State funding aims to restore historic black town

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Colonel Allen Allensworth founded his namesake town in 1908 with the dream of creating a haven of black prosperity without discrimination – a “Tuskegee of the West”. Colonel Allensworth was born into slavery, taught himself to read, and served in the Union Army as the highest-ranking black officer before moving to California.

Black families from all over the country have arrived in Allensworth hoping to carve out their own “piece of the world”. They successfully worked the land, raising livestock and crops in the unfamiliar climate of the Central Valley.

The town quickly prospered, building a post office, school, church, general store, hotel, public library and more. Like any community, its vitality depended on reliable water, but problems with water security and abundance began almost immediately.

The company that sold the land to Colonel Allensworth failed to deliver on its promise to build an adequate water supply system, leaving the growing population in debt and drained. Drought hit the Central Valley shortly after the founding of the city, resulting in low crop yields and a further decrease in vital water supplies.

In addition to the harsh environmental conditions, residents of Allensworth experienced racial discrimination which hampered their economic progress. Allensworth was built next to a stop on the Santa Fe Railroad, which was a key driver of local business. But the railroad refused to hire Allensworth residents and quickly moved its stopover to Alpaugh (a nearby white area), hitting the town hard. The suspicious death of Colonel Allensworth in 1914 was the final blow that caused most of the remaining residents to abandon the town.

By 1973 Allensworth could no longer be found on a map and what was left of the town had to be demolished. This led former resident Cornelius “Ed” Pope to launch an initiative to revitalize and commemorate his hometown. In 1974, California State Parks restored several buildings and designated it a State Historic Park and Historic Landmark.

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