SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) – The first people of African ancestry arrived in the South Bay in late 1700.
Chronicling the history of Black people in that part of the Bay Area from then to now is part of a series of books by an adjunct professor of English Composition and Literature from San Jose City College.
“I wanted to research those individuals who I discovered through my quest for information about what was life like? What were the early communities like? Where did Black people live? How did they get here to California? Those questions are not included in the Eurocentric history books,” Jan Batiste Adkins said.
However, those questions and the answers can be found in the Images of America book series, African Americans of San Jose and Santa Clara County by author Jan Batiste Adkins.
The book chronicles the first black pioneers who arrived in California in the late 1700s to what was then Spain’s territory.
“We have the presence of people of African American Heritage who came to San Jose specifically in 1777,” Batiste Adkins said.
Those Black pioneers came aboard Spanish ships as laborers on expeditions, as soldiers, and as miners. That history is documented, preserved, and on display in San Jose’s San Pedro Square.
“These were people of African Heritage that lived in Mexico, inter-married with the Mexicans who came to San Jose as pobladores or farmers, citizens to help establish the first town in the State of California, Californio at the time,” Batiste Adkins said.
Back then, the Spaniards called mixed-race Black people “Mullatos.” As you can see, this ship’s manifest recorded having several Mulatto passengers on board.
“African-Mexicans, African-Spainards, African-Indians, African-Whites. These are people of mixed race of African heritage, and there were many of them,” Batiste Adkins said.
Free Blacks came as settlers. Others were brought there as slaves. Those enslaved were later freed with the help of abolitionists from the church.
“The very first Black Church was established in 1863,” Batiste Adkins said.
One of the most notable African American figures in the South Bay is Emanuel Sam McDonald, who in 1919 purchased 430 acres of land in La Honda, and by doing so became the first Black man to own property in the California Redwoods.
Sam McDonald was originally from Gilroy. He donated his land to Stanford University, and it is now a beautiful park named after him in San Mateo County.
What does she hope people will take away after reading her books?
“I hope that people will have a broad understanding, not only African American history but how African Americans intersected with other cultural groups in the valley. I think it’s really important to understand that we all coexisted together. We’re all linked together,” Batiste Adkins said.