Black History in California: John B. Adams
John B. Adams came from the most horrific beginnings imaginable. He was born as an enslaved person in South Carolina. Not much is known about his early life other than he met his wife, Adeline, and they were able to make it to the California city of Monrovia sometime in the late 1800s. Adams came into the employ of Lucky Baldwin, an early pioneer of modern California and the Los Angeles area and one of the richest people in the region at the time.
Adams worked on a ranch owned by Baldwin where he had an affinity for horticulture. Adams is credited with budding the first Washington navel orange, a now iconic fixture of California agriculture, even though it was introduced from Brazil. You can still visit his original tree at the SW corner of Magnolia and Arlington Street, Riverside! Adams eventually was able to buy several plots of land, one of which is now the Shiloh AME Zion Church, which still stands today. Throughout his life, Adams tended many plants which still dot the landscape of Southern California today, and he contributed to a rich history of Black horticulturists in the early California citrus industry.
Adams’ green thumb may have well led to the success of the citrus industry and the subsequent growth of Southern California. It is important we remember his contribution to the industry and to California.
Today, you can visit the California Citrus State Historic Park at 9400 Dufferin Ave in Riverside, California, and learn about the “second gold rush” the citrus industry caused. Thousands of workers arrived in California to tend to the newly burgeoning industry. The museum at the California Citrus State Historic Park preserves many of the stories and still grows navel oranges from the original trees planted in the late 1800s.
If you want to learn more about California Citrus State Historic Park and the continued research into Black history in state parks, check out California State Parks’ Relevance and History Project at parks.ca.gov/calcitrus and sweet-sour-citrus.org.