By Evette D. Champion
Looking at the history of Los Angeles, African Americans have made huge contributions to numerous areas such as arts and culture, science, education, and even politics. While you may think that their presence in the area is because of the settlers from the 19th and 20th centuries, their influence dates back to 1781 and are accredited with founding the city.
The African influence began in Mexico, thanks to the conquest of Spain by North African Moors during the eighth century. When the Spanish started exploring and conquering the Americas, Africans were among the companions that traveled with Christopher Columbus in 1492, and they were also present when Hernando Cortes seized Mexico City, thus ridding it of the Aztecs.
By the middle of the 1600s, Africans began colonizing the northwestern area of Colonial Mexico. Naturally, the Africans and the Natives mated, and their descendants began colonizing Alta California during the later part of the 18th century, and it is these people who are responsible for the beginnings of Los Angeles.
The Governor of California, Felipe de Neve, Los Angeles (the city’s full name is El Pueblo de La Reina de Los Angeles) founded the city on September 4, 1781. The original settlers consisted of twenty-two men and women and twenty-two children—twenty-six of these individuals were of African/Mexican descent. These people went on to become farmers, ranchers and even esteemed members if the community.
The Afro-Mexican influence was not the only African influence on the city. The second African influence on the early city came during the mid-19th century. The 1850 census shows that there were 1,612 African Americans who settled in Los Angeles. Peter Biggs was a former slave who settled in the city in 1852 and went on to become the first barber in the area.
When #slavery was popular during the 1850s, the family of Robert Owens built a livery business that was quite successful. They supplied horses and cattle to new settlers arriving to the city. The Owens family soon became very affluent and wealthy—one of the few #African American families to achieve such status during that time.
As settlers from the east coast worked their way westward, the African American population in Los Angeles grew from a meager 102 people in 1880 to 2,131 in just 20 years. By 1929, there were over 19,000 African Americans now calling Los Angeles home.