As Black History Month begins, this is the first in our series dedicated to highlighting the contribution of Black Americans to California state parks. Stay tuned for our weekly features throughout February.
In 1969, Allensworth – the only California town founded, financed, and governed by Black Americans – was threatened with sale. County officials planned to sell over a dozen Allensworth properties to local ranchers.
Ed Pope, a young Black landscape architect and former resident of Allensworth, stepped up and prepared a proposal to preserve the historic town. He stated that the lack of representation of the Black experience in the California state parks system and the ongoing civil rights struggles should justify saving Allensworth.
William Penn Mott, Jr. (Director of the California Department of Parks and Recreation at the time and future founder of California State Parks Foundation) read Pope’s proposal and was supportive of the idea. In a 1969 letter to Governor Ronald Reagan, Mott wrote, "I believe we have been delinquent in our historical perspective and interpretation program in not having given attention to the contributions made by our Black citizens. The Allensworth project, at first glance, appears to me to be one which could give us a start in correcting that deficiency."
Governor Reagan approved exploration of the project. The Allensworth Advisory Committee was formed, composed of leading Black historians, civic leaders, and former Allensworth residents, including Pope. Based on the recommendations of the committee and the outpouring of support for the project, the legislature decided to preserve Allensworth as a state historic park.
In October 1976, Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park officially opened. More than a thousand visitors attended the dedication of the park, which included the dance presentation pictured above. The dedication is still celebrated each year as a symbol of hope and to reaffirm the vision of the town’s pioneers.