Even 30 years ago Ed Pope, a former State Parks employee and life long resident of Allensworth, lost his job for insisting that Allensworth was just as historically important to California as any other historic town in the state.
It was during the early 1900s, when Colonel Allensworth, Professor William Payne, Rev. William Peck and Mr. J.W. Palmer decided to establish a town where Blacks, many of whom were formerly enslaved, could own their own homes, govern themselves and achieve the "American Dream". They were skilled workers and farmers because they worked building Americas wealth. They were just a few years out of enslavement and knew that life could be better for all that worked hard and received an education. The town was located in the middle of nowhere, nestled near the Santa Fe Railroad in Tulare County, a mid-point between two centers of commerce: Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Now Allensworth is a State Park and last Saturday, thousands descended upon the town for the rededication of the Ashby House and the Hackett House, both originally constructed by important founding families. The people came by car, truck, motorhome, bus and train.
The Ashby House was rededicated first, and during the rededication homemade cornbread and apple cider were served by docents that also told the story of the family.
The Jack Ashby family owned the first home built in Allensworth,. it was also the towns dairy farm. He was a Mason of high order from Colorado Springs, CO and became aquainted with Allensworth because he was also a Mason. According to Ed Pope Allensworth talked to Ashby about the group of people who were going to develop the perfect community, the community that embodies both the Booker T and the W.E. Dubois thought. "Not much is really known about his activities outside of the Masons but he wanted to take the fight out of White people. They couldnt continue to kill and maim us as they had been doing," said Pope. Pope said he quit the Park Service as a Landscape Architect when the supervisors and his peers became jealous and outwardly racist because of his efforts to work on Allensworths status. Pope doesnt mince words when he talks about his fight to have Allensworth recognized after his boss called him a N., called it (Allensworth) a N-project, and said Black people were trying to force their way into state history. "They tried to deny us our place in history," said Pope.
Jim Phillips, a nearby White resident, recalls his time running around and playing in Allensworth. "That was in 29. We used to come here to the country store to buy candy," he said. Then he told the story of how his grandfather helped Col. Allensworth with a loan when he fell on hard times. "My grandfather helped him and he exchanged 845 lots in Allensworth with him. We sold the lots to the state to establish the park," said Phillips. His grandfather was even responsible for locating families to Allensworth. "During War (WWII) laborers were few and we had to get out the cotton. My grandfather went to Idabell, OK (a Black town) and brought back 35 people in his wagon. When the season was over he told them he would take them back but not one of them wanted to leave and they stayed here. They said it was perfect for them," said Phillips.
When Alice Royal, an Allensworth native and keeper of the culture, was a little girl she never dreamed that Allensworth would be as historically significant as it is. She watched as building after building was restored and went through several emotions as it was now time to pay respect to the memory of her parents.
Her mother Alice Hickerson and father James Hackett (a teacher and a carpenter), who was born enslaved in North Carolina heeded his cousins call during Reconstruction to move to San Francisco in 1886. He lived there for many years as an outstanding active member of the community. He was 60 when he heard the call to this new town. The business that had employed him for six years failed. From 1893-1897 he operated Hackett Rubber Goods and by 1907 he had a prosperous business. He was a very race conscious man and he became a supporter of the Allensworth community. In the fall of 1910 he began construction on his house. It was completed in 1912. The family used the house as a summer home before finally moving in with three of the youngest of six living children. He was also Booker T. Washingtons West Coast Representative.
Agatha Goudeau, from Fontana, joined the thousands attending and said, "This was a beautiful historical event. I am blessed to see the beginning of the development."
A Hackett family member echoed her words. Sharleen Woodruff said that today even made her more proud to be one of the pioneers of Allensworth. "I am ecstatic to be a part of this legacy. Every African American should see this place. This is ours and we dont have a lot of things we can say are truly ours," said Woodruff. Mr. Hackett was her great grandfather.
Meanwhile, as Alice Royal sat in the house after cutting the ribbon, she received guests just as her parents must have done in Allensworth back in the early 1900s. She was amazed at the job the builder did in rebuilding the family home. With her family surrounding her at the dining room table she went meticulously through the pages of photos and programs she had assembled for years.
Before Allensworth State Park, there was a segregated Ranger force. This changed when Pope went to the director to ask him about the status of Blacks. "He didnt know if there were any but I did my homework by visiting most of the state parks and asking questions. There were none. He said that because none had ever applied and if I find someone who is qualified to do the job he would hire him. I did and Ed Griffith became the first Black Ranger and was sent to Allensworth.
That is no longer the case. Ted Jackson is the head of the Central District of the State Parks and Allensworth is one of his charges. Jackson, who is the great grandson of Booker T. Washington, was ecstatic about the day. His adrenaline was pumping when he said, "Today was a powerful day and I am ecstatic. I counted 40 buses, and an RV Park that looks like storage for them, opening two buildings. There must be 3,000 to 4,000 people here. This is wonderful," he said. "This is a great way to start off the new century just like they did at the beginning of the 20th century."
|< Prev||Next >|