The American West has long been narrowly labeled as a region
with few African Americans and virtually no black history.
In Search of the Racial Frontier challenges that view
in a rich, complex chronicle of western African Americans that
begins in 1528 with the arrival of the Moroccan Esteban in Texas,
the first of may hundreds of Spanish-speaking blacks.
By 1800 the earliest of the English-speaking blacks had moved
West as slaves, fur trappers, or servants, creating the nucleus
of post-Civil War communities. Thousands of African Americans
later migrated to the high plains while others drove cattle
up the Chisholm Trail--the famous black cowboys--or served on
remote army outposts. Mormon slave Bridget "Biddy"
Mason reached Utah in 1847, gaining freedom through the legal
system nearly a decade later in California, and in 1872 founded
Los Angeles's first black church. The West's black civil
rights movement began in San Francisco during the Civil War
when women challenged the city's streetcar segregation.
of the Racial Frontier is, above all, a story of urban life, for throughout
history black Americans in the West have mostly lived in cities.
Reflecting that fact, this richly peopled story carries forward to the
twentieth century when, during World War II, the prospect of good jobs
and a freer life let to huge migrations that increased black populations
in Western cities tenfold and intensified the region's civil rights movement
during the 1960s. This migration, in turn, paved the way for black
success in today's Western politics and a surging interest in multiculturalism.
About the Author
Quintard Taylor is Scott and Dorothy Bullitt Professor
of American History at the University of Washington, Seattle. He is the
author of The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle's Central District
from 1870 through the Civil Rights Era.