African Americans in Central Valley

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(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, February 8, 2005
Since its early days, California’s population has always included people of color. It took awhile for them to gravitate to the Central Valley. Aside from Native Americans, the region was inhabited mostly by pioneers of European descent. The first significant wave of African Americans began arriving in the Valley in 1849. Leon Ross is a retired military officer from Stockton. He taught history at local colleges and says blacks came for the same reason as others -- to find gold.  ROSS :11—They were freed men or sometimes runaways. And they came out here like everybody else hoping to find their treasure, either in gold or someplace to live.  Sylvia Alden-Roberts, a writer from Tuolumne County, who is researching a book about Black gold miners, says thousands of Blacks arrived in the Gold Country in the 1850’s.  ALDEN-ROBERTS :17—There were roughly five thousand that came out to the mines in the first decade, but of course, none of those census records were particularly accurate. There were a lot of people who were listed as Mulatto and that could be Black or White or that could be some other mixture that wasn’t strictly just Caucasian.  Alden-Roberts points out that Blacks who came in search of gold, launched a civil rights crusade similar to the one that occurred a century later in the 1960’s.  ALDEN-ROBERTS :12—They had to battle for the right to vote. They had to battle for the right of testimony in court and I don’t know that they have been given the credit to put a lot of those things into place.  A second wave of Blacks started arriving in the Central Valley in the 1930’s. Tommie Muhammad, the Manager of the King-Kennedy Memorial Center in Modesto, says thousands of African-Americans worked the fields and orchards from the 1930’s through the 1960’s.   MUHAMMAD :22—There was a great migration because of the great agricultural belt in the Central Valley . The Central Valley was buzzing with African-American migrant workers and farm workers moving up and down the Valley, in some cases all the way up to Washington depending on the seasons. The workers were paid by the box, by the bucket, by the sack, the tray, whatever the circumstances might be.   Muhammad says Blacks moved out of the fields and into other jobs in the 1960’s when Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union became a force in agriculture. A third wave of immigration began in the 1940’s and escalated into the 50’s, when thousands of people of many ethnicities settled in the state as a result of having been exposed to California during World War Two. Bob Hensley KXJZ News.