Artwork courtesy of the Tom Feelings Collection, LLC

August 12, 2021

Pilot Episode:
California Fugitive Slave Law

Three formerly enslaved Black men were living their California Gold Rush dream, building a lucrative mining supply business in just a couple of months. But one cool spring night in 1852, an armed posse of white men burst into their cabin and arrested them, claiming that they were fugitive slaves. In our pilot episode, we explore a little-known California law that unleashed racial terror on Black people and made a mockery of the state constitution's ban on slavery.

Episode Guests:

Stacey L. Smith, an associate professor of history at Oregon State University, and author of Freedom’s Frontier: California and the Struggle over Unfree Labor, Emancipation and Reconstruction. Smith is acting as a historical consultant to the California Department of Justice as it supports the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans.

Taylor Bythewood-Porter, an assistant curator at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles. Bythewood-Porter co-curated California Bound, Slavery on the New Frontier, 1848-1865.

Candice Francis, communications director at the ACLU of Northern California.

To learn more about the California Fugitive Slave law visit: Gold Rush and Shattered Dreams.

Production Credits:

Produced by the ACLU of Northern California.

Created, written, and hosted by Tammerlin Drummond.

Technical production and music by Dax Brooks, co-written by Alex Doty.

Thanks to Marshal Arnwine, Candice Francis, Gigi Harney, Brady Hirsch, Carmen King, Abdi Soltani, Eliza Wee, and Stephen Wilson. And to our partners on the public education project, Gold Chains: The Hidden History of Slavery in California: KQED, the California Historical Society, the Equal Justice Society and Laura Atkins.


Gold Rush & Shattered Dreams

Learn more about the first test of California’s Fugitive Slave Law.

Learn more

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.