Artwork courtesy of the Tom Feelings Collection, LLC

February 24, 2022

Episode 2:
Black Testimony Matters

Colored Conventions

Image above: Artistic rendition of Colored Convention in Washington D.C.; The Jim Casey Collection // Image below: A petition for legal recognition of Black Californians AD, 1852-62 (page 2 of 3), MS 169A; California Historical Society

A white man shoots and kills a prominent Black businessman in San Francisco in an unprovoked attack. There are plenty of witnesses. But there's a problem. They're all Black. And in California in 1861, that means their testimony doesn’t count.

From 1850 until 1863, California had a law that banned African Americans from testifying against white people in criminal cases. In this episode, we bring you the little-known story of the testimony laws. We meet the Black activists who fought to repeal them. And we examine these racist laws’ enduring legacy in our legal system today.

A petition for legal recognition of Black Californians

Episode Credits:

Produced by the ACLU of Northern California

Host and writer Tammerlin Drummond

Editor Cheryl Devall

Mix and original score by Renzo Gorrio

Thank you to Actor Steven Jones. Deen Hassan and Gold Chains team members Brady Hirsch and Stephen Wilson who also lent their voices.

A big thanks to Candice Francis, our ACLU communications director, and the rest of our Gold Chains team, Carmen King, Gigi Harney, Eliza Wee, and Lisa P. White. Thank you also to Abdi Soltani, our executive director.

Much thanks also to the San Francisco Public Library and the California Historical Society who assisted with our research.

Episode Guests:

Dana Weiner, a history professor at Wilfrid Laurier University whose research includes African American activism in 19th century California.

Clarence Caesar, a longtime historian has researched the development of Sacramento’s African American community from 1850-1983.

Rosa Pleasant, activist and middle school teacher, researched California’s Colored Conventions Movement.

Frances Kaplan, oversees collections at the California Historical Society and wrote blog post “A petition for Legal Recognition of Black Californians.”

Amanda Carlin, Los Angeles attorney, author of “The Courtroom as White Space: Racial Performance as Noncredibility”

Yoel Haile, director of the criminal justice program at the ACLU of Northern California.


The Crime of Testimony Laws

Learn more about how the murder of this prominent black businessman and civil rights activist caused a public outcry and galvanized opposition to the testimony exclusion laws...

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.