About this Project

Today, we find ourselves in perhaps the most precarious period regarding race in America since Jim Crow. This reflection by Candice Francis, communications director for the ACLU of Northern California, reminds us that we must do whatever we can to mitigate the heinous outgrowth of a new pandemic of white supremacy and correct the falsehoods that persist about American history.

Many years ago, I visited West Africa for an extended stay and had the opportunity to return to the U.S. on the Black Star Line, the Ghanaian government’s now defunct shipping corporation that operated commercial freighters with a few modest cabins for civilian passengers. We embarked in the port city of Takoradi and made stops in Dakar, Senegal, and Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, to load cargo before setting sail across the Atlantic Ocean. Midway through the crossing, we hit rough seas and inclement weather. The rip and roar of the sea and the slapping and clapping of waves against the ship as it heaved through rain and thunder was utterly terrifying. When the storm finally passed and calm seas returned, I went out on deck to survey the horizon. It was then that I had an epiphany that was simultaneously petrifying and inspiring.

Although I was profoundly aware that we were traversing the waters of the Middle Passage, that heinous voyage that transported millions of captive Africans to the Western hemisphere, it was an odd feeling to know that the waters that had threatened the ship hours before and held it afloat now were the same waters that had carried people of the African diaspora packed in the bowels of ships like canned sardines. I viscerally understood how an estimated 2.4 million people could have perished during this dehumanizing crossing, but it was the stark realization that despite all the blood, sweat, and tears shed along the way millions more actually survived. Although centuries removed, I bore witness on that ship to the plight of my people on whose shoulders I stand today and it took my breath away.

In observation of the four centuries that have passed since the enslavement of people of African descent in the United States in 1619, this website examines an under-reported slice of California’s unique racial legacy – one tarnished by the unlawful and inhumane treatment of black and indigenous people.

The mission of Gold Chains: The Hidden History of Slavery in California is to expose and explore chapters of California history that will come as a surprise, if not outright shock, to many people. In the process, we aim to lift up the voices of courageous African American and Native American individuals who challenged their brutal treatment and demanded their civil rights, inspiring us with their ingenuity, resilience, and tenacity.

We seek to expose the role of the courts, laws, and the tacit acceptance of white supremacy in sanctioning race-based violence and discrimination that continues into the present day. Through an unflinching examination of our collective past, we invite California to become truly aware and authentically enlightened.

“Gold Chains: The Hidden History of Slavery in California” is a public education campaign that gives new meaning to the phrase “all that glitters is not gold.”



To learn more about the ACLU of Northern California, please visit: ACLU of Northern California, #Powerthe14th, Muslim Ban Timeline.

The mission of Gold Chains is to uncover the hidden history of slavery in California by lifting up the voices of courageous African American and Native American individuals who challenged their brutal treatment and demanded their civil rights, inspiring us with their ingenuity, resilience, and tenacity. We aim to expose the role of the courts, laws, and the tacit acceptance of white supremacy in sanctioning race-based violence and discrimination that continues into the present day. Through an unflinching examination of our collective past, we invite California to become truly aware and authentically enlightened.