Tag Archives: Slavery

‘Our Voices’ – Black History Month


From BeniciaBlackLivesMatter.com
[See also: About BBLM]

“The time is always right to do the right thing. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
– The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968)
“The stones that the builder rejected are now the cornerstones of this experiment called America…When the rejected get together, we can in fact redeem America from hate and discrimination. When the rejected join hands, our togetherness becomes the instrument of redemption, and we can revive and ensure that the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and equal protection under the law, and care for the common good will never be taken away or forfeited for anybody, any time, anywhere.”
– The Bishop Reverend Dr. William J. Barber, III (2017)

February 6, 2023
By Sheri Leigh, a member of Benicia Black Lives Matter

February has been designated as Black History Month. It’s interesting that the public education system and the national government now sanction a month to focus on the history of Black people when Black history has been part of American and world history all along, as have women’s history, gay history, and the histories of other marginalized groups. Ideally, the history of these groups shouldn’t have to be singled out for special consideration. However, the designation does provide a good opportunity for everyone to reflect on the historical progress and continuing challenges Blacks and People of Color and marginalized groups face. Let’s take a moment to consider what progressive and much needed changes the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King’s efforts precipitated and the challenges he faced in the process, and compare that to where we are today.

The late Reverend King is much revered by many. With his organization and leadership skills, he orchestrated several momentous demonstrations that ultimately led to legislative changes that helped Black Americans access civil rights and made significant progress towards an equitable society. The ensuing Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were two of the most powerful pieces of legislation that brought an end to legal segregation, voting suppression, and an imbalanced workplace based on race. Dr. King’s efforts were not only directed towards rights for Black people, he also focused on jobs for everyone. One of the goals of his March on Washington in 1963 was to train and place unemployed workers, and the Poor People’s Campaign in 1967 sought to address solutions to poverty in general through better employment and housing. Dr. King embraced personal responsibility, urging people to judge others by their personal qualities, rather than by the color of their skin. This is why we honor Martin Luther King with a special day of commemoration. But what about his challenges?

Dr. King was largely despised while he lived. His leadership threatened the way of life for the white community and many of them, acting out of fear of losing their social advantages, treated him with utter disdain and hatred. He was arrested 29 times. The FBI pronounced him a threat to National Security. He was dismissed by other leaders of his own faith, both Black and white, who publicly (and with great hypocrisy) claimed that the Church should not involve itself in social issues. Despite his commitment to non-violent tactics, the marches he led were met with vehement and aggressive attacks, sometimes by white bystanders and sometimes by law enforcement. His marchers were frequently assaulted by activated fire hoses and trained attack dogs. Some were targeting children who were peaceably marching for the right to an equitable life in this country. Dr. King was stabbed, his home was bombed, and he was the target of an unsuccessful assassination attempt ten years before James Earl Ray finally shot and killed King on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee.

But one of the most difficult challenges Dr. King faced was among his own race. Some members of the Black community preferred to keep the status quo in order to remain safe. Others believed that King’s commitment to non-violence was a strategy intended to bring a “Christian” ideology to his efforts and to wake up the consciousness of white “Christians,” rather than as an authentic practice. King’s early partnership with organizations such as the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) served to strengthen this viewpoint. The Pittsburgh Courier, a leading Black newspaper, claimed that “King was tragically misleading Black Americans.” A few prominent Black organizations, including the Congress of Racial Equity (CORE), did not agree with the passive protesting model. Several factions of Civil Rights advocates agreed with CORE and promoted defending themselves against the rampant violence inflicted on them by white individuals and mobs during the protests, as well as at other times, particularly when police stood by and did nothing to protect the protestors. As the “Black Power” slogan gained momentum, a rift developed between the followers of Dr. King and those who sought justice by fighting back. For a time, King was one of the most hated men of his time within his own community.

It was a complicated and dangerous time, and Dr. King was angry, as he had every right to be. What he endured was unfathomable. Yet he continued to channel his anger into leading a national, non-violent movement and making passionate speeches, which, seventy years later, we are still quoting. Today, he is recognized as the primary leader of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s. With his tremendous oratory and leadership skills, and his untiring commitment to civil rights and equity, he instigated tremendous advancement for People of Color in this country. Dr. King received the Nobel Peace Prize of 1964 as a tribute to the enormity of his efforts.

Today, there is still rampant and unnecessary violence against Black people. With the well publicized murders of Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and just last month, Tyre Nichols, to name a few – all Black and all killed by law enforcement officers for dubious reasons- it is obvious there is still a serious lack of decorum and training in many prominent law enforcement agencies throughout the United States. Most states, including California, grant qualified immunity to law enforcement agents, keeping them protected from prosecution when they have injured or killed someone while on duty unless there is reason to believe that they knowingly violated that victim’s constitutional rights. This violation is often difficult to prove. It’s no wonder many People of Color don’t feel safe around those sworn to “protect” us. Systemic racism in schools, government agencies, and financial institutions remain a considerable roadblock to many individuals and families of Color towards obtaining equal opportunity and economic and social advancement.

The critical work of Dr. King continues to be carried out by leaders such as Bishop Doctor William J. Barber III, who is leading a campaign very similar to what Dr. King did in the 1960s. Dr. Barber is President of his growing non-profit organization, Repairers of the Breach, and a Senior Lecturer at several universities, including the Yale Divinity School. He is also Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. He served as President of the North Carolina NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) from 2006 -2017 and continues his work there on the Board of Directors. Through his organization, Repairers of the Breach, Dr. Barber is committed to a movement he calls Moral Fusion, which emphasizes grassroots protesting through non-violent civil disobedience and change through education, voting rights and engagement, much like Dr. King. And like Dr. King, Dr. Barber is focusing his efforts primarily in the deep South, where the damaging history of race-based slavery has created lasting racial discrimination and tension.

Black history, which is a significant part of American history, today is much like the history of seventy years ago. Although legislatively, we have come a long way, Blacks and other marginalized groups are still fighting every day to be free from discrimination, and for social and financial equity, public respect, and the right to a safe and happy life. The question is, what can we do, collectively and as individuals, to bring an end to this imbalance and injustice?

Black History Month in Benicia – Scavenger Hunt & Movie Screening

Benicia Black Lives Matters hopes that you will join us for our free upcoming Black History Month event on Sunday, February 19. We are sponsoring a children’s Scavenger Hunt to learn about Black historical figures along First Street from 1 – 4pm. The hunt will culminate at the Benicia library. For the first clue and more details on the Scavenger Hunt, please email: BBLMEducationTeam@gmail.com. There will also be a short program and a movie screening of the documentary, “We Are the Dream: The Kids of the Oakland MLK Oratorical Fest,” at the library in the Dona Benicia room from 3:30 – 5pm. Everyone is invited and welcome!

Previous ‘Our Voices’ stories here on the BenIndy at
Benicia Black Lives Matter – Our Voices
     or on the BBLM website at

‘Our Voices’ – One Benicia Man’s Contribution to California History


From BeniciaBlackLivesMatter.com
[See also: About BBLM]

“One of our early Black residents was a local barber named Joseph McAfee – a contributing citizen, a soldier, and an underground activist. It is likely McAfee arrived in California in the early to mid-1840s…”

October 14, 2022
By Sheri Leigh, a member of Benicia Black Lives Matter

When you look around the streets of Benicia, it is obvious that there are fewer Black faces than white.  The 2020 population data from the US Census reports that there are only 3.22% African Americans and 9.51% People of Mixed Race living here.  However, this data is only reflective of numbers, not of the remarkable history of Blacks living in Benicia.  Here is one Benicia man’s story, steeped in California and American history.

In September of 1850, when the State of California was admitted into the Union, there were 21 Black residents within Solano County.  Six of them resided in Benicia, which at that time, had a total population of 480 people.  One of our early Black residents was a local barber named Joseph McAfee – a contributing citizen, a soldier, and an underground activist.

It is likely McAfee arrived in California in the early to mid-1840s, during the great Western migration, when California was still a Mexican territory.  At that time, slavery was legal in this territory, and most Blacks arrived here with their subjugators.  Fourteen of the 21 original Black Solano County residents were bound for Vacaville as “indentured” slaves.  Although it is not clear whether McAfee was a former slave or not, he allegedly arrived in California as a free man.

In June of 1846, Joseph McAfee joined many other California settlers in Sonoma for the rebellion known as the Bear Flag Incident, a revolt instigated by John C. Fremont against Mexican government rule.  With McAfee’s and other Black participants’ help, the rebellion prevailed.  Mexican general Mariano Vallejo was temporarily imprisoned, and the territory was declared the “Bear Flag Republic,” which paved the way for eventual California statehood.

In 1849, McAfee, along with hundreds of other African Americans, joined the George Wyatt gold mining expedition.  They mined at Murphy’s Diggings in Calaveras County.  A year later, many of the enslaved Blacks who joined the party were able to purchase their freedom with their earnings from the prosperous mine.

Meanwhile, as California prepared to become a State, the status of People of Color did not improve.  In 1849, during the California Constitutional Convention held in Monterey, lawmakers enacted several discriminatory pieces of legislation which further disenfranchised Africans, descendants of Africans, and Native American people. The new laws interfered with daily freedoms, rights to land ownership, citizenship, and other oppressive codes similar to those enacted in other parts of the country during  that time.

In 1850, as California was granted statehood, Joseph McAfee settled in Benicia and opened up a community barbershop with his earnings from the gold mines.  Although California was declared a “Free State,” within a year the new State of California passed its own version of the Fugitive Slave Act, requiring the return of runaway slaves to their owners.  McAfee took action and joined the other local abolitionists in the establishment and operation of the Western Underground Railroad in Solano County, creating a safe haven for those seeking freedom from slavery during pre-Civil War California.

McAfee remained in Benicia until the mid-1860s before moving to Santa Cruz, shortly after the promulgation of the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery in all States.  His efforts in the Underground Railroad helped to empower those who were wrongfully enslaved and secured a path towards a more equitable society.  And his contributions helped bring a special part of history to Benicia.

Now, nearly 160 years later, there is still work to be done.  Although legally all citizens have the right to freedom, land and business ownership, voting, etc. there is still racial discrimination, both systemically and individually, directed towards People of Color.  It continues to be the goal of Benicia Black Lives Matter and other organizations directed towards positive change to help usher in a new, more equitable era free from racism and discrimination.  If you would like to join us in this effort, please contact us at www.benicia blacklivesmatter.com.

*The information in this article is based on information from the “North Bay Area African American TimeLine 1850-1925” and a 2012 article from the Daily Republic, entitled, “Exhibit Highlights Benicia’s African American Heritage,” written by Ian Thompson. 

Previous ‘Our Voices’ stories here on the BenIndy at
Benicia Black Lives Matter – Our Voices
     or on the BBLM website at

California launches first-in-nation taskforce to study reparations for Black Americans

The committee’s first meeting marks the beginning of a two-year process to address the harms of slavery and systemic racism

The Rev Dr Robert Turner of the Historic Vernon Chapel AME Church holds his weekly Reparations March in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photograph: Reuters
The Guardian, by staff and agency, June 1, 2021

A first-in-the-country taskforce to study and recommend reparations for African Americans held its inaugural meeting in California on Tuesday, launching a two-year process to address the harms of slavery and systemic racism.

The meeting of the first state reparations committee in the US coincided with a visit by Joe Biden to Oklahoma, during which the president marked the centenary of the Tulsa race massacre and commemorated the hundreds of Black Americans who were killed by a white mob in a flourishing district known as the “Black Wall Street”. It also comes just over a year after the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minnesota.

A federal slavery reparations bill passed out of the House judiciary committee in April, but it faces an uphill battle to becoming law. The bill was first introduced in Congress in 1989 and refers to the failed government effort to provide 40 acres (16 hectares) of land to newly freed slaves as the civil war wound down.

California’s secretary of state, Shirley Weber, who as a state assemblywoman authored the state legislation creating the taskforce, noted the solemnity of the occasion as well as the opportunity to right a historic wrong that continues today, in the form of large racial disparities in wealth, health and education. African Americans make up just 6% of California’s population yet were 30% of an estimated 250,000 people experiencing homelessness who sought help in 2020.

“Your task is to determine the depth of the harm, and the ways in which we are to repair that harm,” said Weber, whose sharecropper parents were forced to leave the south.

The state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who signed the bill into law last year, issued a formal apology to Native American tribal leaders in 2019. He also announced the creation of a council to examine the state’s role in campaigns to exterminate and exploit indigenous people in the state.

Critics have said that California was not a slaveholding state and should not have to study reparations, or pay for it. But Weber said the state is an economic powerhouse that can point the way for a federal government that has been unable to address the issue. It would not replace any reparations agreed to by the federal government.

In 1988, Ronald Reagan signed legislation providing $20,000 in redress and a formal apology to every surviving Japanese American incarcerated during the second world war.

Members of the taskforce pointed out that Black Americans have heard all their lives that they need to improve themselves, yet the truth is that they have been held back by outright racism and discriminatory laws that prevented them from getting conventional bank loans and buying homes.

Slavery may not have flourished in California as it did in southern states, they said, but African Americans were still treated harshly. Their neighborhoods in San Francisco and Los Angeles were razed in the name of development.

The nine taskforce members, appointed by Newsom and leaders of the legislature, include the descendants of slaves who are now prominent lawyers, academics and politicians.

Steven Bradford, a taskforce member and state senator, said he would like to model a reparations program on the GI bill, allowing for free college and assistance with home-buying.

“We have lost more than we have ever taken from this country,” Bradford said. “We have given more than has ever been given to us.”