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Historical Timelines

African Americans in California
National African American Timelines
General California Timelines

African Americans in California

The Spanish Era (1769-1821)

September 28, 1542

Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo's ship entered San Diego Bay, which marked the discovery of Alta California.


The Inspector General of New Spain, José de Galvez, began to develop plans for the further expansion, exploitation, and colonization of Alta California.


26 of the first 46 settlers of Los Angeles were black or mulatto.


Blacks and mulattos made up at least 19.3 % of the population of Santa Barbara.


Blacks and mulattos constituted nearly 15% of the total San Francisco population and 18.5% of the settlers in Monterey. The population of Baja California included 844 Spanish-speaking persons of whom 183 were mulattos.


Francisco Reyes, a mulatto settler, was elected to serve as mayor of Los Angeles.

The Mexican Era (1821-1848)

February 1821

Mexico declared its independence from Spain. The Republic of Mexico was established on November 19, 1823.


Peter Ranne, a black man, was a part of the first overland party to California, led by Jedediah Smith.

January 31, 1831

Emanuel Victoria, a mulatto known as "The Black Governor", took the oath of office as political and military governor of California.


Black merchant William Alexander Leidesdorff, a native West Indian, settled in California where he operated a trading vessel between San Francisco Bay and Hawaii. In 1846 he purchased several parcels of property located in what is now the heart of San Francisco's financial district and eventually built San Francisco's first hotel.


Jacob Dodson, a free black, was in the Fremont expeditions to California. Another free black, Saunders Jackson, joined Fremont's fourth California expedition in 1848.


Leidesdorff was appointed American vice consul at Yerba Buena Cove and authored the official report of the Bear Flag incident.

Pio Pico, a mulatto, became Governor, an office he held until leaving California in exile after the 1846 capture of Sonoma by the United States.

James Beckwourth, a famous African American hunter and scout, took part in the Bear Flag rebellion. He later served as a U.S. Army scout and carried mail between Monterey and southern California.

January 13, 1847

The Treaty of Cahuenga, ending the U.S.-Mexican War in that area, was signed by Andres Pico (brother of Pio Pico) and Major John C. Fremont.

February 2, 1848

The U.S.-Mexican War formally ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Under the treaty the United States acquired all of Alta California, New Mexico and Texas.

September 1, 1849

The California Constitutional Convention began. Of the forty-eight delegates elected to the convention, seven native Californians participated including the mulatto Antonio Maria Pico, former prefect, mayor, and legislator of San Jose.

November 13, 1849

The California Constitution was ratified almost unanimously by the white male voters in the territory.

The United States Era (1850- present)

September 9, 1850

California was admitted into the United States as a free state.


An extensive body of discriminatory legislation was erected in California including the testimony restriction which outlawed testimony by African Americans, Chinese, and Native Americans against whites in court.


Sensing growing white support at the beginning of the Civil War, San Francisco African Americans formed the Franchise League to campaign for voting rights and an end to the testimony restriction.


The increasingly Republican California legislature removed discriminatory barriers in education and repealed the testimony restriction of 1851.


After campaigning for better schools throughout the Civil War, African Americans gained access to California public schools with the proviso that separate schools could be established along racial lines. Campaigns against this stipulation continued because small numbers of African Americans within larger white communities often made separate schools financially unfeasible.


San Francisco businesswoman and former slave, Mary E. Pleasant sued a local streetcar company after a driver refused to allow her aboard. Although she initially received a $500 judgment, the ruling was eventually overturned by the California Supreme Court.


While most California communities had admitted African American students into integrated schools by this time, schools in San Francisco ended segregation officially in 1875.


The California State Assembly passed an anti-discrimination statute prohibiting segregation on streetcars.


The Southern Pacific Railroad brought in almost 2,000 African American laborers to break a strike by Mexican American construction workers, effectively doubling the African American population in Los Angeles and sparking lasting interracial tension.


The first California branch of NAACP was established in Los Angeles.


Attorney Frederick Roberts, a founder of the civil rights organization Forum, was the first African American to be elected to the California Assembly.


Reverend Clayton Russell formed the Negro Victory Committee in Los Angeles, a group of public officials, professionals, union leaders, and NAACP members, working for the creation of jobs in defense plants for blacks.


Jobs in California defense industries opened to African Americans after labor shortages, African American organization protests, and pressure from the Fair Employee Practices Commission.


While aimed primarily at the Mexican American population of Los Angeles, local police arrested more than 100 African Americans in the mob violence stemming from racial tension known as the "Zoot Suit riots".


The Western Regional Office of the NAACP was established in San Francisco.


The U.S. Supreme Court declared the enforcement of residential race-restrictive covenants illegal in Barrows v. Jackson. Race-restrictive covenants were long utilized in California to racially segregate residential areas. Los Angeles NAACP attorney Loren Miller was part of the legal team that lobbied the Supreme Court.


In the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that separate schools for black and white children were unconstitutional.

David Blackwell was the first African American appointed full Professor at the University of California, Berkeley.


The California legislature passed the Fair Employment Practices Act, establishing a statewide Fair Employment Practices Commission to protect the people of California from discrimination in employment.

Former vice president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, C.L. Dellums, was appointed to California's first Fair Employment Practices Commission. He served on the Commission for 26 years.


After serving for 28 years in the California State Assembly, Democrat Augustus Hawkins became the first African American Congressman from California when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.


Proposition 14 reversed fair housing measures by California state and local governments. The proposition was sponsored by the California Real Estate Association after the 1963 California legislature passed the Rumford Act prohibiting racial discrimination in the sale or rental of certain state housing. The NAACP challenged Proposition 14 and its appeal succeeded in the California and U.S. Supreme Courts in 1967.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit against the Los Angeles City Board of Education regarding de facto school segregation. Subsequently, the California Supreme Court ruled that Pasadena's segregated school system was unconstitutional.

September 1, 1964

Joshua R. Rose was appointed as the first African American to serve on the Oakland City Council. He was voted into office in 1965 and served until his retirement in 1977.


Five days after President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, there was an uprising in the largely African American community of Watts, which lasted 6 days and left 34 dead and 1,000 injured.


Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party in Oakland.

Mervyn Dymally, a Los Angeles teacher and political field coordinator, became the first African American to serve in the State Senate. (In 1974 he was elected as Lieutenant Governor and in 1980 he ran for Congress representing South Los Angeles County. He became the first foreign-born black to serve in the United States Congress.)

Los Angeles attorney Yvonne Brathwhaite Burke became the first African American woman to hold office in the California Legislature and in 1972 became the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress from California.


The City of Berkeley school board inaugurated the nation's first non-court-ordered busing plan. Berkeley's plan instituted comprehensive two-way elementary school busing for the purpose of desegregating the school system and the program remained in effect for more than 25 years.

In its peak year of garnering support, the Peace and Freedom Party chose Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver as its candidate for the President of the United States. Cleaver carried almost 37,000 votes.


The city of Compton elected California's first African American mayor, Douglas Dollarhide.

The newly established Black Studies Department begins operation at the University of California, Berkeley.


Ron Dellums was elected to the United States House of Representatives by a largely working class district in Oakland. He remained in office until his retirement in 1998.

Spring 1971

The Afro-American Studies Department at the University of California, Berkeley graduated its first class of students majoring in the discipline


Tom Bradley was elected mayor of Los Angeles, the first African-American mayor of a major U.S. city. Bradley went on to serve five terms.


Wiley W. Manuel was the first African American to be appointed to the California Supreme Court. He served until 1981.


In Bakke v the Regents of the University of California, the U.S. Supreme Court declared racial quotas unconstitutional. However, it supported the basic principals of affirmative action in higher education.

Barbara Christian became the first African-American woman to win tenure at the University of California, Berkeley.


Four Los Angeles Police Department officers were acquitted of accusations that they had beaten African American motorist Rodney King. The verdict heightened racial tensions and sparked violence in Los Angeles.


California Proposition 209, which banned the use of racial preferences in admissions decisions, was passed.


California Proposition 54, which proposed a ban on the classification of any individual by race, ethnicity, color or national origin in the operation of public education, public contracting or public employment, was defeated.

The following works were valuable sources in the compilation of this timeline: Seeking El Dorado: African Americans in California (edited by Lawrence B. De Graaf, Kevin Mulroy and Quintard Taylor), California's Black Pioneers: A Brief Historical Survey (by Kenneth B. Goode) and the website of the California Legislative Black Caucus.

National African American Timelines

General California Timelines

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