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Biddy Mason

From Enslaved
to Entrepreneur

Bridget “Biddy” Mason was brought as a slave to California. When she learned of her legal rights, she sued for freedom for herself and her family and won, in what became a landmark court case.

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George Gordon newspaper clipping

The Crime of
Testimony Laws

George Gordon, a black barber was shot to death by a white man in full view of witnesses in his San Francisco shop. A judge refused to allow the testimony of blacks because of their race. The killer got a lighter sentence as a result.

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Mary Ellen Pleasant

Mother of California
Civil Rights Movement

Mary Ellen Pleasant was a self-made millionaire and leading abolitionist based in San Francisco during the Gold-Rush era.

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Peter Hardeman Burnett

White Supremacist
In Chief

The first elected governor of California, Peter Hardeman Burnett, advocated for the genocide of Native people and tried to ban blacks from the state.

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Slave Market

Slavery By
Another Name

Today it’s the site of a federal courthouse in Los Angeles. But in the mid-19th century, a stretch of Main Street in downtown Los Angeles was a flourishing slave market.

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Gold miner

Gold Rush and
Shattered Dreams

In the first test of California’s Fugitive Slave Law, three formerly enslaved black men who had built a lucrative mining supply business were stripped of their freedom and deported back to Mississippi.

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Kate Camden family portrait

Rosa: Kidnapped,
Sold, and Killed

Looking to satisfy demands for cheap household labor, California passed a law that encouraged the kidnapping of Native Children.

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Colored Conventions

A Demand for
Equal Rights

The Colored Conventions were a monumental organizing effort by black people across the country to fight for full citizenship rights. The conventions laid a foundation that the civil rights movement would build on.

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The Broderick-Terry Duel

Death
and Slavery

In 1859, an argument about the future of slavery in California led to a deadly duel between two prominent policians.

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Edmond Wysinger

A Fight for
Equal Education

After purchasing his freedom, Edmond Wysinger filed a historic lawsuit that made it illegal for California public schools to ban black students.

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Toypurina

Rebel Tongva
Warrior

A medicine woman of the Tongva nation, Toypurina helped lead a rebellion against Spanish missionaries who invaded her homeland.

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Indian Boarding Schools

Cultural
Genocide

"Kill the Indian...and save the man" was the founding mission of Indian Boarding Schools, a massive government project that warehoused thousands of children in state-run institutions.

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Bloody Island Massacre

Bloody Island
Massacre

After being enslaved and starved by two white cattle ranchers, Pomo tribe members in Clear Lake rose up and killed their captors. In retaliation, government troops slaughtered as many as 200 Native people.

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Archy Lee

Trials and
Triumph

In one of the most celebrated fugitive slave cases in California, Archy Lee, a young black man who had been brought to the state from Mississippi, escaped and waged a successful legal battle for his freedom that went all the way to the federal courts.

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Mifflin Wistar Gibbs

Exodus to
British Columbia

After waging a long battle against California’s anti-black laws, Mifflin Wistar Gibbs, a prominent civil rights activist and entrepreneur in San Francisco, helped lead a migration of several hundred African Americans to Victoria, British Columbia.

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Edith and Daniel Blue

Rescue of a
Slave Child

Daniel Blue, a black laundry man from Sacramento, went to court to free an enslaved young African American girl in what’s believed to be California’s final slave case.

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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.