African Americans and Los Angeles
Dr. Michael Cheers, Biddy Mason Park
Biddy Mason Park commemorates one of Los Angeles' first black female philanthropist and property owners. Born into slavery in Georgia, Mason was brought to California, a free state, in 1851 by her owner Robert Smith. In 1856, Mason won her freedom, along with her children, when the local sheriff learned Smith was planning to take her and other slaves to Texas, a slave state. In the resulting trial, the judge ruled that under California law they were "entitled to their freedom and are free forever." Mason found work in Los Angeles as a midwife and nurse, eventually saving enough money to buy property. She built her wealth renting homes and eventually selling off bits of her land as Los Angeles expanded. In 1872 she helped found the Los Angeles branch of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church and later started a daycare and school for children on her land at Third and Spring streets where the park now sits. By the time of her death in 1891 she was known for her philanthropy and had a net worth of $300,000. The memorial park was built in 1991.