Monday, June 17, 2019

The Transcontinental Railroad, African Americans and the California Dream

A pivotal moment for the era and a monumental industrial infrastructure achievement in the history of the United States, the transcontinental railroad completion in 1869 had a profound effect on American life which changed the nation forever. It was a revolution which reduced travel time from the east to west coasts from months to about a week, and at less cost than previous overland and by sea options, that open economic and cultural opportunities for the possibilities of the movement of people and goods. It opened California, other parts of the U.S., and the Pacific World to more travelers, tourists, emigrants, and settlers.

A settler colonialist and imperialist project, corporate and military organization hosted imported (mostly from China) laborers who were paid low wages to plow across and lay the tracks through indigenous people’s sovereign nation lands to connect the distant colony of California to become a vital part of the U.S. continental empire. The railroad companies produced pamphlets and magazines to recruit whites from the U.S. and Europe to settle in California and the West, and those who wanted to explore the Western landscape from the comfort of the modern railway car. Although not thought of as part of the audience for this promotion, African Americans would also learn and benefit from what the transcontinental railroad could offer.

Before, during and after the transcontinental line’s construction, in southern states, thousands of enslaved and then freedmen worked on the railroads grading lines, building bridges, and blasting tunnels. They working as firemen shoveling coal into the boiler riding alongside the engineer, and as brakemen and yard switchmen. They loaded baggage and freight, and sometimes drove the train. Even with racist resistance to blacks as they migrated to northern states that rose after the Civil War, the new freedmen joined their northern brothers in the few jobs like these mentioned which were open to them.

The post-Civil War years into the early decades of the twentieth century, black men gained employment on the transcontinental railroad, most often as Pullman Company’s Palace Car porters and waiters, helping to define American travel during the railroad transportation era. These Pullman porters, as they were called, made “porter” synonymous with “Negro,” and provided glorified servant work as valet, bellhop, maid, and janitor for luxury sleeper cars used for overnight travel. Pullman cars were like or better than the best of America’s hostelries of the era, only on wheels.

Paid low wages, Pullman porters had to make money in tips from the public to survive and thrive, which they unquestionably accomplished. These men worked long hours and faced routine racial discrimination, abuse and indignities. The exploitative working conditions were imposed by management supposedly to incentivize black employees to provide the best service, compliancy in following orders and resistance to unionization, and to intimidate them to be grateful for their jobs. Scholarly studies showed in the 1920s, the Pullman company hired the most African Americans in the U.S. and the porters were one of the worst exploited workers in the country. But even under these conditions the job did have life changing benefits.

Pullman porter jobs offered stable blue collar employment, the adventure, glamour and education of travel to many places, and escape from hard physical labor on the farm or in the factory. Interaction with more intelligent classes in the travelers who Pullman porters meet and served, and the information gained from these people and the publications they left behind on the trains, informed them about what was going on in the broader world. Porters passed this knowledge and publications on to their families and the black communities they passed through in their travels around the country.

Between 1867 and 1969, thousands of African American men changed history as they rode the nation’s railroads as Pullman porters. They were an example of upward mobility for black males during the nation’s railroad transportation era. They spread the word of higher wages and improved circumstances which helped energize the Great Migration of nearly 500,000 southern African Americans who moved to the North between 1915 and 1919, and those who followed in later decades during the twentieth century to western, as well as northern cities. They created the first labor union for African Americans, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (which also included the maids) in 1927, and helped build the 1950s–1960s phase of the civil rights movement.

California had its share of African American men who worked as Pullman porters and in other railroad jobs who migrated from southern states to its railroad hub cities during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They, like many African Americans, would have been attracted by California’s admittance to the Union as a free state in 1850, and the freedoms and opportunities this extended over the years. A history of less racially motivated violence and harassment directed towards African Americans was also an encouragement for migration to Los Angeles and other western cities. The opportunity for their children to attend public schools and the state’s 1893 anti-discrimination law were other factors which made California an enticing destination for new life opportunities.

John Wesley Coleman (1865–1930) worked as a Pullman porter for 12 years, after migrating with his family from Austin, Texas to Los Angeles at the time of an economic boom in 1887. An entrepreneurial clan, he and his relatives bought land and settled in Boyle Heights, a newly subdivided area just east of Los Angeles’ downtown and the river. They were some of the earliest African American settlers in Boyle Heights.

John Wesley Coleman and his family arrived in Los Angeles in 1887 from Austin, Texas and settled in the Boyle Heights District east of downtown. One of his early jobs in Los Angeles was working as a Pullman Porter, before he became a successful real estate investor, employment agent, and important civic leader. Photograph from The Negro Trail Blazers of California by Delilah Beasley, 1918.
Before and sometimes while Coleman worked as a railroad porter, he used his skill set and resources to take advantage of several employment and business development opportunities in his years of becoming an established Los Angeles citizen. By 1907, after ending his traveling around the country serving and meeting all types and classes of people as a Pullman porter, Coleman began one of his most enduring business endeavors. He opened an employment agency in downtown Los Angeles where he helped many African American newcomers find jobs.

Enormously successful in getting people employment up and down the Pacific coast, some observers in the African American media called Coleman the ”Employment King of Los Angeles.” Over the years, he also would accumulate and sell valuable regional real estate on his own and with relatives, and be a part of other business ventures such as the Hotel Coleman DeLuxe which provided services to primarily an African American clientele at Lake Elsinore, a resort town in Riverside County.

Among Coleman’s many significant civic leadership undertakings was in helping establish and support the Forum, founded in 1903. This organization encouraged collective action to advance and strengthen African Americans socially, intellectually, financially, and in Christian ethics. With a membership of all African American classes, the Forum fought against racial discrimination and engaged in philanthropic efforts. They supported black business development and patronage. They urged white-owned businesses and the government to employ African Americans in non-menial positions. Lasting until the 1940s, the Forum was one of the most important organizations in the history of African Americans in Los Angeles as it helped them develop a sense of community through providing a space for public discourse, civic organizing, political dialogue, and aided newcomers to network and assimilate into Los Angeles society.

While working as a Pullman porter, Arthur L. Reese (1883–1963) first traveled to Los Angeles and its environs. On a layover in 1902, he read in the newspaper about a new amusement pier and resort town construction by pioneering developer Abbot Kinney in an area to be called Venice of America on the Pacific Ocean’s Santa Monica Bay, just south of the city of the same name. Looking toward the future, Reese was interested to develop his own business and rode out on the streetcar to Venice to investigate what opportunities might be available for him with Abbot Kinney and his new venture. Soon after this, on his returned to Louisiana, Reese quit his railroad porter job and then moved to Los Angeles.

Arthur L. Reese discovered Los Angeles and Venice, California were he eventually moved, while on a layover from his Pullman Porter job in 1902. After moving to the region in 1904, Reese eventually became recognized as the “Wizard of Venice” due to the inventive decorations he designed for the Venice-of-America amusement center.(Photograph collage from the Arthur L. Lewis Family Archives)
Reese eventually established successful service oriented businesses which supported the needs of the Santa Monica and Venice business and residential community. Alongside his own business endeavors, he would become head of maintenance and decorations for the Kinney facilities and be very actively involved in Venice civic affairs with local business and other groups. Reese’s business operations would eventually extended into Los Angeles, and Lake Elsinore in Riverside County where he was part of a business partner in the Lake Shore Beach grounds, a resort site for African Americans. Over the years, Reese supervised a work force of a few dozen people which included several of his relatives who he inspired to migrate to California from Louisiana. Reese, his family members and other African Americans who worked with his and, or Abbot Kinney’s enterprises made up the early African American community which live in Los Angeles’ Venice beach community.

Like thousands of other African Americans in college, law and medical school, and other academic programs, Eugene Curry Nelson (1883–1962) spent summers working as a steamboat and railroad car waiter in the northeast U.S. In this temporary work, he earned a salary and tips which helped pay tuition and expenses for medical school and later the needed equipment for his professional office as a physician and surgeon. Born and reared in Charleston, South Carolina, he earned his undergraduate degree from Prairie View A&M University near Houston, Texas. He obtained his medical training degree from Meharry Medical School, in Nashville, Tennessee.

Dr. Eugene Curry Nelson, like so many young African American men and a few women when in college, law and medical school, and other academic programs, spent summers working on steamboats and railroad cars as waiters, porters and maids in the northeast U.S. to earn money to pay for tuition and other education. expenses. He moved to Los Angeles in 1914. 
In 1911, Nelson commenced his medical practice in Virginia, before migrating to Los Angeles in 1914, where he settled and built a practice that included patients who were African American, white, and from other racial and ethnic groups. In Los Angeles, even before the end of the Jim Crow era in the middle decades of the twentieth century, it was not uncommon for African American physicians to have patients from the varied ethnic communities of the city. This occurred even as these doctors and other African Americans were discriminated against in most other professional, employment and social settings.

By 1924, Nelson was called “one of California’s wealthiest Negroes” by Noah D. Thompson in an article which appeared in The Messenger, a nationally circulated African American monthly published by A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen in New York. In additional to practicing medicine, Nelson invested in several businesses in finance, real estate, manufacturing, oil, and amusement. He also held leadership roles in undertakings to promote and develop African American businesses and civic participation for individual and group benefit. In the 1920s, Nelson was part of a group of very ambitious African American businessmen who bought the white owned, Parkridge Country Club in Corona, a Riverside County community, to operate as an interracial space of recreation and for a new African American community development in Southern California’s Inland Empire.

Coleman, Reese, Nelson and others who worked as Pullman porters and waiters exemplified the “New Negro” determined to achieve fuller participation in American society in a hostile white world. Along the way, these men helped give birth to the African American professional classes. The transcontinental railroad line offered them new opportunities for employment, broader knowledge about the U.S. for their personal betterment and that of their community. It facilitated the ability of Coleman, Reese, Nelson and many other African American men and their relatives to migrate to Los Angeles to live their California Dream of new life opportunities in a mild climate and sublime landscape.

Jefferson, Alison Rose. Living the California Dream, African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, in press.

Tye, Larry. Rising from the Rails, Pullman Porters ad the Making of the Black Middle Class. New York: Owl Books/Henry Holt and Company, 2004.

Written by Alison Rose Jefferson, MHC, PhD., 

Monday, June 10, 2019

Children's voices in the Archives : El Joaquin Newspaper

Children’s Voices in the Archives is a series of posts brought to you by CHS’s North Baker Research Library.

Reading through the historical newspaper issues of El Joaquin is a strange experience. El Joaquin was a newspaper published in the Stockton Assembly Center during Japanese incarceration. This was considered a ‘temporary detention center’--such centers or concentration camps as called by others were used from late March, 1942 until mid-October, 1942. The El Joaquin newspaper issues in CHS’s collections have a run from May 1942 to the Final Edition, September, 1942. It was published every Wednesday and Saturday by the El Joaquin Press, W.C.C.A. Assembly Center, Stockton, CA. Single copies were delivered to each ‘apartment’ free of charge.

The editors of the newspaper seem to take great pains to tread the line between boosting morale--in the face of a racist policy that used war as an excuse to force Japanese citizens and residents out of their households--and appeasing the people who were incarcerated, perhaps in the attempt to ensure their safety. In the first Volume (issue no. 1) one gets a sense of the appeasing tone the editors use to try to get everyone to cooperate: “However, our personal frustrations must be shelved temporarily for an undertaking which requires each individual to cooperate with his fullest and best effort” (p. 1). This appeal seems at once appeasing yet subversive. Why subversive? Let me explain.

The same Volume 1 (no. 4) introduces us to Pancho, the newspaper mascot. Pancho is a toothy El Joaquin staff character: “Little Pancho represents the spirit of the Center. He is Patient, Active and Neighborly, Courteous, slap-Happy and Orderly” (an acrostic for his name).

Pancho for President, June 10, 1942; El Joaquin, Vol. 1, No. 4; OV Vault 289, Stockton Assembly center; California Historical Society.
On closer study, little Pancho has an interesting backstory the reader may peruse in the El Joaquin Final Edition (page L3). When the newspaper staff discover little Pancho “perched pertly on the Art Editor’s desk” toting a huge sombrero with “patches of hair showing underneath” the staff writes that upon more close observation of this “mysterious object… we noticed that there was a face and even a body beneath the hat. ‘Hey,” we shouted, “What the ____.”

When they ask Pancho what he is doing there, Pancho replies, “Why… you know me. I helped develop the lands around here. I raised beets, celery, grapes, potatoes, and even carrots. I’ve been a doctor, lawyer, farmer, merchant, laborer and a scholar. You’ve seen me around -- everywhere. I came in when the evacuation order was issued, because I had to” (Final Edition, L3). The staff notes how their adopted mascot then leaps gracefully from the table to the right-hand corner of the front page with a cry of “Let it roll.” The story of Pancho within the pages of El Joaquin begins a subtle subversive thread of a character who is resilient and ready to take on the immense burden of captivity with an industrious spirit.

But the subversive hint doesn’t end here. Remember--the El Joaquin newspaper had to, by the nature of the people’s captivity, be tame since the captors and hired staff of administrators and center’s workers could read its contents. In the issues I reviewed, I didn’t find the significance of the name “El Joaquin.” I wondered if there was more to it than being emblematic of San Joaquin County, the center’s county location in Stockton. It turns out there may be more history there. Upon speaking with library staff at the San Joaquin County Historical Society and Museum, the special collections staff thought that at first glance the newspaper was just named after the county. However, when the staff spoke with the Education Director, he mentioned that according to local lore the name has historical significance for one of the following reasons:

The newspaper was named after Joaquin Murrieta, a symbol of resistance.
Cover page, September 28, 1942; El Joaquin Final Edition, 1942; OV Vault 289, Stockton Assembly center; California Historical Society.
Joaquin Murrieta was a “legendary bandit who became a hero of the Mexican-Americans in California” during a time when Yankee miners pressured the legislature in Sacramento in 1850 to pass the Greaser Act and the Foreign Miners Act with the intent to drive out Mexicans (Encyclopædia Britannica). According to lore, Murrieta or several “Murrietas” responded to the oppression by “leading bands of outlaws that raided up and down the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys, robbing gold miners and holding up stages” (Encyclopædia Britannica). Murrieta reached a symbolic status as a freedom fighter that has “long resonated and provided a powerful symbol of resistance for Chicano activists” (Encyclopædia Britannica). Could this resonance be the motive for the re-branding of El Joaquin Newspaper by the editors? Remember there is power in naming. Is it a reach to say that the branding of El Joaquin Newspaper by the editors was a subtle act of resistance? A way of reminding us of the historical implications of racist laws meant to favor one group over another and undoing it by capturing the original spirit of a Mexican migrant who wanted to settle with his bride in California?

Researchers must read between the lines and sometimes history is completely hidden from records and/or passed on as oral history. It’s hard to discover the “truth.” Remember the echoing lines, “Why… you know me. I helped develop the lands around here. I raised beets ... even carrots. I’ve been a doctor, lawyer, farmer, merchant, laborer and a scholar. You’ve seen me around -- everywhere. I came in when the evacuation order was issued, because I had to.” If the Japanese community saw themselves as Americans, they saw themselves as the traditional ideal of what Americans aspire to be: a helping hand, a laborer, a farmer, an intellectual. Whatever circumstance they are forced into, that ideal rises to meet the massive ‘challenge’ (an understatement in this context). Words are well but don’t always convey their true meaning. So we keep reading between the lines and between bodies’ gestures and actions.

What terribly complicates this captivity and the extent to which the captive can object, resist, or openly rebel are, of course, the children. Imagine if you were a parent under captivity. Imagine what you would do if you were forced out of your home and told that you and your children had to stay in an assembly center until further notice not knowing what will happen. What would you do?

The people at the Stockton Assembly Center and the newspaper staff got to work immediately-- organizing a nursery school; training Boy Scouts “the value of serving their communities” (A8, Final Issue); informing the “centerites” mothers that infant care would be provided as the dreams of the people were crushed when they were told they were being relocated to another new facility dubbed the “Arkansas project” (Final El Joaquin issue).

Pancho with travel bags, Aug. 8, 1942; El Joaquin, Vol. 2, no. 9. OV Vault 289, Stockton Assembly center; California Historical Society.
From church activities (Buddhist and Christian), to playing chess, performing Nisei symphonies, writing bittersweet poetry and humorous drawings, and setting up school lessons by dedicated volunteers serving as teachers in the center, the people of the Stockton Assembly Center arose to a difficult situation by uniting and organizing to make things work and to protect the children.

Kids playing chess, July 29, 1942; El Joaquin, Vol. 2, No. 6; OV Vault 289, Stockton Assembly center; California Historical Society. 
“Night and a Mood” poem, September 28, 1942; El Joaquin Final Edition, 1942; OV Vault 289, Stockton Assembly center; California Historical Society.

When I say that reading El Joaquin is a strange experience I mean to reflect upon the strength of the human spirit--how we meet captivity by doing what we’ve always learned to do--laughing at ourselves; caring for the children and ensuring that their minds and bodies keep active (I’m thinking of the Girls’ All-Star Teams noted in the Final Edition); dancing with “shimmering hues of brightly colored kimonos” (Vo. II, No. 2); informing our community of the latest developments through print and word of mouth--this is what a resilient and resisting people do. One may ask the bold question: What else can you do when you hope that the lives of the children will continue and maybe even thrive despite the trauma of captivity.
History repeats itself but it need not. We can learn from our costly mistakes and those of our ancestors. We can grow wiser and be better humans. We can resist. We can protect each other if we unite and raise a cry of protest against injustice.

El Joaquin takes kids to center store, August 5, 1942; El Joaquin, Vol. II, No. 8; OV Vault 289, Stockton Assembly center; California Historical Society.

El Joaquin, 1942; OV Vault 289, Stockton Assembly center; California Historical Society.

Joaquin Murrieta. (2019, May 1).  Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved May 29, 2019 from

Nisei. (2017, September 11). Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved May 29, 2019 from

Stockton (detention facility). (2015, July 14). Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved 15:31, May 29, 2019 from

Written by Lynda Letona, Assistant Archivist & Reference Librarian at California Historical Society (CHS).

Photos digitized by Marissa Friedman, Imaging Technician and Cataloger at CHS.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

What Not to Miss: PRIDE Month at CHS

Part of the work of public programming is to level with the fact that there are always gaps in the narrative, always stories that have not been shared with your audiences, whether they be a result of bias, mistake, or intention. To work in public programming means that you must look into yourself and seek feedback from others, assess the menu you provide and ask yourself and your department key questions such as: What is missing? Who is not being heard? Who should tell those stories?

Oftentimes speakers, staff members, and colleagues from across the cultural institution spectrum come to you with thoughts on programming, which was the case with the set of four programs we are presenting this June to celebrate, honor, and share the histories of LGBTQA+ in California.

Susan Anderson, Director of Collections, Library, Exhibitions, and Programs at CHS and I worked closely to design these programs and sought ideas and feedback from CHS staff, archival institutions, historians, and those within the communities whose history we are presenting. We are honored to share these programs with you and hope to see you at one (or more of them)!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019, 6:00PM
Transgender History: The Roots of Today's Revolution
Presentation and Audience Q&A
$5 General Admission, Free for CHS and Tenderloin Museum Members + one guest
In partnership with the Tenderloin Museum

Join us for an evening with award-winning scholar and filmmaker Susan Stryker as she presents on the newest edition of her book, Transgender History: The Roots of Today’s Revolution (Seal Press 2008, 2017), with particular emphasis on San Francisco's rich transgender history, from the 19th century to the present.

About our Speaker:

Susan Stryker is an award-winning scholar and filmmaker whose historical research, theoretical writing, and creative works have helped shape the cultural conversation on transgender topics since the early 1990s. Dr. Stryker earned her Ph.D. in United States History at the University of California-Berkeley in 1992, later held a Ford Foundation/Social Science Research Council post-doctoral fellowship in sexuality studies at Stanford University, and has been a distinguished visiting faculty member at Harvard University, Yale University, Northwestern University, Johns Hopkins University, University of California-Santa Cruz, Macquarie University in Sydney, and Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. She is the author, co-author, editor, or co-editor of numerous books and anthologies, including Gay by the Bay: A History of Queer Culture in the San Francisco Bay Area (Chronicle 1996), Queer Pulp: Perverse Passions in the Golden Age of the Paperback (Chronicle 2000), The Transgender Studies Reader (Routledge 2006), The Transgender Studies Reader 2 (2013) and Transgender History: The Roots of Today’s Revolution (Seal Press 2008, 2017).

Her academic articles have appeared in such publications as GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Radical History Review, South Atlantic Quarterly, Parallax, Australian Feminist Studies, Social Semiotics, and Journal of Women’s History, while her public scholarship has appeared in Aperture, Wired, The Utne Reader, and She won an Emmy Award for her documentary film Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria (ITVS 2005), and is also the recipient of a Lambda Literary Award (2006), the Ruth Benedict Book Prize (2013), the Monette-Horowitz Prize for LGBTQ activism (2008), the Transgender Law Center’s Community Vanguard Award (2003), two career achievement awards in LGBTQ Studies—the David Kessler Award in from the City University of New York’s Center for LGBT Studies in 2008, Yale University’s Brudner Memorial Prize in 2015, and a Local Genius Award from MOCA Tucson in 2018. Dr. Stryker served for several years as Executive Director of the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco (1999-2003), and for five years as Director of the Institute for LGBT Studies at the University of Arizona (2011-2016), where she is Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and coordinator of the university’s Transgender Studies Initiative. In addition to serving as founding co-editor of the academic journal TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, she is currently developing several media projects and has a book under contract to Farrar Straus Giroux, What Transpires Now, about the uses of transgender history for the present.
About the Book:

Covering American transgender history from the mid-twentieth century to today, Transgender History takes a chronological approach to the subject of transgender history, with each chapter covering major movements, writings, and events. Chapters cover the transsexual and transvestite communities in the years following World War II; trans radicalism and social change, which spanned from 1966 with the publication of The Transsexual Phenomenon, and lasted through the early 1970s; the mid-’70s to 1990-the era of identity politics and the changes witnessed in trans circles through these years; and the gender issues witnessed through the ’90s and ’00s.

Transgender History includes informative sidebars highlighting quotes from major texts and speeches in transgender history and brief biographies of key players, plus excerpts from transgender memoirs and discussion of treatments of transgenderism in popular culture.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019
Major! The life and campaigns of Miss Major Griffin-Gracy
A film screening
$5 General Admission, Free Admission for CHS Members + one guest

Join us for a film screening of MAJOR!, a film that follows the life and campaigns of Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a 73-year-old Black transgender woman who has been fighting for the rights of trans women of color for more than 40 years. It is a story of one woman’s journey, a community’s history, and how caring for one another can be a revolutionary act.

Miss Major’s personal story and activism for transgender civil rights, from mobile outreach and AIDS prevention to fighting the prison industrial complex intersects LGBT struggles for justice and equality from the 1960s and today. She is a veteran of the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion and was incarcerated at Attica months after the 1971 Uprising. Most recently, Miss Major has served as the executive director of the San Francisco-based Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), a grassroots organization advocating for trans women of color in and outside of prison that is led by trans women of color.

Miss Major’s extraordinary life and personal story is one of resilience and celebration within a community that has historically been traumatized and marginalized. While mainstream gay rights and marriage equality dominate the headlines, Miss Major’s life is a testament to fierce survivalism and the everyday concerns of transgender women of color, who so often live in the margin of the already marginalized.

About the Filmmakers:

Annalise Ophelian (producer/director) is an award-winning filmmaker, psychologist, and consultant whose work includes Diagnosing Difference (2009). She identifies as a white, queer, cis woman, and her work focuses on decolonizing and the documentary filmmaking process.

StormMiguel Florez (co-producer/editor) is a Xicano transgender musician and multi-media artist. He is the owner of Bad Flower Productions, providing services to queer and trans artists of color to help bring their creative projects to life.

Thursday, June 20, 2019, 6:00PM
Call and Response: Curator Swap
20-minute presentations at each organization
Free for Third Thursday

The Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM), California Historical Society (CHS) and Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) launch a new progressive gallery talk. Educators and curators examine work in each museum's exhibitions in connection with Pride.

We will begin at MoAD at 6pm, spend 20 minutes in each space, moving on next to CHS and concluding at the CJM. Join us to learn new perspectives and create connections with neighboring Yerba Buena institutions.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019, 6:00PM
California's "Gay Revolution" in the Stonewall Era
A Presentation and Audience Q&A
$5 General Admission, Free Admission for CHS Members + one guest

On the Fourth of July in 1969, the Berkeley Barb published one of the earliest media reports on the Stonewall Riots in New York City. The article was authored by Leo Laurence, one of the co-founders of San Francisco’s Committee for Homosexual Freedom, and “Gays Hit NY Cops” began by declaring, “Homosexuals took to the streets in New York City last weekend and joined the revolution.” Laurence’s account was supportive of the rioters, but deliberately noted that those who had fought back at Stonewall were “joining” rather than “starting” the revolution. J. Marks, identified as the author of Rock and Other Four-Letter Words and an eyewitness to the riots, was quoted as telling Laurence, “The gay community in New York City has been inspired by your homosexual liberation stories in the BARB.” These stories, which began appearing several months before Stonewall had reported on the Bay Area’s “gay revolution” as well as the alliances that gay radicals had tried to forge with other leftist movements, and the demonstrations that CHF had organized to protest police violence, capitalist exploitation, and the war machine.

This presentation introduces a set of California developments that are highlighted in Marc Stein’s forthcoming book, The Stonewall Riots: A Documentary History (NYU Press, June 2019). After reviewing pre-Stonewall direct action protests in California, the presentation turns to the Stonewall era, focusing on how news about the riots reached the West Coast, how Californians viewed the uprising in relation to pre-Stonewall developments, and how Golden State residents responded to the news from New York.

About our Speaker:

Marc Stein is the Jamie and Phyllis Pasker Professor of History at San Francisco State University and the vice chair of the GLBT Historical Society Board of Directors. He is the author of City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia (University of Chicago Press, 2000), Sexual Injustice: Supreme Court Decisions from Griswold to Roe (University of North Carolina Press, 2010), and Rethinking the Gay and Lesbian Movement (Routledge, 2012). He also served as editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia of LGBT History in America (Scribners, 2003) and guest editor of the Homophile Internationalism special issue of the Journal of Homosexuality (2017). His next book, The Stonewall Riots: A Documentary History, will be published in June 2019 by NYU Press. To learn more about the book, explore its NYU Page.

Sunday, June 30, 2019
Museums with Pride

See our staff on the parade route with the Museums with Pride contingent! Celebrate with us as we walk with fellow institutions like the Exploratorium, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, SFMOMA, American Bookbinders Museum, Museum of African Diaspora, Asian Art Museum, Oakland Museum of California, The Contemporary Jewish Museum, Walt Disney Family Museum, California Academy of Sciences, and more!


Written by Patricia Pforte, Public Programs and Visitor Experience Manager at California Historical Society

Monday, June 3, 2019

History’s Imprint on the Land: Mark Ruwedel and Westward the Course of Empire

Last month, organizations throughout the West celebrate the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the first transcontinental railroad in North America. The California Historical Society commemorates this historic event with an exhibition featuring a contemporary photographic study of railroad landscapes by artist Mark Ruwedel (b. 1954). His series Westward the Course of Empire (1998–2004) documents hundreds of abandoned or never-completed lines throughout the US and Canadian West. Rather than chronicle the achievement of laying tracks across the frontier, the expansive survey asks us to consider the legacy of a technology that once promised to (and in many ways did) change the world.

Mark Ruwedel, Death Valley #16, 2001, gelatin silver print
 The triumphant joining of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads at Promontory Point, Utah, on May 10, 1869, marked the beginning of a period of prolific railroad construction. Short lines built for specific purposes crisscrossed the West. By the mid-twentieth century, redundancy, lack of demand, financial mismanagement, consolidation, and the rise of automobiles brought about an industry-wide decline. Ruwedel’s Death Valley #16 (2001), for example, shows us the remnants of a trestle that once carried trains full of borax from mines in Ryan, California, over a moon-like landscape. The narrow-gauge Death Valley Railroad (1914–31) was a feeder for the larger Tonapah and Tidewater (1907–41); both railroads closed when mining operations moved closer to better deposits, making them unprofitable.

For the series, Ruwedel used a large-format view camera and printed in gelatin silver—analog equipment and materials similar to those of the first railroad photographers. Westward the Course of Empire even takes its name from nineteenth-century images—specifically, a widely reproduced lithograph published by Currier & Ives and photographs by Alexander Gardner—that visualized US territorial expansion as iron horses crossing the frontier. Their purpose was to celebrate modern civilization’s ability to reach across the continent and its corollary conquest of hostile land and native peoples.

Mark Ruwedel, Spokane Portland and Seattle #35, 2001, gelatin silver print

Ruwedel trod much of the same physical territory, often photographing features of the Western landscape that earlier photographers made iconic, but his images suggest hubris rather than victory. In Spokane Portland and Seattle #35 (2001), a craggy mountain cut opens to a view of distant hills, and we can practically envision a locomotive chugging through the pass, but there is no train here, and the tracks are nothing more than a pile of wood on the side of the road. In Central Pacific #51 (1994), railroad ties vanish in the distance—not into the horizon but into tall grass and dirt. The road takes on the character of something archaeological, an ancient path of a culture that no longer exists.
Mark Ruwedel, Central Pacific #51, 1994, gelatin silver print
In a recent talk at the California Historical Society, Ruwedel described the “land as a stage for human activity,”1 a notion that echoes ideas introduced in the 1970s by the New Topographics photographers, including Lewis Baltz, Robert Adams, and Bernd and Hilla Becher. Their work marked a decisive shift away from heroic views of pristine nature (or exaltations of technological achievement) in favor of human-altered landscapes that they presented with a distinct lack of artifice and near-scientific objectivity.

Mark Ruwedel, photographs from Westward the Course of Empire on view at the California Historical Society, 2019
Ruwedel made the views for Westward the Course of Empire with a similar precision and formal rigor, using what he describes as “consistent camera syntax.” He photographed each site from a similar perspective and isolated it from its context or the full length of its original road. He then compiled the photographs into an inventory organized by type: cuts, grades, tunnels, water towers. (Only his pictures of trestles—best seen from distances or angles—deviate from his usual vantage point.) He presents the series in grids that suggest rationality while pointing to the scale and disorderliness of the railroad-building enterprise.

As though cataloging unique specimens, Ruwedel carefully handwrote the name of the rail line in pencil below each photograph. These names, he says, were aspirational in that many of the lines never reached their intended destinations. Tonapah and Tidewater, for example, did not meet the ocean. Nevertheless, he notes that “the caption implicates the picture in a historical drama.” These are not empty landscapes to be filled with human ambitions but evidence of what happened, the imprint of history on the land.

In many ways Ruwedel’s photographs are neutral documents that simply bear witness to the contest between nature and technology. Yet by showing us sites we would typically overlook and treating them like monuments elegantly rendered in gelatin silver, Ruwedel makes his point. The impact of our collective social and economic goals on the land deserves our attention.

Watch footage from our April 24th artists talk with Mark Ruwedel below:


1. This and all subsequent Mark Ruwedel quotations are taken from his April 24, 2019, talk at the California Historical Society.
Written by Erin Garcia, Managing Curator of Exhibitions

Monday, May 27, 2019

Spotlight on Japanese American History

Brocade of Sacramento Valley, 1911; Vault 13061; California Historical Society. Translated Title: Japanese in California: A pictorial history. By Nichei Bei Times, 1911; California Historical Society

This special edition booklet , created in 1911 by the Nichei-Bei Shimbun (Japanese American Times), provides a pictorial history of Japanese American families in rural California. It both documents and celebrates the Japanese community in the Sacramento Valley region and the important contributions they made to California’s agricultural economy early in the early twentieth century.

Watch shop owned by Mr. Aokihaka, Sacramento County, Calif.; Brocade of Sacramento Valley; Vault 13061; California Historical Society
In 1869, when the transcontinental railroad laid its last piece of track, Chinese workers, the labor force behind the building of the railroad, were left to seek employment elsewhere. At the same time, in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys, Northern California’s farming and agriculture industry was fast-expanding to meet the needs of a growing State. It was in these areas that many displaced Chinese workers migrated. Despite the clear need for labor in the orchards, fields, and vineyards of these regions anti-Chinese sentiment, formalized in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, was rampant - forcing many to move to urban areas where Chinatowns offered some form of protection against racial violence.

Kaishundo Drug Store, Sacramento, Calif.; Brocade of Sacramento Valley; Vault 13061
As Chinese workers were forced out, labor needs in these agriculture and farming areas started to be filled by newly arrived immigrants from Japan. Post 1900, immigration from Japan to Hawaii and the West Coast of America was fueled by people seeking economic security and many Japanese, particularly those from rural farming and fishing villages, took advantage of Japan’s loosening emigration laws to seek employment overseas. Communities were born all over rural California as people from the same prefecture in Japan often settled near each other, many making the transition over time from agricultural laborers to tenant farmers and even business owners. 

Mikado Fish Market with owner Mr. Fujita, Sacramento, Cal., Brocade of Sacramento Valley; Vault 13061
Valerie Matsumoto in her book, Farming the home place: a Japanese American community in California, 1919-1982, estimates that between 1891 and 1900, 27,440 Japanese came to the West Coast from Hawaii and Japan to work in agriculture, canneries, logging, mining, and other industries, and that within a relatively brief period agriculture became the leading enterprise of the Japanese. In some areas of central California all-Japanese communities developed, including Florin in Sacramento County (known in Japanese as Taishoku) and the Yamato Colony at Livingston in Merced County.

[K. Igarashi & Co. Brocade of Sacramento Valley], Brocade of Sacremento Valley, Nichi Bei Times, 1911. Vault 13061

By 1913, two years after Nichei-Bei Times published this pictorial of the Japanese American community in Sacramento Valley, as many as 6,000 Japanese had become tenant farmers. Despite this clear need for labor, increasing xenophobia paved the way for discriminatory laws targeting Japanese farmers. The Alien Land Law of 1913 prohibited "aliens ineligible for citizenship" from owning agricultural land or possessing long-term leases over it.” In 1920, California made this law even stricter with amendments that prohibited even short-term leases of lands to non-US citizens. 

These communities, continually under threat, were ultimately decimated in 1942 when Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, forcibly removing all Japanese residents and American citizens of Japanese ancestry and incarcerating them for the duration of WWII.

For many, after 1945, there was no home, no work, and no community to return to.

Nichei-Bei Shimbun [Japanese American news] 
Established in San Francisco in 1899, the Nichibei Shimbun was one of the most prominent ethnic newspapers in the continental United States. Reflective of its founder Kyutaro Abiko's vision, the newspaper called for assimilation and permanent settlement among Issei (“first generation”) as well as biculturalism and American patriotism among Nissei (“second generation”).

Throughout the prewar years, the Nichibei Shimbun remained one of the most important Japanese vernaculars in California, if not in the entire western United States. During the 1920s, its daily circulation peaked at over 25,000, which included the San Francisco and Los Angeles editions.


Waves of Immigration, by Emily Anderson, Densho Encyclopedia,

Terminology, Densho Encyclopedia,

National Park Service, A History of Japanese Americans in California: Patterns of Settlement and Occupational Characteristics, National Park Service,

The California Alien Land Law and the Fourteenth Amendment, Edwin E. Ferguson, Vol. 35, Issue 1, March 1947,

Matsumoto, V. J. (1993). Farming the home place: A Japanese American community in California, 1919-1982. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press.


Written by Frances Kaplan, Research Librarian at California Historical Society

Monday, May 20, 2019

Behind the Scenes with Research Librarian Frances Kaplan

Recently we sat down with California Historical Society’s Research Librarian, Frances Kaplan, to discuss the rich stock of resources available to the public through the North Baker Research Library.

The North Baker Research library is a “special collections library,” can you explain what that means?
A special collections library is different from a lending library which would cover a vast range of topics. Ours is a research library where people come to do more in-depth research on collections that we have in our archives. Our focus is only California, which is bigger than a lot of places but smaller in scale than what many other libraries may cover. We house diverse collections that people can view and study to help them draw their own perspectives of the history of California.

What’s the difference between CHS’s library and a regular public library?
At a public library you generally don’t have rare materials and it’s usually a lending library, meaning they let you take the books home with you. We don’t loan out our materials because they are rare and unique. We are similar to some universities which will have a library for student use but also have special collections that focus on one area, for example the labor archives at SF State.

What does the public have access to through the North Baker Research Library?
We have more than half a million photographs as well as 35,000 books and 4,000 manuscript collections, plus maps, ephemera, posters, broadsides, periodicals, newspapers, and the Kemble Collection on Western Printing and Publishing. The bulk of our collections date from the 1860’s through the 1970’s, but we do have some very early manuscript material from when California was still part of Mexico. The public has access to everything in our vaults if they come visit during the library’s open hours. Anyone can visit the library and request to see a collection, which we will then take out of the vault for you to explore. People can also access our collection through the digital library, where we are rapidly digitizing material, and we have an online catalog which lets you see what we have and what you might want to look at when you come for an in person visit.

Can you talk a little more about the work you and the rest of the library and collections staff are doing to make our collections accessible to people who might not be able to physically visit our space?
We realize that it’s getting harder to get to San Francisco and difficult to stay here a long time, especially if you are a researcher exploring a specific topic. We want to, and are in the process of, digitizing as much of our collection as possible. The library is an intermediary between someone wanting to find information and the vaults below us where the information might be and so we want to make accessing those amazing resources as easy as possible. We do have to uphold a very deliberate process though, because the moment that we digitize something it becomes its own object that needs to be preserved and cataloged. There are also sometimes copyright and third-party rights that need to be addressed before a digital image is displayed online. Also some things you just can’t digitize, they’re too fragile, they’re oversized, or they might be thousands of pages long. So what we try to do is prioritize our digitization needs. Things that are older or more fragile need to be digitized sooner rather than later so they are handled and worn less. One example of a collection we recently digitized is the Peoples Temple collection. In this instance we felt it was necessary to digitize the photographs in the collection first, allowing people access to them immediately for research and learning purposes. That became a priority over the manuscripts materials, of which there are over one hundred boxes. The entire Peoples Temple collection is, however, open to researchers who visit our library.

Who comes to the library?
We get researchers from all over the world, we get people who are interested in their family genealogy, we get people from SF and the Bay Area who are interested in their neighborhood or their building history. We also get a lot of people from out of state or country who have a research topic in mind. We recently had a researcher from South Africa and spend a few days in our library looking over plans, drawings, and manuscripts related to water projects by a Californian who worked for a period of time in South Africa. There was also a professor from New Zealand who flew here to go through records we hold by the American Civil Liberties Union-Northern California. We also see a number of students, predominantly at the college and graduate level, but we welcome elementary and high school students as well! CHS is the source of material for lots of research that turns into books. So many of the books on our library shelves are by authors who came to the library seeking material from our collections in order to write their book. We also see a lot of documentary film makers here, as well as architectural historians, and journalists who are usually covering some aspect of local history.

How do we get our collection material?
Our original collection came from C. Templeton Crocker who, in 1922, donated his collection of rare books, manuscripts, maps, newspapers, and periodicals emphasizing overland travel, California’s transition from a Mexican province to statehood, and the Gold Rush. CHS has continued collecting with a focus on the documenting the diverse history of California.

When we acquire material to be added to our collection, it goes through a very stringent process because we want to make sure that we can take care of it, preserve it, and that it fits into our collection scope and policy.  Unfortunately, we can’t take everything and that means we do have very specific criteria for accepting things.

What is your role at the library?
I see my role as one of public service. I am part of the public face of the library and the first person people come across if they have a question they need to find an answer to, whether in person or by phone or email. I am the person that they can talk about their project with and discuss what they are hoping to find. I am able to show them how to use our catalogs or let them know more about the items they are interested in, and if we don’t have anything that meets their needs, I can let them know about what other institutions and archives might be able to help them. So it is my job to connect people to the right institution and the best place in order to find what they are looking for – whether that be the history center at San Francisco Public Library, the archives at UCSF, or one of the many wonderful special collections held at the University of California libraries or the California State University libraries. For many people, they need to go to more than one place if they want a variety of information because much of it is scattered across different archives.

Can you highlight something interesting from our archives that you’ve been working with recently?
We are constantly digitizing and cataloging and finding items in our collection that we didn’t necessarily know were there. The goal is that everything that we keep here ultimately has a description that people can see through the catalog on our website. We have a rare book cataloger, we have a manuscripts archivist, someone who works exclusively with photographs, etc.

A few items recently came to me through our rare book and printed material cataloger. He stumbled upon this pamphlet of Camp Curry in Yosemite from 1912. This is so timely, because right now we have an exhibition up about the Transcontinental Railroad, which made Yosemite easier to get to and more accessible that it is now in many ways. In the pamphlet they have a bit about how you can go by rail and then by stagecoach - “people may obtain stopover privileges on their transcontinental tickets at Merced. Then they changed to Yosemite Valley Railway or take a Pullman Car directly from either San Francisco or L.A.” So that’s how they got there in the olden days which makes it a lot more accessible in some ways than it is now.

Other things we might have had in our collection for a long time but because we have so many items, I don’t know them all. Sometimes when a researcher requests something, it’s the first time I’ve seen it. This is occurred recently and I was surprised to discover the original drawings by Donald Graham Kelley of the official California Bear design for the CA state flag. These are the original illustrations from 1952. It’s so cool because it allows you to follow the design process. You see that Kelley was commissioned by the government to create this and then you see scientific feedback on the bear figure from Tracy Storer, professor of zoology at UC Davis, based on the initial sketches that were sent over. 

Every now and then we discover material within our vaults that we didn’t realize even existed because it was hidden inside another collection. Thus was the case with this one last item I am intrigued with – it is a photographic album of images of Clark’s Waterworks from 1890-1891. This company existed before all of the other waterworks systems in San Francisco. It was a private enterprise from really early on. Clark owned a bunch of Eureka Valley and Glen Park and started his own waterworks business, damning and pumping water from that area and supplying it to the people around him, before the city owned the water systems.

We invite you to visit us at the North Baker Research Library at 678 Mission Street in San Francisco, Wednesday through Friday, 1PM to 5PM. You can access our digital library here and our online catalog here. The University of Southern California has also digitized and maintains images from our collection which can be found here.