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African American Firsts in the Inland Empire

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With the rich history of the Inland Empire, many Blacks formerly enslaved or freed, migrated to the area of San Bernardino and Riverside County. The history of Blacks in the Inland Empire began when the Mormons arrived in San Bernardino circa 1851. But even today, there are still first being made between both counties, which The Black Voice News will highlight in this week’s edition.

Riverside County

First Non-Native Resident James Hamilton, born in 1822 was the first resident who wasn‘t a native Indian to live in the Anza area. The year he arrived was 1873 just twelve years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln.

According to the “San Jacintos” by John F.W. Robinson and Bruce Fisher, Hamilton was sometimes called “Uncle Jim” or “Nigger Jim” eve the downgrade rode to Anza was known as “Nigger Jim” Grade. After traveling west from Ohio with an 1847 Mormon wagon train, he lived with Sioux Indians and in the early 1850s he arrived in San Bernardino.

He tried to homestead a claim on Mexican land and because the claim was not valid, he moved on to Vail Lake, an area close to Temecula. There he and his children were again unsuccessful in staking a claim. His third try was a charm. He successfully obtained 160 areas located in the area of present day Anza. Hamilton and his sons, Joe, Henry and Frank suffered discrimination living in the area. In 1897, two years before his own death, his son Frank, who was a lawman, was murdered.

The family remained in the area on several sections of the land homesteaded by Hamilton. Today Hamilton’s presence is still felt by the naming of Hamilton Creek and Hamilton School.

Riverside County’s 1st Black Presiding Judge. The Riverside County Superior Court's judges selected Judge Richard T. Fields to serve as the presiding judge over the court system during the next two years.

Fields took the reins from former presiding judge, Sharon Waters and supervised the operations of all the courts divisions all across the county.

Through this process, Fields achieved another major milestone, becoming the first African-American judge ever to be selected as the presiding judge over Riverside County's 69 judges and commissioners. In 2000, Fields became the first African-American judge to serve in the county after he was appointed by then Governor Gray Davis. Before that, he had sat on the bench as a commissioner in the same county for nearly 10 years. Fields is a graduate of Western State University College of Law and had also worked as an attorney before becoming a commissioner.

Riverside County's 1st Black Chief Deputy. In 2009, Boris Robinson was promoted to Chief Deputy of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department making him the first African American to hold the position.

San Bernardino’s First Black Chief Deputy, Ron Cochran, captain of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Highland station, was promoted to deputy chief. Cochran is the first African-American to hold the rank in the department’s 156-year history. Cochran says a racial profiling incident 25 years ago led him to join the department in 1984. “I wanted to make a difference from the inside. I think we’ve made progress in that area but there are still gaps. I feel Sheriff Ron Hoops is committed to ensuring an equitable department from the inside out,” he said.

1st Black City Employee. Lucille Stratton Taylorwas hired by the City of Riverside in 1942 as a receptionist/bookkeeper in the Sanitation Department.

First Black cosmetology student at RCC. Willie Bartee studied cosmetology at RCC. In June 15, 1946 he received his California state cosmetology license.

First Go-Kart business in Riverside, Adams Motorsports Park began when the Adams family purchased 14 acres in the Riverside area later known as “Belltown,” and on Christmas of December 1959, the Adams brothers and sisters received their first go kart.

On January 28th, 50 years ago, the brothers and sisters of the Adams family began to lay the foundation for what would grow to become the main destination for fans of karting from all over the state. The Adams family would come together every Sunday to race each other, but it didn’t take long until they opened their playground to the public.

First Black College Graduate and teacher in a public school in Riverside. Alice Rowan Johnson, graduated from Los Angeles Normal College in 1888.

She became prominent and was a distinguished teacher. When she married Frank Johnson, on December 25, 1892, a blacksmith and carriage repairman, the wedding was carried in every newspaper in the area.

First Black to graduate from Riverside High School Winnie Davison.

First African American Museum in the city of Perris Dora Nelson African American Museum

First Black to graduate from 14th Street grade school Bert Williams

First Black Policeman in Riverside. Robert Stokes ran for Constable and lost badly with only one vote. In 1879 the Press Enterprise printed that he would win because he was a good man and said he would undoubtedly be elected.

First Black child to come to Riverside. In 1873 Nicey, age between 5 and 8 years old, who was brought by Mrs. Eliza Tibbetts, who introduced the navel orange to Riverside. It is surmised that Nicey was her grandchild, from a son who fought in the Civil War. No one ever knew and Nicey was not given a last name. No one ever knew what happened to her.

First Black Attorney Frank Johnson was the only in the area.

First street named for a Black in Riverside Langston Place, it runs between 12th and 14th Streets east of Victoria named for John Mercer Langston, the Dean of Howard University’s Law School. He and his wife Alice were large property owners in Riverside.

San Bernardino County

The names of first 26 Blacks to enter San Bernardino in 1850. They entered with Mormon slave masters.

The slaves that came into the area with the Mormons were not informed of their freedom and many times if they were they stayed on because it was a way of life. Biddy Mason was different she didn’t know she was free because California was a free state. She found out from Charles Rowan, a local successful barber, and they alerted the authorities. Rowan also ran for San Bernardino County Assessor and lost. The reason for so much information on her is because of the court battle that ensued. Biddy and Hanah were sisters and property of Robert (William) Smith. He hid out in the Santa Monica mountains to get them ready to go to Texas, a slave state. They were stopped and Biddy was jailed for protective custody:

1. Harriet
2. Hark Lay
3. Charly
4. Jane
5. Nelson
6. Lawrence Smith
7. Ann
8. Harriett
9. Anna
10. Ellen
11. Biddy
12. Hannah Smith
13. Tennessee
14. Fluleman
15. George
16. Nancy
17. Rose
18. Henderson
19. Mary
20. Nelson
21. Oscar Crosby
22. Grief Crosby
23. Toby Thomas
24. Vilote
25. Liz Flake Rowan
26. Green

First Black Church. The Black church was starting to develop in the area around the late 1800’s. In Redlands Second Baptist Church was first (1891). St. Paul AME in San Bernardino was founded in 1904 by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Inghram and 8 others, Riverside’s first Black church was Allen Chapel AME founded in the home of Mrs. Dobbs in 1892 (3). One source says it was founded in 1879 and that it was the first church (Black or White) in Riverside. Both are still active.

Before the Black church Blacks attended White churches in the area some were even involved in the Church of the Latter Day Saints.

First Black Newspaper, (The Colored Citizen Newspaper) was the first to speak to the Negro population in Redlands, San Bernardino and Riverside. It was published in 1905 and 1906. The paper is a collection of local and national items of interest to help and inform the citizens. It was published for two years by R.H. Harbert in Redlands, CA and has a collection of who’s who and who even visited the area. For example, Mrs. Allensworth’s visit to the area was noted in the paper. Weddings, deaths, and marriages as well as events of the day were carried in the monthly paper. First Black to run for School Bo ard in Redlands , Isreal Beal. First Black doctor, Dr. Howard Inghram was the first Black doctor to practice medicine in the area. He taught himself Spanish so he could treat all members of the community.

First Superintendent of Schools, Dorothy Inghram who is now 104 years old was the State of California’s first Superintendent of Schools, in the Mill School District in San Bernardino.

San Bernardino’s First Black Security Guard Grief Embers.

(Also known as Grief Crosby). His last name was given to him by both of his slave owners. It is believed he was first owned by Embers and later owned by William Crosby, who brought him to San Bernardino. He was the sentry at the fort in the middle of San Bernardino and had a very long horn that warned people about impending danger as well as he blew it for celebrations. He was also the first Black property owner in San Bernardino. He owned 21 acres of land between G and F Streets near the Central City Mall in downtown San Bernardino. He also was the first Black to run for public office. He ran for the San Bernardino County Coroner he became in second in a field of three.

First Black Graduate of San Bernardino High School, Grace Harrison.

Partial list keep reading the pages of The Black Voice News for continued coverage on first.

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0 # Guest 2010-04-12 18:36
Hello, I am doing research on James Hamilton, but I am stumped on trying to find out who his wife was and what happened to her. I know she was a Indian Lady living near Julian. I can't find anything on James in the 1860 census, in the 1870 census he is listed as a widower with 4 children living in the western part of anza. If you could help me with this I would appreciate it
Thanks Ron White

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