We had come to this dry area . . . and we had paused in it and built our houses and we were slowly creating the legend of our life. We were digging for water and we were leading streams through the dry land. We were planting and ploughing and standing in the midst of the garden that we were making.

~ William Saroyan

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African Americans in the Central Valley

The Fresno Cubs - all black baseball team Ethnic Oral History Project, 1977-1978: African American Community. © Fresno Historical Society Archives

 

Oral History Project 2004-2005

Pastor Jimmy D. Adams
Date of Interview: May 16, 2005
Interviewer: Nancy Whittle

Pastor Adams discussed growing up in the South during the Depression, the effects of Jim Crow laws and the treatment of African Americans; his arrival in Central California; and working the fields in Brawley and other California locations. He described his father opening the first African American owned auto repair shop in Fresno, development and changes in his West Fresno neighborhood over the years, and how he started his ministry 

Nadir Ali
Date of Interview: December 13, 2006
Interviewer: Nancy Whittle

Mr. Ali’s family has lived in the Central Valley since 1919. His father was one of the first African American shareholders in the Danish Creamery Association. He shared memories of growing up on a farm, life in Firebaugh and Caruthers, changes in the Chinatown area in Fresno, becoming the first African American teacher at Bullard High School, principal at King Elementary and his involvement with the Nation of Islam. Mr. Ali described his various entrepreneurial ventures, including securing one of the largest government contracts in the food industry, which was documented in Fortune Magazine, and operating the Central Fish Market.

Paula St. James Davis
Date of Interview: May 6, 2005
Interviewer: Ruth Lang

Ms. Davis related her family’s contributions to the community through the activities of her parents’ dry cleaning business and her grandparents’ Chinatown hotel. She shared her views on past and current racial discrimination in the Fresno housing market through her work experience as a comptroller.

Sudie Douglas
Date of Interview: Feb 17, 2005
Interviewer: Nancy Whittle

Ms. Douglas shared her special history in Fresno regarding her work with local teenagers and senior citizens, the start of the Meals on Wheels program, and her role in the development of the Hinton Community Center. She also told of her family background, her work experience as a welder and riveter during World War II, and her travels abroad as the ambassador to the Council of Senior Citizens.

Mack and Junious Haynes
Date of Interview: June 14, 2005
Interviewer: Nancy Whittle

Mack was the first African American bricklayer to establish his own construction business in Fresno, and he mentioned many of the buildings his company helped construct, including structures in Chinatown.  Junious is the current manager of the Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Travelers, a local gospel group from Fresno who travel extensively throughout the South and California. The group recently celebrated their fiftieth year of performing.  Both brothers told about their move from Mississippi to California, the local farming community where their family lived, the racism they endured, and how the local African American church impacted the social and spiritual needs of their community.
 
Goldie Jones
Date of Interview: June 27, 2005
Interviewer: Nancy Whittle

Ms. Jones described two families, the Whittles and Joneses, and their experiences with farming in the Central Valley. The Jones Family bought land in the Riverdale/Lanare area in 1906, and the Whittles came from Arkansas to the Chowchilla/Dairyland area in 1926.  She gave an account of farming and dairy operations, labor camp conditions, social, church and school activities. 

Jack Kelly
Date of Interview: 2006
Interviewer: Nancy Whittle

Mr. Kelly was the first African American Police Sergeant in Fresno. He related stories of his family background, experiences in college athletics, patrolling Chinatown as a policeman, facing discrimination in police department, and establishing Fresno’s African American Museum.

Edward Mosley
Date of Interview: November 18, 2004
Interviewer: Nancy Whittle

Dr. Mosley discussed his experiences as one of the first African American physicians in Fresno, his involvement on the board of the State Center Community College District, the stories of his childhood years in the Midwest and his medical training in the South, and his first-hand account of the Montgomery bus boycott.  

Edna Reid
Date of Interview: November 11, 2005
Interviewer: Aushua Mayberry

Ms. Reid shared her memories of her grandmother, Eliza Lopast, an early Fresno pioneer and one of the first members of the Second Baptist Church.  Through the stories told to her by her grandmother, as well as remembering her own experiences, Ms. Reid provided insight into the lives of the first black settlers of the region, including vivid descriptions of early harvesting methods.   

Charley Scott
Date of Interview: March 10, 2005
Interviewer: Nancy Whittle

Mr. Scott owned a longtime dry cleaning business in West Fresno where he interacted daily with the black community. He told stories of the West Side and customers he served during the many years his cleaners operated, as well as his military experiences during World War II. 

Last Updated Friday, December 19, 2014 - 03:58 AM.