The Blue Family, Sacramento

Les Robinson had to leave a family cookout to regain his composure. A cousin told her to look up an ancestor on his phone: Daniel Blue. Robinson had never heard of him, but a search revealed the longtime pastor in the Sacramento area, who was an integral part of the region’s black community. Robinson learned that his great-great-grandfather was brought to Sacramento in 1849 as an enslaved man from Kentucky by John Daugherty, the son of his slaveholder.

Blue, 53 at the time, was working as a gold miner and discovered enough gold to buy his freedom and become an entrepreneur, opening a dry cleaners and starting a home church and then an independent structure. that church – St Andrews AME Church – was founded in 1850 and remains the oldest continuous African Methodist Episcopal congregation on the West Coast. Blue also opened a school for Black, Latino, Asian, and Native American children.

And bought a property. A lot: 60 acres, according to Robinson, including nine blocks in Sacramento, the capital of California, the documents show.

On that property today, Robinson said, is the California Railroad Museum, the Amtrak station, the Sacramento RailYard, the courthouse and the Sacramento County jail.

But the question arises: “What happened to the property? We don’t know,» Robinson said. He said his investigation told a familiar and disturbing story: that the property was taken.

Les Robinson’s great-great-grandfather, Daniel Blue, was brought to Sacramento in 1849 as an enslaved man. Courtesy Les Robinson

“They told me it was taken because the railroad needed that land to complete the transcontinental connection,” Robinson said. «So he was basically kicked out.»

And it burned, as the intimidation of whites who did not welcome freed blacks turned violent. Part of the school was burned down and rebuilt before it finally closed years later. Blue’s house was burned down in 1869. There was also a failed attempt to burn down the church, Robinson said.

Mitchell said that the seizure of property, by citizens, law enforcement or the government, carries an additional injustice beyond the stunting of generational wealth: it destroys culture and history.

“Whether you’re talking about Harlem or southwest Georgia, there’s often an erasure of important culture and history,” Mitchell said.

Much of what Robinson and other members of his family have discovered is documented in newspaper articles and other periodicals, making it frustrating for Robinson not being able to locate deeds or ownership documentation. They have yet to present their findings to state or local officials, preferring to investigate further and hear what the reparations task force has to say about the seized land. But they are clear about what happened.

“Obviously they took him away,” Robinson said. “He was a smart man. He wouldn’t give away more than 60 acres of land.» Robinson is working on a book about his ancestor that outlines what it would mean to have the land returned to him and his family. Yes, he wants the land for its economic value, but also for its sentimental value. Robinson, who founded a church in 1999, said the revelations about his ancestor resonate tangibly. Looking back at what his ancestor accomplished, “I see parallels in our life, even without ever meeting him,” he said. “When I found him, I knew him, and we have the same spirit. I’m doing what he would want me to do.»

The Burgess family, Coloma, California

It was «exhausting» for Jon Burgess when he learned that an ancestor had been the hangman in the 19th century in Coloma, a small community about 55 miles northeast of Sacramento where his family lineage can be traced.

«That’s not something you want to see, and it blew me away for two days,» Burgess said.

It was the price of digging into his family’s history. Burgess and his twin brother Matthew have been stunned for the past five years for another reason: In the Family Bible, where many black families used to document significant moments in the lives of family members, Burgess discovered that his great-great-grandfather Rufus Burgess was one one of the state’s first gold miners who amassed wealth and bought land in California at the end of slavery with the intention that it would remain in the family for future generations.

Jon and Matthew Burgess with their family bible.
Jon and Matthew Burgess with their family Bible.Courtesy of Jon and Matthew Burgess

Using eminent domain, the city seized much of the 420 acres, Burgess said. Much of the land he wants to reclaim is Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma.

Burgess testified before the California Reparations Task Force, posted short videos on Instagram about her family’s findings to educate supporters, and connected with Gov. Gavin Newsom on the issue. “I’m just trying to get people to relate to the fact that we had an inheritance that was supposed to stay in our family for years according to those scriptures. And yet he was stripped,” she said.

Burgess owns the deed to the land, documentation that he believes when properly reviewed will stand in court, particularly since there is no record of his ancestor selling the land, he said.

“If we didn’t have the deed, it would be another story,” said Burgess, a firefighter. «But we do. And the facts can certainly tell a very different story.»

What next for repairs?

The story of all these families is unfinished. They hope the documentation they gather yields a result similar to that of Bruce’s Beach in southern California, where Los Angeles County seized land in Manhattan Beach purchased in 1912 by a black couple, Charles and Willa Bruce. White residents led a petition to have their black resort condemned in 1927 and turned into a park. It was returned to the Bruce family last year. The family sold it to the county for $20 million.

The cases do not parallel the one in Bruce’s Beach, but it brings hope to these descendants, especially since California is looking so aggressively at reparations.

Burgess’s case has been recognized by the California task force as valid in a similar way to Bruce’s Beach, and may be included in its final report and list of recommendations, due to be delivered to the Legislature in late June.

“Land and property are things my pioneer ancestors didn’t sell or take for granted, because they knew the value that came from slave plantations that made others rich for generations, all behind the land,” Burgess said. “Generational wealth means that my family and my descendants would have as much, if not more, than the Bogle family, the Veercamp family, the Gallagher family, the Del Monte family, and many others who came here with nothing before 1870 and were allowed to prosper, but also equally protected by law.