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A Podcast About the Hidden History of Slavery in California

Many of us were taught in school that California was a "free state" that never had slavery. It was a lie. Gold Chains unearths stories about the enslavement of Black people that were deliberately kept out of official histories of California.

There was always that fear of a mob coming to take you away in the middle of the night,” said Taylor Bythewood-Porter, an assistant curator at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles, and a guest on the show. “Enslaved and free African Americans who arrived in California could easily fall victim to fraud and kidnapping.”


The Impact of California’s Former Testimony Exclusion Laws

February 24, 2022

Black people didn’t always have the right to testify in court in the U.S....and not just in the Jim Crow South, but in California as well, which had a Black testimony exclusion law on the books from 1850 to 1863. That lesser known law, and the consequences of it, is the subject of a new episode of the podcast “Gold Chains,” produced by the ACLU of Northern California. We talk to the podcast’s creator, Tammerlin Drummond, about this history and why Black testimony mattered then – and still matters today.

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'It Means to Repair': What You Should Know About Reparations for Black Californians

February 24, 2022

Reparations in California is a series of KQED stories exploring the road to racial equity in the state.

KQED’s coverage of the state's reparations task force is for anyone who wonders about bigger questions like, why is there a disproportionate number of unhoused Black people? Why are incarceration rates highest for Black people? How do guns make it into Black communities? Why do Black communities lack what’s easily accessible to predominantly white communities?

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ACLU Podcast Examines California Laws That Barred Blacks From Testifying Against Whites In Court

February 24, 2022

In 1861, a white man shot and killed a prominent Black businessman in San Francisco’s financial district in full view of witnesses. But since all the witnesses were African American, they were legally banned from testifying in court.

Today, the ACLU of Northern California released the second episode of our Gold Chains podcast, “Black Testimony Matters,” which examines the state’s little-known testimony laws and their legacy.

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California Celebrates Its History As a 'Free State.' But There Was Slavery Here.

February 17, 2022

When we look at the California of today, so much of who we are is because of the Gold Rush. It’s true that people flooded into the state after gold was found in 1848, and that there were opportunities here for some fortune-seekers. But there are darker parts of that history we don’t often hear about. Some of those gold-seekers came from the South and brought enslaved people with them to mine for gold in California.

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Slaves work in California gold mines in 1852. / Universal Images Group / Getty Images 1852

Slaves work in California gold mines in 1852.
Universal Images Group / Getty Images 1852

How ‘free state’ California wrote slavery and white supremacy into its law books

December 27, 2021

California joined the Union as a free state in 1850, with a state Constitution that expressly outlawed slavery. But two years later, the Legislature enacted its own version of the Fugitive Slave Act, which required law enforcement officers and ordinary white citizens to help slaveholders recapture escaped slaves and return them to the South.

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Lisa Lee of Oakland, looks through records of her family's history in her Oakland home on Thursday, April 4, 2002. Her family, once slaves in the United States, might be eligible to reparations for their having been enslaved, if a lawsuit is found to be actionable. (Carlos Avila Gonzalez / San Francisco Chronicle)

Carlos Avila Gonzalez / San Francisco Chronicle

California Reckons With Reparations

October 14, 2021

California is going it alone on one of the most controversial subjects in the nation: Reparations for African Americans. On this episode of the Fifth & Mission podcast, Tammerlin Drummond of the ACLU of Northern California and Chronicle reporter Dustin Gardiner tell host Demian Bulwa what is at stake.

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The memorial for Native Americans at the Mission San Francisco Solano on First Street East on Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021. (Photo by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

The memorial for Native Americans at the Mission San Francisco Solano (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

Retelling the Native American Story of Sonoma Valley

October 12, 2021

Under the “Sonoma County Historic Overview” on the county’s website, Native American history is relegated to one sentence: “Sonoma County was inhabited by the Pomo, Miwok and Kashaya Indians.” But no explanation is given for where Native Americans went. Nor why they left. Nor who was responsible for the thousands of Native Americans who died from the colonization of Sonoma Valley. A dusty plaque on First Street East outside Mission San Francisco Solano has the engraved names of dozens of the Indigenous people...

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The California State Capitol in Sacramento (Andrew Nixon / CapRadio))

The California State Capitol in Sacramento (Andrew Nixon / CapRadio)

Historic California Reparations Task Force Discusses Community Engagement, History of Slavery

September 24, 2021

In California, a historic, first-of-its-kind effort continued this week that could lead to a reparations package acknowledging the extensive, continued harm done to Black people due to their enslavement.

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Shirley Weber, now California’s secretary of state, wears a California safe mask while speaking into a microphone (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Shirley Weber (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Why California’s Slavery Reparations Task Force Has The Power To Transform Us All

September 10, 2021

LOS ANGELES TIMES - Unless your school experience was atypical, you probably weren’t taught about the history of slavery in California. That could change for future generations, thanks in part to a new state task force that’s considering the question of reparations for the descendants of enslaved people in California. But it also has the power to transform our understanding of the past.

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New ACLU Podcast Exposes California’s Complicity In Slavery Enslavement of Black People Erased from Official Histories of “Free State”

August 12, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Many schoolchildren are taught that California came into the Union as a “free” state and never had slavery. But that story is a lie.

Today, the ACLU of Northern California launched Gold Chains, a new podcast that debunks that myth and documents the little-known history of California’s complicity in the enslavement of African Americans.

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California Registered Historical Landmark No. 1013: Site of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church on the Pacific Coast

July 12, 2021

The oldest African American church on America's West Coast has a proud history of breaking barriers in its community. Formed in the home of a prominent Black man in the pioneer days of Sacramento, St. Andrews, as it is now known, was the nerve center of several important social movements for Californians of color.

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California’s Conflicted History on Slavery Is Central to Reparations Push for Black People

October 17, 2020

To understand the quest for reparations for African Americans in California, supporters say, it’s necessary to take a hard look at the prevalence of slavery in the early days of the “free” state.... “In the South you had the cotton fields, and here we had the gold mines,” said Tammerlin Drummond, a spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California who has researched the history of slavery in California.

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Clayton Duncan holds a framed image of his Great Grandparents, Lucy and Solomon Moore

Clayton Duncan (Suzie Racho/KQED)

Gold Chains: California's Hidden History

May 15, 2020

KQED - These stories were reported as part of Gold Chains: The Hidden History of Slavery in California. The project aims 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. Gold Chains is a collaboration between KQED, the ACLU of Northern CA, the California Historical Society, Laura Atkins, and the Equal Justice Society.

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Public Education Campaign Unveils Hidden History Of Slavery In California

January 15, 2020

Even today’s most progressive states have a troubling history with slavery. California is no exception. The ACLU has started a public education campaign called “Gold Chains: The Hidden History of Slavery in California.” to ensure the state’s role in the evil institution of slavery no longer remains hidden...

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Campaign Unveils Hidden History of Slavery in California

January 8, 2020

California entered the Union as a free state, but there are hidden stories of slavery to be told. The role of slaves in the Gold Rush — and the ways slaves and free black people were systematically excluded from the resulting wealth by laws and court rulings — does not make it into most U.S. history books. But it is a central narrative of Gold Chains: The Hidden History of Slavery in California, a public education campaign launched by the ACLU of Northern California late last year.

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Los Angeles' 1850s Slave Market Is Now the Site of a Federal Courthouse

December 6, 2019

KQED - Auctioning off human beings is a practice many would think was confined to the pre-Civil War American South. Here in California, slavery was purportedly banned during the 1849 Constitutional Convention. But even though it was situated in a supposedly “free” state, Los Angeles held its own human auctions during the mid-19th century. And the product for sale was Native Americans.

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“Gold Chains” unearths the accounts of slavery in California

November 28, 2019

The ACLU of Northern California in collaboration with radio station KQED, the California Historical Society and the Equal Justice Society co-created an educational project directed at highlighting the stories of slavery throughout California.

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Protect Tsakiyuwit, Deny Terra-Gen's Wind Farm

November 21, 2019

We are in a historical moment between the attempted destruction of a people and a planet, and whatever we do next. If we are to move forward as an equitable society, it cannot be with further harm to Native land and culture. (To better understand the state's legacy of genocide and slavery, we strongly suggest exploring the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California's online project Gold Chains, which can be found at www.goldchainsca.org.)

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Gold Chains: The Hidden History of Slavery in California

November 17, 2019

Through narratives, public records, archival materials, and images, Gold Chains: The Hidden History of Slavery in California debunks California’s unblemished brand as exclusively “liberal,” “innovative,” and “progressive,” correcting it with facts of a history mired in racism, white supremacy, and violence. It also reinforces the integrated advocacy that the ACLU of Northern California practices daily.

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ACLU of Northern California, KQED, the California Historical Society and Equal Justice Society Announce Gold Chains: The Hidden History of Slavery in California

November 14, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—The ACLU of Northern California (ACLU NC) today launched “Gold Chains: The Hidden History of Slavery in California.” a public education campaign that exposes chapters of California’s history that may come as a surprise, if not an outright shock to many people. Little known is the fact that while California entered the Union as a “free” state under the Compromise of 1850, slavery was rampant.

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How a Heroine Became a ‘Demon’ in Victorian San Francisco

December 28, 2018

KQED - Mary Ellen Pleasant, a black woman, came to San Francisco in the mid-1800s and defied white society’s constraints and prejudices to not only amass great wealth, but to also use her power to immeasurably advance the cause of civil rights in the city.

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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.