December 5, 2020

Allensworth

Lt. Colonel Allen Allensworth – Founder of California’s Only Black-Owned Town

Once upon a time in Black Entrepreneur History was a black man named Lt. Col. Allen Allensworth who founded the 1st and only African American town in the state of California called Allensworth, financed and governed by black people. He was also the 1st African American to reach Lt. Colonel.

Lt. Col. Allensworth had a goal of black people living and thriving completely independent of white overseers or financing. He wanted and knew that the only way for African Americans to succeed was to succeed on their own as a people. This success came with ownership.

It was at the beginning of Lt. Col. Allensworth’s life that wasn’t quite like his independent end. Instead, it was a life born into bondage as an enslaved baby, born to his enslaved mother Phillis (Phyllis) on April 7, 1842 . He was one of eight children. His father is recorded as a man named Levi Allensworth.

Allen was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and after growing up enslaved, he found his way of escape during the Civil War. He escaped and became a Union soldier and then a minister and educator over the course of years.

During his time in the military and as an educator, speaker and minister, he found love and married a Kentuckian named Josephine Leavell, who was a pianist and also ended up assisting with the founding of the town of Allensworth, most notably being founder of the Women’s Improvement League in the black-owned and operated California town.

Allen and Josephine had two children – Eva Bell Allensworth (Skanks) and Nella Allensworth (Blodgett), who later in life married Louis Blodgett, a highly successful black contractor in Los Angeles.

As far as his education, Allen enrolled in Ely Normal School and then Nashville Institute. He enjoyed teaching formerly enslaved and African American children because he believed it was necessary and brought about independence.

He studied theology in Tennessee and was ordained as a Baptist preacher in 1871. Allen also became involved in politics, becoming the 1st African American appointed to the Republican National Convention in Kentucky.

Years went by with Allen living a very active and vocal life, speaking, preaching and teaching while also being a father and husband along with networking and coming together with others who backed the idea of building a community owned and operated by black people.

On June 6, 1908, the community of Allensworth was founded. The new two was 900 acres, according to The California Eagle, the largest black-owned newspaper on the west coast, over 250 families moved in, contributed and thrived in the new community that later became a town, complete with its own church, voting precinct and school district. Many organizations were founded by various black entrepreneurs in the town such as:

  • The Owl Club
  • The Girls’ Glee Club
  • The Campfire Girls
  • Children’s Saving Association
  • The Sewing Circle
  • The Whist Club
  • The Debating Society
  • The Theater Club

Other co-founders of the town of Allensworth were Professor William Payne who was the 1st teacher at the Allensworth School and principal, John W. Palmer who was a minister, William H. Peck, a miner and Harry A Mitchell, a real estate agent.

The community thrived, totally on black money, skills, and entrepreneurs, known and unknown. Coming out of the town of Allensworth was the 1st African American Justice of the Peace in California. Because of the success of Allenstown, the hatred surrounding the town grew by white racists who didn’t agree nor wanted to cave to such a successful black city.

Because of this racism, the Santa Fe Railroad line that went through Allensworth, adding to the reason town was in such a great location, built a way for traffic to completely bypass Allensworth altogether. Atop that, the railway refused to create a stop in Allensworth when would have ultimately meant employment for black people of the town.

Even worse, the contract for water with The Pacific Farming Company, which was owned by white people, to provide pumped water for farm irrigation into the town ceased, despite the town paying for the service as other towns.

The conclusion from the actions of the railway line and the water company was that the wanted Allensworth town to fail, however, it didn’t. Although after the Great Depression hit, causing multiple business closures in the area, there was a deep decline in the community.

Death

Sadly, Allen Allensworth died at the age of 72 in Monorvia, California, having his life snuffed out by a motorcycle driver. The motorcycle hit Allen while he was on foot, killing him. He passed away on September 14, 1914 and was buried in Los Angeles, California in Angelus Rosedale Cemetery. His funeral was held at Second Baptist Church, and he was buried with full military honors.

His tombstone his full name with honors as well as CHAPLAIN 24TH – INFANTRY, 1842-1914 MIZPAH.

Today, the town of Allensworth is preserved as a historic site in California as the Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park.

More Great Facts about the town of Allensworth and Allen Allensworth

  • Allen Allensworth was listed as “Clergyman” on California Voter Registration list, and his wife as “Housewife”.
  • Allen and his wife were listed as Republicans in the Allensworth precinct.
  • Most of the community members in Allensworth were registered Republicans (a vastly different party that the party of the mid-20th century and 21st century) There were few Socialists and Democrats scattered throughout the proud voting community.
  • All of the children of Allensworth, California were literate.

Sources:

  • California Parks
  • Ancestry.com. California, Voter Registrations, 1900-1968 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2017
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 15 September 2020), memorial page for Josephine Leavell Allensworth (1852–1939), Find a Grave Memorial no. 170850895, citing Angelus Rosedale Cemetery, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, USA ; Maintained by a2 (contributor 46812011)
  • Year: 1880; Census Place: Bowling Green, Warren, Kentucky; Roll: 444; Page: 22D; Enumeration District: 226
  • https://www.ancestry.com/mediaui-viewer/tree/40717574/person/19528588745/media/34de44c1-a040-4c8e-bd29-495db27ebc38?_phsrc=Czb360&_phstart=successSource
  • https://www.ancestry.com/mediaui-viewer/tree/40717574/person/19528588745/media/459e2cb1-bf8e-4d63-baf6-74131e8a4ee1?_phsrc=Czb361&_phstart=successSource
  • https://www.ancestry.com/mediaui-viewer/tree/40717574/person/19528588745/media/017849d1-4f12-47f9-b7f6-5b692af5913f?_phsrc=Czb362&_phstart=successSource