African American History Culture : Santa Monica California early black settler

Discussion in 'African American History Culture' started by dustyelbow, Feb 16, 2006.

  1. dustyelbow

    dustyelbow Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Oct 25, 2005
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    Life of early black settler studied

    Residents learn about one of area's first African-Americans

    By Daniel Miller, [email protected]
    February 16, 2006

    While studying the 1900 census for Calabasas last year, Moorpark College history professor Patricia Colman came across something that piqued her interest.

    Next to each name in the census, a "W" was written, indicating each person's race as white. But as Colman made a thorough inspection of the list, she spotted something she had never seen in local census documents from that era.

    Next to the name John Ballard, an "N" was written, and Colman knew she had discovered one of the first African-American settlers of the Santa Monica Mountains.

    That discovery led to a year's worth of research for Colman. It was on display Wednesday afternoon at the Moorpark College campus as she gave a lecture on the Ballard family to about 50 people for Black History Month.

    "It's sort of like I'm obsessed with it at this point," said Colman, who teaches U.S. and world history at the college. "It's very exciting to get this story out to people and get people to know that history is in their own backyard, and with it being Black History Month, it's timely."

    In county records, Colman uncovered property deeds linked to Ballard and his homestead application for a 300-acre parcel of land in the Santa Monica Mountains in what is now the Agoura area.

    From there, Colman was able to piece together Ballard's life.

    Colman said he probably was a slave in Kentucky, the state he left in the 1850s for California.

    Ballard came to Los Angeles some time in the 1850s, when "the black population was a couple of dozen people," Colman said.

    In 1860, Ballard was living in Los Angeles with his wife, Amanda, several children and an "Indian servant," according to records Colman studied. While in Los Angeles, Ballard found work as a teamster and helped establish the influential First African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1869, Colman said.

    By 1880, Ballard's wife had died, and he left the city and moved his family to the homestead in the mountains. He later remarried.

    "My research has only been in the Santa Monica Mountains, but there was literally a handful of African-American homesteaders in California," said Colman, who is also a contract historian for the National Park Service. "Back earlier when the state was forming, they barred blacks from homesteading or owning land."

    According to Colman, over the course of about 80 years, approximately 380 homesteads were established in the area from present-day Thousand Oaks to Calabasas.

    Ballard's homestead was on land that included the Seminole Hot Springs, an area that is currently occupied by a mobile home park and is northeast of the Kanan Road and Mulholland Highway intersection, Colman said.

    Colman's research was aided by the discovery of the book "Heads and Tails ¿ and Odds and Ends," by J.H. Russell.

    The book includes a photograph of Ballard and gives some details of his life. There is a copy of the rare book at the Agoura Hills Library.

    Colman's research indicates that Ballard died in 1905 at a county hospital in Los Angeles. Her work suggests that near the time of his death, Ballard was living in a county poorhouse and was on public assistance. He was buried in a Los Angeles cemetery in an unmarked grave.

    "I haven't been able to get much further into the family history than the 1920s and 1930s," Colman said. "I would love to find descendents."

    Jeanne Bailey, a spokeswoman for Moorpark College, attended Colman's lecture and said Ballard's life is a good story.

    "I think from it, people learned a lot about early California history and the type of opportunities African-Americans had here," Bailey said.

    Ranford Hopkins, a history professor at Moorpark College, said that Colman's discovery is significant because it tells the story of a little-known, but influential, African-American.

    "Just finding African-Americans who we are not familiar with is important," said Hopkins, who teaches U.S. and African-American history. "There are African-Americans that didn't write their histories, but by their accomplishments and their presences, they are important."

    Hopkins said that historians have a tendency to classify the African-American experience in the proverbial "North" during Ballard's era as distinctively urban, so information about Ballard's life is important.

    "The fact that you have successful blacks, period, and successful blacks outside the urban area is interesting," Hopkins said. "Not too much has been done in Ventura County or in western Los Angeles County on this, so this adds a great deal."