Blacks in California History

How California got its name.

In 1535, The Spaniard Hernan de Cortes sailed west from the coast of New Spain (Mexico) in search of a mythical island inhabited by strong, black women, and rich with gold. The island, called "California" in an account by Garcia Ordonez Montalvo in 1510, was ruled by the queen "Califia."

Along with a company of 700 conquistadors, three hundred of whom were of African descent, Cortes landed at the southern tip of what we now know as the Baja peninsula. Spanish maps began calling this land "California" and depicted it as an island for more than 150 years.


African Americans Were Among the Earliest Californians

For the next 200 years, the Spanish pushed northward, exploring, expanding their territory, and establishing missions. By 1769 the explorers reached what is now the state of California and over the next 15 years created a series of missions along the coast. Early census data show that nearly half of the Spanish soldiers and the pobladores (settlers) that accompanied them and settled the mission lands were of African descent.


Land Owners

As seen in this picture of a diorama from the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, 26 of the 46 pobladores who settled Los Angeles, and similar proportions of the founders of San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Jose, Monterey were of African ancestry. Their descendants became holders of land grants after the Mexican Revolution and the end of the mission system. Properties such as Rancho Rodeo de Aguas (Beverly Hills), Malibu, Venice, the current Camp Pendleton, the entire Orange County and the San Fernando Valley were held in those land grants.

By 1848 the more than two million acres throughout California held by Black grantees fell under threat as more than 50,000 gold seekers flowed into California from the East.