Any serious student of California history will encounter the name of Delilah Beasley, African American author of the 1919 classic work, “Negro Trail Blazers of California.” Her natural curosity about Black life and culture led her to writing early in her life. As a teen, she wrote articles for the Cleveland Gazette, the Catholic Tribune, and the Ohio State Tribune. Ms. Beasley came to California from her native Ohio in 1910 at the age of 39. To support herself, she found work as a nurse, a masseuse, and maid. Soon after her arrival, she began to immerse herself in the study of Blacks in California.
Her journalistic talents led her to the Oakland Sunshine, the city's Black newspaper, owned by John Wilds. She started contributing articles about the Black community to the Oakland Tribune in 1915, the year that D.W. Griffith's racist film "The Birth of a Nation" opened in theatres here to vocal protests. By 1923, she had her own column, "Activities Among Negroes" which documented the cultural life, political activism, professional and academic achievements, and social concerns of Oakland's Black citizens. She felt it was vitally important to the advancement of the Black community in particular and Oaklanders in general to see how much and in what ways Blacks had advanced since the end of the Civil War. She saw her work as a type of crusade to combat the negative racial stereotypes that were so prevalent in America at that time.
Ms. Beasley was also a tireless historian. For nine years she traveled throughout California, collecting oral histories, attending conferences and political rallies, and researching early California history. Having arrived in California when she did, she could easily find former slaves, Gold Rush miners, and early California pioneers to interview. Their oral histories provide readers with a more nuanced understanding of the growth and complexity of California. The result was Beasley's self-published book, "Negro Trail Blazers of California" which has become a classic of California history.
For the past three years, Ms. Beasley has been honored with a formal tea. At each year's event, a woman is honored for her work in the community. This year's tea will be hosted by the Progressive Oakland Women Empowering Reform (POWER) organization and the League of Women Voters of Oakland and will honor Arabella Martinez, founder of the Unity Council. The event will be held on Sunday, September 27, 2-4 p.m. at the Pardee Home Museum Gardens, 672-11th Street. For more information, call 510. 381-1973.