost: Free to participate, baked goods vary.

Photo courtesy of Botanica
Photo courtesy of Botanica
Photo courtesy of Botanica

Snag a cute tee from Botanica

Ongoing
Purchase online
Women-owned restaurant and market Botanica is selling their five-year anniversary tee that’s made in collaboration by LA’s Lamero Studio. The shirt features a “vegetables in space” design created by bar manager and artist, Ryan Halie Gossett. All profits from the shirts benefit the National Network of Abortion Funds.
Cost: $45

Photo courtesy of Helen's Wines x The Goods Mart
Photo courtesy of Helen’s Wines x The Goods Mart
Photo courtesy of Helen’s Wines x The Goods Mart

Order a summer snack box filled with women-owned treats

Ongoing
Purchase online
Another one of our favourite women-owned natural wine shops in LA, Helen’s Wines teamed up with NYC’s The Goods Mart for a summer snack box featuring female-founded brands, including Azziah’s Herbal Green Popcorn, Magic Dates Salted Walnut Brownie, Moonshot Sourdough Crackers, and a bottle of natural ros√© from women producers, chosen by founder Helen Johannesen and her team, and rotating with each box. Even better, 50% of proceeds from the box will be donated to the Women’s Reproductive Right’s Assistance Project, the largest national, independent, nonprofit abortion fund providing urgently-needed financial assistance to individuals seeking abortion services or emergency contraception nationwide.
Cost: $75

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Danielle Dorsey is the West Coast Editor at Thrillist.

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