The buildings in Allensworth have been restored to their original early 1900s style. mlhradio/CC BY-NC 2.0

When California gave rise to a black utopia

Just north of Bakersfield is the only town in California to have been founded and governed solely by African-Americans.

Established in 1908, Allensworth was spearheaded by a former slave and Army veteran, Col. Allen Allensworth, who envisioned a promised land where blacks could live free of discrimination and “create sentiment favorable to intellectual and industrial liberty.”

Col. Allen Allensworth in an undated portrait.

Oakland Public Library

The settlers laid out streets, all named after notable African-Americans, and built homes and public buildings. There was a church, a school, a library, a debating society, and a glee club.

Asked why he came to Allensworth, a setter from North Carolina said, “I am trying to prove to the white man beyond a shadow of doubt that the Negro is capable of self-respect and self-control.”

The Allensworth branch of the Tulare County library system, circa 1910-19.

California State Library

Allensworth prospered, boasting as many as 400 residents. But the harsh soil of the San Joaquin Valley made farming difficult. In 1914, Col. Allensworth was struck and killed by a motorcycle while crossing the street. In time, residents began to drift away, reducing the community to a virtual ghost town.

California bought Allensworth’s land in 1974 and turned it into a state park. Today, visitors can stroll many of the original buildings, which still stand as a testament to the founders’ vision of self-determination for America’s black citizens.

More: National Park Service |

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