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Lt. Col. Allen Allensworth
7 April 1842(1842-04-07) – 14 September 1914 (aged 72)
Col. Allen Allensworth.jpg
ca. 1906
Place of birth Louisville, Kentucky
Place of death Monrovia, California
Place of burial Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery
Los Angeles, California
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch United States Army
Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Other work Founder, Allensworth, California

Lt. Colonel Allen Allensworth (7 April 1842 – 14 September 1914) was an American soldier in the United States Army. He was the highest ranking African American commissioned officer in the United States military at his retirement in 1906, and is remembered as the founder of the all-black township of Allensworth, California, now Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park.

Contents

Biography

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Early years

Born into slavery in Louisville, Kentucky, Allensworth educated himself illegally; he ran off and joined the army, eventually becoming one of the Army's first Black chaplains. He obtained a teacher's certificate, and was stationed at Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.

Allensworth, California

Upon leaving military service, Allensworth and his family settled in Los Angeles. It was there that he was inspired with the idea of establishing a self-sufficient, all-black California community where African Americans could live their lives free of the racial discrimination that pervaded post-Reconstruction, turn-of-the-century America. His dream was to build a community where black people might live and create "sentiment favorable to intellectual and industrial liberty." That dream came to fruition in 1908 with the establishment of Allensworth in Tulare county, about thirty miles north of Bakersfield, in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley. The black settlers of Allensworth built homes, laid out streets, and put up public buildings. They established a church, and organized an orchestra, a glee club, and a brass band.

The Allensworth colony became a member of the county school district and the regional library system and a voting precinct, electing the first African-American Justice of the Peace in post-Mexican California. In 1914, the California Eagle reported that the Allensworth community consisted of 900 acres (360 ha) of deeded land worth more than US$112,500. Allensworth soon became a town, not just a colony. Among the social and educational organizations that flourished during Allensworth's golden age were the Campfire Girls, the Owl Club, the Girls' Glee Club, and the Children's Savings Association, for the town's younger residents, while adults participated in the Sewing Circle, the Whist Club, the Debating Society, and the Theater Club.

Allensworth was an admirer of African American educator Booker T. Washington, the founder and driving force behind the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Tuskegee was undoubtedly a source of inspiration for the creation of a self-sufficient African American community in central California — in fact, it was Allensworth's dream that his new town would come to be known as the "Tuskegee of the West". The Girls' Glee Club, modeled after the internationally known Jubilee Singers of Fisk University, was the community's pride and joy. Allensworth's streets were all named after notable African-Americans and/or dedicated abolitionists, such as Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar, and Uncle Tom's Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe.

The community was ultimately confronted with some serious challenges. The dry and dusty soil made farming difficult, and toxins, particularly Arsenic, seeped into the drinking water. Allensworth was struck and killed by motorcycle in Monrovia, California in 1914. The discouraged community slowly dispersed and moved away over the next couple of decades, and the Allensworth township was reduced almost to a ghost town.

Allensworth is the only California community to be founded, financed and governed by African Americans. The small farming community was founded by Allensworth and a group of others dedicated to improving the economic and social status of African Americans. Uncontrollable circumstances, including a drop in the area’s water table, resulted in the town’s decline. However, with continuing restoration and special events, the site is experiencing a renaissance as a state historic park. The park’s visitor center features a film about the site. An annual re-dedication ceremony reaffirms the vision of the original pioneers.

Allensworth's residence is preserved and furnished in the 1912 period style. It contains items from the Colonel's life in the service and the ministry. A small display of farm equipment is a reminder of the Allensworth economic base. The most important building, historically and in the memory of Allensworth pioneers, is the school house. In use until 1972, it is furnished as it would have been on a school day in 1915.

Allensworth is interred in the Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.

References

External links

Friends of Allensworth San Diego Chapter No 12


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