Founded in 1908, Allensworth is the first town in California established exclusively by African Americans. Colonel Allen Allensworth, along with four other pioneers formed a community that was built, financed, and governed by African Americans. Their vision of creating a prosperous and flourishing community was inspired by a strong conviction in initiatives that empowered black people to establish better lives outside the restrictions of the Jim Crow South.
Allensworth had businesses, a bakery, a school, and a church, all of which contributed to the success of a healthy community. Allensworth's economic development was fueled in great part by its proximity to a train station. At its peak, the community had over 300 people and brought in thousands of dollars in monthly revenue.
A succession of tragedies hindered the town's expansion. The first was the premature death of Col. Allensworth, whose leadership was critical in the town's early years. The community then suffered two terrible economic losses, both of which experts believe were motivated by racism. The first was the decision to relocate the railroad station to Alpaugh, a neighboring village so that white passengers did not have to pass through the town. The second was hinderance to the town’s water supply. White farmers would dam the river to divert the water from coming into the town. These limitations within the area made it impossible for the citizens of this thriving community to realize their founders' long-term goals. However, the town did continue to be home to a few families and individuals throughout the twentieth century, and true to the fortitude and determination of its founders, the town has persisted and endured, gaining the well-deserved nickname of "The town that refused to die."
Photo by Bobak Ha’Eri (CC by 3.0)
Today, the region around the park is home to approximately 500 people, the most of whom are Latino farmworkers and Black descendants of Allensworth ancestors. The California State Parks and Recreation Commission authorized plans to establish Allensworth as “Colonel Allensworth Historic Park” in the town's core district a decade after its creation, on May 14, 1976. Cornelius Ed Pope, an African American male draftsman with the Department of Parks and Recreation, initiated a campaign in 1969 to persuade State Park authorities and the general public that the town-site had special historic and cultural value for California's African American community. Pope described how, as a child, he had lived in the house that had previously been owned and occupied by the Allensworth family. Several buildings have been renovated as part of the restoration effort to resemble the historic period of 1908-1918.
Lt. Colonel Allen Allensworth of the United States Army and Professor William Payne, Rev. William Peck and John W. Palmer, and Harry A. Mitchell picked an 800-acre Tulare County land near Earlimart, California, and about 45 miles (72 km) north of Bakersfield for their new town. The area was chosen because of its good soil, ample water supply, and proximity to a train line. Craftsmen, artisans, businesspeople, farmers, ranchers, and retired military men and women relocated their families to the newly bought property. The California Eagle newspaper reported in 1914 that Allensworth's deeded land was worth more than $120,000.
- President Grover Cleveland appointed Rev. Allensworth as Captain and Chaplain of the Buffalo Soldiers 24th Infantry, with responsibility for the spiritual and educational well-being of the regiment's black troops.
- Allensworth was just the second African American, after Henry Plummer, to be named as a U.S. Army Chaplain at the time of his appointment.
- On April 7, 1906, Allensworth retired as a lieutenant-colonel, the highest rank held by an African American in the United States Armed Forces.