CALIFORNIA BLACK PIONEERS
CALIFORNIA'S BLACK PIONEERS
Most Black California families came to the state during the Great Migration of World War II. They were escaping from the Anti-Black Terror of the South and looking for jobs in the shipyards and other wartime industries.
But a handful of African-Americans had been living in California for many years before the 1940's. Some had come West as far back as the time of the Civil War. They came by railway car. Or by automobile or on the bus. Before that, they came in covered wagons. Some traveled by steamship down the eastern coastline to Panama, walked across the Isthmus on foot, and caught another boat up the west coast to San Francisco. When they arrived in California, they had to build a home for themselves and their families in a land that often shunned and despised them. They were California's Black Pioneers.
In later years, these Black Pioneers came to be known to us at the "Old-Timers," African-Americans whose presence in California predated World War II. It is upon their rock that we now stand.
Photos from those early days show a people often-poor but always-proud, unbent by America's racial oppression. "We were segregated, of course," Betty Reid Soskin now says laughingly of growing up black in the East Bay Area of Northern California in the 20's and 30's, "but we thought it was only because we preferred our own company."
Ellis Allen Sr., one of the sons of Civil War era Louisiana Native Guard veteran George Allen II and Leontyne Breaux Allen of St. James Parish, Louisiana, came to California sometime around the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries, working as a Pullman waiter out of the West Oakland Pullman headquarters, living in the East Oakland flatlands in the 29th Avenue Jingletown neighborhood that was later partially demolished by the building of the 880 freeway. It was a time when much of the city west of International Boulevard (then East 14th Street) and south of High Street was marshland that lay open all the way to the estuary. Ellis Allen was joined in Oakland by one of his sisters, Isobel Allen Warnie, and the eldest Allen brother, George Allen III, and between them the three siblings became the founders of the large East Bay Allen clan.
The Reid-Galt-Parker-Turner branch of the family came to California even earlier. Thomas Reid, Sr. came across the country by covered wagon in the 1880's from his native Griffin, Georgia, working as a bouncer in the saloons and dance halls of San Francisco's notorious Barbary Coast. Edward Parker, Sr.—the father of Tom Reid's wife, Jenny—came somewhat earlier, perhaps in the 1870's or before, from Virginia, opening up a bootmaking shop in San Francisco and serving on the San Francisco Colored Convention Executive Committee that worked for the rights of African-Americans in the difficult post-Civil War period. And even earlier to California than Edward Parker were William Henry Galt and his wife Elizabeth Turner Galt, Jenny Parker Reid's grandparents, who came out of slavery in 1860's Virginia to settle in Sacramento. William Henry Galt was one of the leaders of the Sacramento Zouaves, the African-American militia unit that worked in the struggle to keep California out of the Confederacy. The Galts' three children, Richard, Mary, and Annie, came with them to California out of slavery. Annie later married Edward Parker, Sr., and was the mother of Jenny Parker Reid. From Jenny and her husband, Tom, came Northern California's Reid clan.
California's Black Pioneers Page is the homepage for those two families: the Allens and Breaux's of Louisiana, the Reids of Georgia, and the Turners, Galts, and Parkers of Virginia. It is both a documentary of their journey and a celebration of their spirit.
NOTE:This webpage is operated for the benefit of all members of the Allen/Breaux and Reid/Turner/Galt/Parker clans. The operators of this page know that we don't have all of the information...we're just sharing what we have. If you have anything to add, or if you think something we've said is incorrect, please let us know. We don't think we're the experts. We're just a couple of more stones, making a way for our families to step across difficult waters.
It should not be surprising that the Allens and the Reids have come into frequent contact over the years, given the fact that for the first 50 years of the 20th century, they were two of the largest African-American families living in Northern California. Betty Soskin and Doug Allen-Taylor, the operators of this website, represent two of the four (known) links between these two clans. Betty, an Allen descendant, was originally married to the late Mel Reid, and their children, including Bob Reid, share ancestry in both families. Doug's father was the late Ernest Allen, Sr., and his mother was the late Maybelle Reid Allen.
We are currently in need of pictures, narratives, birthdates, family trees, addresses, web links, and anything else related to the steadily growing branches of our two families. For further information, or to pass on information to us, please contact Betty Reid Soskin (email@example.com), Bob Reid (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Douglas Allen-Taylor (email@example.com). Thanks much.