California, a “Free State” Sanctioned Slavery

By Susan D. Anderson, Director of Public Programs, California Historical Society

In a late-night raid in April 1852, three formerly enslaved black men who had built a lucrative business hauling mining supplies during the California Gold Rush, were rousted from their cabin by armed white men. They were forcibly taken before a justice of the peace in Sacramento County who ordered them deported to their former “owner,” a white man in Mississippi.

Robert Perkins, his brother Carter, and their business partner Sandy Jones, would file the first lawsuit challenging the state’s new Fugitive Slave Law. Passed just 6 weeks earlier, it decreed that any enslaved black person who had entered California when it was still a territory had no legal right to freedom even though the state constitution banned slavery.

According to the U.S. history most of us are familiar with, California came into the Union in 1850 as a “free state.” Slavery was an evil that occurred in the south, far from here, or so we were taught. Yet famed for its liberal reputation, California has a far more complicated history.

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In an effort to highlight this omission from the historical record, the ACLU of Northern CaliforniaKQED, the California Historical Society, and the Equal Justice Society partnered on a unique public education project, Gold Chains: The Hidden History of Slavery in California. It features multimedia stories and archival research that examine this little-known history that was instrumental in shaping California’s complex racial landscape today. The history unearthed by the Gold Chains project adds to our understanding that no part of the United States – including California – was untouched by the pernicious system whose legacy manifests today in our laws, courts and culture.

New Website,, Tells Story of Hidden History of Slavery in California

The ACLU of Northern California this week launched, a website that exposes the hidden history of slavery in California. The site is part of a collaboration between ACLU of Northern California, Equal Justice Society, KQED, Laura Atkins and California Historical Society.

California has a reputation as the “Golden State” of opportunity, promise, innovation, and resistance. But the inconvenient truth that may surprise–and shock–many of us is that the state’s founding went hand in hand with policies that sanctioned slavery and genocide.

Gold Chains: The Hidden History of Slavery in California uncovers chapters of California’s hidden history. This unique project lifts up the voices of courageous African American and Native American individuals who challenged their brutal treatment and demanded their civil rights.

Gold Chains debunks California’s unblemished brand as exclusively progressive, correcting it with facts of a history mired in racism, white supremacy, and violence. The stories on the website are told through narratives, public records, archival material, and images.

Visit to learn more.

Thank You for Remembering 1619 with Us!

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From Eva Paterson:

“We all thought it was spectacular. The singing of Faye Carol brought us to tears (and to our feet); the music of the Marcus Shelby Orchestra was potent; the dancers were pure joy; the readings by Steven Anthony Jones shook us; and the visuals were completely captivating. Half the time I didn’t know where to direct my eyes there were so many amazing things happening at once,” a friend of mine who was there on Tuesday wrote to me.

On August 20, we gathered together to remember the 400 years since Antoney and Isabella arrived at Jamestown and the suffering and triumph, sorrows and joy of Black people during those four centuries.

Our incredible team of artists and creatives took us on a journey of 400 years that evoked pain and pride, but it mainly provided us with a more profound understanding of the connection between what started on this continent in 1619 and present day manifestations of racism and white supremacy. Those who suffered in the past spoke through the performances and urged all in attendance to work hard to make things more fair.

Deepest gratitude to our creative team: Marcus Shelby and The Marcus Shelby Quintet; Zaccho Dance Theatre’s Joanna Haigood, Lydia Clinton, Clarissa Dyas, Delvis Friñon, Frankie Lee Peterson III, and Jarrel Phillips; actor Steven Anthony Jones; The Dynamic Miss Faye Carol; pianist Joe Warner; directorial consultant and dramaturg Kim Euell; set designer Wayne Campbell; and filmmakers Cheo Tyehimba Taylor and David Goldberg. I was proud to be a part of this team as executive producer.

Thank you to SFJAZZ for providing us with a beautiful venue, to Normie Pineda and the team at Leftwich Event Services for helping us pull this event off, and to videographer Kevin Johnson, photographer Bob Hsiang, and all the volunteers who helped us that evening.

I especially want to thank my friends and colleagues who are the EJS team–Anna Basallaje, Keith Kamisugi, Ginger Johnson, Chris Bridges, Mona Tawatao, Meher Dhaliwal, and Yoana Tchoukleva along with the members of the Board of Directors of EJS.

Finally, we could not have had such a successful event without the generous contributions of our fabulous sponsors and the support from our host committee. They are listed below and I hope you will take a little time to reach each and every name on the list. Each one played a critical part of bringing our event to life.

~ Eva Paterson on behalf of the Board and Staff of the Equal Justice Society

The “Remembering 1619” event was made possible through the generous support of our sponsors:

Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP
The Henry L. Hecht Family Fund
Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock
Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati Foundation
Emily Scott
Susan Pritzker
ACLU of Northern California
California Teachers Association
The California Wellness Foundation
Neyhart, Anderson, Flynn & Grosboll
Perkins Coie LLP
Kelly McCreary & Pete Chatmon
Quinn Delaney & Wayne Jordan
Leftwich Event Specialists, Inc.
Sheppard Mullin
George & Deborah Woods
Adler & Colvin
Minami Tamaki LLP
Arlene Mayerson
Jude and Julia Damasco
Thomas Layton & Gyöngy Laky, In memory of Henry Hampton
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP
Peter Benvenutti & Lise Pearlman
Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass, LLP
Altshuler Berzon LLP
James Finberg & Melanie Piech
David Oppenheimer & Marcy Kates
Barry & Sandy Goldstein
Cheryl & Charles Ward
John Crew
Connie Cagampang Heller & Jonathan Heller
Steve Zieff & Elaine Leitner
Robert Hirsch and Shauna Marshall
Lucinda and Chris Covert-Vail
Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & Lowe, LLP
Kaiser Permanente
Hon. John M. True & Hon. Claudia Wilken
Paula & Chuck Collins
Michael Harris
Vanessa Holton
American Constitution Society
The Impact Fund
Willie & Robert Demmons
Lei-Chala Wilson
Hector Preciado & Trina Villanueva
Joyce Hicks & Eric Behrens
NARAL Pro-Choice California
Joseph M. Sellers
Legal Aid at Work
Sara Campos
Dorothy M. Ehrlich
William & Arlene Kennedy
Cheryl Stevens
Rev. Diana McDaniel
Monika Kalra Varma and Anurag Varma
Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area
Pamela S. Duffy
Debbie Lee & Bill Tamayo
California ChangeLawyers
Richard Drury

With special appreciation to the members of our Host Committee:

David Berger
Renel Brooks-Moon
Sara Campos
Aldore Collier
Paula and Charles Collins
Quinn Delaney and Wayne Jordan
Willie and Robert Demmons
Elaine Elinson and Rene CiriaCruz
Amy Everitt
Rosemary E. Fei
Karen Bell Francois
Sergio Garcia
Alicia Garza
Gary Greenfield and Reesa Tansey
Robert Harris
Henry L. Hecht
Hon. Thelton Henderson
Dolores Huerta
Kate Kendell
Celinda Lake
Shauna Marshall and Robert Hirsch
Kelly McCreary and Pete Chatmon
Rev. Diana McDaniel
Valerie McGinty
Dale Minami
Jane and Howard Moore
Pam Moore
Dr. Curtis J. Perry
Hector Preciado and Trina Villanueva
Leslie Proll
Drucilla Ramey and Marvin Stender
Barbara Rodgers
Emily Scott
Lateefah Simon
Abdi Soltani
Gloria Steinem
Cheryl Stevens
Debbie Lee and Bill Tamayo