HERSTORY: Biddy Mason’s Los Angeles legacy" />

HERSTORY: Biddy Mason’s Los Angeles legacy

Born enslaved in Georgia in 1856, Bridget “Biddy” Mason was the first African-American woman to own property in Los Angeles. After receiving her freedom, she would go on to found one of the largest Black congregations in Los Angeles. 
Bridget Biddy Mason was an enslaved African-American woman who pledged for her freedom in San Bernadino and received it in 1856. She would later move to Los Angeles and use her wealth to support the local Black community until her death in 1891.
Bridget “Biddy” Mason was an enslaved African-American woman who pledged for her freedom in San Bernadino and received it in 1856. She would later move to Los Angeles and use her wealth to support the local Black community until her death in 1891.

During the 1850s and ‘60s, Bridget “Biddy” Mason became one of the most successful residents and landowners of Los Angeles. She was known for serving others, as well as her commitment to family, faith and freedom amid social disparities and personal trials. 

Biddy Mason was born enslaved in Hancock, Georgia on August 15, 1818 and later came under the ownership of Robert Smith. Upon Smith’s conversion to Mormonism, Mason embarked to Utah alongside her owners in 1848, trekking 1,700 miles behind a 300-wagon caravan. While caring for her three young daughters, Mason set up camp, cooked meals, herded cattle and assisted in childbirth as a midwife. 

In 1851, Smith moved his family and slaves for a second time to San Bernardino, California. On the long journey, Charles H. and Elizabeth Flake Rowan, a free African American couple, encouraged Mason to legally protest her bondage once she reached the slavery-free state of California. 

After spending five years in illegal servitude, Mason opposed her enslavement to Smith in an official case. On Jan. 21, 1856, Los Angeles District Judge Benjamin Hayes ruled in favor of Mason’s freedom, as well as the liberation of her extended family. A turning point in Mason’s life, her emancipation allowed her to become one of the first African American women to own property in L.A. 

Following her liberation, Mason accumulated the funds to purchase land in downtown L.A. through her occupations as a midwife and nurse. With the purchased land, she founded the First African Methodist Episcopal (FAME) Church in 1872, an establishment that remains one of the largest Black congregations in Los Angeles. 

What began as small, intimate meetings in members’ homes exploded into a bustling church organization in the 1880s as an influx of middle class African Americans and Caucasians migrated to Los Angeles. 

Involved in L.A.’s civil rights movements, the FAME Church became outraged by the racial discrimination in education during the late 1880s. Partnering with local attorney M. Horatius Martinez, the congregation triumphed in a legal decision to enforce racial balance between whites and Blacks in public schools. 

Today, the church continues to promote social welfare, spending over 2 million dollars annually to support programs that aid the homeless and youth organizations.

Biddy Mason’s affluence as a philanthropist fueled her donations to numerous charities and efforts to assist the impoverished. Not only did she care for the poor, but she also founded an elementary school for Black children. Consequently, L.A. owes many of its African-American institutions to Mason’s work. 

Biddy Mason’s accomplishments reflect the goodness of her character. A woman of faith, she fought for her freedom and exhibited compassion for the underprivileged.

“If you hold your hand closed, nothing good can come in,” Mason once shared. “The open hand is blessed, for it gives in abundance even as it receives.” 

Biddy Mason’s courage, generosity and dedication to justice continue to impact the present day. Uplifting her legacy of gentle servanthood can advance modern society on the path to harmony and equality.

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About the Contributor
Abigail Kim
Abigail Kim, Staff
The most magical thing to do in this world is to escape it. This is the power of reading, and it is a force I readily succumb to. A delectable story fills me with the greatest joy, and inventing extravagant tales offers a luscious meal to my hungry brain. My greatest wish as a beginning journalist is to communicate the wonderful quirks of the world through my perspective and to share the divine opinions of every viewpoint. In the eccentric witch’s brew of my mind, I weave characters, conflict, and emotions in fictional writing and dancing, or, as I like to call it, storytelling with the body. On a separate note, if I’m not hunched over my computer, you may find me chomping away on dark chocolate or shrieking at the top of my lungs at a KPOP concert. 
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