With texts by Keko Jackson and Matthew Grumbach.
“Allensworth is the first town in California to be founded, financed, and governed exclusively by Black people. Founded in 1908 as a symbol of freedom in the West, it is part of a long legacy of independent and autonomous communities created by revolutionaries and people who escaped enslavement. The town was started by Allen Allensworth, who was himself born into enslavement, and saw the land as an opportunity to live out a version of the American Dream. In its early years Allensworth saw a lot of success and self-sufficiency, establishing a free public library, access to inexpensive land and resources and a system of cooperative economics. However by 1915, a variety of causes including severe drought, racially motivated attacks, and the discovery of arsenic in the ground water ultimately led to the town’s decline.
Today, Allensworth remains a state park which attempts to preserve the unique history of the land. While the demographics have largely shifted, Tulare County continues to be one of the poorest counties in the state. With this project I hope to share the story and history of a place I never learned about until coming across some boxes at my uncle’s house. By combining my own images with archival materials from his collection I attempt to bring together visual narratives both past and present to illustrate the evolution of a town that once meant so much to so many.” —Keko Jackson
Keko Jackson is an artist and archivist based in Los Angeles. His work combines his interests in photography, history, and storytelling, often incorporating poetics of nature and landscape to reveal alternative histories and larger systemic inequities. - Sming Sming Books