Awesome Men Throughout History: Allen Allensworth
We’ve profiled some pretty amazing people here at Awesome Men Throughout History, but I don’t think any of them ever founded their own town, so it’s high time we shed some much-needed light on Lt. Col. Allen Allensworth, founder of Allensworth, CA, now known as the Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park.
It’s kind of amazing that no one has pitched a movie about Allensworth’s life, actually. Born into slavery in 1842, Allensworth was bought and sold numerous times during his childhood because he kept finding people to teach him how to read (it was illegal for slaves to be taught how to read back then). In Henderson, Kentucky, he was actually beaten for it, and tried to escape twice before he was sold for the final time, to a racehorse owner in Louisiana.
The Civil War broke out while Allensworth was there (he was kept as a jockey for his owners’ favorite horse), and after meeting soldiers from the 44th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, he discreetly joined their Hospital Corps and finally freed himself from slavery. He later enlisted in the US Navy, where he served on the gunboats Queen City and Tawah, and became a pastor after the war ended.
Allensworth’s early troubles with education were well worth the trouble in adulthood; he became a successful educator, minister, and military chaplain; he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel, the first black man to reach that rank. He was also a politician, and was Kentucky’s only black delegate to the Republican National Conventions in 1880 and 1884.
After retiring from the Army, Allensworth and his family settled in Los Angeles, but he still felt that he had more to do for his people. Inspired by the idea of a self-sufficient community where black people could educate themselves, own property, and generally act like normal citizens without fear of reprisal, he founded the town of Allensworth in 1908.
For a while, Allensworth flourished. The black settlers worked hard to lay out streets and build homes and municipal buildings, and the town was part of the county school district and the regional library system. A number of social and educational organizations took root there. Rather than a simple colony, Allensworth was a real town for a while.
Unfortunately, the soil made farming difficult (Allensworth was located near Bakersfield, so it’s a wonder they got as far as they did), and fluctuations in the local water table didn’t help matters. The drinking water became contaminated by toxins as the water level fell, and the area took a big economic punch in the face when the Santa Fe Railroad moved its rail stop to Alpaugh. When Allensworth died in 1914, his town petered out without his guidance and leadership.
The Allensworth site has been preserved as a state park, though, and its founder should be celebrated for his many achievements, especially considering how his life began. Men like Allen Allensworth represent everything that is good and noble in our national character, and we shouldn’t ever forget them.
About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.